TRINITY — Gloria Smith stood on the corner of Town Avenue and Fenceline Road, watching as a small car drove up onto the curb and came to a stop.
"Oh, that's my Stanley," the Longleaf Elementary crossing guard said, as school volunteer Stanley Rubin flung the door open and jumped out, arms stretched wide.
"Your last day," he said, embracing Smith. "I wish you such love. I was hoping I was going to see you today. It's not going to be the same."
Such a sentiment was repeated over and over Wednesday morning, as students, parents and even the garbage collectors on the route paused to bid farewell to Smith, who at 77 is retiring from her post after seven years on the job.
"Hey, Larry, it's all yours," she said, turning to replacement Larry Kloss, who helped kids across the intersection while she received well wishes for the future. "I'm going to miss it."
Smith laughed and bantered with the people who passed, calling just about everyone "babe" and "doll" — she doesn't do names — and recalling stories of her life, her family and her time at the school.
Carol Kausas and her daughter, fourth-grader Christina, handed Smith one of several gifts she received during the morning rush. They told her to keep in touch for coffee, dinner, whatever.
"I've been with her since I was in kindergarten," Christina said. "There's no way I want to leave her now. She watches over me."
"I'm going to cry," Kausas said, turning to take her daughter into the school.
One dad stopped his car to take a picture of Smith for his son to remember her. A mom drove by, opened the window as if to say something, then just teared up and waved.
"She cares so much about the kids," said Jennifer Cavalieri, who, along with her children and their friends, brought flowers. "She yells when she needs to. … She does good."
Teary second grader Tate Phillips, who joined in the flower gift, agreed.
"She's always been helping me be safe," he said.
How does a crossing guard engender such love? It's really simple, Smith said.
"We laugh. We kid around," she said in her tough, Long Island way. "We were raised to eat, drink and be merry."
And that's how she treats the people around her.
Smith took the job at the suggestion of her neighbor, state Sen. Mike Fasano, after her husband died of complications associated with Alzheimer's. She said she needed something to do, other than doting on her three children.
She already loved working with kids, too, having driven a school bus for nearly 20 years.
Even though she's retired, Smith has no plans to slow down. Life's too short, she said.
"I'm going to volunteer a couple of days a week to the hospital," she said. "Somebody is going to run for something, and I'm going to get involved in politics."
The folks in her neighborhood clubhouse might see her more. So, too, will her kids and grandkids, and some of the people she came to enjoy on the job.
"I'm going to stay active," she said. "I'm not going to sit like a little old lady in a rocking chair."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.