For the past year, I have been asking my step-grandfather, or “Papa” as I call him, about what it was like when he was my age. I find it interesting seeing how the prices of items have changed, how clothes are different, etc. If my step-great-grandfather was still alive, I would have had many questions for him also, as he was born in the early 1900s. I find that firsthand accounts are usually easier to believe than an article about how life was decades ago. I chose my grandpa to be the subject because he has seen six decades of history, change, and growth. This essay covers the postwar period of the 1950s, through the Reagan Era, and into the millennium.
My grandfather, William Boarts, is 62 years old. Papa was born into a predominately German family, with just a touch of British and French. A great-grandmother belonged to the Champion family of France. She also happened to be a first or second cousin of Andrew Carnegie. I am envious that he has knowledge of his family going back for many generations. I do not know my parents, so my family history was not passed down through generations as Papa’s was. The Bortz family immigrated from Germany prior to the American Revolution and settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. After the Revolution, the family moved to Armstrong County, Pennsylvania and homesteaded on land that was originally given to Benjamin Franklin by William Penn. The majority of Bortz family members were farmers, and Papa’s great-grandfather David was the local blacksmith. When reading about homesteading in a book, it is sometimes just words on a paper. Hearing how my grandpa’s family fought against the British and how life was in that time really gives history more meaning to me.
I suppose I have always been the most curious about the way politics have affected the country throughout history. When I think about the past sixty years in history, I think about the John F. Kennedy assassination, the Challenger explosion, the Beatles, the Bush and Clinton presidencies, and the Watergate scandal. I remember those as being things I have either heard or read about that happened in that period, but I can’t know as I wasn’t there. My grandfather was, and what he told me surprised me.
When I asked Papa about the notable historical events that had impact on him he listed the following: the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, the first man to walk on the moon in 1969, the Vietnam war in 1973, the fall of Communism and the reunification of Germany, and the terrorist attacks we now refer to as 9/11. Being that my entire childhood was full of sporting events, Papa noted the 1960 World Series in which the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the New York Yankees and the 2017 Stanley Cup Championship that was won by the Pittsburgh Penguins for the fifth time. I also asked him about notable movements that took places during his life. Here are his answers: the massive protests and sit-ins by college students during the Vietnam War, the Black Panthers who fought for civil rights using violence, the National Organization for Women who fought for women’s rights, and the Green Peace Group that brought attention to the climate and environmental issues on a global level.
When I heard about the movements during his life, it took me back to the things I read about in high school history classes, but never really made a personal connection to. I did not even realize that there were concerns about the climate. I thought the climate change issue was new. As it turns out, the subject was extremely relevant as liberalism grew in the 1960s. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act was put in place, as well as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act (History.com). Now, when I think about those things, I picture them from the eyes of Papa, someone was there and experienced it all firsthand.
I have never been involved in politics, always staying on the sidelines, but I have realized that politics is not an area for the weak. Politics can be very cutthroat. My grandpa told me that it wasn’t always as bad as it is now. He grew up in a very Republican family. His earliest memory of politics occurred when he was in the third grade and John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Thinking back, he says that party became an irrelevant issue after JFK’s death. Americans came together to do what was best for the country and personal agendas were seen as selfish, self-serving, and unpatriotic. He talks about the 1970s in particular, as the decade in which he went to college and started his own business at the age of 21. He mentioned his love for the music. I came to the assumption that he has fond memories of the decade, which he referred to as “a simpler time.”
Another area of life that caught my interest was technology. My generation grew up with colored televisions, home phones, cell phones, computers, and fancy cars. With the rate at which technology has grown throughout the last ten years of my life alone, I had a pretty strong feeling things were much different for Papa. He grew up with black and white television until he was in high school, when his dad bought the family a color television. Out of all the inventions and technological growth throughout his life, I was very interested to see what had the greatest impact on his life. His answer was the personal computer, created in the mid-1970s. As microprocessors were developed and refined, e-mail and internet became used in many households. Personal computers eventually became an item found in nearly all households (History.com). Papa was around twenty-years-old and in college when this invention was introduced.
There were several other items on his list of notable inventions. In the 1950s and ‘60s, cars got very bad mileage, did not come with air conditioning, were very unreliable due to frequent mechanical issues, and had very few safety features. Therefore, the cars driven now are something that he appreciates. Papa is a fan of music, particularly classic rock and jazz, so the birth of electric guitars and music synthesizers made his list alongside the many inventions traced back to the space program. Lastly, the cell phone. My grandfather grew up with a “dial” phone that was part of a party line, where you never knew who was listening in. The cell phone revolutionized communications, making it possible to communicate with those hundreds of miles away at any time of the day without delay.
Interviewing my grandpa taught me the importance of knowing your history, of being involved and paying attention to what is happening. There is so much to be learned from those who came before me and I believe it is my generation’s responsibility to pass our history down to those who come after us. Seeing the changes that have occurred in politics, technology, and even entertainment can help us make better choices as to how we vote, or how we live. It can lead to the next generation becoming more involved in those places where others have been negligent.
History.com. Invention of the PC. 2011. Web page. 18 June 2017. <http://www.history.com/topics/inventions/invention-of-the-pc>.
This webpage is a secondary source that focuses and the invention and development of the Personal Computer (PC.) This website is from a reliable organization and provides accurate and detailed information regarding the history of the personal computer. I used this source to add credibility to the information included in my essay about the PC.
—. THE 1970s. 2010. Web page. 18 June 2017. <http://www.history.com/topics/1970s>.
This webpage is a secondary source that focuses on the history of the 1970s in America. I used this source for information on the climate and environmental issues that my grandfather mentioned to add credibility and extra information. I did not know that environmental issues were recognized 40+ years ago, so I also used this source to satisfy my own curiousity.
Boarts, William. Personal Interview. 14 June 2017.
This is a primary source, an interview I conducted via e-mail with my step-grandfather who became the subject of my essay. I asked him questions about his heritage, occupations, the way politics changed throughout the years, how he felt about women making their way into the professional world, and about notable historical events that occurred in his life. I did some research regarding the things he told me and used a large amount of the information in my essay, as the base of my reflective essay. A majority of the things he spoke about are relevant, not only historically, but also to the things I have been studying in class.
 Original spelling. It is not clear to me when Bortz became Boarts, or why.