Although I was born in the midst of the WW-II era, my memoires begin the summer after high school graduation - 1960. I would reluctantly start college about the time of the presidential elections. It was Kennedy vs. Nixon; the brash, young, handsome son of a Catholic Kingmaker, vs. the serious, stern, sweating Communist-chaser who was clearly the establishment. It would be quite an election but my concerns were much more micro than macro. I was about to begin college in a strange setting, at a university whose religion was foreign to me, and whose culture was so different than what I'd grown up in that I sometimes felt like I was on a movie set.
STRANGER IN A STRAGE LAND
Provo, Utah. A new beginning to be sure, but the culture of Provo in 1960, and of BYU, was vastly different than that of greater Pittsburgh. Certainly the religious mix was different – that was to be expected. My hometown of Clairton, PA consisted of an environment that was probably 30% Catholic, 20% Protestant, and the balance a mixture of Jewish, Serbian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox, assorted African American churches, a sprinkling of Baptist and a few agnostic, atheist, and "couldn't care less." The ethnicity of the Pittsburgh area was a rich mixture of working class Eastern Europeans; Italians, Irish, African Americans and some Anglos. Businesses were owned by Jewish families and immigrants, and the white collar jobs were generally held by Anglos. Most children of 1950's in Clairton were children or grandchildren of immigrants. Surnames frequently ended with a vowel or with ich or ski. The steel mill was the economic lifeblood of the community and the price of the region’s economic prosperity was dirty air. Whenever a house was re-shingled, after the passing of a few months all shingles on rooftop would be black, snow often was gray, and the pungent odor of quencher ( residue that came from making coke, a vital produce in steelmaking) filled the air and left a thick residue on car windshields - so much so that it was often necessary to use the windshield washers and wipers or pull to the side of the road and clean the windshield.
BYU and Provo on the other hand was about 90% Mormon and ethnically mostly English and Scandinavian. Grandparents all spoke unaccented English, rooftops remained their original color for decades, and the air was pristine. BYU students for the most part looked like they were out of an "Ozzie and Harriet" episode. I used to describe Provo as a place where "... the air was clean and sex was dirty." The entire population of Provo was less than 40,000 and BYU represented about 25% of that number. Orem was a separate village and the highway to Salt Lake City was two-lane and passed through several bucolic villages to the “Point of the Mountain,” (the location of Utah State Prison), and beyond. No freeway then existed. Today, however, from south of Provo past Salt Lake City to Ogden and perhaps even to Brigham City, there lies one big megalopolis. Population growth has attacked Utah just as it has the more urban areas of more populated states. In fact, when I first arrived in Utah in 1960, the entire populations of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana combined totaled less than that of the city of Philadelphia!
The once pristine air in the valley today is often stagnant and polluted for weeks due to inversions of the putrid air from car tailpipe emissions. But in late August, 1960 the setting of BYU was definitely small town.
I settled into my dorm room and took a walk around the community. On the corner on the edge of campus was a pizza joint called, "Heaps 'a Pizza." Outside was parked a 1959 Oldsmobile with Pennsylvania license plates and a "Beat 'em Bucs" bumper sticker. I immediately recognized the bumper sticker as the type that appeared on many Pittsburgh area cars and supported the Pirates baseball team (the nickname for Pirates of course is buccnneers, shortened to bucs - Pittsburghese for Pirates) which at that moment looked very much like a team that might get to the World Series. I went inside and saw my friend and high school classmate Betsy and her parents who had driven her to college as well. For the moment I was not among strangers.