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This 101 year old Historian’s Plea

THIS 101-YEAR OLD HISTORIAN’S PLEA
By
Vaughn Davis Bornet

By now, many of you are familiar with the outcries of Ashland, Oregon’s elderly scholar. Living on (now past 101), he can’t help noticing what’s happening to the Executive Branch of the government of the United States. He’s not happy! Nothing at Emory, Georgia, or Stanford, apparently, prepared him for today’s spectacle of government by guesswork. So here he is again, this time close to fulminating….in summary: that occupant of the Oval Office has to go—and soon.

So it has come to this: Our free press is subject to ridicule; actually, it is undergoing threat. Presidential antagonism is approaching entirely too close to action.

Not too long ago, political opposition to “the Press” was quietly endured as “well meaning, but wrong.” Now, the expression “lock her up” has spread from a candidate’s lips to an office-holder’s lips. It has become a slogan. Worse, Donald J. Trump’s favorite outcry “Fake News” is no longer exotic; it is commonplace, or close enough. It is regarded in some places as a normal way to refer to America’s daily news headlines.

Political rallies have long occupied partisans as election day approached. Now, it does seem, instead of governing, the White House occupant campaigns around the calendar—instead of concentrating on Congress or the passing scene.

At one time, high office holders in D. C. took an assigned position and went to work for “the duration.” Now, many top officials simply quit in mid-stream, and proceed to walk out. Maybe they are told to go, and “hurry up about it.” (Goodness knows what kind of instructions our Attorney General Sessions has gotten from his “boss.”)

In this Administration, reputations fade, so much so that individuals have to leave! It is “one jump ahead of the sheriff,” so to speak. Or, “Go while the going’s good.”

Let’s say there is an Event. Our president misrepresents it. That happening was only a few weeks or months ago, but we cannot trust our president to tell the truth about it. What actually happened, back then? Well, the Truth is something you are not going to hear from today’s occupant of Air Force One.

In life it has long been a truism that there are “the good guys” and there are the “bad guys.” In statecraft, however, it is no longer easy to tell our allies from our enemies! Once, we made permanent friends of nations far away and tied them to us with Alliances. Today, you can’t tell any ally without checking first with the White House to make sure which nation is a friend and which an enemy. Indeed, they may well have switched overnight!

This is serious stuff. The ship of state has no helmsman, it seems; or maybe he just doesn’t think it important for us to know the differences between a true friend and a dangerous enemy.

All of these things that are happening to us from within our American Government in 2018 are important. But the travails of The Press are damaging to the point they simply cannot be laughed off, ridiculed, treated as “no more than a joke, really.” We have to enjoy a free press. That’s A FREE PRESS. We must have it.

There is indeed a field of endeavor called “journalism.” It has standards, and concepts, and principles. All are taught in college classrooms. Our present political leader ridicules any such idea and barges ahead—to the point where his expression “lock ‘em up” or whatever it is, sounds suspiciously like a proclamation of jail time back in Nazi or Fascist days.

What I want at this point is an end to high school games that masquerade in the guise of proper conduct for Leaders! In government the stakes are much too high to “play around” with them. I must have a return to sense and sensibility to be happy at rest every day.

I really want, if the truth be known, the removal of Donald J. Trump from the presidential office. If I can’t have that, I want powerful individuals in named offices (Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, etc.) who will keep that one from running things until his term has limped to its end.

I feel, overall, as though my Country has been borrowed away from me. Totally without my permission, mind you. And somebody owes me for time spent playing at the fair grounds.

Now and then I feel like washing my hands. I want to Do Something Dramatic. Maybe yell a little. Read another book with a title like Fury, or maybe Fire, or Unhinged—and coast for a few hours or a day or so until the revelations and the prose in the new book’s pages wear off. What I am saying, I guess, is that I don’t want to be alone in my antagonism against this amateur (that’s right: amateur) in the Oval Office.

How to end this, well, has it really become a diatribe? Promise me this madman with the simple habits and all that spare money will go away. Soonest. Bring in somebody who has read in depth of the lifetime of Herbert Hoover’s dedication; the comprehensive love of Life of Theodore Roosevelt; Lincoln’s use of language to elevate national spirits; Jefferson’s ability to raise my comprehension of self-government by framing a document that’s good for me.

For Hell’s sake: I’m sick to death of mediocrity, of posturing, of pretense, of lies told with a straight face. What did I do to deserve THIS? The corridors outside the Oval Office need new inhabitants. Trump relatives are handsome and/or pretty, but I have to say they don’t fill me with confidence in their experience or abilities. And I believe the truth to be that they haven’t really earned those high and powerful positions by earlier hard work.
Bring in somebody as president who can shame Congress into doing what is right! Figure out some way this TV star can’t pick somebody else to fill a Supreme Court vacancy with all that is bound to entail. Most of all, please:

Bring dignity back to my White House. Don’t let this fellow salute one more time; it gives me the willies to think of a general or admiral kowtowing to this guy, even if he does, probably, get a kick out of the winks and nudges at home later on.

I want my Country back. Is it too much to ask?

Book Review of Bob Woodward’s ‘Fear’

Bob Woodward, FEAR: Trump in the White House (New York, Simon and Schuster, 2018), 421 overall, illustrated.

The editor knows you’re anxious to read a review of this book after your long wait, so we’ll be brief, up front. Our Historian reviewer elected the “Political Parties” minor at Stanford, and he has written a number of books with a “political” aspect. His The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson is a solid piece of scholarship, done for the American Presidency Series of Kansas Press. Its Bibliographical essay and Index have been helpful to interested historians. We all have waited impatiently to see “what’s next?” with our current Presidency and its evolution, so let’s see this famous book’s impact.

Dear Reader: When some sturdy book like this is finally in my hands, my practice for some time has been, after glancing at the list price, I go to the Index. After rummaging a bit, I seek out the Bibliographical List or Essay and check it out the citations. Now, I read both the initial sentence and paragraph; then the concluding several pages. Now it’s off to lunch, maybe. I think at random about what I’ve learned so far.

I’m very likely at this point to read several of whatever passes for a “first review” by others on Google. It’s surprising what turns up. Now it the author’s name, and of course the title of the book, just in case. Strange things emerge here. How strange? Very. This time it was a superb essay by one Molly Bell entitled, “Donald Trump and the Politics of Fear,” from the Atlantic for September 2, 2016. My suggestion to alert and interested readers of my review is that at your early convenience Check Out this first class item! You won’t be sorry. This young woman is a pathbreaker, a pioneer, it does seem to this observer.

The present book. FEAR: Trump in the White House is as all know, by a first class journalist, long associated with the Washington Post. He is also found adjacent to Carl Bernstein’s name in things and on things. And in accounts of Nixon’s encounter with disaster and removal from D. C. to the Far West with his charming wife and suitcases.

The book before us devotes itself to the following subjects, in somewhat descending order, counting the Indexing: Trump, naturally. Then, Immigration; John Kelly; Robert Mueller, Steve Bannon, and two Generals: James Mattis and H. R. McMaster. Also Reince Priebus, countries like North Korea and China. Hillary Clinton not so much, but Gary Cohn is much noted. I was a little surprised by Lindsay Graham but not by the frequent mention of Jared Kushner.

I looked up Comey and read about him a little; I thought it a bit grudging—Trump genuinely detests him! I looked up Omarosa and she wasn’t in the Index. Surprise. I studied the words under all the classy color photographs and was duly rewarded. (The rendering of that North Korean madman was a perfect portrayal.) After dinner I’ll get on that little task of checking out members of the Trump family; already I’ve found the listings rewarding; that Ivanka is certainly a pistol, at home in our and her environment.

To concentrate on the book as such: I would feel guilty if I did not follow the author’s lead in his very first sentence. It is by way of Tribute! We all get HELP of some kind with our big projects. It is essential and nothing to apologize for. Says Bob right off: “A heartfelt thanks to Evelyn M. Duffy….” She has aided him on five books. On this one, Bob found the challenge “the deep emotions and passions she brings out in supporters and critics.”

What she did is of great interest: “Evelyn immediately grasped that the challenge was to get new information, authenticate it and put it in context while reporting as deeply as possible inside the White House.” She has a company and is clearly “an old hand” at backing up experienced Authors.

Gambling, I checked out U-Tube for “Trump” and hit the jackpot. There was the recording of the occasion when the author sought, at great length, to persuade President Trump to allow himself to be interviewed for this book! There were several problems: the book was very far along already (it was August, 2017). Donald said he hadn’t been asked earlier! Famous staff members butted in on Trump/Woodward, somewhat invited. It’s a good listen, yet this listener was anything but admiring of the two verbal contestants as they shifted position repeatedly. Why not visit “Trump/Woodward” on U-Tube and give it a ten minute try?

At the outset, this book offers a single quote: It’s Trump saying, “Real power is—I don’t even want to use the word—fear.” The date is March 31, 2016, interviewees Woodward and friend are at Trump’s hotel in D.C

Moving on, needless to say as this book goes from unpleasantness to crisis to uncertainty, to bad result, to misconduct, the reader (this one, anyway) is tempted to put it away. Curiosity wins out, however. Let’s get this straight: Here is a visible mole, invited in with “people of affairs,” who knows how to do it, is motivated to continue shaking the bone, is curious for himself as well as the unknown reader, and is usually orderly with his really important narrative.

Yes, this book is important, just as has been said in the Marketplace all along. If I were President Trump I would see it as one more obstacle to reelection in 2020. I’m guessing that it could hurt his Party (is that the right way to put it?) this Fall, but who knows? Its sale is enormous as I write. By the way: the color pictures in the middle are good; I ‘m no judge of whether they are of special merit.

I just can’t convey the subject matter of FEAR in a review of limited wordage. Fear’s narrative is 357 pages. There are footnotes at the end. I read them early on. The favorite words of attribution are “deep background interview.” Alternately, “deep background interviews with firsthand sources.” I can tell at once that this is a continent away from prose produced by lifelong research historians like me. There are precious few citations to the books of others. The point is: this book is about NOW, as much as the author can make it be. This senior citizen got something of a kick out of footnotes to “tweets”—of all things. Yet: what else is this pixy president going to have in his so-called archives, hopefully in place soon after 2020. I am wondering, by the way, if this is the first book with “lawyer” cited or explained about in the footnotes….

I’m sorry, but I do want to criticize the use over and over and over of various grammatical versions of fuck. Maybe there’s no way out if famous people use it through every meal, etcetera. Other swear words are included as the text strives to be, well, Verbatim. It didn’t improve my opinion of what I was reading—and it sure didn’t improve my opinion of various famous “leaders” of our Nation. Usually, it marked loss of control and/or determination to downgrade something (too often something I happen to like), or to degrade somebody.

That there has been a whole lot of preliminary comment about Bob Woodward and his long forthcoming book is evident. I think it unnecessary to go on about his reputation as chronicler of presidential misconduct, or an outsider finding himself on the inside. He is the writer of books on every recent president who made a key mistake or a stream of them.

Idly viewing TV, I noted “Rachel” would be interviewing this man for an hour tonight. Senator Kerry came on during my afternoon; the subject of the Fear volume arose, and he referred pleasantly to “Bob’s book.” As I left for dinner in my retirement home, I thought, “Oh. I’ll take my book down when eating. ; I’ll leave the cover on; wonder if any of those old folk will notice the book with its brilliant red cover—or its full rear jacket color picture of President Donald J. Trump.” Conclusion: they did recognize it; several turned away; others limited themselves to: : “Oh, you got it!”

Let’s get something straight: It was a pleasure to review the James Comey book; as I said, he seemed a good character example for youth and his book was a worthwhile read for youngsters who might be up to it. I think the bad language and consistently bad conduct highlighted in Fear disqualifying. Not a book for kids.

There just have to be some authentic quotations here from that President Trump—the man sleeping in our White House and using the Oval Office as totally His. Let’s start: Re the Press: “They’re kicking the crap out of me.” 356 “Hope Hicks and Kelly—overrule me every time I want to pull someone’s credentials.” 356 (I’ll avoid my quoting his remarks about his Attorney General. Sessions has been Trump’s nemesis from almost first to last.)

Said an important aide: “We need to have a process to make sure that we do this in proper order, that we’ve thought through all these things.” To which our elected Leader’s considered action about authorizing framing an official reply was, “I don’t care about any of this stuff. I want it on my desk on Friday.” (The subject was whether or if to withdraw from NAFTA.) 156

Over and over Bob Woodward chooses (OR has to choose) to quote the President of the United States in a manner that lowers him in one’s estimation still further. On page 56 banker Gary Cohn is speaking of interest rates going up in the foreseeable future. Says Trump: “I agree. We should just go borrow a lot of money right now, hold it, and then sell it and make money.” Says the book; “Cohn was astounded at Trump’s lack of basic understanding. A few more words. Then, Trump as learned economist: “Just run the presses—print money.”

When I was reviewing the Omarosa book Unhinged, I quoted the word “paranoia” used by her descriptive of Donald with misgivings. Here it turns up again. Roger Porter says, rather early, “Trump’s behavior was now in the paranoid territory.” 166 This man has a lot to say and do about War an Peace!

I just don’t have the heart to quote the President on his many casual observations that are so caustic about countries long friends of the United States. It’s bad enough that he defames our Allies casually, almost at a what’s the difference?” level. He got the idea in his head that our troops should be withdrawn from South Korea at once, for example. Corrective action had to be taken by responsible military leaders at once.

I don’t see any useful purpose being served by trying to summarize a lot of this widely held book in this place. Many subjects are being summarized, beginning every, say, three or four pages. I don’t see information being well served by my resummarizing over and over. Those entranced with the Flynn matter, the Comey matter, the staggering turnover in high employees since the Inauguration, can read everywhere—and now here. We have to face Trump’s weird tweeting to begin each day, or the oddity of his family members barging in as though not at all related to “the boss.” As I say, those entranced with all the sideshow of Trump in Action, should read much of the Woodward book—maybe at the Library.

To me, Woodward has opened up the next stage beyond Rachel Maddow, and other hard-working TV news interpreters. He has done—in my scholarly view, at least—a solid and sound job of revealing things that need opening up yet again to daylight.

Clearly, we are all in a whale of a mess, aren’t we? Our incumbent didn’t have to be elected, did he? But he was. Now there seem to be alternatives: A. We somehow can educate him on facts and appropriate conduct; B. We can somehow get rid of a lot of highly placed office holders close to him, and bring in qualified leadership for lots of jobs; and/or C. we can figure out how to work the machinery designed long ago to eliminate any dangerous or incompetent President from office.

Using one or more of these alternatives just might save us from ruining ourselves and other well-meaning, self-governing Allied nations.

It is now a time to be SERIOUS, stop equivocating, and evading, and postponing, and, yes, hoping for a miracle. At your reviewer’s advanced age (over 100), I feel like insisting, no, demanding, that the Congress and our electorate do their duty. The Future needs a warrantee, a guarantee: Do What’s Right!

Bornet’s Book Review of “UnHinged” by Omarosa

UNHINGED: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House. By Omarosa Manigault Newman. 334 pages No Index. Not illustrated. New York City: Simon and Schuster.

A REVIEW BY VAUGHN DAVIS BORNET
Our reviewer, who’s produced reviews for learned journals since 1948, is at it again, as he did with Comey, Wolff, and two others focusing on the White House, back when. He wrote for us twice of Donald J. Trump (in January and June, 2016) as a candidate, obviously as a troubled observer. To repeat, our elderly one’s three degrees are from Emory, Georgia, and Stanford. Seldom, he says, does a book memoirist come to her/his self-assigned task with so much reason to be bitter. After all, OMAROSA’s many pleasant enough Trump years ended abruptly when fired in person by the Chief of Staff. ! Let’s see….

The provocative quotation following appears, alone, by itself, on the back jacket for everybody to read. You might as well: “He rambled. He spoke gibberish. He contradicted himself from one sentence to the next…. While watching that interview, I realized that something real and serious was going on in Donald’s brain. His mental decline could not be denied. Many didn’t notice it as keenly as I did because I knew him way back when. They thought Trump was being Trump, off the cuff. But I knew something wasn’t right.”
There’s an awful lot to quote in this book. The author is clearly a talented “African-American woman” and we are always aware of it. She is seldom relaxed, it seems; on the other hand, despite mood swings, she is capable of great joy now and then. We are reminded that two of her family members were shot dead early on; and she worries—and has cause, as mobs misbehave here and there in her pages, but not quite cover to cover.
The author is a beautiful woman of good posture, a veteran of The Apprentice for years, seldom unemployed if she wishes to have a job between various intermissions. (After being fired by the White House (sic) in chapter one, UNBELIEVABLY, in a day or two she is offered a huge salary by a Trump daughter to work on the 2020 campaign. For that day and time, at least, she says “no.”
Subtitle, “An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” but she is all over the place on content as we turn the pages: California, Ohio, Florida, NYC, downtown D. C. The start is dramatic: she’s abruptly FIRED, and not the way we might be. For Omarosa, it was off to the Situation Room with that Kelly soldier where there were threats, loudness, recrimination, replies, locked doors, hints of violence. After that beginning, we have no doubt that this experienced lady is important and her memory feared.
My book is marked up with big circles and “quote,” check marks, and “discuss.” This is a somewhat dramatic narrative, one to be taken seriously. One wishes the writer well,but there seems an aura of strain throughout, I thought.
This White House staff member, Omarosa, expected her life to improve Donald J. Trump’s standing on this planet. She comes to hate him at the end, and she worries about the destiny of our good Nation with him still in control. Let’s listen to misgivings: “…I knew without Keith [Shiller], the president would probably become unhinged.” 303 Again, “…Due to his lack of empathy and his narcissism…” And, “…I realized that something real and serious was going on in Donald’s brain. His mental decline could not be denied. Many in the White House didn’t notice it as keenly as I did because I knew him way back when. … I knew something wasn’t right.” What might be done? She came up with: “Declare a state of medical emergency?” 246
This was startling: “During one of my visits he asked, “Hey, Omarosa, what do you think about Comey? I had to let him go, right? He couldn’t be trusted; he was not loyal.” … She judges, “No one—and I mean not a single person, agreed with his decision.”244
Do read about Trump and his awareness of guns on page 240-241. She doesn’t think much of WH doctors (nor do I, from my LBJ book research). 242 That medical personnel, she says, gave out any pills to anybody. “All we had to do was ask.” Her 2nd wedding was “the happiest day of my life” not surprisingly.
From reading newspapers, we believe our leader disregards Briefings. Here, we read: “In our briefings, Trump’s attention was scattered. He was distracted, irritable, and short. Normally, when DJT got into one of these moods, you knew to give him time and space. But in this case I could not….” 217
Is his mind sharp and clear? She is sure about his mental deterioration and is articulate about both that, and “his racism.” 292-293 At one point, this reviewer came to think: NO. Don’t be quoting this to our public! He’s the President of the United States. Limit those quotations.
We never forget this book is by a black woman. It’s clear: “… white men who surrounded me….” “A white participant is given the benefit of the doubt; a black woman in the workplace never is, regardless of the circumstances.” 265 This book is about something called “the cult of Trumpworld.” [one word]
Here is one message conveyed: “…I was miserable at the White House. Morale was at an all-time low, and the environment was toxic. I realized that Donald Trump was the biggest distraction to his own presidency. Donald Trump, the individual, the person, because of who he is and what he stands for and how he operates, would always be the biggest hindrance for us. Donald Trump, who would attack civil rights icons and professional athletes, who would go after grieving black widows, who would say there were good people on both sides, who endorsed an accused child molester; Donald Trump, and his decisions and his behavior, was harming the country. I could no longer be a part of this madness.” 318-319
How, you may ask, does a “typical historian-reviewer” feel on emerging from this candid, observant, critical, worrisome, concerned, notable book? As it happens, I have written on our race relations in the past (I’m white), am familiar with three presidents to the point of really researching and writing about them, come close to despising our incumbent President, and have been hoping for the best. (That would be dumping that Trump by the wayside at the very soonest.)
On the other hand, Donald has been for years, after being handed immense startup money, unquestionably an entrepreneur, creator of useful hotels and golf courses, a family man, and a jovial entertainer of huge audiences. If I enjoyed all or any of those “Miss Bosom” programs he provided on TV, I really should thank him.
Still and all, I’m frightened by what I read in this book about DJT’s CASUAL, UNINFORMED, and IGNORANT “presidency.” Omarosa’s book , sure didn’t help my sense of well-being. As read along, I felt, well, awful. Examples of an unfit, almost uncaring, certainly inadequate, President kept showing up, over and over. I didn’t like the really staggering contrast with my earlier H.H., F.D.R, and L.B.J. obsession, surrounded as they were in office by brilliant, dedicated public servants who seldom resigned, listened obediently and unfailingly to briefings with consequences,, and spoke rationally and regularly to the man who chose them. Yes, they campaigned while in office, more or less, but they G O V E R N E D and mostly set aside their earlier occupation while in our employ.
Here we have a bright woman of 44 years. She filled a job called (unbelievably) Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison, all in Trump’s White House. (Earlier, she served in Clinton’s WH!) Back when, she strove beyond the MA at Howard University; was a military Reservist chaplain (sic), and is apparently an occasional minister with her active minister 2nd husband in Jacksonville, that is, when “between political jobs.”
She handles much work with one hand behind her. Her favorite activity, it seems, is striving to change the political mindset of a giant mass of black voters out there, changing it to firm support of her current politician whoever it is, and doing that whatever the cost or time-demand. One never-ending goal has been to advance her own personal popularity, her reputation, because it will surely help Donald J. Trump! Maintaining or enlarging his probable vote-count in the coming election has been her hope (in summary).
Candidate Trump after the end of the 2016 campaign was disturbing to Omarosa. “It was very concerning to listen to him go on and on about the election in private. He would get all worked up and get crazed about the ‘fake news’ reports. I was worried that in his first week [in the WH] he was already cracking under the pressure.” 210
Our book author casually mentions those 4,000 White House jobs to be filled way back when. It’s scary. Staff were to “back up whatever the President said or tweeted, regardless of its accuracy.”211 What level of employee would allow that? On page 228 she almost casually speaks of “paranoia” setting in. Wow. Later, she wonders as to a tweet, “Does he even realize he sent it?” Italics hers. 228, Omarosa ruminates happily, after Trump’s Victory speech, “That moment was one of the highlights of my life.” It had proved “how wonderful and great this country had been to me.” She was living the American dream, she proclaims. Those days for her long ago getting public assistance were Over! You bet! Back after Inauguration, the most powerful man on the planet was next to her, and she deeply reflects as to that: it was “the two of us on that stage together!”
It was many months –almost a year–before the room nicknamed the “WH Osama bin Laden death planning room” would be used to house a General employing it to FIRE an employee far below Cabinet level. It was December 12, 2018 when our Omarosa would be escorted there, threatened, with the door locked against her in that scary basement, maybe facing the spectacular glare of a square foot of long ago awarded gold braid on the chest of her nasty critic. She has been blurting: “I’m being railroaded!”
It all made me think of President Andrew Johnson’s turbulent administration, back when the Senate failed to convict by only one vote, despite impeachment by the House. Maybe I’ll read up on all that—to Be Prepared! This time, maybe seriously consider finishing what we start!

*************

Memories of Life in a Small Town in the 1920’s

Memories of Life in a Small Town in the 1920s
Historians/History

    by Vaughn Davis Bornet

Vaughn Davis Bornet’s Ph.D. is from Stanford University (1951), the B.A. and M.A. (1939, 1940) are from Emory University, the year 1941 was at University of Georgia. Author of over a dozen books and scores of articles and essays, he has been writing articles frequently in recent years on the internet’s History News Network. He holds “Distinguished” awards from American Heart Association and Freedoms Foundation. He taught at University of Miami, 1946-48, and Southern Oregon College, 1963-80. He was a staff member of The RAND Corporation in the 1960s. A Commander in the Naval Reserves, his active duty was 1941 to 1946. His 2016 books Lovers in Wartime, 1944 to 1945 and another, Happy Travel Diaries, 1925 to 1933 (both Amazon) are recent. Coming out in early October, 2017 is, Seeking New Knowledge: A Research Historian’s Rewarding Career (Bornet Books). He lives, apparently only semi-retired, in Ashland, Oregon.

Editor’s Note (From History News Network, Rick Schenkman): 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 lumberyard obscured by trees in one direction and nothing but homes in 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. It was 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.

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 the 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 we lost our two houses and three cars to Merion Title and Trust Company and moved in with relatives many miles away.

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. Silver cornet playing began in its half-furnished second story room. I still toot.

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 a 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 their sled with a rope to bread, milk, cleaning, and ice horse drawn wagons, going blocks Saturday morning. 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.

Father did a tour of Berlin and Paris around this time and was especially ecstatic about his first airplane flight (over the English Channel). My pleasant book about the adventures is in Happy Travel Diaries, 1925 to 1933, that was 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.)

Lower Merion Junior High School (Pa.) cheerleading team. Vaughn Davis Bornet. 1931-32.
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.

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. (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.” I remembered 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.

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 the scene for you and 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.

List of Internet Essays by VDB Published by HNN

INTERNET ESSAYS BY VDB

PUBLISHED BY History News Network, 2008 TO DATE

Memories of Life in a Small Town in the 1920s

Republican, Democrat, or Independent: Which Choice for Me? 4/28/08

Reflections on My Friend, the Late Diplomatic Historian, Norman Graebner.

Maybe Add Values to Our American History Survey Courses?

Memorial Day in Mountain View Cemetery, Ashland, Oregon.

Veterans Day is a Time for Love for One’s Country.

Save and Preserve our American System.

Can a Mormon Candidate Rise Above the Religious Issue to Win It All?

Does Mimi Alford’s Memoir Finally Mean the Death Knell for the Camelot Myth?

Reflecting on Military Service and the Individual.

Republicans or Democrats: Which Side are You On?

Remember: Those Notorious Anti-Semite “Protocols” are Fiction!

How to Write a Book Dedication.

LBJ was a Great President. (Title chosen by editor, HNN.)

To Students Seeking the Ph.D. in History.

A Plea for Political Moderation.

So You Want to Write?

Prepare to Welcome Our Troops Home from Afghanistan. 11/1/13

What It Was Like for Whites to Travel in Apartheid South Africa. 12/9/13

Living in an Old Folks Home. It Could Easily be Worse! 10/20/14

Historians Should Stop Being Embarrassed by Our Wars. 5/22/15

This 98-Year-Old Historian’s Got Advice for You. 11/29/15

Let’s Consider Those Candidates While There’s Still Time. 1/3/16

How Military Service Changes You. 4/3/16

A Historian Considers American Socialism. 4/17/16

It has been 61 Years Since I Raised my Right Hand and Joined the Navy. 7/3/16

Review: Gary J. Byrne, Crisis of Character (re Hillary and Bill). 7/20/16

Getting Ready for College? Think Along with Me. OK? 9/5/16

The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. 11/10/16

Good Luck. People of our 50 States. (reaction to Trump’s election.) 11/27/16

What Use is a Degree in History? 12/20/16

The American Press Has Served Us Well. We Need to Protect It. 3/5/17

The Real Reason LBJ Didn’t Run For Reelection in 1968. 7/23/17

Fire and Fury Book Review    2/2018

A Higher Loyalty  Comey Book Review      4/22/2018  https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/168832