5 June

Is There Music In The Bedlam Farm Warriors Soccer Team?

by Jon Katz
Music And Warriors

I was taken aback when Ali said the soccer team chose the name “Bedlam Farm Warriors,” it seemed a bit aggressive to me, but then these are teen-aged boys, and their choice of a name is not my business, even if my farms’ name is going onto their Jerseys.

Yesterday, Ali (Amjad Abdullah Mohammed), told me four or five of the boys, led by the young artist Sakler Moo, are beautiful singers, they love to sing on the bus and after practice, and the sound is rich and beautiful he said. He loves to listen to them.

I had a bright idea. How about having them come and sing at the Open House Saturday, they are coming anyway?

Ali said it was a great idea, but I suggested he ask them, no pressure. They were right in the van next to him when I called. I heard a roaring “yes!” and so they are going to sing at the Open House this Saturday, another and very welcome new dimension in our celebration.

For me, and already, for many others, these boys are becoming a symbol of things and ideals beyond themselves.

Then I had another idea. What, I asked, Ali, if we started a band? If the Warriors formed a band, something for them to do all year, and especially in the winter, when they had no soccer, and when Ali worried about the lure of the streets. Albany is a rough town in spots. And they already have singers, just no instruments.

We both got excited. We could start with a used piano keyboard, and an old guitar and some beat up drums. See where it went. I didn’t know if this would interest them, Ali said he was going to ask them tomorrow at soccer practice. I’m excited about this idea, providing it is something they want, not something I want.

If there is a musical core that is willing to sing in public at the age of 12 to 14, then there might be music and a band coming out of this particular very unique community.  They are bright and very hard working, and Ali’s goal is to keep them doing things and off of Facebook all weekend. So far, so good.

They love to do things together and Ali loves to encourage them. This idea has not been approved by them, or by their families,  it is just being bandied about and there is no request for money here or need to send any. They might just gag at the idea.

The parents would have to get involved, and the kids would have to think about it and talk about it. I think there may be music in the Bedlam Farm Warriors soccer team, if there is interest. That would be a concert I could hardly wait to attend.

5 June

Connie’s Path. The Pathways To Life. For Once, Looking Back.

by Jon Katz
The Pathways To Life

It was a dark, cold and rainy day today when Red and I went to the Mansion. We stopped at the Activity Room to say hello, then visited with Barb and Dottie, then we went to see Connie. Her door was open, her air conditioner was running, it was cool and dry and Connie was knitting a cap to go to kidney patients on dialysis at the Albany Medical Center an hour or so away.

It was quiet in the room, and I sensed right away that Connie seemed a bit down. I asked her if she had gotten any letters lately, and she said, no, not for a few days. I think Red sensed her mood too, as he often does and pressed his head close and looked into her eyes. These two are connected.

A staff member told me she was glad we were there, she thought Connie had been down lately.

Connie doesn’t usually talk a lot to me, I like to sit and just let her be with Red, she gets so much pleasure out of it, and so does he. Connie is healing for Red, I can see it. When we do talk, it seems to count. I find that many women, especially older women, are not used to talking openly with men. Makes me sad sometimes, but it is very true.

Today, Connie wanted to talk. She asked how Maria was and I said she was in her studio preparing for the Open House. I told Connie I hope she comes, but I also know that traveling is very difficult for her with her oxygen tanks and tubes and compressors.

For the first time, I asked about her family, and for the first time, she invited me to go and collect the photographs of her family that sat on the room’s radiator cover. I brought three or four over. She talked about her granddaughter and great-granddaughter, about her son and his girlfriends, about her late husband and her much-loved dog Tanner, who she had adopted with a friend “when I was up and about.”

Connie almost never speaks of the past and I was touched and moved by her stories, I hope she comes to my story-telling workshop on Tuesday afternoon. I picked up a stuffed dog with the name “Tanner” inscribed, and Connie said it looked just like the dog she had adopted and loved so much. She kept the stuffed Tanner by her bedside.

I think the gloomy weather brought Connie down, and she explained some of the other reasons to me, although I’m not free to share them. She did speak openly with me, and I was grateful for that, trust takes awhile to build.

She is also having some eye trouble – Styes, she’s been to an eye doctor twice. I think Connie would appreciate getting some letters, you can write her at The Mansion, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

I left, and then remembered I forgot to hug Connie, so Red and I went back to her room. Somehow, I know the hugs are important to her, and I remembered that a number of the residents had told me they miss being touched. Letters are the equivalent of hugs for them, they are a powerful way for them to be touched by others.

A Mansion staffer said she thought Maria and I and Red had been adopted by Connie, we were family now. I was startled by the idea, but I feel the same way. See you soon, I said, offering a long hug around all of the tubes and tanks. This is a family I wish to be a part of.

5 June

At The Mansion, A Wall Of Animals. From You, From The Army Of Good.

by Jon Katz
From The Army Of Good

A huge bulletin board in the hallway of the Mansion is filled with the photos and images of animals sent there by the Army Of Good and saved. The residents come and stop by this board every day and see in the photos memories of their own lives, their own pets, the animals they loved to see and live with.

These images mean a lot and brighten many days, and I thank you. I hope  some of you can writing to Peggie and Connie and Jean and Alice and Madeline and Brother Peter and Jane and the others. They love your letters, and you can write them c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

Also, a reminder that July Fourth is the next holiday approaching and it is one the Mansion residents celebrate, they even have a fireworks display behind their building. Cards and notebooks and gift bags would be much appreciated for the Fourth, it will be celebrated there, and you messages and gifts have turned holidays from darkness to light.

The Mansion address is 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

5 June

Summer, The Queen Of The Mansion

by Jon Katz
Summer, Queen Of The Mansion

Summer the stray cat is now the Queen Of The Mansion, she has a cushioned chair reserved for her on the back porch, a small cat house by the door, and permission to come inside in bad weather or at night. There is a bowl of cat food waiting for her every morning outside, and she has assume that feline air of entitlement that comes when a cat chooses a home to own and dominate.

At night, she has a choice of lush sofas, a score of warm beds and lots of dark and cozy spaces. She has a number of favorite places to stay in. She is not the least bit afraid of Red, she doesn’t budge when he walks past and he doesn’t give her so much as a glance.

She is the reigning royalty at the Mansion. She even likes to pose.

She has her new collar with a bell to protect birds, and a flea and tick collar. She has been bathed and is regularly brushed. She is affectionate and quite  regal, she made a choice and is a lucky cat. The residents are wildly in love with her, as they are with Red. And they are all aware that a new puppy, Leroy is coming into their life.

The one resident concerned about cat allergies has agreed to let Summer come inside. So far, he is doing fine.

There are some good and sweet animals caring for the Mansion residents. Dottie stopped me on the porch  where she was sitting and said “we hear you will be coming with Red and a puppy!” Yes, I said. “And we hear the cat is staying.” Yes, I said. Wow, are we lucky, she said.

5 June

Teaching Story-Telling At The Mansion Tomorrow

by Jon Katz
Workshop Tomorrow

Tuesday at 1 p.m., I’ve been invited to teach a story-telling workshop at the Mansion. I am eager to do this. I love hearing the stories of the residents, they are the stories of life, and many have been forgotten. Sylvie traveled the world as a diplomat’s daughter. Connie teamed up with a friend to start a fiber arts business. Madeline’s father was killed by her brother to stop his awful abuse of the family, and she was sent to an orphanage.

My workshop is about an hour, but it is the launch of a month long story telling initiative that I have launched with Julie Smith, the Mansion Activities Director. I’m going to talk about elemental story structure and ask the residents to pick a story from their lives, and then write them down.

We will have a reading and awards ceremony at the end of the month in the Great Room at the edge of the Mansion building.

This will be a challenge to my teaching and my idea of teaching. I talked to some of the residents today, they are eager for direction and passionate about telling their stories, it is a new way for me to teach and to think about stories, and I hope to share or somehow publish their stories at the end of the month.

I will tell the about simple story structure, and then ask them to consider a story from their own lives that helps explain who they are. Stories are so essential for people living at the edge of life, they often look back and review their lives, but it is difficult to find anyone who will listen or who wants to hear

I hope to excite them with the idea that people will listen. When I came to visit today with Red, Sylvie was sitting on the coach reading letters and responding “I’m writing to Luann Sanders,” she told me, and I knew the name write away. Luanne is a reader of the blog and a great friend of The Mansion. She has written many letters, sent many gifts, even driven to Cambridge to visit the residents.

Sylvie says she is visiting soon and wanted to write her. The Mansion letters much appreciate your letters, you can  write them c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. I so look forward to hearing the stories of the Mansion residents. I mean to tell them that their stories matter.

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