Wednesday with Wanda: She's 95 today

October 19, 2016 • Posted in careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, memoir writing, politics, Uncategorized by
Wanda way back at her 90th.

Wanda way back at her 90th birthday party with her fellow writers in our Renaissance Court class.

If you’ve followed our Safe & Sound blog for a while, you know who Wanda Bridgeforth is: she has been attending the memoir-writing class I lead in downtown Chicago for a decade now. She’s witty and talented, and today is her 95th birthday!

When Wanda was growing up on the South Side of Chicago, her mother worked “in private family,” which meant mama lived at the houses she took care of. Wanda lived with one relative one week, a friend the next, and sometimes, with complete strangers.

Wanda was tickled by the idea of us publishing one of her essays here in honor of her 95th birthday, and she suggested one that opens on Election Day in a small town she lived in just south of Chicago city limits in the early 1940s.

Election – Village Style

by Wanda Bridgeforth

Election Day was always eventful, but this one was extra special. Our 80 year old grandmother was “going to the voting” for the first time, a privilege she did not have in her home state of Mississippi.

Her Sunday suit and blouse were pressed, Enna Jettick shoes polished, bosom ruffle starched and ironed, white gloves washed and placed beside her, hat and purse on the hall table.

The second important event of the day? Mr. C. J. Berry had announced this would be his last campaign. He had been in office for many years and now wanted time to go fishing.

He was a very tall, very lean man whose arms and hands always dangled below his sleeves. He walked with a slow determined step. All the young people said he looked like Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow.

Elections in our village were truly democratic. There were no appointed officials. All candidates had to go through the election process, even if there was only one name on the ballot. If a candidate did not receive a majority of yes votes, he lost the election and the search would be on for a new candidate. However, in all of my years of residency I don’t recall a losing candidate.

The ballot box was on the mayor’s front porch in the summer and on his enclosed back porch in winter. The volunteer election judges worked in three-hour shifts during the 12-hours the polls were open. The polls closed at 6 p.m., and by 7:00 or 7:30 we had our results.

When the day ended we had two big things to celebrate: Grandma’s entry into the voting world, and Mr. C. J. Berry’s pre-retirement re-election as Village Dogcatcher.

Beth here: Wanda never misses an election, and she told me once that every time she casts a ballot, she thinks of the day her impeccably-dressed grandmother voted for the first time. The memoir-writing class she’s in is called “Me, Myself and I” and meets on Wednesdays. We’ll all be together to celebrate her birthday in class today, and we’ll all be together the day after voting day next month, too. However that election turns out, there’s one thing you can count on: Wanda will be sporting a “I voted” sticker to class on November 9, 2016. Happy 95th, Wanda!

Bethsclasses On October 19, 2016 at 8:28 am

I love this story. And, I love Wanda. She is truly and original

bethfinke On October 19, 2016 at 8:34 am

Definitely one of a kind. We’re so fortunate to have her in our lives.


Andrea On October 19, 2016 at 8:32 am

Happy brithday to the vice-president in charge of looking out the window! I love you.

bethfinke On October 19, 2016 at 9:56 am

A short explanation to those of you who are not fortunate enough to be in “Me, Myself and I” class with Wanda. After living in more than 50 different locations throughout her life, Wanda has finally settled in at a Southside Chicago high-rise with a terrific view of Lake Michigan. Many of the essays she writes begin — or end –with her sitting down at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee and gazing at the horizon. She claims it’s her job as the “vice-president in charge of looking out the window.” Andrea has written a post about Wanda for her 95th birthday, too, and you can link here to read Andrea’s essay at the Beth’s Class blog.

Sheila A. Donovan On October 19, 2016 at 9:06 am

I love Wanda’s writing, and I love HER even more!

bethfinke On October 19, 2016 at 9:26 am

That’s a whole lotta lovin’…!


Mel Theobald On October 19, 2016 at 10:21 am

Happy Birthday Wanda! I too love your writings and especially their suspense-filled endings. You’re the master of the “unexpected wrinkle.”

bethfinke On October 19, 2016 at 10:28 am

Unexpected wrinkle. Could that be the same as laugh lines?


Mel Theobald On October 19, 2016 at 11:21 am

You nailed it, Beth. It is the little chuckle at the end that always leaves me smiling after reading Wanda’s essays. She’s very clever and witty.

monna ray On October 19, 2016 at 11:00 am

Happy Birthday, Wanda. You’re an inspiration to all of us! Monna

Sent from my iPad


Mary Rigdon On October 19, 2016 at 1:24 pm

Please tell Wanda I loved this memoir.


Sent from my iPhone


bethfinke On October 19, 2016 at 1:57 pm

I’ll tell her, I promise. Sometimes she is able to access the comments here on her own, too, but she hasn’t quite figured out how to get her computer to work so that she can respond the way she’d like to all the time. Monna, I’ll will let her know you send your good wishes, too. Thanks to both of you for responding to her writing.


Ben Squires On October 19, 2016 at 6:11 pm

Beth: Wanda’s story touched memories of my mother, born in 1903 to a Irish-Swedish family on Chicago’s near west side. Her own mother, the Swedish part, died when my mother was three; a botched abortion where she acquired septisemia. I remember my mother, named Maggie Regan, told us that we had to vote. In her words: “I was married with two children before I could vote in a Presidential Election. I will be serving as an election board judge and each of you – four of us – better show up and vote or find another place to live” I haven’t missed one since during the past 70 years, and our daughters know “the rules”.

Charlene Shriver On October 19, 2016 at 9:27 pm

I love Wandas guest blog! Happy Birthday!

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