Thursday, May 1, 2014

Get Together, Pull Together, Stick Together (Part III: A Novel P.T.A. Program)

What was so fascinating about the P.T.A. program in February 1935? This long ago evening in Govert, South Dakota, was so novel and so innovative, you will be distracted from your otherwise natural expectations for a tedious and oftentimes contentious meeting between parents and teachers. You see, the entire Govert community was in agreement over the conduct of the school, so their energies were not dissipated in discord but were channeled into creating a program calculated to be people pleasing ... and please the people it did. Goverites created the entertainment, and Goverites were their own entertainment. With such joy in the planning, and in the execution of the program, no possibility existed for any person in that schoolhouse, that night, to be a passive observer. This was to be a night of surprises.

The program was entertaining and appealing ...
      amusing ...
           interactive ...
                 personal ...
                      spirited ...

The program committee tailored original readings ...
      for unsuspecting attendees ...
           to present sight unseen ...
                bringing the community together to laugh ...
                     and play and socialize ...

The authors of the vignettes
      mined the depths of their imaginations and literary skills ...
           and their knowledge of their friends and neighbors ...
                their neighbors who were their friends ...
                     their friends who were their neighbors ...

Once they identified their performers, what did the P.T.A. program committee use for material? The committee of three was well-positioned to know everyone's business in Govert. Secrets have a short expiration date in a small town; they just won't stay secret. Adelaide Calkins, Mrs. Wesley Horton, and Fredric Laflin were the perfect playwrights to compose each part of this carefully choreographed evening. Adelaide was the 36-year-old schoolmarm of the Govert country school. Ida Wendt Horton, 33 years old, was a local girl, born just down the road in Castle Rock. Ida had two children attending Govert School, Evelyn Marie and Dale Vernon.

The last member of the program triumvirate was a young man, only 21 years old. You might think that being both young and unmarried, Frederic Laflin might disdain dipping his toe in his neighbor's business, but no one was immune in Govert. Besides, Frederic was the son of the editor of the Govert Advance, the local newspaper whose success was based on reporting the activities of the community. Yes, that Frederic Laflin. Frederic was Govert-born and well-versed in the ways of his community. Frederic was absolutely perfect for this job.

The evening planned by Adelaide, Ida, and Frederic started with upbeat music, songs in which everyone joined, intended to generate enthusiasm and unity. According to Mr. Laflin's coverage in the Govert Advance, "The first four songs on the program in which the peppy musicians were joined by Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Horton and Frederic Laflin most assuredly welcomed one and all to the P.T.A. that evening." The songs were Come In, Hello, The More We Get Together, and Smile Awhile.

Come In might have been the song that goes something like this: "Enter, rejoice, and come in. Enter, rejoice, and come in. Today will be a joyful day; enter, rejoice, and come in." Never you mind that this may have been sung Sundays in church. The folks up there, in those times, didn't have to segregate their faith life to the realms of private rumination. They played out their faith and wouldn't have thought twice about singing a song with hymn overtones at a P.T.A. meeting in the schoolhouse ... which was also their church on any Sunday a pastor was in the neighborhood.

But Hello? What were the lyrics to Hello, and to what melody were the lyrics sung? Some details are lost to history. Fortunately, the remaining two introductory songs from that night might ring more familiarly in your mind.

The More We Get Together  
The more we get together
Together, together
The more we get together
The happier we'll be
Cause your friends are my friends
And my friends are your friends
The more we get together
The happier we'll be

The more we play together
Together, together
The more we play together
The happier we'll be
Cause your friends are my friends
And my friends are your friends
The more we play together
The happier we'll be

The more we dance together
Together, together
The more we dance together
The happier we'll be
Cause your friends are my friends;
And my friends are your friends
The more we dance together
The happier we'll be

The more we get together
Together, together
The more we get together
The happier we'll be
Cause your friends are my friends
And my friends are your friends
The more we get together
The happier we'll be
The more we get together
The happier we'll be
The more we get together
The happier we'll be

Smile Awhile
Smile awhile and give your face a rest
Raise your hands to the One you love the best
Then shake hands with those nearby
And greet them with a smile
[Repeat]

We are not blessed with a copy of the program script for the vignettes performed by our Govert neighbors that night, so we don't know exactly what the words of the original compositions were. Nevertheless, the title of each vignette was printed in the Govert Advance. The titles suggest the individual readings were based on recent, perhaps even "notorious" events, or a widely-noted personality feature unique to that person.

In the Govert Advance, Charles Laflin set the stage. "Miss Adelaide Calkins was at the piano. Seated and facing the audience were Dale Horton, Billy Lale, Evelyn Horton, Waldo Jergenson, Elsie Lale, John and Anton Kulisich. [...] With a world of pep in music and songs, and a happy smile of anticipation this lively group introduced and invited to the platform each surprised person to whom a reading or song was handed. All responded and it was, indeed, a severe test for some - but everyone did splendid, that's why we're so proud of them."

How did this play out in real time? With the piano accompaniment of Adelaide Calkins, the choir of her school children sang an "invitation song", specially composed to identify the next unsuspecting performer. Fifteen Goverites in succession were called to the front of the single room of the schoolhouse, and they responded just as if they were again nervous schoolchildren called upon to recite their lessons.

The invitation song was based on a common melody. For example, "Herbert's a Jolly Good Fellow" as a come forth song would have followed the tune of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" to bring Herbert Scofield to the front of the class. We can easily imagine this as some variation of:

For Herbert's a jolly good fellow,
For Herbert's a jolly good fellow,
For Herbert's a jolly good fell---ow
Who gives us jolly advice.

With the invitation song ringing in his ears, now burning bright red, Herbert Scofield, and everyone else called forward in this manner, found his or her way to the front of the room through laughing and jostling neighbors. Each accepted the proffered script and each, in the spirit of community cooperation, made a performance that, even if not eligible for an Emmy, brought good humor to that corner of the Depression era prairie.

So here we go. What follows are the title of the invitation song and the title of the assigned reading for each of our 15 Govert neighbors who performed that night ... along with what might possibly have been the program committee's inspiration.

1. Invitation by the choir: "Howdy Do Joseph Grandpre"
Response performed by J.L. Grandpre: "Howdy Do Kind Friends"
Joseph Leo Grandpre was a respected, longtime Govert resident having arrived before 1920. He knew everyone, was always glad to see everyone, was friendly with everyone. He was a welcoming man, so would be the perfect person to open the program and set the stage for the acts to come. Mr. Grandpre is remembered by then 6-year-old Evaline West as a short Frenchman ... the influence of his French Canadian parents ... very neat in his appearance, dark eyes flashing with energy. He was not a loud man, but was a lively and energetic little man, outgoing, and jovial. You couldn't help but like Joseph Grandpre.

2. Invitation by the choir: "Cheer Up Ida"
Response performed by Ida Wendt Horton: "He Wasn't Necessary"
Ida was blonde, blue-eyed, nice-looking, maybe a little thin to be as attractive as she could have been. It’s not that Ida wasn’t cheerful. Ida was friendly and outgoing, but Ida was a bundle of nerves, as if she wasn’t quite comfortable in her own skin. Some thought her nervousness was connected to her worry over her son Dale’s heart problems. Then, too was the fact that Ida was a go-getter and her husband Wesley could never get anywhere on time; he was laid back like his brother, Rayford. Anyone who had to deal with a spouse like that would sympathize with Ida. She was a good person, not negative, just had thin nerves. But what about the second part, the title of her reading? Who or what wasn't necessary? The author of Ida's reading would hardly have disregarded a person as unnecessary, so "he" must have been something as uncomplicated as a turkey or a chicken who escaped the coop. Remember, Ida was on the program committee. And so was Frederic, whose reading came next. You might notice that no reading was prepared for Adelaide, leading us to suspect that our much loved schoolmarm playfully wrote the readings for Ida and Frederic.

3. Invitation by the choir: "Frederic Will Shine Tonight"
Response performed by Frederic Laflin: "Afeard of a Girl"
Twenty-one was an awkward age for Frederic Laflin. He would soon be considered a ladies' man, but the ladies had yet to encourage him. Frederic's father, Charles Laflin, was short and his mother, Mary Zee Campbell, was considered a bit tall for a woman. Frederic himself was the anomaly standing over 6 foot tall, maybe even six foot three. His nickname was “Broom Laflin” because he was so tall and thin. Frederic may have been afeard of all girls, or maybe he was afeard of one particular girl ... and that might have been Inez James. Another two years would pass before Frederic and Inez married. Frederic would have been much more confident in 1935 had he known that he and Inez would have a beautiful and spirited daughter, Saundra, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to preserve the Laflin foothold in Govert Township. Yes, that Frederic Laflin.

4. Invitation by the choir: "Herbert's a Jolly Good Fellow"
Response performed by H.L. Scofield: "Hints for Him"
Herbert and his wife, Signey, were a good-looking couple. All the Scofields were well-groomed including children, Dorothy and LeRoy. Herbert himself may have been a font of grooming advice, counseling young men on the importance of good grooming and how best to maintain a good appearance.

5. Invitation by the choir: "What's the Matter with Waldon" [The coming forth song may have been based on What’s the Matter with Father.]
Response performed by Waldon Lemm: "Teachers"
Come now, Waldon, you really didn't think it was a secret you were paying court to the schoolmarm? Remember that 6-year-old girl who stayed with Adelaide at the teacherage during the school year? Well, that little girl still remembers your coming to visit, sometimes staying for dinner, and everyone else in Govert knew about you and Adelaide, too. Truth be told, Adelaide's divorce remained fresh in memory, Waldon was a younger man, and maybe the timing just wasn't right for Adelaide. Waldon found another love and married in 1943, but Adelaide and Waldon remained forever friends.

6. Invitation by the choir: "Sing a Ling, Ling, Mr. Laflin"
Response performed by Charles E. Laflin: "No Salesmen Allowed"
Without Charles Laflin's experience stringing telephone lines prior to taking up a homestead in the township to the north, Govert may never have enjoyed the ding a'ling a'ling of that new-fangled telephone device. Was the dawn of the telephone in Govert also the dawn of telephone solicitation? Or was Mr. Laflin impatient with the many peddlers who found their way into his otherwise quiet corner of the prairie? Transients selling brushes or clothing or encyclopedias; or buying pelts or bones; or speculators in land. Mr. Laflin was a very good person with only the best of intentions, and he might have been surprised to learn how powerful and influential people thought he was. One thing for sure, Mr. Laflin assumed a lot of responsibilities and, understandably, he would have had no time for anyone intent on wasting his time.

7. Invitation by the choir: "Are You with Us Lillian Hafner"
Response performed by Lillian Gudmunson Hafner: "Too Promising"
Lillian Gudmunson was an outsider, arriving in the Govert area first as a schoolteacher and remaining to marry rancher George Hafner. Of the two, Lillian was the more reserved. George was outgoing and personable, a grownup who stopped to play with the children in the schoolyard. With her daughter, Mercedes, ready to start school, Lillian may have had conflicting loyalties. Which would prevail, the Govert community she adopted as her own, first as teacher and later as a rancher's wife, or her own desire for her children to have the best educational opportunities available ... a desire which might have seemed traitorous had it taken them away from Govert and to a larger town.

8. Invitation by the choir: "In Style All the While"
Response performed by Lydia Vogt Gee: "Babies"
Lydia Gee was a well-dressed woman, in a modest, middle class kind of way. She may have had interest in fashion but, as for most women at the time, Lydia was challenged by the economy and fashion looked more like a housedress. She was a competent woman, very involved in the Govert community, with special status as a longtime resident and a former schoolteacher. To young Govert mothers, Lydia was the older, wiser woman, caring and gracious, a respected adviser. Now at 48, with her two sons finishing high school in Newell, soon to embark on their own lives, Lydia had reason to sit back and smile about babies, doting on and fussing over the babies in the Govert community and dreaming of her own grandchildren, the first of which would not be born for another 15 years. If the issue was fretting mothers yearning for stylish baby clothes in the middle of the Depression, I can imagine my great-aunt offering the wise counsel that "Babies are always stylish".

9. Invitation by the choir: "Hello Delore"
Response performed by Delore Grandpre: "Trouble Brewing"
What kind of trouble could be brewing for this 16-year-old boy? Delore and both of his parents were part of this collection of vignettes. All three were chosen to participate because the program committee knew they would do so in good humor. Delore could not have been a troublemaker. So what trouble was around the corner for Delore? Or any 16-year-old boy, for that matter. Must have been something to do with abundant testosterone reserves.

10. Invitation by the choir: "O Mrs. Grandpre"
Response performed by Amanda Bekken Grandpre: "Nothing to It"
"Oh, Mrs. Grandpre" sounds like a plea for assistance by a young neighbor desperately seeking advice. "Nothing to it" is the response of someone with superior experience born of overcoming challenges by force of an indomitable, can-do spirit. "Just do it this way. Nothing to it!" Both Mr. and Mrs. Grandpre were outgoing, and were blessed with a strong, positive attitude. They were relaxed and fun to be around. Nothing to it.

11. Invitation by the choir: "Give John Donohue a Hand"
Response performed by John Donohue: "When Hog Meets Hog"
Twenty-five-year-old John Donohue was a rancher, son of a rancher, brother of a rancher. Young stallions like John have been known to tell a tale or two. The re-telling of his story about competing hogs may have been even better than the original.

12. Invitation by the choir: "Signey Went Over the Mountain" [This come forth song may have been based on The Bear Went Over the Mountain, sung to the tune of For He's a Jolly Good Fellow.]
The bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain,
To see what he could see.
And all that he could see,
And all that he could see,
Was the other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain,
The other side of the mountain,
Was all that he could see.

Response performed by Signey Bekken Scofield: "Advertise"
Maybe Signey was developing entrepreneurial ideas. After all, ranch wives brought in reliable income with their cream and butter products and with the eggs they collected. They also tended the turkeys and the chickens offered for sale to townspeople who didn't raise their own. Maybe Signey had ambitions.

13. Invitation by the choir: "O Mr. Toble"
Response performed by G.H. Toble: "Kissing Neath a Mustache"
"Oh," she said coyly, "Mr. Toble, your mustache tickles." Those are words Gus Toble probably never thought he would ever hear again. His wife, Amy, died four years earlier after being terribly burned in a fire that began in the stove flue and consumed their Govert home. Gus was struck senseless by the tragedy, but he got a second chance at love with the charming Widow Byers who lived up by Cash. The Govert community closed ranks around Gus and he kept his ties to northwestern South Dakota for the remainder of his life. Lydia Vogt Gee called Gus uncle, as did Emma Vogt Van der Boom, the wife of the founder of Govert. Everyone liked Gus, including children and dogs. At the P.T.A. business meeting this very night, Dale Horton couldn't hold back his enthusiasm for Gus ... this 10-year-old boy jumped up in that large group of adults to nominate Gus for the next program committee. Dale's burst of fondness reflects the community's support for Gus and his new companion. Writing a playful "Kissing Neath a Mustache" vignette just for him and his generous mustache tells us the same thing. The Widow Byers became Mrs. Gus Toble on March 19, 1935, nearly a month after Gus performed his part in the P.T.A. program.

14. Invitation by the choir: "My Name is Bert Ellis"
Response performed by Bert Ellis: "Proper Length of a Man's Legs"
Bert Ellis had very strong opinions about politics, about the senselessness of Prohibition, about nearly everything subject to judgment. This went hand-in-hand with a propensity toward giving advice. Both opinions and advice were framed by his sense of humor and a reputation for being something of a tease. If asked to opine on an appropriate height for a man, he might very well have said something profound and a little flippant like, "The proper length of a man's leg is from his hip all the way to the ground."

15. Invitation by the choir: "Willie Boy"
Response performed by Wm. Donohue: "The Wild Cow"
Oh, where have you been Willie Boy, Willie Boy; oh, where have you been charming Willie? Like his older brother, John, William Donohue had something of a rough and tumble cowboy reputation to protect and perpetuate, and the tales of valor to go with it ... here, probably a tale of derring-do and a wild cow.

In addition to the 15 vignettes, the P.T.A. program offered three other acts. The first provided a break in the action after eight Goverites performed their surprise readings. This was when Dorothy and Rayford Horton sang Good Ship Lollipop to the accompaniment of harmonicas played by their cousins, Evelyn and Dale Horton. After the 15th, and final, vignette, Adelaide Calkins led the entire assembly in singing We Won't Go Home Until Morning. By then it appeared unlikely that anyone would go home before morning. So say we all of us ...

[Sung to "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow"]
We won't go home until morning
We won't go home until morning
We won't go home until morning
Till day-light doth appear
Till day-light doth appear
Till day-light doth appear
We won't go home until morning
We won't go home until morning
We won't go home until morning
Till day-light doth appear

The very last act was A Radio Program, performed by Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Horton, together with their children, Evelyn and Dale, with Frederic Laflin as the radio announcer. Huddling together around a radio was wonderful entertainment for those with the good fortune to have a radio in their home. Mimicking the vocal affectations of the actors and the sound effects, as well as static and echoes in reception would have made a clever skit. As Charles Laflin wrote in the Govert Advance, this last act "produced a peck of fun and completed a splendid program of interesting, wholesome fun."

Adelaide may have correctly gauged the evening by leading the group in We Won't Go Home Until Morning. After the program starring our Govert neighbors, which easily passed the two hour mark and may have crept up on the third, Charles Laflin, the P.T.A. President, presided over the business meeting [see the minutes at Get Together, Pull Together, Stick Together Part I]. By the time Mr. Laflin adjourned the business meeting, his Govert neighbors were more than ready for their bona fide oyster stew supper [for more on the food that night see Get Together, Pull Together, Stick Together Part II]. Only after the last oyster was slurped down did anyone consider leaving for home.

All that remains is one last quote from Charles Laflin in the Govert Advance: "If loyalty and happiness spells fragrance and beauty, then we think the beautiful blossom was a wonderful one and feel sure pleasant memories will survive its fading away." Getting together, pulling together, sticking together was never more fun.

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

[Written with gratitude to Evaline West, the six-year-old first grader living with Adelaide Calkins when Waldon Lemm came to court, now a charming eighty-something woman with a remarkable memory of her neighbors while growing up in Govert Township; and with reference to the 14 March 1935 edition of the Govert Advance.]

1 comment:

  1. Sweetheart,

    Thanks for another wonderful blog posting this week. It’s always a genuine pleasure to read your interesting, informative, and creative blog articles.

    I’m amazed at how much time, effort, planning, and thought evidently and obviously went into the development of the PTA program presented that night in February 1935…and, at how much of your time, energy, work-effort, creativity, and thought went into writing about it for us to read. It’s certainly easy to see why PTA meetings were enjoyed so much by Goverites, and why those periodic social gatherings were so eagerly anticipated and well attended. It was quite a full evening of activity put together by the planners that night...music, good food, entertaining skits, much laughter, and lots of joyful camaraderie for everyone there…oh, and also a bit of school/town oriented PTA business thrown in to boot. So, it’s easy to see why these meetings were such a huge highlight in the lives of the residents living around Govert, and why the gatherings would have been an activity so thoroughly enjoyed by all.

    Thanks for giving us so much interesting information about that evening’s activities, and for telling us so much about the folks in attendance…and, for doing so in such an entertaining way for us…very rich in details, complete right down to including “words and music”!

    Thanks to you, we are continually learning more and more details about Govert’s residents and their lives and interactions. You create wonderfully informative word pictures about the people in Govert, thereby helping us to get to know them better and better as the weeks pass. You are masterful at adding depth and richness to the history and events you write about each week…and this week is no exception. In my opinion, very well done again this week! Thanks!



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