When I asked Wanda Bridgeforth what she wanted me to bring her for her 90th birthday, she didn’t hesitate. “Harper!” she said. “Bring him to class!”
Wanda is an animal lover. You might remember the beautiful letter she wrote when it came time for Hanni, my Seeing Eye dog, to retire last year. Harper may not be able to handle traffic anymore, but that won’t keep him away on Wednesday. We’ll take a cab.
Wanda joined our memoir-writing class five years ago, and she’s only missed class once in all that time. With her daughter’s help, she self-published On The Move( the first volume of her own memoir) in 2009. Wanda has had a significant hearing loss since childhood, and she sits right next to me during class so she doesn’t miss a word. This turns out to be a privilege for me: I get to hear everything Wanda says, too!
In her 90 years, Wanda has lived in more than 50 different apartments or houses. Her mother was a “domestic” and had to leave Wanda every Sunday to take off and live at the houses she took care of. Wanda lived with one relative one week, a friend the next, and sometimes, with complete strangers. “I tell you, Beth” she said to me once. “I could tell you stories about growing up that would make the hair curl on a bald man’s head.”
A number of Wanda’s hair-raising stories will be included in On The Move, Volume Two, which she hopes to have out by this Christmas.
And speaking of 90-year-olds with published memoirs, if you happen to have missed Hanna Bratman’s interview on Chicago’s WGN Radio Sunday morning, never fear: you can download the interview from Rick Kogan’s web site. Rick Kogan introduced her on air as his “favorite new writer,” and said she was “a natural” on the radio. And once the microphones were off? He whispered to me, “She’s a doll!” I wouldn’t be surprised if he asks her back. And next time, we’ll bring fellow nonagenarian memoirist Wanda Bridgeforth along, too.