Homespun Pleasures

Feature Story May 2007
“Homespun Pleasures”
By Elma Heim Griffiths, in 1955 for the book “Folklore of a Pennsylvania Colony of Nebraska.
  Today’s children and young people wonder, “What was there to do when Mom and Dad were our age (or maybe by now its Grandma and Grandpa).  There was no radio or TV, no swimming pools or skating rinks and I understand the movies were just terrible, not colored or 3-D, or even “talkies.”

   There were a few dances, but they were forbidden to most of the young people of our clan if they were properly brought up.
   Well, you kids can just bet we had a lot of pleasures and a goodly number you know nothing about today

   I’ll admit cars were few and roads were a mere path compared with our present day highways, paved, graveled, or “black-topped.”  But what does today’s child of he wonderful team-drawn bob-sled rides or the one-seated “cutter” with one horse, decked out I the fine harness and sleigh bells?  How we flew over packed snow with a merry jingle of the bells.  Or, if “Tom” was “seeing Nellie home,” and wanted to prolong the pleasure of the beautiful moon-washed snowy countryside with “her” close beside him, the horse could be slowed far better than any car nowadays.

   Where did they go?” Church and League came in for a lot of their time and League parties at the different homes.  Then there were Box Socials at various country schools.  “She” decorated a box with crepe paper frills and filled it with good things to eat and took it to the Social.  If she wanted “Him” to be sure to buy her box she let him have a peek at it but she wasn’t supposed to do it.  Many a beau paid dearly with hard earned money for the pleasure of buying the right box, for it often happened that some other young man wanted to eat supper with “Her” and so bid up the box to a fabulous price far beyond its value of contents, and if by chance some older man bought her box instead of the youth she had hoped for, there were tears shed sometimes.
   There were coasting parties and ice-skating parties with a big bonfire somewhere close to warm tingling fingers and toes.

   In supper, the weekly band concert was well attended by old as well as young.  There were lawn parties with Japanese lanterns containing candles, strong between the trees for light.  Games were played, and group singing.  Charades were almost a must at these.  And, of course, refreshments, homemade ice cream, two kinds of cake and lemonade.  
  One of the big events of summer was the two weeks when Chautauqua was held, with afternoon and evening programs given by imported talent.  The big tent was set up on the school house lawn or some vacant lot at the edge of town.  Seats were not upholstered but sofa cushions were plentiful in all homes then.  There were Lecturers, Humorists, Musicians, Magicians; all types of entertainers filled these programs with pleasure for the listeners.  The kids enjoyed it too, and many a program was up on at home in imitation of what had been heard and seen at the Chautauqua.   

     In winter there was a Lecture Course or Lyceum Course.   This came once a month and was held in the Opera House.  Weather permitting it was just as well attended as the summer version.  Entertainers were of the same high quality and interest and we kids imitated these too.
   Perhaps the pleasures with the greatest value were those we made for ourselves in our own homes.  Most families had an organ and later a piano and we made our own music.  The guitar, Jews-harp, mouth organ (harmonica) and fiddle (violin) came in for plenty of use, too.  Some families had Graph phones, Victor Talking Machines or Graphanolas.  This was our only form of “canned music.”

   And then there was the reading aloud, in the evening when the work for the day was done.   Oh, usually the mother of the household found patching or darning to keep her hands busy while she listened.  The stories in the Youth’s Companion which came every week and the weekly farm paper, Wallace’s Farmer, Iowa Homestead or Nebraska Farmer, always had a good continued story running.  At Christmas we each received one or two good books.  Dad read aloud by the hour and later when we girls could read well enough we “spelled him off.”
   We had time to visit our neighbors and relatives which now seems never possible.  Many an evening in winter we visited with each other.  That is, the older folks visited or played Flinch or got out the Checker Board or he Carom Board or the Parcheesi set.  The kids played their own brand o games and the young folks usually provided the music and singing.

   When sleighing was good the family or perhaps two families went together in the big bob-sled to spend an evening with relatives or friends a few miles away. We sat on warm blankets on the hay covered floor of the sled, or on wagon seats, with blankets and fur robes over our laps.  We bundled up too; one knew what coat, cap and overshoes were for in those days.  The soapstone foot warmer was sometimes put to use also.
   Fun?  Sure we had it and we knew how to entertain ourselves.  We didn’t have to find it all away from home and it wasn’t all manufactured for us.  It was real fun and at home was the place to have it most of the time.  Maybe this sounds like tame, tasteless fare to the teenagers of today, but who wants cake and ice cream all the time”?  “Steak and potatoes have a more lasting flavor.