Monthly Archives: March 2018

FROM PROSPERITY TO DEPRESSION: MEMORIES OF LIFE IN A SMALL TOWN IN THE PROSPERITY DECADE

FROM PROSPERITY TO DEPRESSION:
MEMORIES OF LIFE IN A SMALL TOWN
IN THE PROSPERITY DECADE

By
Vaughn Davis Bornet

Editor’s Note: The author of this reminiscence of ordinary life 100 years ago (pretty close, anyway) recently offered us a serious scholarly effort that singled out many great events that changed things, 1917 to 2017, in our America. Several weeks have passed. He now thinks we should augment the attention we just devoted to headline events with a return to the life a youngster lived in that Era. It was, primarily, a time of Prosperity that turned all too soon to Depression. Here is the result Dr. Bornet offers: an account of a small boy who lived then from birth to age 15, a youngster who surmounted childhood diseases and roller skating slips and many months of family separation; only then to live on into Our Day. It’s evident that our Research Historian, honored by the Freedoms Foundation and the American Heart Association, is still thinking and writing his way through Life.

Because I turned 100 last October 10, I owe it to others who remember my earliest place of residence (Bala in eastern Pennsylvania) to offer a few memories for publication. Few there are now, I fear, who can recall first hand, life as lived by a boy turning into a youth as the Prosperity Decade choked, then staggered, to its close.
Born in Philadelphia in Hahnemann Hospital the night of October 10, 1917 (when World War I was the premier thing on adult minds) to Florence Davis Scull Bornet and Vaughn Taylor Bornet, a steel detailing engineer, my first home was in Bala Cynwyd on Bala Avenue opposite Bala Elementary School’s playground. My rented home was diagonally situated across from a lumber yard obscured by trees in one direction; nothing but homes the other. That small suburban town, by the way, owes its name to Lake Bala in Wales. It can be found up the Schuylkill River when leaving the Philadelphia Parkway by making a left turn on City Line, then driving a mile or so uphill.

Looking uphill from my rented first home was the already venerable (and a bit ornate) Egyptian Theater which boasted black and white silent movies and vaudeville. Its double bill on Saturday was $.15 and later $.25 for us. It was there in the late twenties that Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer” arrived. I had seen my first Talkie! “Mammmmy; the sun shines East…. It shines on my mammy!” Sometimes we ate Mars Bars (famous after 1932). Live performers were just about to vanish, for then. Distant TV was unknown to all of the public. Heavy bicycles were a must for kids. (Mine with balloon tires, my very last cherished possession back then, was stolen in 1931.)

There was what passed as a decidedly local shopping district (groceries, mostly) half a block up Bala Avenue, near the commuter train station. That grocery store had half a dozen open bins containing dry baked goods and other edibles. Oatmeal was common; but air conditioning certainly was not. More than a few women then wore “real fur coats” in cold weather, with classy mink the ultimate. Spats and knickers were common among well dressed males. Gasoline was likely to be “Sunoco” and “Gulf.” Tires had tubes, and many car radiators boasted visible thermometers (while running boards were common, along with “gear shifts” that relied on a “clutch.” An ice box was likely.

The nearest street originating at right angles off Bala Avenue was Aberdale Road, just one block long. We would buy number 38, stone outside bordering the first floor, wood above; we would live there about 14 years. I started my “working career” as a child, delivering the Saturday Evening Post to neighbors on our street; then the Philadelphia Public Ledger. When Main Line Daily Times started, in 1930, I was among its very first delivery boys with a route that extended a bit into Cynwyd. By then I needed every nickel I could get. (That paper’s name is now News.)

There was much roller skating back then, with the always steel wheels often being totally worn down. There was occasional ice skating on a frozen street. But I don’t remember skiing at all. Sledding was great! I practiced serious baseball pitching in our driveway, hurling, sans catcher, toward garage doors with every window totally protected. (I would win five games in a row in college.) Summers at Ocean City brought surf fishing and fun with relatives at the Beach.
My home seemed a permanent part of life. I wore out two bb-guns shooting at bottles (nothing live). I took note of our overgrown garden. My Father just lost interest in it sometime; the huge upright piano stood neglected as he did professional stride playing “downtown,” The Victrola stood neglected in a corner with Caruso 78 records no longer played. Somehow, my parents’ Twenties were different from their earlier years (I think the death of two infants, the ones before me, knocked something vital out of them, what I don’t know).

We would have gladly stayed on in Bala in Depression years, but “Philadelphia’s leading engineer”–as a newspaper called my father (who did the elevated trains and the House of Correction)–suddenly lost his contract for a giant projected Philadelphia Post office. He released 44 engineers and closed his office. Quickly he lost our two houses and three cars to Merion Title and Trust Company and moved in with his daughter many miles away. I lost $14 and change. (The sheriff shoved juvenile me roughly to one side as he pushed through the back door!) When that Merion sold the home for less than the mortgage, they got a considerable “deficiency judgment” for 20 years! It would bring nothing.

As a growing boy, earlier, I was a steady customer of the Bala Public Library, reading all of the Frank Merriwell, Ken Strong, Boy Allies, and other juvenile sets. I attended the nearby Bala School with “Miss Nellie” long in first grade and “Miss McCahn” solid in 4th. My home boasted a room filled with Lionel O-gauge trains; in a hallway was my crystal set (a link to seven or more big city 50,000 watt transmitters. Silver cornet playing sometimes included playing out an open window!I still toot.

There was an inevitability to my school. My sister Josephine went to Bala Elementary; also cousin Polly Mitchell from Bryn Mawr Avenue, and cousins Paul and Folwell Scull from their home directly across the street from school. My good Boy Scout friends Sam Brown (the dentist’s son) and Harry Kraftsman (carpenter’s son) lived nearby. (Both graduated University of Pennsylvania.) Lawrence Trenholm was a contemporary. Infants dying from the flu, two from our family, were buried in venerable West Laurel Hill Cemetery adjacent to Manayunk (which once boasted the first canal started in our country and long offered cheap living. Today, it’s a locale for the upper class well dressed to spend lots of money).

It seems of very little interest now that fluctuating tensions and disputes of that day in greater Pennsylvania such as Catholic vs. Protestant, discrimination against Jews, de facto segregation of Negroes, inability of women to reach the top in business routinely, as examples; and enthusiasms such as emerging radio, flying somewhere while admiring Charles Lindbergh, all those shiny (largely black) automobiles, and hope that Prosperity was with us to stay, were for better or worse, solidly focused on. In Bala, life was being lived, after all, and I think we did a very good job of living it!

Although my Mother graduated from a Friends (Quaker) high school far downtown, she was totally uninterested in a Meeting long in a stone building several miles up a highway. I was told, when small, to go alone to a Presbyterian Sunday School at an intersection across from Cynwyd; to get there I walked slowly uphill past a substantial Catholic school with playground. (We never talked of religious matters in our home, and I do think that the formal church they chose more than did its duty toward me, especially on psalms and Christian highlights.)
Had I walked the opposite direction from my home it could have taken me to City Line, where if I turned right, I would arrive at a store where 12-exposure black and white Kodak roll film could be developed and printed. Across the street, likely waiting was streetcar 70, one of many, a vital and direct conveyance to good transfers. If vacationing, in the 1920s we would make visits to Ocean City on the Blackhorse or Whitehorse Pike for solvent Philadelphia types in the hot and humid summers. The compulsory ferry (fun for juveniles) was displaced by the Delaware River Bridge, which finally finished its long drawn out construction in 1926.

In the substantial regional snows of winter, kids tied a rope to bread, milk, cleaning, and ice horse drawn wagons, going blocks Saturday AM. Our autos were a LaSalle, Nash, and Chandler. The black telephone used everywhere had a vertical stem nearly a foot in length and a heavy receiver to be lifted to one’s ear. Phonebooths were common. My sister, aware of her Quaker ancestry, graduated from Swarthmore in 1928, relishing her Nash convertible, Chi Omega friends, and near-Ivy League prestige. It was in nearby West Chester. Instantly, that one was touring England and the Continent with our Mother. Father did his own tour of Berlin and Paris two years later, especially ecstatic about his first airplane flight (over the English Channel). My pleasant book about both adventures is HAPPY TRAVEL DIARIES, 1925 to 1933, self-published recently by Bornet Books.

While one could drive down The City’s beautiful parkway to get downtown, it was that trolley 70 that was central to Bala’s economic life. It took one to the Elevated Trains that duly became a subway with access to Wanamaker’s. Many passengers emerged at Billy Penn’s statue high over City Hall—and wide Broad Street’s Manufacturers’ Club (long closed), of course, from whose second story I watched the Mummers Parade annually. (On a wall at home was its framed and very ornate $1,000 stock certificate—soon to be valueless.
Going the other direction off Bryn Mawr for three miles led to Lower Merion junior and senior high schools. It was there in 1931 to 1933 that I attended each—being in band and orchestra, the only male cheerleader in Junior High (partnered uneasily, with a Virginia), and was paid to play in Ardmore Boy’s Band now and then.

A bit older than I and destined for fame were two youths raised across the street from Bala Elementary: Paul Scull and Folwell Scull. Those towering Scull Boy athletes, LM heroes, later were both Bowl Men (the very top) at University of Pennsylvania: Paul an AP All American fullback who crushed Cornell; Captain Folwell of Track narrowly losing nationally famous Olympics trials of 1928 to immortal Charles Paddock. Both emerged from tiny Bala to achieve national fame.

In 1932-33, with my helpless and suddenly indigent parents clear across Philadelphia, I was farmed out to my Aunt Ella Scull’s home where I lived in her athletic sons’ bedroom. It was congested with their medals and cups. Did I ever wonder those nine months if I could one day catch up with them—by doing “something” very well? What I do know is that two nights a week I was Boy Scouting with Troop 1’s lawyer scout master Pop Ferris. That serious scouting was indebted to equipment and procedures derived from awful World War I, a fact little noted at our level. Still, I was a bugler (with the bugling merit badge). I always played Taps. I do recall that our scoutmaster had spent the War as a signalman aboard a merchant ship. (We learned Morse Code well.)

A word about our “tony” Lower Merion Township high school. Its band followed the football team (which used the plumpish balls then good for drop kicking). I took Latin and two years of really dull German. Shop changed subjects each semester and included metalsmithing, printing, woodworking, and electrical; maybe other things, but I took those mentioned. (Years later, in Georgia, my new college friends, other than from maybe three cities I think, got only 11 years of schooling. That would have been considered out of the question in my Pennsylvania where 12 was required of all.) Carved into the concrete out front was: “ENTER TO LEARN; GO FORTH TO SERVE.” Somehow, I am pleased that I remember it without looking it up.

A word about safety. During the nine months I lived fifty miles from my parents, clear across Philadelphia, I visited half a dozen times. I sometimes got to them, starting by walking across Bala. Then I took our streetcar 70. Transferred eventually to the Elevated, riding until the Subway arrived under City Hall. Emerged, glancing at the beggars. Caught a conveyance going 90 degrees off, through urbanized Temple University, alone for a long time. In Jenkintown, I walked happily (but tired) two miles downhill to my sister’s old home in Rydal. (Two days later my sister’s husband drove me diagonally on Park roads back to my Aunt’s, and Monday’s familiar schooling.)

I can recall no lectures on the need for my “safety” from bums, drugs, assault, alcohol, “strangers,” or other catastrophes. How can that be? I was after all walking in Philly’s center and was for most of a day a 15 year old kid who was all alone. Maybe uniting my family, however briefly, was an absolute necessity. I thought I’d mention all that.
Maybe a brief three paragraph self-serving word about me is now indicated. I’ve been in Who’s Who in the World a long time; the other set over half a century; and I have awards. I’ve written 17 books and well over a hundred articles for learned journals. My doctorate (in History) is from Stanford, earlier degrees are from Emory and Univ. of Georgia. I am a Sigma Chi, and for 61 years a Rotarian. I emerged from enjoying Aberdale Road (as a neighbor of the Penn rowing coach from 1927-1950, Rusty Callow). I went through Life as a Research Historian (once with RAND, various professorships, did lots of difficult editing).

Returning to my father, when I was born he was in Washington, D.C. interaction with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt on the Budd Company’s design of the Mines to contain German subs in the North Sea. (Happily, he rushed home to my mother.) A quarter of a century later he would design the steel for 60 Miami Beach hotels in his years of comeback after we were kicked out of dear old Bala for not making those mortgage payments. (Many a talented professional of those years, especially in the building trades, must have experienced such an up/down jolt as did Vaughn Taylor Bornet, later on to serve as the 20 year treasurer of Miami Beach Rotary Club.)

As for me, I married a small town university senior out of the northern California mountains (Susanville) in 1944 when sporting a blue Navy lieutenant’s uniform. She was class president at University of Nevada at the time. Asked where I am from, I often proudly proclaim, “Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania,” enjoying the blank look. Then I add helpfully something like “It’s not far from the site of ‘The Philadelphia Story,’ but not quite as rich.” Katherine Hepburn is a great identifier!

Other times, maybe to a muscular man, “I went to Lower Merion where Koby Bryant got his start in basketball.” For fun, “In my day I had a cheerful black boy, Acklee, assigned a seat behind and teasing me in algebra; he was from Ardmore, a place adjacent to Villanova and Bryn Mawr College. (I wonder if he, like me, sweated his way out of the Depression in late youth or when a young adult to land on his feet….)

Oh. My father from a half Jewish family, it seems, won the Figure Skating Championship of Philadelphia at age 19 in 1899. It was held on the Schuylkill River, not too far from where I grew up. Back then, like so many, my father’s family name was still that of 1840’s immigration: Borgenski (from Poland). His Presbyterian mother hailed from County Armagh in Ireland. My mother’s ancestors were an English family of Sculls who came to the Colonies in the 1600s. Somehow, my grandfather’s brother had and spread the lifetime name Borgenicht.)

The eastern part of Montgomery County which hosted “Bala” was a Welsh place with strange names, and as good a suburban village for all of us to get started in Life as there was back then. Or so we grandchildren and greatgrandchildren of temporarily upwardly mobile second generation immigrants in the Twenties seem to have thought—way back then, nearly a hundred years ago.

I do hope this cursory account of a boyhood and early youth centered in a place called Bala (not far from Overbrook one way and Valley Forge (yes!) 14 miles the other) has jogged the memories of some readers. I hope it has stirred interest in an American past long since read about or seen in a movie by some others. (Maybe a budding novelist will be jarred into seeking out my Eastern Pennsylvania locale for that next book.)

Anyway, I doubt that there are very many around that can do what I just did. From entirely personal memory I have tried to restore somewhat a Past that is close to 100 years back. What one must do is remember that many of those upwardly bound in the Twenties would be descending downward in the Thirties. That’s what happened repeatedly back then, believe me.
Those years of Prosperity destined to sink to Depression were enclosed by two terrible World Wars. My childhood and boyhood years portrayed here, 1917 to 1933, would change course after those “normal” years, unexpectedly. Prosperity took two steps (and more) backward, 1930-31, the nation’s transition point, and for years afterward. That is all too true. I have greatly enjoyed recreating for us both here—because I can—some of the more pleasant and normal aspects of that start in Life that I had the good fortune to experience so very long ago.

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Advice on Living to 100-From One Who Tried It

Advice on Living to 100—From One Who Tried It
by
Vaughn Davis Bornet
Editor’s Note: Once again, we hear from our senior citizen in Ashland, Oregon. This time he is obviously trying to reach out and lengthen at least some of our lives. Good luck on that, folks. (Remember: Dr. Bornet is Emory, Univ. of Georgia, Stanford, Navy, “free lance,” RAND, and so on. He started Life on October 10, 1917.)
My subject today is living a long life, and how to go about it. Here’s the scoop: First: Don’t smoke, or if you do, give it up! There used to be smoking in the 1960s at the tables of our Ashland Rotary Club. I got up and moved every time. I was rude, no doubt about it. I thought I “knew better” and, yes, I did!
Second, be active mentally and physically, over a very long period. I was a baseball pitcher, weightlifter, sailor, golfer, and now one of the few exercisers in our retirement home. We camped a lot in the old days, at relatively high altitudes, and I’m sure it was good for all of our family and friends who went with us (to about 5,000 feet).
Then, plan cleverly (or have the dumb luck) to marry or conspire to live with, a good partner. Don’t change the one you chose so carefully. Tell that spouse of yours to read up on “nutrition,” and use a little care when planning your meals.
I am of two minds about children’s effect on longevity. They may shorten your life by sometimes almost driving you nuts. Or, they may actually lengthen your life, as they may pay part of the bill for that fancy retirement home. They can provide a really good motive to stay alive as they visit weekly or monthly, bringing chocolates.
While I am convinced that work may have a lot to do with longevity—mostly with shortening it; I suggest that you sensitive ones avoid an autocratic boss. I had several—for long periods—and I wasted a good deal of time trying to endure them.
It also helps if you’re paid well. If you can’t arrange that, try to inherit a sizable sum from the estate of an older brother who is well fixed.
I feel obligated to suggest that the amount of “happiness” you have is bound to have a lot to do with how much you really want to “live long.” Sorry, but I am not quite sure how to guarantee development or retention of happiness, or even to know when you’ve used up your quota.
I surmise that you have read at least some of the little articles in newspapers that give advice. They are about coffee, sugar, salt, alcohol, fatty meats, and junk food. (In some states, drugs and opiodes are now among the subjects. That unsought advice is also about when to eat, and how to sleep—of all things.
I would add this unsought advice: stick with really nice people. (After some recovery from my huge heart attack in 1977, my physician, a Dr. John Reynolds in Ashland, Oregon told me: “Vaughn, starting now, stay away from people that bug you.”) Good advice, that–but it’s hard to do.
I am almost certain that music is related to longevity. Playing it; listening to it; respecting opinions about it. Personally, I would recommend opera on Saturday mornings as a way of relaxing, but it can be unnerving with all of its suicides and murders.
There are one or two practical matters related to health that are seldom mentioned. I am convinced that if dermatologists catch those spots due to excess sun, coming on your face, shoulders and hands, hitting them a second or so with a nitrogen gun, major cancer may never show up in major parts of your body.
NOW: A Harvard-based scientific discovery a little while back seems to be related to my own longevity. It’s psychology-based.
I’m going to quote from a learned book: “We now know that soaking yourself in the recent past—your past—is a powerful way to rehabilitate aging cognition.” That quote is from John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist. He wrote Brain Rules, and Brain Rules for Aging Well. Another highly relevant book is: Ellen J. Langer, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility. Her experiments had dramatic conclusions.
I want to offer a simple quotation: “… you should become a specialist on what you did between the ages of 15 and 29.” No kidding.
I heard about this next idea recently, but it has been known to psychologists for several years and is based on solid conventional research.
The idea is this: Relive your childhood, youth, and earliest adulthood years by thinking and talking about them! It turns out that I certainly did. My years from 15 to 29 were 1932 to 1946. I have written seriously about that era in four books! In 1995, I wrote a major autobiography in the third person; it ended at 400 pages, with over three chapters treating those “magic” years. Several years ago, I wrote a book rooted in letters I exchanged with my far away wife in wartime, 1944. Rereading of our stressed but thrilling life back then, I even relived the days of marriage and honeymoon! (I married my bride in her home, snow outside, in my World War II blue Navy uniform.)
In 2017 I put together a third detailed account that took me back to 1925 to 1933. The book was rooted in parental travel diaries and brought back my Boy Scout years, memories of family, and our transition from Prosperity to Depression.
I just finished my original new book, Seeking New Knowledge: A Research Historians Rewarding Career. I actually completed all the required remembering when finishing up with my 99th year. I typed the first draft of the whole book myself, by the way, wishing my fingerprints would return.
What I am saying is that I have often relived being young again, in real detail. If I am a relatively healthy 100 at this time, just MAYBE some of that longevity is due to Reliving the Past—my own Past—just as those scientists ordered! My ever-changing years from 15 to 29 were astounding, really. I’m now going to refer to them briefly, so get ready!
My parents and I were Happy in Prosperity—those Twenties were good. But the sheriff sold our nice home, vacation home, and cars in 1931; I had to live a year with my aunt without my parents; they moved to Miami Beach and I joined them finally by taking a five-port-docking coastwise steamer from Philadelphia to Miami.
Thereafter, 1933 to 1935, I helped support my family by delivering as many as 250 morning newspapers, mostly to tourists. I graduated from my second high school. Now scholarships helped me get two and half college degrees before the war. And my father’s steel engineering went solidly.
Next, I served five years with the Navy; then taught History two years at the University of Miami; attended Stanford a long time on the G I Bill, and in spring, 1951 finally got the doctorate in History.
One secret to living long, those psychologists say, is nostalgia. “Regular nostalgia exposure,” they assert, “has behavioral benefits…consistent with activation of dopamine. It boosts social connectedness scores, and feelings of well-being.”
A recent Wikipedia explanation of dopamine is: “It’s a neurotransmitter in the brain that acts to help regulate movement and emotion.” And, “It’s a chemical released by neurons…to send signals to other nerve cells….” And then, “Reward-motivated behavior increases the level of dopamine in the brain.” (That word isn’t in the Webster’s Collegiate I have used since 1936.)
Moving on, the experts also say, “Seniors consistently exposed to their past become less anxious about dying, become emotionally closer to loved ones, even obtain greater tolerance for outsiders.” Still with me?
Let me put it in simpler English: Reliving ones’ earlier years, especially the ones after childhood and before getting far into adulthood, greatly helps to prolong life in old age.
This is what I seem to have learned: To go back with real appreciation to your own selected “old days” is something of a guarantee that Heaven will grant a noticeable increase in our “new days.”
There was an article on seizing longevity in History News Network recently. The learned author claims that if one looks back at youth and earlier life, and dwells on it, (often–I gather) it helps the individual to live on—and reach a healthy old age.
As I conclude, I want to confide a little more about myself: Well, I grew up in a snooty little main-line town in Pennsylvania called Bala-Cynwyd. I was in the Band and Orchestra. And later on a winning tennis team.
I became a Sigma Chi in college, and graduated “With Honors.” I was put in charge of all the barracks at Naval Air Station in Alameda for three years and dubbed “necessary.” This lieutenant didn’t get out of uniform until four months after the War was over. In 1945 after two drinks, my admiral once said, “Hell, Bornet, nobody wants your job!” (Which is how I learned I wasn’t about to be shipped out to the far Pacific, back in early summer, 1945.)
After Stanford I began to write books and work for foundations and a Think Tank. A three year full time effort on my part was writing a big book for the Commonwealth Club of California.
I spent three separate years helping three distinguished scholars put together their famous books. The subjects were: President Roosevelt, the best-selling textbook on American history by Thomas A. Bailey, and Herman Kahn’s classic book on thermonuclear war. I also summarized a big RAND Corporation book on the Space Race, making it readable. I developed an Oral History activity for the Truman Library, getting an autographed photo from him, with thanks.
Meanwhile, I served as editor for American History, Biography and Geography for a new edition of Encyclopedia Brittanica that came out in 1960. I had three happy years at that RAND Corporation.
I was a professor and Division Chairman at Southern Oregon College about two decades. I served nearly twenty years on the United States Civil Rights Commission for Oregon. For two years, with secretarial help, I served as president of the Rogue Valley Symphony.
Finishing, I guess I should admit that I wrote a book for the American Heart Association which got me named “Distinguished” before a huge hotel audience of cardiologists. The book made the news columns of the NYT. Finally, The Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge honored me for my article on US relations with Russia. My thousand page plus website, CLIOISTICS, is permanently on the Internet with hundreds of pages that were published during my recent oldest years.
The idea of this simple article has been to spread the news that going back to Your Post Childhood, but Early Adult, Past, thinking about it, considering it, can actually lengthen your Life! Enroute (since I have been here since October 10, 1917 and remain healthily active as an elderly Research Historian) I have ventured to offer a precis of my active life, only as an inspiration to You.
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