Once A Safety Patrol Girl. Always A Safety Patrol Girl.
Why, hello there. I think I know why some of you are here this morning. In my Friday email I promised another John Holland piece today. It’s coming, I swear. But we’re still working on it. Tomorrow? Probably. In the meantime, my apologies and here’s a Monday morning lagniappe:
As my daughter, granddaughter and I were crossing Atlantic Avenue Sunday afternoon, I jumped in front of them and instinctively threw out my arms to protect my loved ones from death by a speeding car.
“I feel like I’m back on safety patrol,” I said happily, as we crossed that crazy street and survived.
“Safety patrol?” my kid repeated, incredulous. “You were on safety patrol? Geez, you were such a dork.”
A dork? In the small town where I grew up - Allentown, NJ, a hamlet of about 1,500 people and no traffic lights - it was an honor to be picked for safety patrol.
At least that’s what I thought.
I was in the 4th grade when I was selected to wear the orange canvas criss-cross sash and brass armband of our school patrol. Suddenly I went from the last kid picked for basketball to the guardian of my classmates’ lives.
We must have received some sort of training, but I can’t remember what it was. I do know we had Friday meetings and our brass armbands were closely inspected. Demerits were awarded for tarnish.
There was never a blemish on this girl’s badge, though.
Each member of the safety patrol was assigned an intersection and we had to be there early, before hordes of kids began sauntering to school. As an added benefit, we were dismissed from class at the end of the day to man our posts.
The job of the safety patrol was not to direct traffic, although I believe I may have dabbled in that once or twice. It was hard not to get carried away. Some cars just needed to be stopped.
Our mission was to see that our more careless classmates did not dash into traffic and get flattened by passing cars.
It was a responsibility that I took seriously. And I resented the middle and high school kids who defied me when I stretched out my arms in the universal safety patrol signal that meant “halt!”
Part of the problem was my size. Or lack of it. I was really short. Lilliputian-like. Every year, when we were weighed and measured publicly by the school nurse, another girl - Susan - and I alternated as the shortest and lightest in the class.
But I felt like an offensive lineman the minute I slipped on my sash and fastened the little silver clasp on the front of my safety patrol belt.
As I reminisced with my daughter about the year I spent dutifully saving the lives of school children, I remembered my worst day: The morning one of the high school boys used my head as an ashtray after I ordered him to remain on the curb until an approaching car passed.
I was furious. How dare this tall guy in a varsity jacket flick ashes in my hair! How dare he run across the street, laughing and setting a terrible example for the second graders! How dare he disrespect the sash!
“What did your parents say?” my kid wanted to know.
“They laughed, “ I told her. “They thought it was hilarious that I was nine and trying to boss around teenagers.”
If such an incident happened today it would be a different story. Shoot, it would probably make the evening news. Outraged parents would lawyer up. The high school boy would be charged with assault. He’d be suspended from school. Perhaps expelled.
And the undersized safety patrol girl would get the last laugh.