For no apparent reason, the other day I began humming to myself “Skeeters am a-humming on the honeysuckle vine. . .” Yes, those are actually words to a song. The song, Kentucky Babe, is one I grew up hearing my father sing to me. Now, I don’t know what stimulus prompted me to recall that old (and I mean old—the song was written in 1896!) song, but it got me to thinking how much what we consider entertainment has changed.
Along with that song, my father sang me quite a few others with equally quaint lyrics: Mairzy Doats, Lonely Little Petunia, and other 1890s gems. Our family was a singing family—as we drove around to various churches while my parents were home from their mission work, we could tune up and sing a favorite hymn. We had four part harmony pretty well covered: my mother sang soprano, I sang alto, my brother tenor, and my father bass (sorry, Denise, you weren’t born yet).
Home entertainment a century before these family hymn sings might have consisted of family and friends getting together to play concerts. Not everyone was concert worthy, but many people played instruments and gathered for an evening of music. When my husband and I honeymooned in Williamsburg, Virginia, one of the events we delighted in attending was a musical concert in the Governor’s mansion. There in the formal ballroom was a group of musicians playing period instruments of the 18th century. The sound was not pristine, but the candlelight and intimate setting made it a wonderful evening of entertainment.
Back to the lonely little petunia song. When my daughter was in fifth grade, she enjoyed a visit from her best friend from third grade. Her friend had moved away from central Pennsylvania at the end of third grade, going literally across country to the west coast. Two summers later, she returned to central Pennsylvania to visit with some family friends, and spend some time with us.
Our daughter decided she wanted to do something really special while her friend was visiting, and asked if the two girls could spend a night in a local bed and breakfast. Rather than just spring this idea on the proprietress of the place, we stopped by in advance to make sure that would be acceptable. The woman showed us all over the large Victorian house, stopping last in a formal parlor. There sat an old Victrola. Our daughter looked at it quizzically and said—what’s that. Well, the woman said, that is what we used for entertainment, and proceeded to wind it up. Then she set the needle down on an old record, and out came the music to “Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch.” Our daughter listened for about a half minute, wrinkled up her nose and said: “You call THAT entertainment?”
Yes, that was entertainment!