Nobody believed it — that is, until they saw it with their own eyes. Why would a 92-year-old staunch Republican — a World War II-veteran dad with a pacemaker and a rare, slow-growing type of pancreatic cancer — want to work as a crossing guard for elementary school kids?
More questions followed. “You mean this old guy gets up at the crack of dawn to man his intersection, and then returns again mid-afternoon five days a week rain or shine, sleet, snow, or worse all school year? And not needing money at all, but proudly taking an oath with the police department to give his life if necessary to protect children?”
But to answer the whys of it all, let’s start at the beginning.
My dad, who recently passed at 98, was old-school and rock-solid tough. He was born in a little northern New Jersey borough called Tenafly and resided there his entire life. Not only did he solely support my mom, my sister and me, he started his own successful corporation as an independent insurance adjuster from a desk outside their master bedroom. Later, he purchased his own building as a corporate headquarters within the county seat in Hackensack.
As his reputation grew in stature and success, he was tight with police officers and firefighters. They relied upon his expertise in ferreting out arson cases while working closely with them along with the Bergen County prosecutor’s office.
As years passed, my sister and I watched him in awe because there was no job he was unwilling to do when he wanted it done right. For example, instead of hiring a janitor to clean the rest rooms and offices that accommodated his pool of secretaries and other employee-adjusters, he’d go into his office building on a Saturday and do the clean-up all by himself — bucket, soap ‘n’ water, broom, rags and a mop — even if it took all day.
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In addition, he didn’t believe in the concept of “retirement” per se. He accepted his Social Security check, but gave much away to charities. And he loved — yes, loved — to work and earn while giving back to the community that assisted his start in life. In this, his philosophy was emblematic of the Greatest Generation. He’d talk about young people’s need to appreciate a country that allows everyone “the freedom to work, and earn money to better their lives without excuses” while admonishing my sister and me to “give it the best you got and never ever give up, give in — or sell out.”
One day, however, his oath to serve the community, come heck or high water as a member of the police department, was tested with a surprising result to most, except those with whom he worked.
It was a dim and foggy afternoon in winter. My dad, approaching age 92, was geared up in his yellow boots, khaki uniform and a bright orange-yellow striped slicker. The four-way intersection of streets that made up his watch, however, had one problem. One of the four streets bottomed out as a steep hill spilling into a wide two-lane thoroughfare and the kids’ crosswalk.
Out of nowhere, my dad spotted a pickup truck careening out of control down that hill. But he and a little girl were already midway across that wide, two-lane road. Knowing there wasn’t time to pick up the child and run her back — or forward — to safety, he did the math with split-second precision. It would take a strong lift of her small body up and over to gently cast her upon a soft grassy mound about six feet away next to a huge oak tree.
After doing so, he knew that to impede the vehicle from reaching other children in the area meant using anything immediately available — in this case, his own body. And like the “onward Christian soldier” my dad was, he not only faced the oncoming enemy with arms stretched out on either side, he ran toward the truck, screaming, to either get the guy’s attention, scare the you-know-what out of him, or take the impact full-tilt.
And then it happened. Within a second, the drunk driver spotted my dad and missed him by inches, finally crashing into a cement wall surrounding a nearby home. Still, Dad didn’t hesitate. First making sure the child was still safe and sound at that oak tree, he ran to the crash site, threw himself onto the broken windshield, and slapped the glass with his shield for the guy to see.
He then placed the driver under arrest and called for immediate backup.
Yep, that was my dad. Just one old guy who believed, with all his heart, that there is no greater love than one who will give his life for his brother … or a seven-year-old girl walking home from school.
The author, a retired attorney, is a published poet, writer, and columnist based in Arizona.