Grateful for Joe

Thursday, November 26, 1998

A couple of years ago, right about now, I received a card from a woman I had never met. She wrote: "Every Thanksgiving, I choose somebody I'm thankful for. This year, It's you."

She said my columns introduced her to a lot of nice people she otherwise wouldn't have met. As is my custom, I shamelessly accepted credit, even though we all know I am merely the typist.

Her note meant so much to me that I decided I would follow her lead, pass that glow on to somebody else the following year. Then I never did it, as is my other custom.

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, my name surely must appear on most of the bricks.

Certifiable suit

For instance, I was thinking of sending a note to Joe Hale. President of the Cinergy Foundation, he's a former teacher and now a certifiable Fourth Street suit. I'm not sure exactly what all he does for his company, but I know that it involves giving away millions of dollars after probably zillions of complicated proposals.

Anyway, I told him about a letter from a woman at St. Joseph Children's Treatment Center in Dayton, which provides "therapeutic care to the most damaged and violated kids in the community." She said the agency's Hamilton County office could really use some suitcases for their foster children.

"People may not realize how a simple suitcase could make such a difference for a young person whose life is all about migration," she wrote. "They frequently travel from place to place with their belongings in a garbage bag."

On hands and knees

Kids, abused, then shuffled from place to place, probably don't have a lot of stuff. Clothes, maybe some pictures. A book bag. Little kids might have toys. Whatever has survived their various moves must be very dear to them.

Then they have to shove it into a garbage bag. And arrive at the new place, carrying it.

How must that feel?

I told myself that I was just chatting with Joe about that letter, thinking aloud about a possible column. It was not what you might call a formal proposal.

That's what I told myself. Even though I knew that two years ago when I wrote about some people who needed a freezer, he fitted them up with a new one. It arrived without a logo on the side, and he didn't send out a news release announcing his good works.

I meant to send him a note.

And didn't.

An hour after I told him about the kids at St. Joseph's, he called to say he had "found" a hundred duffle bags. "Canvas and leather," he said. "They're cool."

Found them, Joe? Along the roadside? In the back seat of your car?

"Hey," he said, "no big deal." He spent an hour or so making calls to see what he could find. And he figured that kids probably would like to arrive at a new destination with a battered suitcase about as much as they'd like arriving with a garbage bag.

Canvas and leather duffle bags. Cool ones.

Hey, Joe, big deal.

Joe Hale is a handsome guy, fit, a runner. He won't mind, I'm sure, if I say that he looks very good in his Fourth Street suit. But I'll bet he never looked better than he did crawling around on his hands and knees with a tape measure, trying to find space for a freezer in the basement of a tenement building. Or fending off a meeting or six while he was shopping for duffle bags.

Dear Joe: Every Thanksgiving, starting now, I choose somebody I'm grateful for. This year it's you.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com, call 768-8393, or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Her new book, I Beg to Differ, a collection of her most popular columns and commentaries, is available at (800) 852-9332.

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