Panther for dessert

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(HOST) A field trip to the local historical society can be a lively experience – especially if you’ve got commentator Edith Hunter as your guide.

(HUNTER) At the end of the school year the kindergarten teacher often brings her group to visit our Weathersfield Historical Society Museum.

I arrange to be on hand to give them a tour. I’m not sure exactly what their teacher has shared with them prior to their visit – except for the Weathersfield panther. They are very much aware that the panther is somewhere on the premises – safely dead. As they get off the bus, I can see “Where’s the panther?” written all over their faces.

One year I tried something different. I invited them into the barn to sit down on the floor.

Then I told them that when we eat a meal, first we have the meat and potatoes, then the salad, and last of all, dessert. The meat and potatoes of the history meal they were about to have, was the barn; the salad was the blacksmith shop; and the dessert was the panther.

That put the panther to rest, for a little while.

Then I asked them a question. I said: “Do you think this is an old barn?” Even kindergartners know that something at the historical society is old. “Old,” was the unanimous verdict.

“But,” I said, “look at the boards you’re sitting on. Do they look old?” Sure enough, the pine flooring under them looked very new.

“But,” I said, “Look at those big beams that hold the barn up. They certainly look old, don’t they? But the boards on the side of the barn, they look new.”

Then I told them how we had found a very old Weathersfield barn that was almost falling down. We bought it and had it taken down. The workers marked each beam to show where it should go, and fixed any beams that needed fixing, They threw away the rotten floor boards, and the split boards from the sides. In the spring they brought the big beams to the Dan Foster House and put the frame together like a big jigsaw puzzle.

Then members of the historical society brought ladders, and nails, and hammers. Using new lumber, they put down the floor and put up the sides, and put on a new metal roof.

We all agreed it is an old barn and a new barn.

Then we went over to the blacksmith shop for our salad course. The grindstone was the hit of the day. I held an ax to the stone, and everyone had a turn cranking the grinder.

As we started toward the Dan Foster House, one little boy, looked up at me, his face “holding wonder like a cup.” “Mrs. Hunter,” he said wistfully, “Can we have our dessert now?”

“Of course,” I said.

We all agreed that our panther is pretty impressive and makes a very fine dessert.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center.

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