Tags: 1970s, elementary school, life lessons, perseverance
Everything happens when you’re a kid when you’re twelve years old. Except this happened when I was ten and eleven, I think.
I grew up in the country, in a small town. However, for reasons I’m not entirely clear on (because I was ten) we moved to town for a few years. Collinsville is a larger town in Illinois than where I grew up, and closer to St Louis. A suburb on the Metro-East side, if you will.
Aside from everything being bigger, and there were more people, one of the big differences for me was school. In the country I rode the bus. In Collinsville, I walked to and fro. (Uphill. Both ways. In the snow. For miles.) Actually, on a nostalgic return visit, I realized that it wasn’t as far as I remembered–but I was littler then. The distance was about half a mile.
And it wasn’t a bad walk, either, except for one time.
One time, in the winter, my older brother was visiting us. He was recently returned from the Navy, and he was a MAN. He was a stranger, as far as I knew–he was eight years older and we didn’t have much in common. During this visit in the winter, he was up early with dad in the kitchen. I got up for school, and the weather was bad. It was icy outside. Cold and rain and turned into freezing rain, and every surface was slick.
I was sure–or at least hoping–that there was no school.
There was no indication on TV–I checked all four channels. Dad was ready to let me stay, but my brother–being the big, dumb ol’ bully that he was–made me go. I bundled up and made the walk. It was slippery, and I had to plan every step. It was cold and a little rain was still coming down. I finally get to school…
And no one was there. I was angry. The doors were open, and I walked all over, looking for answers. I made it to the junction between the old school (my elementary school) and the new part, which was the junior high. There was the office, and I trudged in to find a lone secretary sitting there.
“Is–is–isn’t there any school today?” I stammered. I knew the answer.
“Oh, no, sweetie. School’s been called off because of the ice storm. You can go home.” She turned back to what she was doing. It never occurred to me to question what she was doing there. This was about me. And the ice. And my brother. And him making me walk in it.
I stormed home. I started to storm home, but I fell, on the ice, several times. I was heartbroken, angry, and feeling unloved and sorry for myself. The last fall was near the graveyard, right behind the school. I pulled myself up and sat on a tombstone to collect myself and cry a little. It was cold on my butt. The sky was grey and everything glistened with ice. There was no one around. Why didn’t I notice this on the way to school? Why didn’t I see that there were no other kids walking?
Finally finished with my fit, I got up and wiped my nose and face on my damp coat sleeve and walked home. I planned what I was going to say, knowing I would get an apology and receive retribution. I came in and slammed the door. “CARL!” I yelled at him. “There’s no school today! I didn’t have to go out in the weather!”
There. That should make him feel bad. He just started laughing. “I know.”
What a bastard.
But actually what I meant to write about was something else. I walked to school, and most of the kids did. Some road a bus, but they must have lived very far away. The walkers would come to school from all directions, and leave that way as well. And so we had crossing guards. The crossing guards were actually students. The older ones–fifth and sixth graders. In the fourth grade I saw the power they wielded and the prestige that came with that calling.
Plus, at the end of the year there was an awards ceremony in the auditorium, where kids got all kinds of awards and recognition. Most of it was for athletics, and I knew I wasn’t going to see any of that. There were other things as well, though, like recognition for academics (ha!) and art (double ha!) and even attendance. I don’t have a chance at any of this. But they also gave out little trophies for the kids that did crossing guard duty.
That was an activity that I felt was in my wheelhouse. You stand there, you stop the little kids from going into the street until you say. After carefully examining the road way and making a judgment based on all of your knowledge and experience, you let them cross. I’m in.
The following year was my fifth grade year, so I could finally join the service. The school probably put out a notice or a reminder for people that would be interested. I talked to the teacher that sponsored the effort, Mr Dresch. He was one of the sixth grade teachers. I had to come to a meeting of their little cabal during my free time in fifth period.
There was more to it than I might have imagined. I know I went through some type of training, and received my crossing guard belt-sash combo (whatever that is called) and my badge. I know, right? I had a badge. I had power. I had authority. I had rank, too–and I was the lowest.
Along with the other fifth graders that were new to the company, we were “patrolman.” The sixth graders that had done it the previous year were promoted. There was a Captain, a Lieutenant, and two Sergeants. Then us four patrolmen, the grunts. It even had our rank on our shiny badges, so everyone knew. We needed eight in our squad because we had eight intersections to man. The Captain made the rotation schedule. In the back of his Dukes of Hazard notebook he had the official schedule. We rotated to different spots during the week.
I didn’t realize we got certain luxuries with this duty. We got to leave a few minutes early at the end of the day to get to our posts. We were even allowed to be a few minutes late after the bell in the morning, because we were there in the morning as well.
Of course, it wasn’t all Skittles and rainbows. It might have been the standing in the rain, or it might have been ending up with the crappy post too often (the stoplight, or “SL” in the Captain’s book, was the furthest post from the school, and communication was sparse. How did you know when time was up and you could leave?) but during the fifth grade year, I quit the safety patrol. I guess I made it about half the year.
I was surprised and a little hurt that at the end of the school year, I didn’t get recognized for my valiant yet halfhearted effort. I received no trophy. It really stung me.
The next year, I joined again. I received no promotion, because I hadn’t finished the previous year–I hadn’t put in my time. Geez, I figured I should have at least made corporal. But I sucked it up, and I was the only patrolman that was a seasoned sixth-grader. I stuck it out this time, and learned some kind of valuable life lesson that escapes me at the moment. But the important thing was, at the end of the school year, at the big presentation ceremony in the auditorium, I FINALLY got to walk up and get my trophy. It was the proudest moment of my entire 12 years at that point.
I still have the trophy.