WEST PITTSTON — 6:45 a.m. Harriet Truelove’s car pulls into view and parks near the borough building, under a crescent moon and a dark blue sky. It’s a brisk winter morning and the 87-year-old crossing guard has been awake for an hour.
As she’ll tell me later, she hasn’t minded rising before dawn for the past 26 years to protect pedestrians at her corner. A quick shower, a light breakfast of cereal, and she’s ready. This morning, the TV reported 17 degrees — cold enough, in her opinion, for lined boots and heavy socks, but not long underwear.
6:54 a.m. Three or four teenagers seem to materialize from nowhere. Harriet has been expecting them, and holds her red stop sign high. “C’mon,” she urges them as she holds back the traffic. They shuffle across Exeter Avenue in silence.
6:56 a.m. Two more teens appear, and Harriet holds the stop sign for each young man in turn. These two, I notice, say “Good morning” and “Thank you.”
7 a.m. Bells chime as a bus pulls up to collect the teens, who attend Wyoming Area Secondary Center. Now Harriet has about an hour before the next buses arrive to take younger kids to Tenth Street and Montgomery Avenue schools. She won’t go home. “I’d just conk out on the davenport,” she says with a laugh. Instead, she’ll wait in her car. “May I sit in your car with you?” I ask, trying to be as polite as the last two kids.
7:01 a.m. Harriet and I are in her car, where she would be reading “Trading Christmas,” a paperback romance by Debbie Macomber, if I had not inserted myself into her life. “My daughter and her friend think this is a good idea,” she tells me, indicating she’s not quite so keen on the idea of being the subject of a story. Yet, through a series of coincidences, here we are, comrades in the cold.
7:05 a.m. Well, it’s not so very cold. The car is heating up. It’s a Lexus, a gift Harriet’s brother from Georgia passed along, driving it half-way here, to a meeting point in Virginia. “He always gets a Lexus,” she says. “He said this will last me 20 years.”
7:08 a.m. When I compliment Harriet on her cheerful red nail polish, which seems in the dim light to perfectly match her lipstick, she says it was a holiday manicure. “You can see my hands coming before you see me,” she chuckles, adding her nails might be “too bright.”
7:15 a.m. A lifelong resident of the borough, Harriet graduated from West Pittston High School in 1946 and used to work in a dress factory. She lives with her daughter and son-in-law, Bonnie Edwards and Dan Fox, who take care of the cooking and cleaning.
“I help with laundry and empty the dishwasher,” she says. She’ll be 88 in June and knows she doesn’t look it. “People are always surprised to find out I’m that old,” she says.
7:20 a.m. Harriet admits she is not fond of her daughter’s four cats, who are named after hockey players. She does like the family’s long-haired chihuahua, though.
7:30 a.m. Reminiscing about an old buddy, Harriet says her friend Jean used to be a crossing guard, too, and lived very close to the corner that is now Harriet’s. Jean, who died a few years ago, would sometimes invite Harriet in for pancakes after their morning shift or maybe tuna noodle casserole after the afternoon shift. “I miss her a lot,” Harriet tells me.
7:40 a.m. Harriet waves at the driver of a municipal truck as it passes her car. “I think that’s Johnny, or Terry,” she says. “I know all the guys. I don’t know all the cops anymore, because there are some new ones.”
7:42 a.m. Being a crossing guard can be dangerous, Harriet said, reflecting on drivers who narrowly missed hitting her.
“They’re talking on their phones,” she said. “One of them, she was putting on eye make-up.”
7:45 a.m. The crossing guard and I get out of her car because the elementary school buses will soon be here.
7:54 a.m. “Oh, to be young again,” Harriet says as an elementary-school child arrives by car to wait for the bus. “Half of them have their jackets open.”
The boy pulls up a hood.
“Why don’t you have a hat?” I ask Harriet. She tells me she lost hats, scarves and mittens in the 1972 flood and ended up replacing scarves and mittens but not the hats.
8 a.m. In short order, a little flock of elementary students assembles to board the buses.
“Have a great day!” Lori Cresho, of West Pittston, calls after her son. She’s glad to see Harriet with her red sign. “It’s a busy road here.”
9 a.m. This is Harriet’s chance to visit the municipal building and say hello to friends on a Thursday morning. After that, she’ll relax for a few hours at home before returning to her post to await the afterschool crowd. Early tomorrow, she’ll go through the routine again, this time accompanied by a Times Leader photographer.