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Jean's Story

by Jean Bierwirth Bornt
(continued from "Early Years")

...We then moved to the Head of the Lane again, this time in Gusty Scrivens tenant house. And in 1933 Johnny was born. Grandmother Church and Grace Bass were there during the birth. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and his face was black. Grace thought he was a Negro, of course that was a big laugh, except for poor Mom.

We were still living in Scrivens tenant house when I started school. There was a new overpass going in on Route 2 where I had to walk to school. I became frightened of the big machinery and went back home. Mom bundled the boys up and walked to school with me. It was my first day and I was a timid child. My teache was Gladys Carr. She had grades one through four in one room. She asked all the children if they could write their names, and with that I began to cry. She came over and put her arm around me and told me not to worry, that I would soon learn.

Our neighbors were John and Lena Moon. Their teen-age daughter was named Hilda. She played the piano and would have Jim and me come over to practice a song for a pageant held in the Methodist Church. The song was," Leaning on the Old Top Rail". She was a great music teacher and we loved her. Her mother Lena always had cookies and milk for us after we finished practicing.

We had a very happy childhood. This was during the Great Depression and Dad had very little work. When I was 9 years old we moved to the city of Troy, N.Y Our landlord was John Capano. We lived in the downstairs apartment and he lived upstairs , with his wife and daughter Camella and son Johnny. Mrs. Capano was an excellant Italian cook. She raised pumpkins in the back yard especially to make a delectable dish called pumpkin blossom pancakes. She would invite us upstairs to taste of them whenever she made them. To this day I can still savor the taste. I have never been able to find the recipe.

Dad found a job in Ballston Spa in a factory. Mom found a job in the same town and Aunt Harriet came to stay with me my brothers and I. Aunt Floss lived on Oil Mill Hill and bus to visit her on several occasions. Dad then found a job driving truck to Quebec, Canada, for George B. Lee, distributor of Black Horse Ale. He loved his job and the Canadian people. Soon he wasn't feeling too well and the Doctor told him that it may be his infected teeth. He went to a dentist, Dr. Bean, and had all of his teeth pulled without novacaine, and was fitted for new dentures. He was 36 years old. The dentist had given him a beautiful fit, and he was very satisfied.

My brothers and I loved living in the city. We could rollerskate on the streets. And walk to the Palace Theatre on Saturdays to see our favorite western movies. Also we lived near the school and could walk there. It was about three blocks. I was in the fourth grade and my teacher's name was Miss Boland. I won an award for penmanship. It was called the Palmer Method of writing and I loved it. Another girl won also and her name was Gertrude Zampier.

When it was time for summer vacation from school, I went home with Aunt Marion. She was living in No. Bennington, Vt., in the stone house next to their grocery store called Powers and Robinson. Uncle Mike was a partner with Ken Robinson. The post office was across the street and we could see the mailmen bringing big bags of mail each day. Their daughter Marie was two years younger than I and we had a lot of fun together. Her bedroom was facing the street and we watched the goings on, usually at night. Marie was a great reader and we spent many hours at the McCollough library. It was within walking distance of the house. Hershey's chocolate syrup had just come out in the store and it made the best chocolate milk ever. Since then I have been addicted to it.

During my stay, Marie and I would always go to Jack Clark, the barber next door, and have our hair cut. It was always shorter than I liked, but Aunt Marion liked it that way. Jack's wife Jenny was the happiest woman alive, and she loved kids.It was a really fun vacation in No. Bennington with the Powers family.

From that apartment on 24 Dow Street we moved to a house on 7th Avenue. It was a much longer walk to school, but we didn't mind it at all. Next door lived the Golden family. Alice, Dottie and Freddie, the youngest, about 4 years old. Alice was my age and we went every place together. Her mother and father were he would bring home the most delicious chocolate milk. He always gave us kids some. We just loved him, not only because of his generosity, but he was very good-natured.

While living in Troy, N.Y. my brother Jim became very sick with pneumonia. He continued to get worse and the Doctor advised taking him to the hospital. After evaluating him they found that he had pericarditis, an infection in the sac around the heart. A very famous heart surgeon Dr. Wygant performed the first ever operation of this type, on Jim's heart. It was very dangerous and the doctor said he would die without it. He came through with flying colors and was soon out playing baseball with the other boys. The Troy Record sent a reporter to our house to take a picture of Jim and his brothers and me, with a write-up all about Jim's miraculous lifesaving operation. That operation put Dr. Wygant in the Who's Who Medical Journal for this delicate heart procedure, which had never been tried before.

One summer afternoon Jim and I were at Central Park where there were playgrounds and a swimming pool. Jim's friend Billy Siddons was with us. The two boys were swimming and Billy went under and didn't surface right away. Soon he came up yelling for help. Jim pulled him out, saving his life, I am sure. We weren't allowed to go to the park again unless Mom went with us.

After two years in the city, Mom's cousin Della O'Dell who lived in a small town named Graf ton, N.Y., persuaded Mom and Dad to move to her Father, Alonzo Weeden's farm. His wife had died and he needed someone to help with the farm chores. That day in April that we moved there was a heavy snowstorm. The country roads were drifted in and the snow was way above the car. It was like going through a tunnel, pretty, but scary too. There were never such storms in the city that I could remember.

The farmhouse had an old iron sink in the kitchen with a pump mto get the water. And an old wood stove in there to. Uncle Lonzo, as we called him, had cows, horses, pigs, chickens, geese,and banty roosters. It was so much fun playing in the barn in the hay loft, watching the cows being milked and the most fascinating was watching Uncle put the milk in the cream separator, and seeing the cream come out one spout and the milk out of the other.I can always remember the high-pitched whirring noise that it made.

This farm is where we lived when Mom's last child was born in 1938.A girl, a sister for me at last.I was 12. years old. Grandmother Church came and stayed with us while Mom was in the hospital in Troy, N.Y. All of the rest of her children had been born at home so this was a new experience for her. The day the new baby and Mom came home was big excitement. We all wanted to hold the sweet little baby sister, and we were allowed to, with much apprehension on Mom and Grandma's part.

The little one-room schoolhouse was within walking distance of our house, in fact you could see it trom the front yard. Our teacher, Mrs. Catherine Bly, lived in the tenant house of the farm right next door. She had two girls. Rosemary was my age and Kathleen was Jim's age. I spent many nights at the Bly house with Rosemary. Their mother was divorced from her husband Amos Bly. He lived in West Grafton about 20 miles south. On some weekends Mrs. Bly would take the girls to see their father. I went with them sometimes, and we had lots of fun on his farm riding the horses.

There was a swimming hole about 3 miles from the Weeden farm called Josh Hall Pond. Mrs. Bly had a car and took her daughters and our kids to the pond on Saturdays during the summer. There was a huge rock out in the water that we sat on while resting between swimming. It was a lot of fun. We took sandwiches and ate when we were hungry. Mrs. Bly was very nice to us while we lived at the farm.

After a couple years Dad tired of the farm and we moved to West Grafton, about 20 miles away. The house was rented from Art Crandall. There was no running water so we had to take a pail down in the field and pump water. Mom had a table in the kitchen with two pails of water, one for drinking and cooking, with a dipper nearby. Our bathroom was an outhouse in back of the house. It smelled really bad, and in the winter it was really cold to sit out there. No one lingered any longer than they had to. We also had a pot in the bedroom for nighttime toiletries.

The schoolhouse was over a mile from our house, which we walked winter and summer.It was one room with grades 1 through 8. Our teacher was Ethel Simmons. She was in her 40's, but seemed ancient to me. There were children in the school that came from a very poor family. Mrs. Simmons would make a big pot of vegetable soup on the oil stove in the back room. It simmered all morning while we did our lessons. At noon each child would be served a steaming bowl of soup, and did it ever taste good. She would also have clothes to give to children who were pretty ragged.

There was a piano in our schoolroom. Mrs. Simmons would play pieces out of a green-covered songbook and we would sing them. She was an outstanding teacher. Imagine teaching eight grades in one room.

My Dad was working wherever he could find a job. Sometimes the pay was small and food was hard to come by, but Mom made delicious meals out of very meager staples. One dish that we all loved was spaghetti and meat sauce. She called the tomato sauce, "The witch's brew." It would simmer all day on the wood stove and the aroma would make us so hungry. Our neighbor Amos Bly would come just as were sitting down to eat. Mom would always ask him to join us, which he did, even though there was hardly enough for our family of five kids, plus Mom and Dad. I look back now and realize that we were poor but it never seemed that way to us.

Across the road from our house was a steep hill, and on top of the hill there was a lake. It was a beautiful spot in the wilderness. In the winter when the lake was frozen, Mom somehow managed to get ice skates for all of us and take us up to the lake to skate. It was bitter cold, but we never minded it at all. My brothers made an ice-boat with a sail that would take them over the ice as the wind blew it. When it was time for supper, we would all trudge down the hill and Mom would get us a good hot meal. What carefree good times we had. Mom was always good natured, laughing, and full of fun.

My little sister Patty was two years old by then and as cute as a button. If she should make a mistake and wet her pants, she would say," Wilson did it". Wilson Cooper was a neighbor boy who was nephew to Mrs. Simmons, our schoolteacher. He was a quiet boy and would blush when Patty blamed him when she wet her pants. Mom made all of Patty's dresses, and she looked like a picture in them.

Mrs. Simmons was the leader of the 4-H Club. Most of the girls in school belonged, and the boys too. She and her daughter taught sewing in her home. She had two or three sewing machines set up and we all were busy making dresses to show at the Schaghticoke Fair. It was a lot of fun and great excitement when the day came to go and model the clothes we had made. I especially remember a red dress I made and it won a blue ribbon. Teeny Bonesteel made a dress from flour sacks that were dyed, cut into a pattern and sewed into a dress. She also won a blue ribbon.

The boys had gardens and raised chickens, which they also took to the fair to be judged. I made a dressing table out of two orange crates with a board on top with pretty material tacked around it. This won first prize, and my picture was in the Troy Record sitting at my new piece of furniture,for my bedroom. That was a thrill of a lifetime for me. These were days of learning and fun at the same time, thanks to Mrs. Simmons and her daughter Betty.

I graduated from eighth grade in June 1939 and in September it was my first year of high school. .The bus picked me up at the West Grafton school house to go to Berlin Central School.It was about 15 miles from there. Several children were picked up along the route, and by the time we arrived the bus was full.There were students from Petersburg that boarded on the corner or Route 2 and 22. In June when school was out, I spent some time at Grandma and Grandpa Church's house in Petersburg. A friend, Mildred Thomas, who lived across the street told me that Dr. Jacoby in Berlin wanted a babysitter for their 4 year old boy. The job paid $5.00 a week and I would live in with them.

I went for an interview with Mrs. Jacoby and I decided to take the job with Mom's and Grandma's approval. I started the next day. There was a cot in a room upstairs, which was my bedroom. Instead of just babysitting, they wanted me to do the housework and get lunch. Their son Gilbert was a very flighty child and wouldn't eat hardly at all. In the midst of his meal he would go in the bathroom and throw up his food. The Doctor couldn't rectify the situation, so this was a daily occurance.

One afternoon when I finished my chores, I went to mail a letter for the Mrs. at the post office about a block away. While walking home I met some school friends and they stopped and asked me to go for a ride. I jumped in and we rode around town and I didn't get back for about an hour .When I stepped inside, the Doctor and Mrs. were waiting for me. They were outraged that I had not come back and asked them for permission to go. They called Grandmother and told her that I was fired and to come and get me. I knew they were probably right and I didn't argue with them. That was the end of my $5.00 a week job. I had earned about $20.00 for the summer. Grandma took my side and was glad that the job was over, and I was too. It was a learning experience.

After two years in West Grafton ,we moved to North Bennington, Vt. into a little house on Mechanic Street owned by Mr. White. It was along side of the river and a nice place to swim in summer and skate in the winter. I started my second year of high school right in town. I had only gone for a month when I started with a fever. Mom took me to Dr. Armstrong and he said I had rheumatic fever. So I ended up in the Putnam Memorial Hospital in Bennington, Vt. I stayed about a month and was then discharged, with orders to stay in bed at home for a month. I had to lie in a hospital bed in the living room while recuperating. I listened to the radio to pass the time, and read the Liberty magazine, which was delivered every week.

On December 7th 1941 the news came over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese, and our country was at war. Immediately my Dad tried to join the army, but was rejected due to his age and a health defect. Then he decided to go to work in the Watervliet Arsenal, which would start making arms for the war effort.

Aunt Harriet was also living in North Bennington, working for Dr. Armstrong doing domestic work. She decided to knit sweaters for the soldiers. The Red Cross furnished khaki colored yarn and we all began to knit. I'm sorry to say that some of the sweaters turned out in very odd shapes. They were made of wool, so no doubt kept some poor soldiers warm.

Uncle Mike Powers ran the general store in town along with his two sons, Larry and Dick. We loved to go to the store for Mom because Uncle Mike would always give us kids a cone of ice cream. He was a most loving man and everyone in town thought he was great, and he was.

After a year of living in No. Bennington, Dad and Mom decided to move to Hoosick Falls, N.Y., about 15 miles away. They rented a house on First Street. It was a big old house with an upstairs apartment. An older lady named Mrs. Conally lived up there. She didn't care too much for children, so Patty, being 4 years old, was a bone of contention with her. Our house was next to Walt's Market and very convenient to get anything in the line of groceries. Walt was very congenial and we all thought a lot of him. Dad was still working in the Watervliet Arsenal and joined a car pool with Arthur Cutler and others to save on gasoline, which was being rationed due to the war effort. Mom also got a job at the Colasta Co., which was making war products too. The boys and I were in school, so Mom hired Aunt Stella Shaw to babysit with Patty. Most all the women in the town were working in some war plants to help win the war with Hitler.

We liked living in this town because we could walk to all the stores, movie theater, and library. On summer evenings the kids of the neighborhood would all congregate on our street and play "kick the can." Our parents never worried about us being kidnapped or molested as the parents of today do. It was a great time to grow up. Once in a while some brave kid would light up a cigarette and think he was really cool. That is all the vices that were in vogue at that time.

Since Mom and Dad had been renting all of these years they decided to buy a house that they heard was for sale on Bunker Hill, which was across town. It was located on Rensselaer Street. It was an old house that needed a lot of fixing up. With both Mom and Dad working they were able to make the payments on the mortgage. Right away Dad started making renovations throughout the whole house.

He was an excellent carpenter and had built several houses in prior years. The kitchen was fitted with new cupboards, new stove and refrigerator, new kitchen set etc. It was like heaven to us to have such luxurious surroundings. He put in a new bathroom, all new hardwood floors in the dining and livingroom, plus all new furniture. It was all done after he had worked 8 hours a day at his regular job.

At that time he was working for George McKearin, a famous antique dealer in glassware, with his daughter, Betty Gruene. Dad would wrap glass pieces and take them to Corning glass works in Corning N.Y., and planted a huge garden for them. The most perfect vegetables were grown by him. Whatever he did always turned out excellent. He was always the perfectionist.

Mom finished her job at the Colasta after the war manufacturing was done. She then went to work in the Hoosick Falls Undergarment. She sewed women's underwear, and when she came home after work, made the evening meal with my help .She was a strong and healthy woman or she never could have kept up such a hectic pace. We were a happy family and had many nice picnics in the big yards. Dad had planted blue spruce trees in the front and side yards. Plus he had planted a row of multiflora rose bushes around the upper yard, which blossomed all summer and were a thing of beauty. Many people would stop and admire them and take pictures.

I finished High School and graduated in 1945. It was a small town school with lots of friendly students and very good teachers. The only class I didn't like was physical education, which was a required subject.I would have graduated in 1944 but I didn't pass chemistry and took it over again the next year.

I had two part time jobs, one in Weir and Smith working on an assembly line and the other in No. Hoosick in the White Flomatic where I tested detonators for bombs, for the war effort. In 1945 I went to work for the Nancy Shoe Company on John Street.I liked sewing on shoe straps, but the boss was very overbearing and abusive so I quit.

My first full time job was in the Albany Felt Co. on John St. They had just moved to Hoosick Falls to have felts joined into a continuous belt, which were used in the paper mills. My job was joining and I really liked to do it , because it was working with my hands. There was another job named hooking and many girls did that. We had several girls from the Albany plant who were our instructors. My best friend from school days, Betty Elliott, worked there too, and we had lunch together. There were many picnics and outings with the "girls" that worked with us.

I spent many happy days at Betty's house. There were baseball games to go to, and Hathaway's Drive-in Theater was close by. Betty and I walked to Hathaway's store often. One day while we were there, two fellows came by, Don Gildea and Bazil Bornt. They were friendly neighborhood boys, and in a while they asked us to go on a date. We were flattered and said yes. I can't remember where we went the next night. From then on Bazil called me every day and we started going steady. Betty broke up with Don and started going with George Wilson, known as Juny.

I dated Bazil about two years and we were married on June 28, 1947. We chose the Methodist Church for our ceremony,as I had been brought up as a Methodist. Bazil was of the Episcopal faith when we met, but had gotten a letter of transfer to my church. He really didn't care which church we chose. Reverand McGaughey was the minister. My attendants were as follows: Maid of Honor, Betty Elliott; Bridesmaids, Marion Church and Marie Condon; Best Man, Dwight Lewis; Ushers, Charlie Bender and Tommy Bierwirth. The reception was held in the church hall. Mom and Dad held a second reception in their house. Bazil and I went to Cape Cod on our honeymoon. We stayed with Bazil's army friend, Charlie Figueiredo, who lived in Mattapoisett, Massachussets. He and his wife took us sight-seeing and treated us like family. We stayed a week, and had a wonderful time.

We moved into Mom and Dad's house, using the same bedroom that I had. I was working in the Albany Felt and Bazil was working for the Village of Hoosick Falls driving truck. We paid board for our food and lodging. Dad owned an acre next to his house, where there had been a house sitting in the 1920's. The foundation had been covered up after the house burned. We wanted to build a house there, so we paid to have it surveyed by Mr.Wm. Craib of Berlin and Mom and Dad deeded the property over to us. Immediately Bazil started digging to uncover the old cellar.

The cellar was full of old bedsprings and whatever was left of the debris from the house fire. It had been a 2-story house so we added to the size to make a one-story structure. Dad helped Bazil with the know-how of building, which Bazil wasn't familiar with. We only built as we could afford the materials, so it was a slow process. Every new part of the house was a big thrill for us. It took three years before we were ready to move in. Everything smelled so new and fresh, and it was just the way we wanted it to be.We were a very fortunate couple.

I was still working in the Albany Felt Co., so did the bulk of my housework on the weekends. It was easy with a new house and all new furniture, plus a new wringer washer. Bazil had put up pulley lines in the back yard to hang clothes on and they were very handy. During the winter when I hung them out, the clothes froze on the lines. I would have to bring them in as stiff as boards and hang them in the house. My hands were frozen too.

When the snowstorms came Bazil drove the snow plow for the Village. He would drive all night and come in early in the morning, frozen to the bone. It was hard work, but he loved it. Some nights he and his fellow workers would stop in for a cup of hot coffee and take a little breather.

He had worked for a year or more, when all the men working on that job decided to ask for a raise. Bazil was elected to do the dirty work. When he went to the boss with the request, there were some hot and heavy words, and Bazil was fired. His co-workers never made a peep, afraid they would also lose their jobs. We were pretty discouraged, but thankfully didn't owe any installment payments, which helped tremendously.

His next job was at the tannery in Pownal, Vermont. It was a stinking job handling the hides, sometimes with maggots on them. He had to change his clothes the minute he came home. The pay wasn't very good, but I was working and that kept us above board.

We had just moved into our new house and left my parent's house when my brother Jim and his new Japanese war bride came home from Japan. They moved into the bedroom that we had vacated. Jim had gone to Korea fighting the war there. He had been stationed in Japan and met Mickey at the U.S.O. club. They were finally married at the U.S. consulate after Dad went to the Governor of N.Y. State to get a special bill passed so that Jim could bring her over here. Before their offical marriage they had a Japanese tea ceremony wedding, which was not recognized by our country. They arrived January 28th on Jim's birthday. It took a lot of adjusting for our family and for Mickey, the nickname that Jim had given her. Her name was Fumiko Tannifuji, and she had been born in Tokyo.

She was very impressed with all of the things we had compared to her native country. She was pregnant when she arrived and started to lose the baby, so Dr. Maderer came to check her out. He immediately put her to bed until the threat of losing the baby was over. The baby girl was born on July 12th, 1952. It was a girl with a lot of black hair, and they named her Janet Esther.

That's all for now!...more later!

18 Rensselaer St.

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