The other teachers think I'm strange.
I have a unique duty at Cecil Floyd. This duty comes at the end of the school day, when I play the part of the Speed Bump at the end of the pickup line out front. I stand between the two lanes of vehicles and guide students safely to their cars. The purpose of the Speed Bump is to keep traffic from trying to subvert the line and drive down the center while students are crossing and loading. Knowing that the adults are more easily seen than the kids, we step in front of cars before allowing students to cross.
Some parents make the effort to thank me, every day. Some recognize that this is a safety issue. Some recognize that, like the postal carrier, we are out there in rain, sleet, and snow - every day. I've come out of this duty soaked to the skin. I've been confronted by wind, heat, rain, snow, and varying combinations of these. Somehow I enjoy the extreme days. Fighting an umbrella through needles of water, splashing through puddles to safely load our children into their warm cars invigorates me.
And that's when the principal calls me a weirdo.
Last week it rained, lightning charged the air, and wind blew hard enough to make holding an umbrella difficult. Still, for some reason, I was reminded of a severe weather event that I experienced several years ago: before I started teaching, I held another job - in an outdoor recreation area and fish farm in El Reno, Oklahoma. On this particular day, we had a mediocre crowd on the property, fishing around our 10-acre lake and another small pond, picnicking along the covered bridge, petting animals in the barn, and admiring the wildlife we had on display.
It was another time when the weather quickly changed.
A wind blew in from the northwest. The temperature suddenly dropped. Rain began to fall. And hail the size of golf balls pummeled anything that was outside. The ground was white with hailstones. People ran for cover, mostly in the little admissions building where I was working.
I couldn't stand in the building at the top of the hill, knowing these people were fighting for their lives being bruised by balls of ice. I prayed that all the people had made it to the muddy shoreline anyway. How many were on the paddleboat to begin with?
I sprung into action (I was much younger and lighter in the 80s.). In a back room I found a surplus olive green military jacket, threw it around myself, and told the people in the admission building I where I was headed. Without any other protection, I plunged into the rain, barely noticing the hail, still the size of golf balls, that bulleted my head. I made my way through flooding creek beds and swampy reeds until I finally reached one end of the dam. Water swept over a low spill way built into that location. I crossed the rushing water forgetting that such a current could easily sweep me to my death - a rescue attempt gone bad.
Once across the "river", I now faced a six-foot tall barbed fence with the strands too close and too tight to climb through (The fence was in place to keep the buffalo herd from crossing into a different area of the property.). To cross the fence, I removed the army coat (By now the hail was subsiding to the thick rain.) and threw it over the top strand of barbs. Climbing the fence with the coat in place, I didn’t have to worry about avoiding the barbs. Once on the other side, I recovered the coat and climbed the muddy incline to the top of the dam.
I didn’t think those people would be able to go back down the slick mud or cross the rapids I had just faced, let alone climb the fence as I just had, so I made the decision to take the “long way home”, opting instead to go forward across the dam and into the other pasture. We still had to cross another fence and ended up sliding in even more mud along the rail bed that had been prepared for a train the property owners had purchased. This turned out to be a real pain as we slid along the treacherous route, finally coming through the gate into the barn area.
I'm still impressed that I was able to spring into action so decisively. I probably couldn't do it today without ending my life at some point along the way. But I still remember that cold, wet afternoon, with hail bombs raining on me as I saved a man and woman from what could have been tragedy for them, as well. I got them off of that dam, onto higher ground, and to safety...just in time for the sun to break through the clouds.
I guess that's what I remember when someone thinks I'm doing something special by standing in the gale-force winds of the school parking lot. That's the battle I recall when someone thanks me for braving the curtains of winter rainfall, when the freezing rain soaks into my socks, and when my hands feel like an elephant is standing on them because of the cold. Perhaps I picture myself reuniting children with their families during even more extreme conditions. Suddenly I am a first responder - serving my community with pride, integrity, and guts. I am a hero!
Somehow, I enjoy the rush that comes in those situations. No, I'm not facing down an EF5 tornado or some kind of sweeping tsunami, and no, we're not evacuating because of raging wildfires, but I'm happy to be out there nevertheless. While others may moan about that duty taking too long...while others may think it is a thankless job...while others despise having to stand in the middle of the street while the rest of the staff stands inside a heated cafeteria, I kind of get a little thrill from the change of pace.
Maybe I am a weirdo for enjoying the hardships of dismissal duty in the school parking lot. While that may be true, I think l will wear that badge with pride.