Monday, June 30, 2014

"Life Stories That Intrigue & Inspire"

Yesterday I popped into Barnes and Noble just to browse around. Next to the escalator was a small table - it was only around three feet wide and deep - with a sign: "Life Stories That Intrigue & Inspire."

In my mind, I imagined a table, much, much larger than the physical one I saw, piled high with our seniors' writings, with that sign right in the middle. And then I imagined tables popping up all around it, each with its own copy of that sign.

That first table is this blog, dedicated to the original Best Day of My Life So Far group. The other tables are the diverse blogs that have grown around this blog, each dedicated to a group that we have started around the country. The limitless room that holds all of this inspiration together is the brand new website that my team and I have been building for months… and it's coming together and almost ready to show you. I can’t wait.

Connect with us, via 1. Facebook 2. Twitter 3. Story Letter emails to be the first to pop inside this limitless room. In the meantime, a few more intriguing, inspiring and precious stories to add to our mounding pile, here on our very first table:

Elliot Doomes
Prejudice = Fear + Ignorance

When I was a small child, my mother taught me from her life’s experiences. She told me every day, if I did anything wrong or bad, the white man would get me. I asked her, “What would he do to me?” She said, “Some people were never seen again, and some people were locked up for years.”

That’s when I learned to fear and hate at the same time, because I always thought “the white man” was going to get me. This was in preschool.

I had no problem playing with white kids and I like my female white teachers, but I had a problem with all of my male white teachers. This led up to high school. But by the time I became a teenager, I was on the basketball team and track team. I started to have more social contact with a lot of white kids. This was my introduction to young white men. I thought that they were just like me.

I would be invited to their homes for parties and dinners and meet their families. I didn’t see nay difference between them and me. I just happen to be black. I began to question the advice that my mother gave me as a child. She gave me her fears and prejudices. She passed them onto me.

I now have my own philosophy and my own way of thinking. I accept people the way they present themselves to me on an individual basis. I don’t place people in a group and say they are bad. I think there are good people everywhere.

Frances H. Bryce
4. 24. 2014
The Mailman Who Delivered More Than Mail

During the early years of marriage when we had one daughter and only one car, the arrangement was made that I would get the car one day a week, when my husband was able to get a ride with a fellow employee.  I’m not sure who made this arrangement, but I am sure that one day a week wasn’t my idea.
My day often included food shopping, medical appointments, and dropping my child off at preschool, since I also worked. One day as I was running late, and my daughter wasn’t interested in my time line, I was in a state of agitation. As I closed the door, the mailman was approaching my home. He saw my frustration, and after greeting me he offered a statement I never forgot. He said, “I know you may find it difficult to believe, but one day sooner than you can imagine she will grow up and you will see this period as only a single step in your life.”
My whole body relaxed as I thanked him for this sage advice. I never forgot this observation, and I soon learned how true that statement was. Indeed a mailman who delivered more than mail.

Frances Bryce
Running On Empty

My husband and I visited Jamaica on our vacation, it was the first trip for both of us to this magnificent island, filled with nature, lush green trees, shrubbery that was filled with bright red and yellow blossoms. My husband was the driver as we explored the nearby areas. He started out driving on the wrong side of the traffic (we drive on the right side and in the island the driving is done on the left of the road, and the driver is what would be our (U.S.) passenger side. It didn’t take him long to get that under control.

The natives at that time lived in simple abodes, that is most of them where we traveled. Most of them walked, and my husband stopped and gave rides as we traveled in their directions.

I noticed early in our traveling that we did not see gas stations for miles. I said as I noticed the gas gauge was near empty and said, as we saw a station coming up, "When do you stop and get gas." I guess his male ego popped in and he replied “When I run out.” A few miles later the car gave a signal, coming to a stop, that we were out of gas! He looked at me with an embarrassed contrite demeanor and said I guess we are out of gas. I offered no acknowledgement to his statement. He saw a man walking and asked about the next gas station. He said “down the road.” It seemed my husband was gone for at least half an hour or more when I saw him with the gas can. I was still silent and we again started on our journey. It must have been a mile when he drove to the station where he had gotten gas to return the gas can. He said, “I will never make a mistake like that again, while driving in a strange place.” We were again on the road enjoying the trip and now running on gas. Enjoying the beauty of the island.

Frances Bryce
Words that Stir Memories

Today’s news included a tribute to Maya Angelou who died yesterday. One of life’s most honored poets and storytellers. A life of events usual and unusual. She was raped at the age of seven and it lasted until she was thirteen. This did not derail her rich life achievements as an actress, dancer, singer, producer and writer of many spellbinding stories.

The book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” spoke volumes before the first page was turned. Her work was also very appropriate for me when I read “still I Rise.” It seemed to have reached the inner core of my being. She also stated that no one has more humanity or less humanity than you. That talent, wealth, beauty, ethnicity change that or speaks to the equality of one of the most important parts of a person.

Tears streamed down my face as memory of my mother who has some challenges in her life as she raised seven children, after her husband who still lived with his family also had an outside interest we knew. She did also, but was never delusional. She sang with joy as she kept the family intact. I watched as she prepared breakfast one morning, she was wearing her best blue dress with the white Peter Pan collar, ready to go shopping for Easter Clothes. For us the song was filled with joy and I knew that the songs carried hope for the future. She hadn’t heard the words Maya Angelou wrote, but she knew how to rise. Words spoken can bring joy and happiness to a heart that needs hearing.

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” ~ Inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1993 on the Pulse of the Morning

Norman Cain
The Ascent of Maya Angelou

Yesterday afternoon when I was informed that Maya Angelou—poet extraordinaire—had ascended to her final resting place, I immediately went to the computer, turned onto YouTube and dedicated myself to several videos that featured her reading her poems.

Listening to her powerful voice delivering her profound poems made me realize that while I thought that I was aware of her majesty, such was not the case, for I realized that she was more than just a great poet… her presence was that of one who was godsent.

She had lived in Ghana and Egypt, conspired with Martin Luther Kind and Malcolm X, was a great friend of Oprah Winfrey and had 5 million friends on her Facebook account.

She was a Christian foremost and humanist.

This morning on Rollins Martin's daily news show, she was memorialized by politicians and journalists, entertainers and college presidents as well as former President Clinton and President Obama. Queen Mother Warrior Maya Angelou's will be missed by passionate poems, extreme love, and looming presence will be internationally missed.

Millie Lilly

I watched the movie “The Butler” on DVD the last couple days. I kept thinking about the events that took place, and where I was during some of them. I lived in South Carolina when JFK was killed, in Georgia when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. I was involved in the Civil Rights movement in my early twenties, living in Athens, Georgia, and working at the University of Georgia. It was a scary time, with some people holding on so hard to beliefs that caused a lot of heartbreak and allowed terrible things to take place.

In the movie, people were shown going to places the law said they could not. It was clear that things were not going to change without these brave people literally putting their well-being and sometimes their lives on the line.
Change did take place. I keep thinking about what has to happen now to push things to another level. Conditions are better – but many things are still stacked against some people.

Millie Lily
World Traveler

I am looking for something light to write about. So maybe about where I got to travel as an adult. The year I was 26 I flew to Luxembourg, then traveled by train to Southern Italy where I spent a couple of days before getting on a boat to Athens, Greece. After a few days I got another boat to the island of Crete. What a wonderful and beautiful experience. I had not been raised to believe I could travel by myself to places where I did not speak the language. Back to Athens and the boat to Italy, I met two people from Mexico who invited me to travel by car with them to Sicily and then Pompeii. Seeing the destroyed city of Pompeii had a profound effect on me.

From there we went to Rome. After a few days I left with another friend to Barcelona and then by train through to Southern Spain. Later to Madrid and then Paris. From Paris to England to meet a friend from home who was returning to her family in England. I stayed with her family for six weeks before coming back to Philadelphia.

Three years later, I was the cook at Lickety Split, a restaurant at 4th & South. They closed in August and I flew Quito Equator. I got altitude sickness a couple days after arriving, then there was a drug bust at midnight where I was staying. Then an attempted coup the day I was getting out.

Norman Cain
I Can’t Remember but I Can Remember

Before entering the center today, I forgot to retrieve my book (with important papers in it) from the ledge of the subway at Broad and Lombard. Luckily, I was able to go back to it after twenty minutes or so.

Forgetfulness seems to be as much a part of my life as breathing. It’s funny though – how I cannot remember things that happened less than ten seconds ago, but recall incidents that transpired in my day, my former years.

For instance, I spend ten minutes looking for my glasses before finding them hiding on my eyes, however I can recall seeing as an infant a beautiful tree-lined street that has always been etched in my memory. It was the street that I lived on for the first 15 years of my life.

I constantly forget appointments, but can recall being in the back seat of a car with an army suit-clad uncle and a relative who happened to be a minister en route to South Carolina. Anyways, I was in my infancy.

Once I did not realize that it was my birthday until a friend showed up to take me out; however, I will never forget how, as a little guy, a little red rooster on my uncle’s farm in South Carolina turn me upside down and around.

Often, I’ll leave my keys behind locked doors, but I can never forget going to Woodside Park as a child with my parents when I was five years old. I was thrilled to be able to get a ride on the little boats. One ride, that’s all my parents could afford. But I will never forget that day. I mean, I cannot remember five minutes ago, but I will never forget the cherished incidents of yesteryear.

I mean how can you forget your father and cousin, Uncle Fat’s Jones taking me to the park where I saw Jackie Robinson stealing bases like a seasoned felon. Seems like I can’t remember the present but can always recall the good things of the past.

Norman Cain
Because I Have Had Cable

Because I have had cable for over a year, I have not been true to my first love “Reading.”  Instead of reading poetry, short stories, novels and biographies and everything else I could put my eyes on, I have been surfing the Boob Tube.

Yesterday, however, my reading drought ended. I borrowed a biography from the library…Earl The Pearl. It tells the story of Earl The Pearl Monroe…a basketball player extraordinaire, a basketball Hall of Famer, a die hard Philadelphian and a fellow Senior Varsity Basketball teammate at John Bartram High School during the late 50s.

His story is written in the style indicative of the “Best Day of My Life So Far Storytelling and Writing Club.” – stories that I could related to. There were stories about family friends, girlfriends, male friends, and basketball teammates. There were stories about Phila playground basketball leagues, street activities, junior high school, senior and much more and I actually knew many of the people that were mentioned within the pages of the biography.

I not only knew his best friend Smitty from John Bartrum H.S. but worked with him for several years in Camden New Jersey. I of course, knew my friend Claudette, whom he had dated. Likewise, I was friendly with Ollie Chamberlain, Wilt Chamberlain’s brother, at Bartrum H.S.

When I first encountered Earl Monroe in High School, he was just an average basketball player, but his hard work and dedication turned him into one of the best players ever. Back in the late 50s when we were in high school, none of us in the basketball circle could foretell of the forthcoming status of Earl and some of them would appear on his biography.

The book brought back memories and jumpstarted me into forsaking cable for my first love “Reading.”

Norman Cain
Me and Phila Guys That Played For the Harlem Globetrotters

In 1967 when I was employed as a youth counselor at the youth rec center at Second and Eugene St, Phila PA, Zack Clayton – then a lieutenant with the Phila Police came to give words of encouragement to the boys.

Years later, I found out that he had played in the Negro basketball league, had been a Professional Referee, and can be remembered refereeing the famous Ali-Frazier fight. He was a Harlem Globe Trotter.

When I was 12 years old, I saw the story of the Harlem Globetrotters. I was duly impressed by its theme music “Sweet Georgia Brown” and the antics of the Trotters.

I vowed that I would become a member of that team. Little did I know, Frank Washington, a Philadelphian, was in that picture. Later, he became an area businessman. His mural is on the wall across the street from the Main Branch Subway in Germantown.

When I was in the eighth grade at Sulzberger Junior H.S., we had a substitute gym teacher who displayed super basketball skills. His name: John Chaney, The Philadelphia Legend who won a Division 2 Championship at Cheyney State College, revived Temple University’s Basketball Program and whose name is within the corridor of the basketball Hall of Fame.

One day when I was around 16, I was coming out of the subway entrance at 13th and Market Street. My eyes fell upon these gigantic shoes; I began to look up…my look seemed to take ascend to the face of the man who wore the gigantic shoes. When my eyes finally reached the face, it was grinning from ear to ear. The face turned out to be the famous Wilt Chamberlain who after attending Kansas University spent time with the Globe Trotters.

Mo McCooper
The Chief

On Saturdays during high school a few of us Catholic School kids were invited to play basketball at Bala Cynwyd Junior High School by Mr. Turner, a teacher and basketball coach there.

Most of the public high school players there were stars in football, baseball, and soccer, but were also very good in basketball.

Some of them would invite Louie and me to play with their teams in basketball and other sports and also to parties on weekends where we would sort of sneak in the kitchen doors.

Mr. Turner, who also coached the soccer team was called "The Chief" by his players and students. I never asked "Why?" but he was obviously a terrific coach and leader. Some lifetime friendships came from that group. "Hail to the Chief."

Joan Bunting
My Brother Theodore

As a child my siblings and I were raised in foster homes. There was eight of us, five girls and three boys. Our oldest brother’s name was Theodore Roosevelt Blackson Jr. and he was the third child from the oldest.

Theodore was in the same foster home as Bertha, next to the oldest child. Then there was Doris, fourth from the oldest then it was me, next to the youngest. I was only two years of age when we were placed so I don’t really know how old Theodore was when it happened.

We lived with a lady we all agreed to call mom. Her name was Vivie Chamberlain. Theodore would steal money from her and hide it in the heel of his shoe. Back then you could take the heel of your shoe off and put it back on. Then he’d run away to be with our Dad. He did that about two or three times. He was then placed in a correctional institute.

The last time he ran away from home he was placed in a place called Pomeroy Fame. Guess what? He eventually ran away from there but the authorities just let him go because he was seventeen years old and was close to the age of eighteen when you were free to leave the agency. Theodore joined the army, later but was medically discharged. After having an illness the doctors in the service did not know what it was.

Theodore was also a great singer. He only sang spiritual songs. My brother Eugene, my sisters Phoebe and Bernice and I sang together with him whenever we got together. We would sing for our real mother. He became a minister, his friends teased him but that did not stop him from spreading the word of God. I was also told that he prayed over a child and the child was healed.

My brother Theodore was blessed with the voice of an angel. Some songs that I sing in church today brings tears to my eyes because they make me think of him. Old Rugged Cross is just one of them and eyes are tearing up now just writing this. Singing wasn’t the only talent he was blessed with, he could also draw very well and had a beautiful handwriting and he was left handed.

He left Philadelphia and moved to Chicago, remarried, had two sons. My two other brothers attended his funeral and I now have a photograph of Theodore in his casket.

Joan Bunting
My Daughters

I have four daughters. Their names beginning with the oldest are Rose, Joanne, Joyce, and Teresa. I also have two sons, Henry and Harold. I’ll tell you about them at another time. Today I’m going to talk about my wonderful daughters.

Rose, being the oldest, is the one that makes sure I have all that I need. And, she makes sure her children and her nieces don’t take advantage of me by wanting me to babysit all the time. Rose gets a little angry with me sometimes because even though I may not feel up to babysitting, I have a problem saying no.

Joanne calls at least two times in the evening to make sure my door is locked, and if I’m going out (to church) to make sure I have someone to give me a lift.
Now, my daughter Joyce lives in Hampton, Virginia. She calls me at least twice a week to let me know what’s going on with her and her family. I’m looking forward to seeing her hopefully during the Fourth of July holiday.

Teresa, my youngest, invites me to her house, or she visits me at my apartment about twice a month. She gets a little peeved when her two daughters meet her there. She tells them that she wanted to spend time with me by herself. When I visit with her, we go for walks and maybe eat out. This past Saturday she treated me to a movie. We saw X Men.
At first, I wasn’t too excited about it, but it was good. I enjoyed myself and especially the popcorn.

All of my daughters the Lord has blessed me with are so sweet.
They constantly show their love toward me and as Richard Nixon would say, “I’m proud as punch” of my daughters.

Helen Claybrook
What You Most Want Your Grandchildren to Know

My grandchildren’s father helped me raise my two sons when my sons’ father left us. He went to school and sent his two brothers to school. He fed them and washed everybody’s clothes till he got tired one day and burned my clothes in the dryer. I threw him up against the front door. I am very sorry for that. I am not going to blame it on my drinking. I was just angry at his father for robbing an Acme and a bank and not telling me where the money was and that he had robbed someone. I had to read it in the newspaper.

Helen Claybrook

One of the happiest days of my life was when I received my yellow and white kitten, Squeak. She was very little and I had to feed her with an eye dropper. Her mother refused to feed her. She grew-up to be a very nice cat. I cried when she fell down the well. But we put the bucket down and she climbed inside and we got her. She was soaked and wet by alive. We covered the well from then on. I have had several cats and I name them the same.

Gogo Jenny Williams

As a senior I’ve weathered many seasons this year; 2014 is very special.  This morning I dreamed of myself skipping alone as I did as a child of my past.  The doctors say, my heart is skipping a beat, they don’t know my secret.  This is my season to skip ahead just as I did in my dream this morning.  This summer has taken off like a runner in a race leaving the laid back cool breeze of spring with its burst of colors and newness to fade into the brightness and warmth of days skipping alone. 

Joe Garrison
Graduation Day

Earlier, I wrote a story about 1954 because it was a pivotal time in my life. In June of 1954, I graduated from 6th grade. We didn’t have a ceremony. I remember it very clearly. I had a new pair of shoes on and they had hard heels that you could hear coming all through the school. Earlier that day, I went to the doctor’s office to get a prosthesis, a glass eye. There were only two boys in my class. Because there were so few of us, while the girls had swimming class, we would go bowling and have fun together. Afterwards, we had a homeroom graduation party and had a talent show where we all sang popular songs. I was really excited to go to junior high because I was finally out of elementary school. I was excited to do more complicated work and meet girls!

Barbara J Marshall
Things I Carry: A Poem in Free Verse

I carry responsibility
For sons
Two of them
They didn’t move
I did
-Dinner twice a year:
Thanksgiving and New Years

I carry love
For Riana
My granddaughter
The only one: shopping, travel.
Her first passport
Room and board for college
The corsage, tie and pocket square

I carry demanding:
“Get up,
Make your bed
Clean up behind yourself
Put things back
Where you got them

Shut the door, this house is not a barn!
Turn out the lights, electricity costs “money”

I carry passion
For life, travel, and adventure

Swimming in water rushing
Over my shoulders: free style,
Backstroke . . . breast stroke

Will I ever flipturn?

I carry learning:
A need to know
A thirst for what’s new and shiny.

All that glitters is not gold
Yet knowledge is golden
And will not tarnish.
Wisdom is silver with rounded edges.

My life is like rainbow colored jelly beans and
I refuse to clean the bowl.

Loretta Gaither
For Michelle Gaither

I lost my baby January 25th and she was buried on January 29th. As you might remember, she found me on the Internet through Best Day and I'm still trying to cope with it. I know she's up in Heaven with the angels. I went to another center for a while, but I liked this one better so I'm glad I came back. When I found my daughter again after so many years, I found out she was a Muslim. I was a Catholic, she was raised as a Catholic, so I had to get used to her being a Muslim. The first time I saw her, I recognized her behind her veil, and she took me in and consoled me like I was her Mother. She treated me like a saint and in all honestly, she was a saint. And that made me feel better about her passing because I actually did get to connect with her again and I found an apartment that I've been living in for a year now. I want to thank the Best Day workshop for helping me and taking me back in. I really missed it and I'm glad to be back. God bless Best Day and God bless the readers of this website.

Loretta, signing off. 

Loretta Gaither
A Fine Time with my Song Eric Gaither

My son does everything for me now. He’s a good son.

I’ve been in my apartment for a year now.

I’m coming back to the writing class in honor of my daughter. She died on January 25th, and her funeral was on January 29th.

I’m going to have a memorial for my mom and my daughter, and my sister Vontell Gorham will be there, and Thomas Gorham will be there, too. I’m looking forward to celebrating the family who is no longer here with me with the ones still living.

Tuesday, my son took me to the salon, and I got my fingernails and toenails done. It was a special day for the two of us.

I’m glad to be back at the writing class and the senior center. I’m looking forward to the future and getting my GED --when I get it I’ll be writing for myself, but in the meantime, I’m happy to have Madi write for me.

Signing off + God bless!

Mo McCooper
Letter to Benita’s Grandmother

Dear Mei,

Please accept a great big Thank You for telling your granddaughter wonderful stories that excited Benita so much that she created BEST DAY OF MY LIFE SO FAR. My 5 children and 6 grandchildren in Southern California watch on the Internet and read the stories of my childhood that I hope will show them that GRANDPOP wasn’t always an OLD GOAT. Meeting you will be so wonderful someday. I absolutely adore your granddaughter.

Thanks again,
Mo McCooper