Crossing guard Leonard Freitas watches the traffic on Norris Street, allowing cars to pass before he stops traffic to enable Zia Elementary students can cross. Freitas has been a crossing guard at Zia for five years. (Staff photo: Sharna Johnson)
By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
He will leave his uniform, a bright orange jacket, behind. His tools, a stop sign and a whistle, will also be set aside. However, it’s only temporary. School crossing guard Leonard Freitas made sure his honeymoon wouldn’t interfere with his school duties.
When the school year ends in May, Freitas and his wife of 50 years, Martha, will go to Honolulu. Producers of the reality show “Three Wishes” arranged the all-expense paid trip, though the Freitases did not appear on television.
The couple say they never had the time or the money to go on a honeymoon.
“I had $80 in my pocket when we got married. We spent $20 on groceries,” Leonard Freitas said.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Freitas left the islands when he was 19 and has returned only a few times. Their only child, Brenda O’Shea, approached “Three Wishes” producers in August and wished for her parents the honeymoon they never had.
“My dad would give you the last nickel in his pocket if you were a friend or a family member and you needed it. I wanted my dad to know there were people that cared about him, too,” O’Shea said.
The couple learned early: Life is full of ups and downs.
The first time Leonard Freitas held his future wife in his arms, an ill-timed dip while dancing ended with the couple on the floor. However, they kept dancing.
That’s their secret to a long marriage, they said, working through setbacks.
“A lot of people get married, but the one thing they forget is the ‘for better, for worse.’ I said those words 50 years ago and I never forgot them,” Leonard Freitas said.
His wife, settled next to her husband after chopping carrots for a dinner stew, is a little less sentimental.
“Nowadays, if you look at the other person crooked, it’s like ‘I’m gone,’” Martha Freitas said. She and her husband were in blue jeans, playfully exchanging nicknames — mama, for her, papa, for him.
It seems sadly antique — a union like theirs. So is Leonard’s work ethic.
For one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon, Freitas, 73, lets school children know when it is safe to cross the street. A quadruple bypass surgery two years ago took him away from his post for a while.
He was “jumping at the bits” to get back to work, his wife said.
Though his circulation is still bad, he said, causing his feet and arms to get cold and stiff, he doesn’t shy away from the fall and winter hours he must spend watching traffic and children outside Zia Elementary School.
“When he can’t be there, he always asks a million questions — was there a crossing guard there, did he stay long enough, were the children OK?,” O’Shea said.
His job is hectic. The school is located on a busy street and the small school parking lot is easily congested.
“(Freitas) does a wonderful job. He is our guardian angel,” Zia principal Jarilyn Butler said. “The kids love him. He’s like a second granddad to many them.”
Freitas’ childhood, however, was marred by an event that turned the heavenly beaches of Honolulu into battle zones. Barbed wire fences lined ocean fronts and windows were painted black days after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Freitas witnessed the raid from the front steps of a church. He was 9.
“Life changed forever on that island,” Freitas said.
Perhaps his bitter memories will be overshadowed by better ones when he returns to the oceanside city in May. Either way, his orange jacket, whistle, and stop sign will be around when he returns.