Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sharon (Message to New Venues)

I've said before that I don't have a favorite senior story – that’s because I love them all. But my favorite story? That, I do have. Ours! The story that is writing itself with a massive, invisible pen, threading your lives and mine together. Last week, an email came through my inbox that reminds me of how big, beautiful and alive that story is.

Most of you know the lovely Sharon from previous blog posts. She is the staff member who is instrumental in bringing the first of our 2014 groups to Pitman, NJ. Sharon recently sent an email to the staff representatives at the JUST announced Best Day venues,  offering the best encouragement and peer support anyone can ask for. Reading it on my phone, it just made me smile. It’s like Sharon and Pitman have assumed the role of older sibling to these new groups, and the family feeling that fills our senior storytelling sessions every week has spread to the conversations that are now happening between venues, across the country.

To keep up on great news like the start of new groups, and read stories from groups across the country, be sure to sign up to receive our Story Letters HERE.

From: Sharon Yesner
Date: Wed, May 21, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Hello Everyone,

It is exciting to learn some of the new venues that are joining the Best Day of My Life (So Far).   We just had a weekly group earlier today and the members once again did some incredible writing.

In one of my emails to Benita I wrote that I noticed a lot crossover between my current involvement with Best Day and both my personal and professional experiences.  Once I again, I see the crossover as I see the new venues.  The reason for this is that I see the Klein JCC on the list.   I grew up in the Somerton Section of NE Phila.  and went to George Washington HS, only a short drive from the Klein JCC.  In fact, my brother still lives there so I still get to the area regularly.  I lived in that area until 1998 when I moved to the “other side of the Boulevard”! Now I am a Jersey resident.

I am also somewhat familiar with Center in Park since I previously worked at the Germantown Home and CARIE!  Unfortunately, I have never been to Seattle, WA but one of our volunteers, originally from Lower Moreland, PA, spent many years living in Washington State.  She has shared some information about the state with me.

Anyhow, enough about me. 

I can tell you that our residents, volunteers and our staff truly enjoy the Best Day of My Life (So Far) Program.  Pitman Manor is a senior continuing care community with about 250 residents in 3 different areas-healthcare, assisted living and a memory support residence all in one building.  We have residents from all three areas participating in the program.  We meet weekly in our building’s library.  In addition to the residents participating, we also have a family member who has joined the group. Two of our residents (in wheelchairs) in the healthcare unit, get themselves from their section of our building, down to the library for the group every week.   This means they go down two floors on the elevator to the main floor and down the long hallway to the other end of the building to our library!

I read some of your comments of anticipation on Facebook.  I want to tell you that actually being at the group, seeing the participants creativity come alive through writing their stories of their life experiences is a great experience.  I can write a lot about it but I won’t.  I will simply say, just wait until you experience it.  One other word of advice is to  be patient.  At first your participants may not truly understand what type of group they said yes to joining.  It may take a few weeks for them to feel comfortable with the group.  However, once they do, watch out!  The results will be amazing!

Thank you for taking the time to read my lengthy e-mail!  Welcome to the Best Day of Your Life (So Far)!

Sharon Yesner
Volunteer Coordinator at Pitman Manor

Thursday, May 22, 2014

In Memory of Mother and Daughter

We aren’t just dealing with stories here; we are dealing with life and death. And that’s ok. I am not scared.

Exactly seven days ago, just because of a gut feeling, I posted stories about how seniors have taught me to look through death and see the life within. Today, the husband of Gloria Washington (whom we all lovingly call “Daughter”) came to class to tell us the she had passed away seven days ago. Gloria was not a senior. She was the devoted daughter and caretaker to Aileen Jefferson (whom we all lovingly call “Mother”) who herself had passed away at the end of last year. Gloria discovered that she had lung cancer, only recently.

She told her husband Howard, “If anything happens to me, there are three or four things I’d like you to do for me. One of these things is to go to the writing class to tell everyone how much the group has meant to Mom and me.” When Howard told us that, he said with both tears and a smile, “If you knew Gloria, you know she didn’t ask me to come. She told me to come.” Howard promised Millie and the rest of the gang that he would be back to join the group, to share his own stories.

Here are some of the stories that Mother and Daughter had shared with us throughout the years, and a video of them in the group. After “Mother” passed, “Daughter” would look at all the silly videos that our group has made, to remember her mom at her happiest moments. This video was Gloria’s favorite.

Gloria Washington
People I Love

I love people who surprise me with kindness…

Humans who defy authority and challenge the status quo…These are my heroes, the ones who take on giant corporations and governments. I love people who bring me 6-packs of micro-beer because they know I love the creative product labels, especially. Healthy gourmands who feed my soul with soothing, spicy delicious proteins and vegetables, these are among the people I love. I love people who create art and music that stir my psych to dream and imagine and transport me to other galaxies and alternative realities. I especially love those daring souls that shatter stereotypes, to me the best people of all.

Gloria Washington
Chance Encounters

I knew it was dicey doing this. Chancy. The man came up to my mother and forcefully hurled a bag at her. We were sitting quietly minding our own business.

“Here.” He shoved it.

She said: “Get away from here!” snarling with venom.

I sized the guy up while looking around.  He looked like a mid-level line-backer who played amateur football, but his eyes held a tinge of sadness. His clothes were clean, no torn edges or signs of vagrancy, but I could smell the cheap whiskey oozing from his pores.

He said: “I’ll sell it to you for ten bucks.” We were in an enclosed public place. I scanned and assessed like a military drone. Assessing for danger. Assessing for pitfalls. Assessing for prying eyes or a set up. Hidden cameras were just that, hidden. Cool, grey cylinders secreted in the ceiling. There were commuters, foot traffic and police.  I took the leap . . .
 “I’ll give you five.” We haggled for a few minutes, the daughter in jeans, the mother in knits and the beseeching, semi-aggressive stranger.

Was anyone looking? Who was watching us? The unknown stranger wobbled slightly on his feet while standing at an awkward stance. His imperfect gait was shaky as he attempted to make the sale. I looked at the merchandise, good quality, perfect size, brand new. I dashed to the newsstand to break a ten, looking over my shoulder at my mother the whole time... watching the man.

Single bills in hand I made the transaction and took the wares.  He said: “I love your mother.” Hustling furtively I grabbed my mother’s arm quickly away from prying eyes and a weepy, sentimental, and inebriated stranger. I congratulated myself for this sheer luck. Not out of the woods yet we escaped to our train and headed home. Once there I unwrapped it…

A designer jacket, pure silk in brilliant fuschia.

God is good.

Gloria Washington
The Fragile Tentative Steps to New Friendship

The body language and eye contact is reciprocal. Then, like a flower, the shared experiences, language, and habits are revealed.

The beginning steps to friendship are like a tender pas de deux, a polite yet inquisitive dance. Our hearts are aglow with a chance at establishing a new confidante, bosom buddy, comrade. The stakes are high. How much to reveal? How soon?

It’s like sorcery: the meeting of like minds, shared values. Kinship and parallel or sometimes opposite attractions. The trial period in the beginning is almost like a testing ground. Will there be ulterior motives? Will one have more to gain or profit or will it be a meeting of equals, shared language, experience, consciousness.

The rewards are priceless. I’ve met a new friend, perhaps a host of them in this sanctuary of an environment.

Gloria Washington
Magic Circle

Every time I sit at the oval table in our sun drenched, book laden room I am transported.

The myriad voices enthrall me.  Tales of history, pathos, and ingenuity…Nuggets of golden stories I would never know of otherwise. 

Secrets of the entertainment business, Philly’s diverse ethnic stories from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s are offered as well as true moments of accomplishment from my fellow literary travelers.  I am in awe and silenced.  I think about these stories often while traversing the city or in quiet moments alone.  They move me and make me think.  I am adding a new dimension to my “lens” on the cities multi-ethnic neighborhoods. 

Sometimes the using are quite cerebral, a nod to my fellow theatre member.  Other times they are funny, poignant, who knew these things about Atlantic City? Each voice carries weight.  Separately they are strong reminders of our past.  Together they are a unified crescendo of what makes this city and country great.

And hovering incandescently is the fairy that facilitates it all.  I am honored to be a part of this ritual of words.

Aileen Jefferson
The Awakening Scent

I am awake!  What have I heard, the twitter and lovely echoes of birds.  I was silent for a moment, I’ll hear them again.

A kitty cat’s sound-off, that she is awake.  But that’s not it, I remained silent, I’ll hear it again.  Patience. 

Oh there it is!  I believe that that‘s the echo of the morning robin.  I thought, of course, they are hungry. I better rise and shine and make myself useful in the kitchen.  My lovely pets are giving me knowledge that a new day is here.

As I glanced at my window I saw morning sunshine beckoning me to the kitchen.  They are hungry, let me remember that I do have pets and there is no lying here hoping for someone to fix breakfast.

Is that the whiff of bacon?  I sniff.  I hope out of bed and there is my husband fixing breakfast.  Waffles, “ooh” I say.  Waffles, I rush into the kitchen and there is my husband preparing my morning feast.

We sit down immediately and enjoy the breakfast that I did not have to prepare.

Aileen Jefferson
Unknown Pleasures

Here we are at last.

Lovely homes, terrific hostesses that produced them.
And we are delighted!
Just as we expected the best.

The children seemed to anticipate our every wish. And why not, they are our relatives.

They were socially adept as we had anticipated because of their background.
Hoorah for fine upbringing!
Good genes pay off.

The best colleges, the best schools and what about background?
Give each one a high score.

Southern hospitality at its best by the chosen few.

Entertaining us northerners seemed to delight them as they supplied us with society’s best forays into their territory.

The luncheons and dining experiences proved our point.

The lovely setting of our luncheons showed the truth of southern hospitality.
Friendly, charming, warm hospitality in the southern manner.
Anticipation brought to fruition. The entire trip surpassed expectations.

Aileen Jefferson
Joyous Days

I am approaching the room… What room?  The room where the gifts are kept.  We are not supposed to even peek, but I just can’t help it.

And now I’m in.  And as you can see, the bed is piled high with gifts.  I shut the door quickly.

They were different shapes, of course.  Some for brother, some for Uncle, some for Auntie.  You have to distinguish by the shapes of the gifts. 

Here are Mother’s, here are Daddy’s, Christmas gifts galore!

The fun deciding which gifts to open first.  Season’s joy galore in our family.

Aileen Jefferson
10 Year Old Breaks Record

And that’s exactly true.
Are you interested?
“Mother I want to learn how to swim.”
“You have the rest of your life dear.”
“Mother, I want to learn how to swim, now!”
And before I knew it, not the swimming teacher, but her father had accomplished the job.
The next day at the swimming pool as I yelled, “Stay out of the deep end!” my daughter continued swimming across the entire pool.
I was startled.
I held my breath.
She did the impossible, not only across the pool, but the deep end of the pool.
What happened next, I don’t know.  I fainted.

Aileen Jefferson
New Friendships

The welcoming of new friends. There they are!  An entire class of friendships that are new.

And I’m thinking, they look familiar, then I realize this is my writing workshop, of course.

New friends here.  We all are from all over the city and we are congregated with various interests, mainly about improving our relations with each other and communicating with each other.

The fellowship of our peers is important to us.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Brenda, Millie, Norman and Hazel (Happy Sad Days)

Here are a few stories that our seniors have written recently, and even though they describe death, it’s their love of life and love of people that I see.

I couldn’t believe it when I first encountered this way of looking at death. On September 11, 2011, one of our very own passed away. Arthur was one of the “original” seniors in our group. His life-loving, people-loving personality is an essential part of the Best Day of My Life So Far spirit that continues to fill our room every week. I broke into tears when I had to announce to the group what had happened – I couldn’t even complete my sentence. The group comforted me, and we held a “special class in memory of Arthur” (not a memorial). There were so many guests (120+) that we had to use the senior center’s auditorium to accommodate everyone. It was a happy day, which Arthur would have approved. Check out the stories below and in our 2011 story archive, to honor the vibrant lives of Brenda's friend Evelyn, Millie's friend Bertha, Norman's aunt, Hazel's loved ones, and our bud Arthur.
Brenda Scantlebury
Ode To A Friend

When we form friendships, most of the time  they are out of kinship. There seems to be something about them "that we like!" Sometimes a bond develops because we have been to school, have worked, or lived together. My friend to whom I am referring to just died a couple of days ago. We have had a lot in common creatively. We have written and acted in plays, been road buddies, and traveled to many places. My friend was as close to me as one of my own sisters! I'll miss her very much.

Dedicated to Dr. Evelyn Felton Barr.

I submit this with love!

Millie Lilly
Friends for a Year

I have been coming to the Senior Center for almost a year. I started in May. I had just moved to the neighborhood and wanted to check out if this would be a good place. The first time I came here I met Bertha who had a regular seat near the window. She took me under her wing, telling me about getting lunch and to always register for special events before they sell out. She told me about the Jewelry class she attended twice a week and encouraged me to come. I did. I have never made jewelry before and have really enjoyed being in the class. I like the teacher, have made friends with many of the women and love making necklaces. I am working with beautiful, colorful glass beads. One of my necklaces will be in the May show. Bertha and I became friends and often laughed together. She was around 88 years old and died last week. I will miss her.

Norman Cain
A Sad Happy Day

My aunt recently died. While I was saddened by my aunt’s death, I was happy to see family members and friends at her funeral and reception last Saturday that I had not some cases...for over 40 years.

After her funeral, I attended a Jazz Party that was hosted by an organization that a lady from the Senior Center belongs to.

I was again reunited with a lady friend from the past that was a childhood friend that I had not seen in at least 40 years. At the same event, I was recognized by a woman whom I knew from the old neighborhood. The day also produced a basketball story.

Later that day, I got a chance to talk to a man who I first saw playing basketball for BOK Vocational School in 1957. His skills amazed me and I’ve never forgotten his name Earl Hanes. If today were yesterday, he would be a professional.

We spoke of all the old Philly Players. I wish Big Mo had been there.

Earl was happy that someone remembered the memories of the past that manifested themselves with the appearance of old and new friends.

And my deceased Aunt, who was always telling me off, well, the last time I saw her alive we laughed.

Last Saturday was a SAD, happy, and memorable day.

Hazel Nurse
I Won’t Go

During the past two weeks, notices of deaths and sickness have crowded my holiday season. However, after a chat with one of my long time senior friends, we agreed that as the years pass by, more and more relatives and friends reach the end of life’s journey. She exclaimed: “I’m not going to attend anymore funerals!”

My other friend, listening said, “You have to go to your own funeral!”

“No I won’t,” she quipped,” They’ll have to take me there!”

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Gogo (Changes)

Mother’s Day is coming up and this year is a special one for me… my first!! I am kind of getting really excited – so excited that some mommy friends and I are going to treat ourselves to a pre-First-Mother’s-Day toast tomorrow, with our babies in tow – never too early to celebrate, right? And what is motherhood really? There are so many ways to put it, but I love Gogo’s take: embracing life and not being afraid of change. Now, that is something worth toasting to, this weekend and every single day of the year!

Gogo Jenny Williams

The exciting thing about getting older is adjusting to changes. After hitting the legitimate age of adulthood (21), there are many changes.

Becoming a wife and mother was an unexpected change that, for me, was unlike the books and movies I’d seen. There were no scripts, there was no one to map out scenes and prepare me for the next scene. No longer answering to what my parents expected of me, now my life and daily experiences molded and shaped me into a person I did not recognize. How strange: when did it happen? The extrovert who grew up as she guided and loved her children; the woman who burst from a cocoon of traditions into one who embraces life, who is not afraid of change.