Thursday, May 25, 2017

Memorial Day (Mo and Norman)

Originally founded shortly after the end of the Civil War Memorial Day is a day to remember all who died for their country. We have had so many young men and women fighting to defend us, risking life and limb throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries. But as we honored those who died in our wars, we must not forget the soldiers and armed forces members who are still alive.

These men and women have been through all sorts of bizarre situations and danger. Many of them have had to completely change their way of thinking just to survive in the field. Even if they've never been injured or had to see someone die, it can be difficult for them to adjust to civilian life. So these stories are in honor of all those who served and deserve to be seen, heard, and known.
Mo McCooper
2.12.15
Civil Rights

Growing up in an all white neighborhood with all white nuns teaching me, I only knew a few people of a darker color who worked in the stores or cleaned the bars. In a wealthy town next door there was a farmer with a few acres of vegetables and at least one horse but I never got to meet him. He was black.

At the playground one of the older basketball players who taught us better skill between games had been a player on the Lower Merion High School State Championship Teams, which had included players from my hometown. We called him Mr. Draper or Mr. D and I had great respect for him.
In hitching rides between West Philadelphia and the western suburbs we walked every day the rough neighborhoods which had recently changed from mostly white to mostly black but we were not afraid or even nervous in the experience.
Only a few of my classmates at the small Roman Catholic high school were black. I didn’t get to know any of them well but I liked my one teammate on the freshman basketball team and admired a senior, Willie Charity, on the varsity team. The coach let me, at 4’ 11” and about 100 pounds, guard Willie, at about 6’ and 170 pounds, at the end of practice scrimmage to add a little humor to the situation. I took it very seriously.
When my father died during my senior year in high school, my mother received social security for about six months until my 18th birthday, in June, after high school graduation. A retired Naval Officer arranged a job for me shoveling cement on the PA Turnpike, which I needed to pay the mortgage on the house my parents had purchased a few months before my father died. I was the only white laborer on the cement and I was exhausted in the first half hours. The other laborers taught me how to use the shovel with the cement and saved my job.
Paying cash for doctor and hospital bills gave me a draft exemption during the Korean War but led to a bleak financial future. Good advice from the draft board representative led to waiving my exemption and enlisting for the draft into the U.S. Army.
The Sergeant at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, was a great instructor, teacher, and leader. He was black. When I was offered a course to be an intelligence agent at Fort Holabird, Maryland, both Sergeant Sutton and our Captain recommended I attend.  
After six weeks of basic training our platoon won a physical training competition and a weekend pass to the City of Columbia, S.C. We were advised in the first bar we entered that we had to drink in different sections of town.  
The soldier joints in the white section were disgusting. My fellow soldiers treated the waitresses like pigs. They even ripped one girl’s dress as she served pitchers of beer to the booth.  After a few beers I left. So this was RACISM!! After a short, walk around the soldiers (WHITE ONLY) sections of town, I went to my hotel room and slept late.


Norman Cain  
7.31.2014  
The Wedding 
When I arrived at Fort Davis, Panama in November 1965, to begin my tour of duty as Military Policeman, I was greeted by Specialist 4th Class Brooks who took me under his wing. He told me what to expect from the personnel of my new company. He took me throughout the military post and neighboring Canal Panama. He told me what to avoid and where it was safe to go. One piece of information that he related to me was hard to swallow. 
He said that if a soldier visited a girl in Rainbow City Panama, sat on a swing that embraced her porch, and accepted a cold glass of water would become married to the girl. To me, the story sounded like a folk tale. I asked him where Rainbow City was located and what was so special about the young females that lived there.
He said that the housing area was located in the Canal Zone, an area controlled by America and occupied by its civil servants of the Panama Canal. He explained that the Panamanians living in the Canal Zone attended American schools, had better housing, access to better food, and occupied a suburban type environment. He said that the girls who lived in Rainbow City were no different than those that lived in the Republic of Panama, but if I had no intentions of getting married, I should stay away from the area.
After I had been in Panama for a year, I was invited to a wedding reception. Guess where? Rainbow City. I guess the groom, who I did not know, had drunk a glass of water while sitting on a swing on the porch of the house where his wedding reception was taking pace. During the reception, I became engaged in a prolonged conversation with a young lady. I walked her home. We dated for a year.
Her father, who was employed as an engineer for the Panama Canal, didn't care for Americans. So I was not allowed in her house for several months. Finally, her mother told me to come inside. While the home in which my soul mate, Elaina, resided did not have a porch, let alone a swing. I guess the story that I initially heard when I arrived in Panama: "If you sat on a swing and drink a glass of cold water while visiting a girl in Rainbow City, Panama, you will marry her" was true.
We divided to get married. When I asked the father for his approval, he told me to ask his wife. Elaina's mother gave her approval. Military law stipulated that a soldier who intended to get married must notify his superiors months in advance of his intended wedding date. The military needed to conduct an investigation of the couple in question, administer a blood test, and conduct marriage counseling, document the procedure, and perhaps facilitate the marriage ceremony. 
Because I only had a month before being discharged from the military, we decided to forgo military regulations. We had to get married by means of the underground route, which was a clandestine procedure, one that could have landed me in the stockade.
First I had to contact a law clerk, who sent me to have a blood test. The blood test was administered (would you believe it) by a botanist. Next, we were given physical examinations by a doctor. It rained hard during the day of our wedding. We caught a ciba bus to the courthouse where we were to be married by a judge. The bus driver who knew asked us if we were going to get married. So much for the secret.
Since we did not have a witness, we had to pay a clerk $10.00. The ceremony was swift. I kissed the bride. I couldn't believe I was married. I was ready to leave because it was the last day of the month, the day when our company had to be dressed and information at 6 pm to give respect to our nation's flag. If one were late for this ceremony (revelry) restriction to the barracks for at least two weeks would be the penalty.
Before, we could leave, the judge told me that if we wanted our marriage license to be delivered to the court by express, I would have to pay $20.00. I was under the impression that I had already paid for the marriage license and that it would be available at the end of the marriage ceremony. I paid the money without protesting. What could I do? I had to get back to the post as soon as possible. I took my new wife home and headed back to the post.
When I arrived at the post, I was late for revelry. The entire company was in formation and ready to salute the flag. I ran to my room, hurriedly dressed and joined the formation in record speed. Just as I found by place in line, the captain began the revelry ceremony.
Looking back on the incident, I realized that my company commanders were aware of my intention to get married but decided to overlook my breaking the rules. I am certainly happy about that, because I could have been in big trouble.
When I arrived back at Rainbow City, all of my wives neighbors and friends were at her house. No one was dressed up. There was run, Calypso music from the record machine, rice and peas, a homemade wedding cake and loud singing and vigorous dancing. I have been in five expensive and formal weddings but none could touch my special day.
A week after my wedding, I returned to the United States. My wife joined me three weeks later. My family, who was apprehensive about my marriage, instantaneously adored my bride. My friends in Philadelphia, met my wife, liked her immediately, gave us a reception, and apologized for doubting my decision to marry a foreigner.
While we were divorced after 20 years of marriage, me and my ex wife have remained friends. From our union there were two boys and a girl, who have all done well. We have seven grandchildren. Getting married in the Republic of Panama was one of the best decisions/adventures that I have ever had.
 Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Motherlode (Gloria, Aileen, Loretta G, Mei Chiu, and Norman)

Many of our older buds are both mothers and grandmothers, and many more have had mothers and grandmothers. It's only right to devote this post to the mothers and grandmothers who made Best Day what it is today.
Gloria Washington
5.31.2012
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.  


Aileen Jefferson
8.9.2012
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.

 
Loretta Gaither
5.22.2014
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.
(Read the epic story of Loretta's reunion with her daughter here)



Mei Chiu
06.27.2006
Bound Feet

My grandma had bound feet – did you know? She also lived in Guang Zhou in the same house with Old Li and me. Oh no, not my real grandma. My real grandma, I didn’t meet until I went back to the village and by then she was very old. When I was young, I didn’t know her; when I went back, she was already blind, so she never knew me. Gou Ma visited her and brought her food, and brought me along. Gou Ma was already sixty herself when she took me back from Old Li, and living by herself by that point. I never met her hushand, who had passed away by then.

And so, to be clear, the one I call “Grandma” was actually Old Li’s late husband’s mom. I can see how that could sound a little confusing, and am glad you asked! She and I spent many hours together in the house, most of which I spent watching her feet.

Sad for me – no school to go to and stuck inside. I wanted so badly to go to school.

Old Li was out a lot, and her mom was a nurse, or training to be a nurse, so she was out of the house too.

Grandma wouldn’t let anyone see her bare feet, so I had to use my imagination. It was pitiful, painful to imagine. Her four small toes were bent backwards under her feet. Her big toe was really the only shape in her cloth shoe you can see. She wore these shoes that had holes just for the big toes. I don’t know how she took a bath. I don’t know. Maybe she didn’t wash her body? But what I could observe was that she tipped her weight to the front of her feet when she walked.

Traditionally, the ladies had bound feet; poorer people had normal feet. But it was just going out of fashion by my time. Good thing!

I will show you a photo of my grandma next time you visit. I will find it. Back then, there weren’t many photos taken, so ones showing bound feet are very rare. It is they kind of picture they make many copies of and sell in Chinese arts and crafts shops – Americans like to buy pictures like that to decorate their houses. They must think the way Chinese people dressed is cute or special.

You know, rumor had it that Grandma was the first woman with bound feet who came to America. But how she hated it here! Because Americans wouldn’t stop gawking at her. She got here all the way by boat and rode all the way home by boat. The rides must have been unbearable, so the ridicule must have been even worse.

Grandma’s feet are really the main thing I remember about her. And I remember he singing. She sang to herself, staring into a book. You can listen if you want but it was intended for herself. Besides that, she spent her time reading the paper, listening to the radio (which had been invented by then and was pretty popular), and sang along to Chinese opera songs.

The Li family had a live-in maid. They had enough money. So Grandma just sat at home. And I was told to just sit at home. With no books to read. They said to me, “Girls go to school for what? You tell me?! Not like you will make money any way.” That is what Old Li said to me. I was very mad at for saying that but what could I do?

Meanwhile, Grandma would try to convince me to be a Chinese opera singer so she could go to shows for free. But I didn’t want to. I couldn’t tell if she was just trying to be funny, because she mentioned the idea often. If so, I didn’t think it was funny. I didn’t even like Chinese opera. I just couldn’t get into it.

What I loved was movies because they are about real life. In Chinese opera, you wave a flag around which symbolizes this or that, but it is not true. I didn’t understand. And besides, I was too short. I couldn’t see past people’s heads. They built low temporary scaffolds out of bamboo and threw wood planks across them. That was it – simple way of making many rows of benches, wasn’t it? The problem for me was that they were all the same height.

When I was twelve, Gou Ma brought me back to the village, where I finally got my wish – to go to school! Can you imagine my happiness? The sad part was, it did not even last a whole year. The teacher was old, and taught all the same classes in the same room. She tried to teach everything, but really only knew a little of everything. Now one good thing was, after I got out of classes in the afternoon, I sometimes went with other girls to the movies. Not too many times, but every time the movies gave me a mixture of real feelings, and I liked that.

Years later, when the Japanese came to fight in Hong Kong during the war, I went to movies a lot. There was nothing to do during wartime. And because of the war, movies got very cheap, only five cents. Your grandpa had a steady income so we had enough to eat and a little extra to spend. You ask why I had this kind of  freedom during the war, why I didn’t have to hide? You see, the Japanese kids were dropping bombs, yes, but just once in a while. You were as safe in the movie theater as you would be at home. We were ok, so why sit at home and be scared? You need entertainment to have a meaningful life. And for me, movies were very exhilarating. Of course, when peacetime came, life was easier in a sense. At that point the family grew, and sometimes we brought all the kids to the movies including you mom when she was little.

A lot to tell. A lot happened. As I start to think back, one thing blends into another, probably hard for you to understand, right? But you are patient. You ask me. You are very thoughtful. You want to know. This kind of deep, deep memory doesn’t usually come up when you are just talking about daily routines. 

 

Norman Cain
6.18.2015
Things My Mother Said To Me

My mother was a short giant of an "absolutely no nonsense" women whose self proclaimed position of boss was never challenged. She would tell anyone (no matter the time and place) to do something, and what she demanded was done without resistance. For instance, I've seen her break up many corner crap games; likewise, I can recall several instances when she actually went into the streets' gambling den and told the hardened card players to curtail the vile noise that the entire street could hear. And they complied.

She did not waste words on idle gossip, trivial matters or to hear herself talk; to the contrary, when she spoke it was for a relevant reason, and those who were within hearing range definitely listened. Including myself. I listened to her – partly, because I did not want to encounter her anger, but mainly because of my respect for her and her information, advise guidance, dictates, etc. that she dispensed.

Over the years, in her discussions that she has conducted with me, she has issued mandatory mandates, rendered perceptions, engaged in serious discussions and has given me tons of well needed counseling. I will never forget those sessions. She could be quite the disciplinarian. I can remember coming into the house after a pleasant day of playing and immediately being the recipient of the whipping that I was promised earlier, a whipping that I had escaped my mind.

Between the painful licks from the belt and my pronouncements of I-ain't-gonna-do-it-no-more, my mother would say didn't I tell you not to? Those whippings hurt, but there was something called a "Good Talking To" that would have me sobbing from the soul, boo-hooing with pain. The "Good Talking To" would consist of phrases like "I'm ashamed of you" and "You know better."

I remember my mother religiously lining each of my four siblings up and staying in a stern voice "What do you say when you speak to a grown person?" We would chime "Yes Sir" "Yes Ma'am." And during the holidays when children were required to say poems (which were called pieces) in church, she would line us up (my four siblings) and urge us to use our hands, eyes, hesitation, pronunciation and enunciation for the best presentation effect.

My mother also had a humorous side. When I received the award for being the top student in my sixth grade special education class, she said "If Norman is the smartest kid in the class, God help the rest." Before breaking out into a prolongued uncontrollable laugh. Whenever she had to inform me about something she knew would be disappointing news for me, she used a love filled gently voice. "Sissy's house caught fire last night. Sissy is dead." Sissy was the first girl that I had ever been romantically interested in. I have never forgotten her untimely death; however, there were more romantic interests.

Once, when I was a teenager, she looked me in the eyes and said, "I know what your problem is – girls." And she was correct. A few years later, when a serious heart break had me in a state of depression, she said to me, "There will be other girls." She was right. When I became older and seemingly a veteran of heartbreaks and homeless separations, my mother adamantly said "Get your own place." She was right.

When I left my parents' home on the morning of July 5, 1965 to report to the army, she urged me to hold my head up and a year and a half later when I came home on leave, she touched me and said with a tone of relief in her voice, "You came home." During what I surmise was my mid-life crisis era, my mom constantly told me to not throw away my gifts.

And when I told her about a dream I had about her father, mother, and uncle, she said that they were urging me to keep the faith. During a period in my life when nothing was going right and I was making wrong decisions, my mother would constantly tell me to not discard my gifts. When I told her that I had had a dream about her parents and her father's brother, she said "They are telling you that you can do it." If one did a wonderful deed, my mother would not necessarily congratulate them, as she felt that they were doing what was expected of them.

So whenever she told me "You did a good job," it meant a lot to me and encourages me to strive as hard as I possibly could. There are of course many other things that my mother said to me, and everything she said to me was in love, and if the tone of her delivers were sometimes harsh, it was merely to display "Tough Love" and to leave an everlasting message.

Happy Belated Mothers' Day from The Best Day of My Life So Far!

Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (Benita and Mei)

 



The month of May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and what better way to celebrate than with a look at Best Day's origins? This nationwide non-profit started when Benita was just a 25-year-old Philadelphian calling her grandmother in Seattle. Next thing she knew, her grandmother Mei Chiu told her all sorts of incredible stories about her life surviving WWII and raising eleven children. But when Benita told her how proud the rest of the family must be to have such an awesome grandma, Mei said "No one knows any of this. No one knows because no one ever asks." So Benita started The Best Day of My Life So Far to end senior isolation, and to give older adults of all races a voice.




The full origin story can be found here, but I wanted to end this with some stories by Benita Cooper and Mei Chiu. 

Benita Cooper 
09.24.2009 
What Americans Certainly Don't Do 

Next year I am turning 30. I am excited about it. I love the idea of getting old, the peacefulness of it, the been-there-done-that of it. But then I look around and see people's attitude towards older people. It's upsetting. Youth in a jar, that's what people want. Not wrinkles, not physical delays. And when I poke around on the web I see on Yahoo this Q&A string entitled "What Cultures Respect and Revere the Elderly?" And the Best Answer - based on number of votes - said, "Africans and Amerian Indians definitely do. Asians had in the past but the younger generation is not following this past example. Americans certainly do not." Ouch. I am Asian and American, so that's a double whammy. I guess my relationship with my grandma has grown something in me. I don't know what else to call it except for a soft spot for seniors. I didn't know what to do about it until months ago, I suddenly noticed the senior center one block away. And after some meetings and emails with the fabulous staff there, I knew what I had to do: start a storytelling and writing workshop for seniors there. And put their voices here, online, for us to listen. 


Mei Chiu 
~2006 
Two Mothers 
From this story
  
When I was small, I had to serve two mothers.When I was a baby, about the time I was just learning to walk, a widow woman befriended my mother. At first the widow saw my mother in the market and approached her, saying nice things about her lovely baby girl. Then she joked about wanting to take the beautiful child.More and more the widow imposed her unwanted attention, until one day, the widow took me from my mother's arms and announced that from then on she would be my mother.


 

Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Could You Do Us a Favor? (Joe)




I wanted to use this blog post to talk about something I've been thinking about for a while. One of the distinct things about Best Day is that we've worked with the Blind and visually impaired before. Our volunteers make particularly good transcribers, and we have amassed quite the collection of stories from these storytellers. Joe, whose story is featured below, is a regular both in our workshop and on this blog.

Now I want to ask my readers if any of them have worked with the visually impaired and want to volunteer. Normally, these stories are written first, read aloud second, and posted online last. We photocopy every senior's story so they can keep a copy for themselves, but this practice doesn't benefit our Blind authors. As far as they're concerned, we're just giving them paper. I've considered typing up Joe's stories in Braille, or perhaps even a Braille run of our book, but I don't know where to start.

We'd love to hear from you! Tweet @bestdaysofar or tag @bestdayofmylifesofar on Instagram with your thoughts about this post. And if you or someone you know is willing to volunteer, contact me directly at ccieri@fandm.edu. In the mean time, pass this around, tell your friends and family, and please let us know if you want to help. Thank you so much for reading and enjoy today's story.

Joe Garrison 
7.9.2015
When I had my R&B Group 

It was originally called R&B harmony, white disc jockeys changed it to doo-wop. 
When I was 15, I formed my own group with some classmates. We would practice after school at 3:30 in a classroom. We were asked to perform at intermission of school dances. We played at a girl’s birthday party and we were a hit. We were called The Meridians. There were 4 of us. 
The hand bell ringing choir had us perform after their concert. We needed to blow off some steam from singing hymns. 
I had a music teacher who would let us sing our rock and roll songs. We would cover songs, and one guy in the group would write his own songs. They weren’t very good. 
He mostly wrote about girls he met. I wonder if they ever found out about each other. 
The term Rock n’ Roll was made up by a white disc jockey named Alan Freed. But most of it wasn’t Rock n’ Roll at all. 
I’ve always been a fan of all kinds of music. But I’ve always enjoyed my time as a part of a music group. 
My idol was Tony Williams a member of a group called the Platters. He was a R&B crooner.

 

Curated by Caitlin Cieri