Windsor High would be my third high school overall, and my second that year. I had entered South Hills High, at the beginning of my senior year in Pittsburgh, with great expectations of being this popular, confident guy there. That initially had not played out like that at all - it eventually sort of had, thanks to a bit of luck, a date with a popular girl, and an outrageous party that led to my leaving there. But, that was all behind me, now. My priorities had shifted considerably.
I entered Windsor High mainly just wanting to buckle down, work hard, and somehow manage to graduate on time. I had three months to turn it around – it was late in the eleventh hour of my formal education. I knew it was going to take a herculean effort on my part, and a hell of a lot of luck. The way things had been going up to that point, I was definitely not on a track to graduate in June. Even though I still had no plans to go on to college, I really needed that diploma so I could join the Navy later in the year (November) when I turned 18. I was planning to go into their Nuclear Power program, to learn how to run a reactor. That’s where I saw my future.
Windsor High was much smaller, newer and cleaner than South Hills had been. I knew I was walking into a whole different social structure than I knew anything about – these kids were obviously middle to upper class types, whereas South Hills had been decidedly middle to lower class, much more of a blue collar environment. However, I really didn’t care about any of that. I wasn’t there to make friends or fit in– I was there, simply, to graduate.
A great comradery was developing among my brother Ken, sister Mary, Mom, and myself, at home. That was strange as hell, for me - but I liked it. I’d never thought of my family as my friends before, but here we were, together in this strange, new land, on this common adventure, and we had each other – I got swept up in the spirit of adventure that Mom had proposed back in Pittsburgh. It was happening! We were driving all over New England together, touring many historic sites, and really getting to know each other, as people, for the first time.
Dad was sort of in his own world, adapting to the high-powered stresses of the corporate world of theTravelers Insurance Home Office. I thought he was trying to turn himself into a big shot, but he didn’t really wear that role very well. I don’t think we were very good support for him in his endeavor into that world – we’d make fun of him, which wasn’t very cool, and he did not seem to have his usual sense of humor, although he tried laughing at himself. He was clearly not very comfortable in his first foray out of Pittsburgh since the early days of their marriage. He was used to having his family, his siblings and mother, much closer at hand.
I found school to be a completely different experience than I’d known before. The classes were much smaller and more intimate. The teachers actually interacted with the students, as opposed to teaching at them. They seemed like they actually liked what they were doing, most of them. They encouraged class participation, and intelligent discussions occurred in each class, it seemed. They were sympathetic to my situation, and could see that I was serious about trying to do well, there. While most of the other seniors were cruising down to the end of their final year, there I was, in a desperate sprint to that same finish line, just trying to graduate on time. I was trying to pull a serious miracle out of my ass.
Of course, it probably helped that I showed up for all my classes, and wasn’t either stoned or hungover. I was alert, and since no one knew me, no one had a preconceived idea of who I was. I could be whoever I wanted to be. I decided to act like someone who was actually interested in the subjects being taught! I read the material. I tried to catch up on where they were at, in each class.
It was all very invigorating for me. I wasn’t used to such teachers. Most of the teachers at the catholic high school had just been smug-assed dicks I couldn’t stand, and at the huge public high school, they were more like crowd control cops. A successful day for a teacher there had been avoiding a riot breaking out in their classroom. It was more mayhem than education. Granted, that was one of the things I’d liked about it, at the time. I really hated school, then. But now, I wanted to learn.
They had assigned me to two different English classes, as I was short on credits in that subject, and would have to pass both in order to graduate. I must have flunked English in my Junior year at South Hills Catholic. I liked both classes, but especially Mr. Stone’s. They were doing “Man of Lamancha” when I got there. It opened up a whole new world for me. I felt like I was right there with Don Quixote, tilting at the windmills, and found myself filled, for the first time in my life, with a palpable love for drama and theater.
I found myself getting totally into poetry, especially the romantics. By the time Mr. Stone was done with me, I would be hooked for life on the written word, and would even have my humble beginnings as a writer. Late in the eleventh hour of my formal education, I found a spark. It changed me, forever. One teacher, Mr. Stone, made a world of difference for this one student, and I have been forever grateful to that man for what he did.
I had similar experiences, though maybe not nearly as dramatic, in all of my classes there. What I thought would be a buckling down, nose-to-the-grindstone existence turned into a true joy of learning, as the momentum of my newfound enthusiasm for school carried me easily to the end of the school year, and, just barely, to graduation and a diploma. I got mostly A’s and B’s there, after seeing nothing but C’s, D’s and F’s, over the past couple of years.
It also would not be a lonely “new-kid-in-school-who-knew-nobody” kind of existence for me, thanks to the single-handed welcome wagon that Mary K. turned out to be. This was the older of the two pretty girls who had met us at the door, our first day at our new house.
When she found out that I had my own car and could drive to school, she asked if I’d mind giving her a ride to and from school each day, seeing that she lived right down the street from me. Would I mind – are you serious? I thought this girl was smoking hot, and here was a golden chance at getting a crack at that action, and the best part of it was, no stress. I had nothing to prove to anybody, I had no clue of the social structure, so nothing to live up to, and nobody knew me, so there wasn’t any pressure, at all. We quickly got to know each other very well. I grew certain that she was interested in me, for more than just rides to school.
Everything seemed to be falling into place to make my Connecticut adventure one to remember. I suppose that is true, as 43 years on, I still remember it well. It completely changed me. But, there were some major potholes in that happy road coming up. I might have been out of Pittsburgh, pothole capital of the world, but maybe I still had enough Pittsburgh in me that I simply couldn’t avoid hitting a few of them along my happy road.