From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Old Time Entertainments

Homemade amusements


A recent report says that sitting in front of the TV or computer for long stretches of time greatly increases our chances of dying . We'd be healthier if we'd turn off the electronics and move around a little more. Here's a thought: maybe we should cut back on the web-and-channel surfing and return to some of the old-time ways of entertaining ourselves!

Before television and radio made their way into living rooms, folks often invited their friends for an evening of parlor games. Many of the games involved mild physical activity, such as "Blindman's Bluff" and "Charades." Others required mental energy, such as "Twenty Questions" and "Hangman".  Competitions such as checkers, chess, and card games were also popular.

Party books offered plenty of ideas for fun with a theme. For example, a 1903 book of Halloween activities contains complete plans for several spooky parties-- invitations, decorations, refreshments, games, skits, etc.


I wrote a while back about music in the parlor -- inviting guests for an afternoon or evening of homemade music.  Anyone with a bit of musical talent might be asked to perform. People liked to sing and to hear music. Sheet music made the latest hits available to all.

Recitations were another favorite entertainment. When guests came for the evening, someone might volunteer (or be called upon) to "render" a piece of memorized poetry or a passage of funny or dramatic prose.

Books, such as the 1903 Comic Recitations and Readings pictured at right, provided material to memorize.  (Some of the subject matter would be considered unkind today.  Stuttering, regional and ethnic dialects, and the accents of immigrants were often imitated!)

When I was little, the cultural memory of rural Nebraska still recalled entertainments of the sort I've written about here. We played various parlor games at school recess when it was too cold to play outside. My friends and I memorized recitations for school and church programs. I remember dressing in a costume and reciting a humorous monologue at the high school gym for a large audience of extension-club ladies. My mother probably thought it would be a good performance experience for me and volunteered my services.

We've gotten away from these active, participatory sorts of entertainments now. We've parked ourselves in our chairs to absorb our entertainment from a screen, and it's not good for us. I've been sitting here far too long. I think I'd better stand up and do something!

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.