Let the memoires begin: Clairton High School
I was born at an early age. I was born at home because I wanted to be near my mother when it happened. Ok, that was to get your attention. I was born a second generation American whose grandparents spoke little English and whose parents were bi-lingual. It was in the midst of World War-II in a steel mill town along the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh. My early life was unremarkable except for the usual childhood traumas. I started the first grade at age five - way too early as I was a slow developer. Thus I never did well in school. I understand now that I was just developmentally, intellectually, and physically a couple of years behind my classmates, but at the time I thought I was just not too bright.
My grades did not improve much as I progressed through junior high and high school. I was what my high school counselor calle, "not college material." None of that meant anything to my father who had dropped out of school in the eighth grade insisted I would attend college. I figured I'd settle it by announcing my plans to join the Marine Corps. My father squelched that idea and constantly browbeat me to plan for college. It was one of the many areas of contention between my father and myself.
One day during class I asked a classmate what her post-high school plans and she responded that she would be attending a church-sponsored university in Utah. She said that although the university was 2,000 miles away she looked forward to attending and her parents were excited about it as well. A light bulb figuratively appeared above my head as in a cartoon when an idea hatches. A school sponsored by a religion not my own, located 2,000 miles from home. This could be the very thing I was looking for to get my father off my back. I began working on a plan; asking others about this university, sending for information, smoothing over the rough edges, and designing a fail safe plan that would make my choice of this particular uhniversity so repugnant to my father that he would relent and I'd join the Marine Corps.
Finally the plan was ready. I sat down with my father one evening and presented him with my own ulti matum. I would apply to college but it would have to be the one I selected. He agreed and I moved in for the kill as I said, "Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. It is 2,000 miles away and run by the Mormon Church."
He responded, "Ok."
I was stunned but not out. I'd not anticipated his agreement with my choice but I had another part of my plan. BYU was an excellent school and quite frankly, my grades were so poor that there was no way that i'd be admitted, and if by some fluke I were to be admitted I would surely flunk out after the first year and be far from the grasp of my hometown and my father.
But although my father only had a formal education up to the eighth grade, he was both crafty and manipulative of any system. He had gotten wind of my interest in BYU and began a campaign of his own, asking local Mormon leaders and educators to write lettes on my behalf designed to compensate for my poor grades. He even asked the counselor who repeated to him what she had told me; that I was not "college material." My father went on about how denying a person an opportunity was something an educator should not do and she finally relented and agreed to write a letter that "would not hurt him." Thus I was accepted for admission but admitted on academic probation.
Given the above background, my memoires begin the summer of 1960. I'd just graduated h igh school and spent the summer working to save money for college - a place I felt I did not belong but was willing to try.
OFF TO COLLEGE
By chance, and on the recommendation of a high school chum, I had applied for admission to college at Brigham Young University. I did so against my will and with a belief that I was not capable of doing college work. But as the result of a series of fateful events, I was accepted, albeit on academic probation. Now I had to live up to the deal I'd made with my father and go to college. Aside from the fact that I'd get to spend time with Betsy, the high school chum who told me about BYU – the school she, a devout Mormon, planned to attend, I could think of no other benefits to college. So I did my first self assessment. I was not happy with my life in Clairton. I had few close friends. My relationship with my father was strained. I didn't want to work in the steel mills and I didn't see a future as a box boy with my job at a Super Market nor with my evening job delivering newspapers. My options in Clairton were clearly limited. Of course, joining the Marines had been my first choice, but going to college would appease my father and I'd be 2,000 miles away - far enough that nobody in Utah would know my family. Provo, Utah was looking more and more like my salvation.
Of course there are always two sides to every dilemma. What could the down side be to my leaving home? I was certain that once I left I would never return. Oh, I'd come back to visit, but not to live. So what would I be giving up? I loved my mother and was very close to her. It would be difficult to leave her. My grandparents were also very special to me. Baba often tended me when my mother worked and Diedo always made me feel like I was the apple of his eye. Ok, what else? My best buddy Jay? He was going into the Army. My other buddy Gerry? He wasn't really a close friend. He had promised to go to BYU with me then backed out, telling people he had not been accepted because of his Catholic faith. I was really upset with Gerry and felt like he’d let me down. What about..... There was nothing else on the debit side of the ledger.
What about fear of the unknown? It had never crossed my mind. Perhaps the Gypsy in me was taking over. To this day I have never feared the unknown concerning meeting new people and seeing new places. The thought of doing those things lit a fire inside me and I was convinced I was headed for Utah for… well I didn’t know exactly what, but I was willing to give it a try!