Bill Moeller Commentary: An Ode to Potlucks and Other Pre-TV Entertainment

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You can say anything you want about  how much better life is today than it was before the current electronic age took control over our lives but, as Crochetyman might have said, “You don’t know what you missed by being born as late as you were.”

Back then, you talked with friends face to face instead of being shielded from each other by a cellphone. You played games with, and against, real people instead of electronic devices. You made your own entertainment instead of watching it being done for you on a TV screen. 

When I was young — yes, friends, I actually once was — we had the basement of our church to go to for one of the great delights of life: frequent potluck dinners where all the women tried to outdo each other with a casserole of delight, and the men talked about the hard times we were going through, and the children ran around and made noise until there were talked to, lovingly, but with an attempt to act sternly. 

After dinner, the tables and chairs would be moved to face a small stage at one end of the basement and home-grown talent took over. I would usually play a couple songs on my xylophone while my dad pounded out the accompaniment on a piano that was almost in tune. Dad and two friends (one of whom was our teacher for the first four grades of school in that same bastement) would sing — in three part harmony — songs which were even then part of a bygone era. 

My younger brother once sat on the knee of an older student and acted as a ventriloquist’s dummy and my mother — to make it known that the fire in her youth had not died — would on rare occasions sing what was known as a “torch song,” with dad at the piano, of course. After I returned from Army duty, I learned from my brother that at an occasional party, if the liquid refreshment had flown freely enough, our mother would sing a song made famous as the signature song of Sophie Tucker and which, by reversing two words, became something I don’t think I should repeat here. 

She was the mainstay of the soprano section of our church choir, directed of course by my dad. But doesn’t it make a person smile a bit — inwardly of course — to find out that one’s parents still had a little touch of rebellion left in them. 

George Johnson, before he left town and worked his way up to become the concert master of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, could always be counted on for a violin solo with his sister. 

The pastor of our church in those years, Rev. Arthur Schelp, had four daughters — starting with the oldest, Ruth, followed by Wilma, Gloria and Roberta — and their voices blended as only siblings’ can. It was an ethereal sound which was even labeled as angelic by many. Pastor Schelp wrote all the four-voice arrangements of mostly well-known hymns. One can only ponder what might have been the result if those four could have recorded professionally. My later experience as a radio disc jockey leads me to believe that they could have “topped the charts” as they say. 

All of this is a reminder that, one, we didn’t need fancy hand-held devices to enjoy our lives and, two, there was some pretty darned good, home-based entertainment in those olden days!

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Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at bookmaven321@comcast.net.