Mr. Kelligrew’s Birthday

By Alan Cliburn

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    Old Mr. Kelligrew stood in the middle of the street as Scott Anders and Larry Martin approached the curb.

    “Come on, boys!” Mr. Kelligrew shouted in his raspy voice. His red, white, and blue crossing guard cap looked faded and ragged, but the red stop sign he held up still did the job; and cars waited just beyond the crosswalk.

    “We better hurry!” Scott exclaimed.

    “We can cross the street without a guard,” Larry replied. “We aren’t little kids anymore!”

    “Hello, Mr. Kelligrew,” Scott said as they passed him.

    “Hello, Scott, Larry,” the old man answered.

    “Hi,” Larry mumbled.

    Mr. Kelligrew hurried to catch up with the two boys who had reached the other side.

    A few impatient drivers honked at him, but he just smiled and waved.

    “Don’t move as fast as I used to,” Mr. Kelligrew told the boys. “But I do the best I can.”

    Larry had stopped to tie his shoelace. “How old are you?” he asked, looking up.

    Scott nudged him. “You aren’t supposed to ask questions like that,” he whispered.

    Mr. Kelligrew laughed. “I don’t mind. I’ll be eighty next Tuesday!”

    “Wow!” Larry exclaimed. “I didn’t think you were that old!”

    “Is your family having a big birthday party for you?” Scott asked, smiling.

    The crossing guard shook his head. “No, I don’t have a family. My wife died many years ago, and we didn’t have any children.”

    Larry frowned. “But I’ve heard you talk about your children lots of times.”

    The old man nodded. “You are my children. You and all the boys and girls who attend this school are my children,” Mr. Kelligrew explained.

    “I wonder what it would be like to celebrate a birthday all by yourself,” Scott said to Larry, glancing back at Mr. Kelligrew and waving just before the boys turned the corner and headed for home.

    “He didn’t say he’d be by himself,” Larry answered. “He just said he wouldn’t be with his family. Do you want to play basketball over at my house for a while?”

    “OK,” Scott agreed. “I’ll have to change my clothes first, though. I wonder how long Mr. Kelligrew has been a crossing guard at our school.”

    Larry shrugged. “I don’t know. What difference does it make?”

    “None, I guess,” Scott answered. “I just like him a lot, that’s all. I can’t ever remember a day when he hasn’t been out there stopping the cars even when it’s raining.”

    “Come over as soon as you can,” Larry said when they reached his house. “I’ll get the basketball warmed up.”

    “OK,” Scott agreed. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

    He thought about Mr. Kelligrew while he was changing his clothes. Almost eighty and still working! My grandfather is a lot younger and hardly does anything since he retired.

    “My, what a thoughtful face,” Scott’s mother teased as he was leaving the house. “Problems at school?”

    “No, I was just thinking about Mr. Kelligrew,” Scott explained. “He’s the crossing guard at school.”

    “Mr. Kelligrew?” she questioned. “I didn’t realize he was still there. Why, he was the crossing guard when your sister started kindergarten, and that was nearly twelve years ago! It can’t be the same Mr. Kelligrew.”

    “It has to be,” Scott replied.

    “But Scott, he wasn’t a young man then,” his mother went on. “By now he’d be—”

    “He’ll be eighty next Tuesday,” Scott interrupted. “And he probably won’t have a cake or candles or anything.” Then he told her what Mr. Kelligrew had said about not having a family.

    “What a shame,” Mother said. “He deserves something just for reaching eighty, not to mention working as a crossing guard all these years. Next Tuesday why don’t I put a cupcake in your lunch for Mr. Kelligrew!”

    Scott liked the suggestion. “Thanks,” he told his mother. “That’ll be a good surprise. Maybe we could even put a candle on it!” But somehow he couldn’t stop thinking about Mr. Kelligrew. One cupcake didn’t seem to be enough. Wouldn’t it be neat, he thought, if seventy-nine other people would give him a cupcake too!

    The next morning Scott told his teacher about Mr. Kelligrew’s birthday and asked her if she could help him figure out how to arrange for seventy-nine cupcakes.

    “Seventy-nine cupcakes!” the teacher echoed in disbelief. “I think you’d better talk to the principal about a project that big.”

    Soon Scott found himself sitting in the principal’s office. He quickly explained about Mr. Kelligrew and why he would like to give him a surprise for his birthday.

    “Mr. Kelligrew is a fine man,” the principal told Scott. “From my office window I often see him at the crosswalk. I’m sure he has prevented hundreds of accidents and injuries during the past fourteen years.”

    “Then you’ll help me find seventy-nine other children who will bring cupcakes on Tuesday?” Scott asked eagerly.

    “Whoa,” the principal answered good-naturedly. “I’m afraid that wouldn’t work out very well.”

    Scott frowned. “It wouldn’t?”

    “No,” the principal said. “Can you imagine eighty children standing in the crosswalk with eighty lighted candles on their cupcakes? There could be a traffic jam and someone might be hurt. Besides, what would Mr. Kelligrew do with eighty cupcakes?”

    Scott swallowed. “I never thought of that. I’m sorry I suggested it.”

    “Oh, I’m glad you did,” the principal encouraged. “It’s a great idea and I’m happy you thought of it.”

    “You are?” Scott said. “But—”

    “I didn’t know Mr. Kelligrew’s birthday was next Tuesday,” the principal explained. “If it hadn’t been for you, we’d have let it slip right by unnoticed. It would be great to do something special to show our appreciation for all the years Mr. Kelligrew has served us so faithfully. Will you be on the birthday committee, Scott?”

    “I’ll be glad to,” Scott agreed quickly.

    “But remember, not a word to Mr. Kelligrew,” the principal added.

    “Not a word,” Scott promised.

    On Tuesday morning Mr. Kelligrew was on duty, the same as always, escorting the children across the street.

    “Have a nice day!” he called his usual farewell to them.

    “You too,” some of them called back.

    “Good morning, Mr. Kelligrew,” Scott said as he and Larry walked across the street.

    “Good morning, boys,” Mr. Kelligrew replied.

    “We’re in a hurry this morning, Mr. Kelligrew,” Scott added. “See you later.”

    “Do you think he suspects anything?” Larry whispered when they were out of earshot.

    “No,” Scott replied. “He probably thinks we forgot that he told us about his birthday.”

    Mr. Kelligrew always arrived at least a half hour before school was dismissed in the afternoon, in case someone had to leave early. Scott was in the principal’s office, watching from the window when he saw him. Scott hurried out of the office and down the sidewalk to the street.

    “Mr. Kelligrew, the principal wants to see you right now in the auditorium!” he exclaimed.

    “Humf? Well, OK,” the crossing guard agreed, glancing at his big gold watch. “But I hope he won’t take much time. The first- and second-graders will be out before long.”

    “Then you better hurry,” Scott urged and he turned and ran back to the school.

    A few minutes later when Mr. Kelligrew climbed up the stairs and opened the auditorium door, the room seemed dark and empty. “Who’s there?” he called in his raspy voice. “What’s going on?”

    At the sound of his voice the room was flooded with light and everyone began to sing, “Happy Birthday.” Scott, Larry and several other students hurried to escort Mr. Kelligrew to the front of the auditorium where a huge cake with eighty blazing candles waited for him.

    “I—don’t know what to say,” the old man began haltingly when the song was finished.

    “This is to say thank you for all the times you’ve taken us safely across the street,” Scott explained.

    “We have something else for you too,” Larry added, handing Mr. Kelligrew a fancy package with a big bow on top.

    “Open it!” the children shouted.

    “I certainly will!” Mr. Kelligrew agreed with a smile. “My, this is the best birthday I’ve had in a long, long time!”

    That afternoon Mr. Kelligrew wore a spanking new red, white, and blue cap and a bright new jacket. “Birthday presents!” he called to those who commented—and to many who didn’t. “From all my children!”

    Illustrated by Lynda Banks