This I Believe
I believe in the transforming power of kindness.
Where did I first witness that credo in action? I’d been thinking a lot about New Orleans lately ever since Katrina, and then it came to me. Miss Etta O’Bier.
It was late summer of 1974 and I had just gotten my Master’s degree from Tulane when I decided to stay in the city and get my certificate so that I could teach in a bilingual school. My roommate was leaving to go back home, and I needed to find another place to live. When I first spoke with her, Miss O’Bier said many other students had already called her about the highly desirable apartment that she had for rent, but that I sounded like someone she could trust.
Miss O’Bier and her brother Hampton lived together in the old Victorian on the corner of Robert Street and Dryades. The apartment was tiny – a small entrance parlor, a postage stamp-sized kitchen, and a bedroom barely larger than the size of a double bed. I took it right away. The house was just two blocks off of the St. Charles streetcar line, and it would be convenient to both Tulane and Sacred Heart Academy where I’d be doing my student teaching.
When my $80 rent would be due, I’d walk over to the creaky porch of Miss O’Bier’s house and ring the doorbell. It became part of our monthly ritual that she would ask me to come in for a cup of tea. That’s how I got to know this spunky old woman who had been a schoolteacher up until the time her doctor said that she’s had pneumonia too many times and she needed to get out of the classroom.
Miss O’Bier was amazingly intelligent, well-read and opinionated, but it was her kindness that I remember the most. She noticed that I didn’t own an umbrella as I was coming home late one afternoon in a torrential New Orleans-style downpour. The next morning she called to tell me that she would lower an umbrella down for me on a rope from her second-story window that was just above my front door.
Later when I was admitted to the hospital she was my only visitor at Touro Infirmary, filling my room with flowers from her flourishing garden. Later it was Miss O’Bier who suggested that since I was getting married on a shoestring, I was welcome to use the daisies that grew on the side of her house for my makeshift bride’s crown.
After I moved away to Phoenix I found out that her brother had died, and she had moved back to her family’s original homestead in Shreveport. She passed away two years after that. Like anyone who makes a significant impact on our lives, Miss O’Bier has lived on in my memories and in the way that I treat other people.
I believe in the transforming power of kindness. Thank you, Miss Etta.
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