Three of the four sides of our school butted up to homes. The back view was industrial then farm land. Looking at the front of the school one wouldn’t even think there were a fuel distribution company and a rubber plant right behind it. The high school’s Industrial Arts building was back there as well but as the name implies, it was only used by high schoolers. On recess when the bell rang (you know the ones – big, metal – were hanging on the outside walls) we would watch the older kids walk to and from the IA building and we often wondered what was going on there. Usually in the Spring we would see a small barn being built in the lot next to the building. It seemed to take weeks for this little shed to take shape. Once I was in high school and near the end of my senior year (4th year of IA) I participated in the annual ritual of building a little barn as well.
With homes all around our school it was determined that we needed something more than an adult at each of the crosswalks. In fact, there were six crosswalks in the area and it was probably difficult enough to find one adult let alone five. At some point in time the school decided to create a Safety Patrol. The patrol consisted of six kids at a time each monitoring their own crosswalk at the end of the school day. They were not patrolling in the morning; probably because at the end of the day kids would run from school and weren’t paying attention as opposed to the morning where they simply ambled slowly like zombies which gave cars more time to stop.
The Safety Patrol uniform consisted of an orange sash with a couple of gold buckles, an orange plastic hard hat that would crack if dropped from any height over two feet and large orange flag reading “STOP” in big black letters slipped over a wooden dowel rod.
The first time I saw the Safety Patrol in action I immediately wanted to be one. I just knew that if I could wear that sash and wield that flag I could not only be in command, I would hold the power to stop cars. And back in those days the cars were enormous, made of steel and concrete; no plastic or paper like today’s vehicles. If you were hit by a car in the 60’s and 70’s you were lucky to get out of it without a bone sticking from some part of your body. It didn’t take long before I learned that only sixth graders were on the Safety Patrol. Not only did I have to wait to build a shed, I had to wait to be on Safety Patrol as well. School sucks!
Finally! I was in sixth grade. As soon as I could, I signed up for the Safety Patrol. It didn’t take long before I was handed the sash of responsibility, hat of determination and the flag of control. We had two sixth grade classrooms and the equipment was stored in the other one from which I was placed. Each time I was scheduled for duty I had to silently interrupt the other class so that I could prepare for my responsibilities. I always tried to make sure that classroom knew I was going to be protecting them so I made a little bit of noise. Not too much, just enough so they would watch me prepare for battle. It always made me feel a little important.
Like a SWAT officer preparing for a mission, my world moved in super-slow motion as I suited up. Slowly my arm entangled the sash. Bowing my head slightly, the plastic hat was lifted into place. Securing the flag as if I were selecting a shotgun from the wall mounted gun case. Once suited up, the other members of the team and I walked to the front door of the building preparing to breathe the last breath of civilian life.
Since only six of us went on duty at a time and there were several others that wanted to be “Guardians of the Streets,” my opportunities to protect were limited. I only got to do it about once a week or so. The year went by so quickly; it seemed as though I barely made a difference. However, I must have because we never lost a kid that year (or any other year that I know of).
Once my sixth year of formal education came to a close the tools of my freelance protection trade were to be secured for the summer. The sash, rolled into a ball, was placed into a bag with the others and laid to rest at the bottom of the teacher’s in-room locker. The hat, stacked with the others, sat on the locker shelf facing outward as a sign of respect and preparedness. Finally, the flag was rolled upon itself and placed at the back of the locker, standing at attention just waiting for autumn to arrive and with it new hands to continue the watch.
Early that summer we had a Safety Patrol party. This was a celebration of our successful year in not allowing any school children to be injured or killed on the streets around the school building. Actually, it was just a chance for us to get together, have a picnic and receive a Safety Patrol lapel pin.
As we enjoyed ourselves the weather began to grow nasty as it often did that time of year. With each bite of sandwiches and chips the sky grew darker and darker. At some point the decision was made that the party was over and we should head home. I jumped on my bike and returned home. By the time I arrived we were under tornado warning. Our entire family was home and we went to the basement as soon as the fire siren was heard…