There are a lot of questions looming about how the Bedford school scene will look 12 weeks from now. Will the classrooms be full? How about the buses and athletic fields? Marching band? Choruses? Field trips?
The landscape is uncertain – except for one significant change: Cathy Young, Bedford’s school crossing guard since 1986, has decided to retire.
Young, 76, acknowledged that she has been wavering about continuing for the past three or four years. “Now, with the ‘coronaspan,’ I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. It has been a wonderful run. I met a lot of beautiful people.”
Young actually started as a special officer working road detail back in the mid-1980s. “Paul Lund said there was an opening, and after about six months the chief (Donald Eunson) asked me if I wanted to do the high school crossing in the middle of Great Road.”
She said she wasn’t nervous because “I knew I had to really focus. You stood there on that spot for an hour each morning. Then after that, I could still pick up details.”
A few months later she was recruited to work with Shirley Wilkins as a past-time secretary at the police station for the next six years or so. “I would do the high school from 7 to 8, have breakfast then work at the station from 9 to 1.”
Young was asked to take on more schools. She expanded gradually, first taking on Job Lane School, then Davis, and finally John Glenn Middle School. For more than 20 years she made the rounds from school to school, street to street – The Great Road, Railroad Avenue, Sweetwater Avenue, Davis Road.
Crossing guard is not the kind of job where one nurtures profound relationships – especially when one has to cover four schools, morning and afternoon. But it is ideal for literally thousands of casual friendships. Young sees many of the same faces, day after day, year after year, some waving from school bus windows. Occasionally there are children whose parents she knew as kids. College students would stop by and reminisce. At the middle school, Young said, “my afternoon is a stampede heading for the path to the high school.”
“I love them all,” Young said of the children. “They all have a charisma about them – they were all friendly, especially the walkers at Davis School. I get to know them much better than the ones on the buses.”
She has never been struck by a vehicle, but there have been some close calls. “You just have to be mindful and watch your backside,” she said, adding that when she yells at drivers “they give you a look and keep going.” Young has a two-way radio connected to the police dispatcher if she needs to report a problem, and she said she has used it quite a few times. Some drivers “just want to argue. I don’t want to argue so I pass it on.”
“Most people are friendly and helpful and good,” she observed. A crisis is when parents want to park on Davis Road to walk their children to school.
For Young, bad weather was the downside of the job. Like the kids, she loved snow postponements. But for the cold and the heat and the downpours, “you just deal with it — wear the right type of clothes, for one thing.” She marvels at the “kids who would come to school in the wintertime in shorts, and no jackets or hats. I would say, ‘Go back home and get some pants on.’”
One recent challenge was the addition of a traffic signal at Mudge Way and The Great Road. Young said she insisted on remaining at her post during the first year in the morning, to ensure that children on their way to middle school would continue to cross safely. ”I have to watch out for them like a grandmother,” she laughed.
Young’s year – and career — ended suddenly – schools closed and never reopened for 2019-20. And that sparked a revelation. “I always had only a small hole during the day,” she explained – from the end of the Davis arrival to the BHS dismissal. Since the closure, “I haven’t stopped. Now that I’ve got the bigger space, I can get things done and feel good about it.”
Young grew up in Concord, near the Bedford line. She and her husband David, who retired two years ago, have four children and five grandchildren, ages 15 to 24. The Youngs have a refuge – a family trailer in a campground near the beginning of Route 62 out in Barre.