Saturday, August 25, 2007

Orange Badge of Honor

A long time ago, when I was in grade school, the greatest honor that could be bestowed upon a fifth grade male was to become a patrol boy. I don't mean to sound sexist. There may have been a patrol girl, too, but this was before glass ceilings were broken and patrol duties were, rather unfortunately, a predominately male occupation at the time.

Patrol boys got to wear a one piece bright orange strap sort of thing that signified their status as a leader among all boys. The strap was worn around the waist like a belt and over one shoulder like a military insignia. And when it came to children crossing at street corners, we were the authority on the matter.

As a mere second or third grader, that belt held an allure that was insatiable, especially with the way it was rolled into a neat little ball when not in use. I lusted for the day when my time would come and I would be allowed late for class and was justified in leaving just a bit early so that I could serve, protect and direct the incessant flow of elementary students as they passed in and out of that school building. Only fifth and sixth graders could hold such a great honor.

At particularly busy intersections, we patrol boys deferred our omnipresent authority to crossing guards. But we still did most of the dirty work, keeping kids corralled within the prescribed lines while the crossing guard held up a stop sign and one hand to keep automobile traffic at bay.

There were two choice assignments that each patrol boy craved. The first was in front of a drug store at a busy interchange in town.

That was a great spot because of Margaret, a retired lady who was the crossing guard and who treated us like gold. On cold, rainy or snowy days, she would insist we go inside the drug store to warm up in between packs of wild kids on their way to or from school. She would also bring us treats on occasion, like candy bars or cookies. Plus, she was just the nicest person anyone would ever want to meet. She talked to us like we were equals, and she was always interested in what we had to say. I sure miss Margaret.

The other choice assignment was due east from Margaret's post, but on a less busy corner. There was no crossing guard there, but two boys were assigned to the location because it was a high traffic area (kid traffic more than car traffic).

What made this location so great was that it was right in front of a bakery. The smell of fresh donuts, hot bread and delicate pastries wafted through the air with enough potency to make our stomachs growl in eager anticipation. The owner of the place liked us boys a lot, too. He would always treat us to whatever we wanted from his showcase of wares. We always chose the cinnamon rolls, warm from the ovens with thick, white frosting covering the entire top of the delicious delight. I can still taste them now.

I don't suppose there are patrol boys anymore. I never see any around schools or at busy interchanges. Not too many crossing guards around, either. My guess is that liability issues hastened the demise of this once wonderful and revered occupation. Or maybe patrol boys just faded into obsolescence like fins on cars, clunky cell phones and 15 inch computer monitors. And that's too bad. A whole generation missing out on the finer things of the elementary life.