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Safety First

Back in the day, we kids were no more immune to prestige than kids are today. The only difference was where we found it.

For Sixth Grade boys, the most popular choice was being a member of the Basketball team. Yes, we had one even in Sixth Grade, along with cheerleaders. Indiana was the birthplace of the term “Hoosier Hysteria” for a reason.

Being chosen as a Safety Patrol ran a close second in the prestige race. They were always boys--no girls. This WAS the ‘50’s after all. For added prestige, one boy was the Patrol Captain, who directed the activities of his troops. Each patrol wore a thick plastic yellow sash, belted at the waist, looking like a da-glo Z on foot. Attached to the belt was a badge, to enhance his authority.

They all arrived at school before the rest of us and got their “equipment” from the principal’s office: ten-foot bamboo poles with a red handkerchief tied on one end. Two patrols worked diagonally across from each other at the intersections flanking the school.

When kids arrived at a corner to cross, the patrol would lower the pole and stop traffic. Each patrol could stop traffic on one of two streets at right angles to each other.

And woe betide to the driver who didn’t stop. The Principal, Miss Marsh, told us about a man who didn’t stop once for a crossing guard. In a small town, where everyone knows everyone, it wasn’t hard to get the culprit’s name. Miss Marsh called his boss, and the offender was very contrite when he called her to apologize.

For some forgotten reason, one time all the patrol boys were gone, and we girls finally got our chance to shine, yours truly included. I was very proud to swagger around in the patrol belt and hurried to my corner with my pole, full of my own importance.

I was a model patrol, making sure the little kids got safely across the street. But far too soon, my moment in the sun was over and it was time to head back to school to stash the pole.

Since I was a bit late, I began running with the pole across my chest. Suddenly I heard a loud crack as the end of the pole hit a nearby tree and the pole broke in half. I was mortified and quaking in my boots to face the Miss Marsh.

Thus ended my Old School career in traffic control.


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