Friday, June 04, 1999

They're not just guards - they're guardian angels

Retirees help kids cross into happiness

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Frank and Josh show is winding down for another school year. Five more weekdays and it's all over for the summer.

        So Frank and Josh are putting an extra oomph into every wave, salute and smile they give to people passing the spot where Langdon Farm runs into Montgomery Road.

        “How's it goin'? Have a great day,” a smiling Frank sings out as he coaxes some bashful grins from a group of school kids.

        “Allllllright!” Josh exclaims as a driver returns his wave and honks his car horn.

        Early mornings and mid-afternoons, 72-year-old Frank Franklin and his 69-year-old partner, Josh Swain, work the intersection as adult school-crossing guards.

        The two retirees take great care in getting kids safely to and from Pleasant Ridge School, sitting just up Montgomery Road from their crosswalks.

        “Watch your step. You're losing a book. Got it? Good,” Josh says as a group of students starts to cross the street. At the same time, he signals with a wiggle of his red stop sign for a car, which has been inching forward ever so slowly, to stop.

        “I just could not live with myself if something happened to one of these kids,” he said to me under his breath.

        While they stop traffic and guard children, Frank and Josh also spread good cheer. If I ran the city, I'd clone them and place these guys on every major street corner. They know how to help people start their day with a smile.

        Between escorting kids in crosswalks, Frank and Josh try to wave at every car, truck and bus that rolls up to the traffic lights and through the intersection. They look into open windows and wake up sleepy drivers with a loud, but pleasant, “Good morning!”

        “If a woman is putting on some lipstick at the light, I'll mimic her,” Josh said on Thurs day morning as he guided me across Langdon Farm Road.

        A red Caddy lumbered up to the light. The driver jabbed a spoon into a container of yogurt. Breakfast on the run and on the road.

        Josh waved and made spooning motions. Mouthing the words, he asked for a bite. The woman blushed the shade of her car and laughed. As the light changed, she pulled away and gave Josh a wave with her spoon.

        “Most folks — I'd say 75 percent — wave back,” Josh said. “Everybody likes to see someone smile at them and wave.”

        Josh has been waving for two years. Frank is finishing his 20th year as a waving crossing guard.

        Frank gives a special peace-sign salute. As he walked to his crosswalk on Montgomery Road, he limbered up his right arm. He shot his arm into the air and two fingers V-ed out to make a peace sign. Then he rotated his hand in the air.

        “That's a wish for peace around the world,” Frank said.

        This is no act. Frank and Josh believe in what they do. They believe in the power of a wave and a smile.

        “We give you a little extra,” Frank told me as he ushered a group of students across Montgomery Road. “It's like putting honey in your coffee instead of sugar.”

        Frank hustled back to the curb as the light changed and the rush-hour traffic surged ahead.

        “We do this, the salutes, the waving and the peace signs, to set a good example.”

        Frank and Josh realize everyone doesn't wake up to a smiling face.

        “We know some kids go to school from empty homes,” Frank said.

        They see kids eating chips for breakfast on the way to school, kids not carrying a single book. So they try to act like surrogate grandfathers.

        “I get on them, in a gentle way,” Josh said. “When they're eating junk, I tell them why they should eat a good breakfast.

        “When they're not carrying any books, I ask them what they want to be when they grow up. I remind them that no matter what you want to be, you need an education.”

        Then he always remembers to smile and tells them to “have a great day.”

        This is why I like Josh and Frank so much. With their smiles and waves and salutes, they are not just getting kids through a set of crosswalks. They are helping them get through life.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.