“Here we have another polka,” Harry Minskey told his Homeland audience. “But this could be something strange to all of you, that we might play a song you never heard of, one called ‘The Beer Barrel Polka.’”
The audience got the joke. Right away, they told Minskey that, of course, they knew “The Beer Barrel Polka.”
“Ohhh,” Minskey teased. “Do we need to check to see how you know that?”
Then Minskey and his bandmates launched into the familiar one-two-three-hop of the world’s most famous polka. The band, a quartet called Mem-O-Ries, appeared in the Homeland Main Dining Room to share favorite songs from the radio, Broadway stage, movies, and dance floors.
Toes were tapping throughout the hour-long program. The band put an upbeat spin on everything from “Peg O’ My Heart” to “New York, New York” and its familiar opening riff.
Some tunes were combined in clever medleys. Minskey introduced the quartet’s rendition of “Mame” by noting that it was recorded by jazz great Louis Armstrong. Then came “Hello, Dolly!”, another song about a Broadway diva that Armstrong turned into a hit.
With each familiar tune, the audience clapped and sang along. Homeland resident Betty Wise enjoyed them all.
“I love them,” she said. “It brings back memories. We used to have a dance hall in Tower City, and we spent all our time there. We just stayed on the dance floor. And then we used to go outside and stand around in a gang and sing our hearts out.”
That was where Betty met her husband, a tall, good-looking ex-farmer who “was a good dancer. We danced all night.”
“We had wonderful, wonderful young years,” she added. “It cost a nickel to go to the dance, and that was hard to get.”
Mem-O-Ries has played together for about five years, since Minskey formed the group with fellow Zembo String Band members. Playing for Homeland residents “is a pleasure,” he said. “We enjoy playing the music, and we feel we’re giving some pleasure to the folks in hearing the tunes of their day.”
Audience members also sang along with the sacred song, “It Is No Secret.” Homeland resident Betty Dumas knew all the words. “It is no secret what God can do,” she sang from her seat. “What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you.”
Later, she explained, “My mother and I, when we’d do dishes together, we’d always be singing hymns. Everybody at church said, ‘Betty, I don’t see you looking at the book.’ I said I sang them so many times that I know them pretty well by heart.”
Even today, Homeland’s evening staff puts on Betty’s music to play, and she falls asleep listening to her favorite hymns.
Resident Ray Caldwell showed his approval by saying, “Very nice,” as each song ended. Afterwards, he couldn’t pick a favorite.
“I thought they were all good,” he said. “They’re all old-time songs. I enjoyed the old pieces.”
His wife, Betty Caldwell, shared his enthusiasm for the program. She sang for 30 years with the Greater Harrisburg Chorus, a Sweet Adelines barbershop ensemble.
“I like to sing everything,” she said. “I harmonize whenever I can.”