Formal education begins
Edinburg, Pennsylvania, lay about forty miles to the southwest of Pittsburgh - but if you asked anyone in Edinburg where they lived they would say 'Pittsburgh', and a bit too enthusiastically, as if to deny that such a place as Edinburg even existed. The town, more removed by time than geography, had once been a thriving part of the coal industry that had served as the meat and potatoes for the blast furnaces forty miles to the northeast. In past decades a small river, the Edin (for which the town had been named) had flowed, as if against gravity, northward towards that mecca of steel and iron. As such the townspeople of Edinburg, when given the opportunity in the early 20th century, had rejected to pay the bribes necessary to have a railroad depot built close to the mines that were just outside of town. Time and ruin turned the river thick and all but unnavigable, and eventually anything that left Edinburg did so on wheels. This added cost, and understandably Edinburg was seldom sourced for it's only resource.
Edinburg had one main road, on which all the available shops resided. A small grocery, a barber shop, a hardware store, a mortuary and four bars were all that remained open. As late as the 1940s there had been twice as many shops, but as the lungs of the miners darkened so too did shop windows; gone was the dress shop, the florist, the toy store, the hotel and banquet hall and many others. Then the war took the able bodies, and those that returned to Edinburg did so in a box. Most not in a box chose not to return.
Further down the main road was the church and across the street the school, a combination of two buildings - a re-purposed boarding house from the late 1890s and a cinder block structure built, as the dedication engraving informed all who entered, for God and Country in the year of Our Lord 1959. That the school was built at all was a miracle caused by the consolidation of two parishes, Saints' Mary and Theresa, as they collapsed into one. No one knows why it was that the resulting school took on the name St. Margaret. Perhaps Mary and Theresa, each seeing the opportunity, fled to the north.
I was conceived as the cinder was laid; I was birthed as the building opened. It is no accident that, as a small child, I was drawn to architecture; spending what at the time appeared to be countless hours lying on the floor arranging wooden blocks in myriad patterns, mastering irregular forms. Forms that defied any who might maintain that the role of form was to follow function. Function was at best a guest in my homes, my warehouses, my skyscrapers. My schools. My churches.
We lived in an apartment in a sprawling complex of apartment buildings, placed at irregular intervals and of varying lengths. The buildings were odd in that they were only one story tall, so there were no apartments above of below another. As such, my block buildings, except for the churches, were all single-story structures. We lived at the top of a hill that overlooked the main road, the river, the shops, the clapboard houses of the old miners, the church, the school. The pitch of the hill was of such extreme that there were no houses or other buildings on the hill side, and this afforded a view of Edinburg that some would call picturesque.
The sky was cinder block grey that September morning, the first day that I entered, for God and Country, St. Margaret School. Unlike my friends from the apartment complex, I had not attended Kindergarten. I was, at that time, my parents only child, and I suspect that the disappointment of not having had a second baby motivated my mother to keep me at home a year longer.
My father had dropped me off, after admonishing me again that under no circumstances was I to lose track of where my jacket was. My jacket. It was a light blue jacket of soft cotton with a lining that was light grey; far lighter grey than the sky or the cinder blocks. It had a zipper, which I had been initiated to just the day before, when the jacket had arrived with my father just before dinner. My pants had never had a zipper, having instead either buttons (if long pants) or suspenders with no opening in the front (if short pants). Until I had this jacket it had never occurred to me that there was any other method besides buttons for the fastening of clothing. I was fascinated with the zipper; the way it only moved if aligned correctly; the way it looked as though it was a vacuum cleaner eating a long line of dirt as the zipper was pulled upward; the way it looked like a car dispersing streams of blue grey smoke as the zipper was pulled down. I was warned to watch my fingers. I was warned to watch for stray threads. But more than any other warning I was warned not to lose the jacket. It was, as I would be told over and over, the first new article of clothing I had.
And so it was, with my black shoes and my black socks and my dark blue button-front pants and my light blue button shirt and my light blue jacket, my brand new light blue jacket, my brand new light blue jacket with the zipper, that I was left at the sidewalk in front of the school with the assurance that my father would be back to pick me up at the same spot after school. "Don't lose your jacket" I heard through the din of other children also being dropped off.