Thursday, October 07, 1999

Washerwoman can lead Tide of goodness




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two things, totally unrelated. Probably.

        The first is notice of the passing of Miss Oseola McCarty, who visited Procter & Gamble Co.'s Ivorydale plant two years ago. Not every tourist would share her fascination with soap-making. But Tide was the source of riches for Miss McCarty, who was 91 when she died.

        She made a living by hand-washing clothes with Tide, a tub and a washboard for 75 years. She saved her money. “I spent some on myself. I put the rest in the bank.” When arthritis forced her retirement in 1994, she took stock of what she had.

        More than enough.

        So she gave $150,000 to endow scholarships for African-American students at the University of Southern Mississippi in her hometown of Hattiesburg. “I believe in education,” she said.

Random kindness
        The second thing is a letter from a reader:

        “I was lunching alone at a local restaurant, when the waitress retrieved my bill from the table with the not-unwelcome news the bill had been paid by some other patron anonymously. This was a first, let me tell you. I started wandering through the restaurant, looking for one of my kids, grandchildren, associates, friends or neighbors. Didn't find a soul I knew.

        “I was about to leave when I was accosted by two young women who admitted to having picked up my lunch tab. They had seen me looking for possible perpetrators and didn't want me to be concerned or confused. (At my age, confusion and concern have become a lifestyle.)

        “They had simply wanted to do something nice for a total stranger and had selected me at random. We discussed the obligation their act of kindness had placed upon me: that I would have to go out and find a stranger for whom to do a nice thing. Then we decided that, on the principle of a chain letter, I should probably look for two people to do something nice for, and that way niceness would spread more quickly.

        “I warned them that I was a curmudgeon in training, and that such actions would completely destroy my adopted character, but they said I'd just have to learn to live with it.

        “It occurs to me that the world is not entirely down the tubes when two nice young women can, spontaneously, do something for a perfect stranger — with the sole purpose of bringing a little bit of unexpected pleasure into that stranger's life.

        “You are welcome to use any part of this you wish,” the reader concluded, “but please keep my name out of it in the spirit of anonymity which my benefactors taught me.”

        So, anyway, both of these totally unrelated things are on my mind. Something kind of wonderful must happen to people when they start thinking like Miss McCarty and like the two women in the restaurant and like the curmudgeon.

Grabbing on
        “God gave her back her time,” said Jewel Brantley Tucker of the University of Southern Mississippi. “When her friends were out finger-poppin' or doing the Boogaloo, she was home taking care of her grandmother, her mother and her aunt.”

        She lived to see the inside of the White House and, even better, to see nine students awarded scholarships from her fund, which grew to more than $600,000.

        “Miss McCarty always said she hoped other people might grab onto her idea,” Ms. Tucker said.

        I am wondering what would happen if we grabbed onto her idea, sending money to the Oseola McCarty Fund at the University of Southern Mississippi, 185 Mary Magdalene Road, Hattiesburg MS 39401.

        You know, maybe just because she used a Cincinnati soap, or simply to see what might happen if we perpetrate one of those kindnesses that so charmed our curmudgeonly reader. Maybe something else wonderful would happen. Although, maybe something wonderful would have happened anyway.

        And the two things would be totally unrelated. Probably.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at laurapulfer@enquirer.com Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears on WVXU radio, National Public Radio's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.