Thursday, March 30, 2017

Familiar Faces (Joe and Liz)

Remember two weeks ago when I said how writers can disappear from our group months at a time unannounced? Last week, we had three older friends come in who the group hadn't seen for a while: Joe Garrison, Liz Abrams and Mike M. Tsukei. Joe and Liz are both regular writers, but I had only seen Mike once on March 2nd. It was our First Thursday, when we usually meet in the Computer Room, and I told him about our group and how it worked. He was very excited to be there and was eager to come the next week when he could see his classmates' stories written in real time.
I didn't see him for a few weeks I thought he had lost interest. But when Mike came in this week, he told us he'd been coming to the Computer Lab the whole time. Whoops!

Mike just wanted to listen this time, so he didn't write anything for us to post. But we do have some stories from our other two returning writers:

Liz Abrams 
There’s a Bully in Town 
It’s a 'fair one’ – that means a fight after grade school. I was the victim of bullying – a victim is one who is timid and an excellent student that teachers praise all the time. For the bully – I was prime meat. The bully harassed, ridiculed and pushed on me continually, of course she had all her friends, I had some to none. 
After school, no escape, the kids, the crowds, the curious all move to the alley for 
fights. A circle formed. Praying to God, give me escape, courage, or make that girl, 
the bully "drop dead." She was too young at 11 for that. Someone pushed me towards her, and she rushed me with fists, and I closed my hands, threw my hands 
up to protect myself, and my fingers got caught in her earrings – "pierced hoops" (by accident) and severed her ear lobe. My eyes shut. She was screaming and I saw blood. I thought it was mine, and she was running away in terror. 
Was this the hand of God? I wondered in my sleepless night. Next day, I expected her to be waiting for me – but there was a crowd in school waiting – naming me the new bully in. The girl never returned to that school. 

Joe Garrison 
Television Will Ruin You! 
I have been writing a few stories about the old days or radio, but all you have to do is wait until a certain actor dies and they’ll tell you everything they’ve done…as far as television is concerned. It doesn’t matter if you were in movies of anything else. If you were a television actor, that’s all you’ll be remembered for. And I think that’s a shame. 
Hugh Beaumont who played the part of Detective Michael Shane and the father in the Leave it to Beaver series. In the early 50s, he would work for the Four Star company, which introduced a lot of television dramas. In fact, I have a collection of their shows from their Four Star Playhouse. Beaumont played a lot of dramatic roles in that series. When he was chose to play the father in the Leave it to Beaver series, that became his claim to fame…and unfortunately that’s all he’s known for now. 
My second example is…let’s see…the actor who played Archie Bunker. Carroll O’Connor, was a character actor and he played character roles in the movies too. He was in war movies, military movies, gangster movies, and he even had a role in one of the episodes of The Untouchables. I used to have it, but I lost it. 
And this is an aside, but people only remember Lucille Ball for the comedy roles she played, but she also played one memorable serious role in a suspense thriller called A Dark Corner. 
The point of my story is an actor can have many phases and many roles in many circumstances, but people need to do the research to find all the roles they didn’t do on television. The problem is that all the people want to remember you for is what you did on TV. 
I actually could have given a lot of examples of this, like Andy Griffith used to be a stand-up comedian, a country comedian. 
And something else gets me. When you play a certain role for long enough, do people start to believe that’s who you really are. I don’t believe that Carroll O’Connor’s really a bigot! 

Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Ask And Ye Shall Recieve (Loretta G.)

The great thing about a group like The Best Day of My Life (So Far) is that it's full of surprises. The first surprise came up when I was writing for Loretta Gaither. Some of the other seniors were talking about Malcolm X, and just when I thought Loretta finished her story, she says that she used to be a Black Panther! "Why didn't you START your story with that?" I asked her, scribbling down as many details as I could.

Earlier in the story, Loretta mentioned how much she had missed Benita and she even said "Maybe one day she'll visit us today." Once I finished writing, in walked surprise number two: Benita Cooper herself! She had some free time after a meeting nearby, and after seeing Hannah saying she was on her way, she realized the universe had given her that time for a reason. So she dropped in the senior center.

If you're new to the blog, then Benita was both the first Lead Facilitator of our group at Philadelphia Senior Center, and the founder of The Best Day of My Life So Far. She ran the group for years, but after having two children, moving to the suburbs, and getting lots of new groups and facilitators, she moved to working behind the scenes to keep Best Day running. So it was a nice surprise for everyone that Benita could come in that day. She couldn't stay long, but she stayed long enough to catch up with her older bus, hear a few of our stories, and take some pictures.

And you know Loretta told her about what she just wrote. How she wrote about Benita coming in, and Benita came in. Benita couldn't believe it; what were the odds? Naturally, I had to post Loretta's prophetic story for today's blog entry:

Loretta Gaither
I Had A Lovely Day Today And The Snow Had Left (Thank God For That.)

I had a lovely day today and the snow had left (thank God for that.) And I had fun sitting with my young teacher and we had so much fun talking with her. And I am so glad that she was chosen to be the teacher of this workshop. God chose her to be the leader of the workshop; it was a good choice. She’s much less nervous too. And I’m glad Benita was my teacher too and she made a good choice for a new teacher. Maybe one day she’ll visit us today.
It was a pleasure to have my son drive me to the center today. He’s my power of attorney and my nurse’s aid and a good son. There must be something wrong with my apartment, because my son’s going around and taking pictures. And the manager came up to inspect the apartment, but my son showed him the pictures so he knew I kept it clean. The manager of the complex where they fix things lied to me more than once. He said he got his work done, but he didn’t fix anything in my place since 2013. And I prayed to get everything sorted out, and it did! Now the manager doesn’t speak to me anymore and he got caught. I hope I’ll get moved to a better apartment soon.
Whenever we write, I hear the music from the other room, while they were doing their dance class. And I loved listening to music while I write so I just dance in my chair.
I was a Black Panther when I was a young girl. Loretta Gorham, yes I was. You can look down at the website at the Black Museum downtown, look up Loretta Gorham. You know Morona Africa? She came out of Munchie Prison and she was a friend of mine. And I was with many more and (I’m laughing because my writer can’t hear so well!) You don’t believe me, look in the Black Museum in Black History.
I put God first and me second. I’m laughing with these people in the class. May God bless the readers.
I have a dead man taking care of me and this is what I get. My late husband Rob Gaither, related to Alma Gaither who went down south with the Sixers, with the Eagles. You always get caught when you try to get wise.
I always laugh with them in the class. And teacher, always be aware of people who laugh. I smile upside down, I’m going downstairs to wait for my ride. Over and out, God bless the readers. Signing off.
Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, March 16, 2017

In Memory of Hattie

Last week, I was informed that Hattie Lee Ellerbe had died at age 83 on Wednesday March 8th, 2017. Death is not something you expect to fall upon a writing group. But when working with older writers, it is something the writers and volunteers must keep in the back of their minds. When a member disappears from the group unannounced for months at a time, it's easy to assume the worst. So I appreciate when one of their friends or family members tell me of a writer's death.

It breaks my heart, but it means that Hattie loved us. It means that Best Day was enough of a fixture in her life that she knew everyone there would want to know. And right now, it means that I can honor her in this post, and introduce new readers to her works. Even after Hattie has drawn her last breath, she still speaks and we still listen. 

Hattie was one of the first members of The Best Day of My Life So Far, back when it was originally just a six-week workshop. So she was one of the people who convinced Benita to make it an 8+ year workshop. Every time she came to class she wore a big bright smile; one that both she and everyone else in Best Day was proud of. She always glowed with a youthful enthusiasm, and many people here have described her as beautiful inside and out. She loved her family and community so much that she gained the nickname "The Queen of Patton Street Village." 

And this love of community bled into all sorts of unexpected places. When it came to Best Day, she'd always have something to contribute; a little enhancement after everyone's story. More than once, Benita had recorded and transcribed a story someone else was telling, only for Hattie to pop up with a marvelous story of her own. Hattie's son Keith loved her stories so much that he shared her blog posts with everyone he could. Shortly before Keith's death, his secretary told Hattie that he would show off his mother's stories every time they were posted on this blog.

Below is just one of Hattie's many stories. Long live the Queen.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
Still Celebrating my 82nd Birthday 
I guess I am still in shock over my surprise party. Although I really agree with my friend who said, “When you reach age 80, there should be no surprise party.” I am still shaking from the event which was the 9th of May (smile). I am still reading the lovely cards and looking at the beautiful gifts. Most of them have a butterfly theme. How did so many people know of my love for butterflies? If any of my dear friends have access to this website, please know that I love you much. I thank you and appreciate all you did. To my daughter Karen who has been a blessing to me . . . I love you. You really pulled one over on me!

Read more stories by Hattie Lee Ellerbe:
Patton Street Village

Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Say Hi to Caitlin.. Yes, She's Stepping Up!

After 7.5 years of writing every word on this blog, it's with confidence in my heart and a big smile on my face that I pass the baton to the fabulous Caitlin Cieri. As Best Day of My Life So Far groups grow around the country, it’s time I put more focus into sharing intergenerational engagement tips and methods to more people. Don’t worry, I am not going anywhere ;) I will still be writing you from my heart, but my perspective will be more nationally focused, and I will share primarily via our newsletter which you can subscribe to here.

This blog has always meant more to me than a transmitter of our older buds’ stories. It’s always been my personal oasis from day one.  If Best Day groups are where older adults get to discover their voices, this blog is the place where I discovered my voice, and discovered my mission in this giant world. I am forever indebted to you for reading my words here, whether this is the first time we met or you have stuck with me for all these years. Even if I have never met you in real life, you mean more to me than you will ever know.

I will really miss my blogger role, but I know the person stepping into my shoes is perfect for the role. It’s her turn. It’s her time. Some of you may remember Caitlin throughout the years in volunteer spotlights that I have posted like this one or this one and in posts that I have invited her to write as a guest contributor like this one. Incidentally, it’s International Women’s Day today, and I am honored to have met Caitlin as a young woman 5 years ago and am so proud of the woman whom she has become.

And now… here’s a story/letter entitled “Stepping Up” by Caitlin, about how being a part of The Best Day of My Life So Far has impacted her life… so far!

Talk to you soon in upcoming newsletters. And feel free to reach out to me anytime at!

Love, Benita

Caitlin Cieri
Stepping Up

Hello, everyone! My name is Caitlin, and some of you may know me as a Lead Facilitator of The Best Day of My Life So Far’s Philadelphia Senior Center Group. My duties include events planning, managing the storytelling sessions, making sure every participant gets their work read, writing for those with disabilities or special needs, familiarizing participants with our websites, training new volunteers and keeping an open conversation between Best Day and the senior center. And now, they will include managing this blog.

I first found out about Best Day in 2012, when a coworker took me to one of their Thursday sessions. The first day I was there, I wrote for Joe Garrison. I loved his voice, his attitude, and his appreciation for folk music. After that day, I knew this group was special. I came back week after week and after a while I became a regular volunteer. The only time I wasn't able to facilitate was when I spent a year abroad in England. I missed my older buds so much that I used Hazel's story about her mom dragging her to a lecture by Dr. Martin Luther King for a writing assignment. When I came back to the United States for good, I immediately went back to managing the storytelling sessions at the Senior Center.

The older participants are both great friends and great writers, and volunteering at Best Day has helped me a lot. Writing for Joe and Loretta and whoever else came in prepared me for my job as a transcriber. I got better at telling when people wanted to speak and when they didn't in general. They gave both Benita and I solid advice when we needed it, like figuring out how to get my Poppop more active. And they love when I share my writing, both non-fiction and fiction, with them almost as much as I love when they share with me.

I am honored that Benita trusted me with this storytelling sessions and I was glad to be there to hear the participants’ stories and get them transcribed for our blog. I remember a conversation we had with the other facilitators about a particularly somber session. Something happened on the news and the older adults wrote about the racism they faced in their lives as an adult. At first we were worried that our older friends would lose their motivation to come if all they heard were sad, topical stories. But when I saw all of what they wrote, I knew I was reading something intimate and personal to them. They trusted us with both their best days and their worst days. That was when I said to Benita, "Sometimes the best day of your life is when you can talk about the worst day of your life."

I am even more honored that Benita asked me to run this blog for her, especially since she said it was because of my regular and enduring contact with the older writers. I want to honor the mission statement of Best Day, of ending older adult isolation by spreading stories. This blog has already reunited mothers and daughters, and daughters and grandchildren, so I want to put as many of our participants’ stories as possible on this blog. I’ll miss seeing Benita’s enthusiasm and joy in these posts, but I’m excited to continue her good work.

Much Love,
Caitlin Cieri