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Previous Challenge Entry
Topic: Elementary School (07/19/04)

TITLE: A Frontier Lesson
By John Hunt


Sassafras tea. The mere mention of the word conjures up notions of a vile brew. To think, the settlers used to drink the awful stuff. Give me a cola or root beer any day!

The long-awaited Frontier Day festival had finally arrived after weeks of anticipation, and our entire fourth grade class was abuzz with excitement. Perhaps it was the fact that we got to dress up, or maybe it was the idea that we were pretending to actually live in frontier times, but whatever the case, we could hardly contain our enthusiasm.

Our teacher, Mrs. Hoffman, was wearing her light blue prairie dress - complete with an apron and bonnet. I had on my sharp Daniel Boone ‘coonskin cap and Indian moccasins, and the rest of the class was clad with similar historic attire. Yep, we were in the frontier days all right.

Of course, to a ten year old, it was easy to be transported in time. The modern metal-framed tables that we sat on, the fluorescent lamps that blazed overhead, and the whirring automobiles that passed by on the paved road just outside didn’t damper the illusion at all. We were oblivious to any reminders that we were still in the Twentieth Century.

A tablecloth was spread over the long metal-framed tables…a disposable paper covering which most certainly appeared to be an authentic prairie cloth to me. Then the table was set and the food was served – a veritable feast to any respectable settler. What to try first - the corn muffins, the dressing…or maybe the turkey?

But first things first, I had to quench my thirst. Now, to the innocent fourth grader the name sounded innocuous enough, even almost inviting. The drink even looked like iced tea, sort of, but after one sip there was no mistaking – this was not iced tea. The bitterness sent me reeling. Sassafras tea, how could anyone serve something so awful! My mouth was on fire from the aftertaste of the noxious potion. Frantic, I searched for something to remove the acerbity, for some palatable respite for my assaulted taste buds. I spied a glass of milk, sitting faithfully next to my plate and silverware. “Thank you milk!” I exclaimed. But this, too, turned out to be some dark deception…buttermilk! To me, it should have been referred to as “bittermilk,” as the flavor was equally as obnoxious as the Sassafras tea. I was beside myself. Exasperated, I searched for something, anything to drown the atrocious taste. Nothing was forthcoming.

My next recourse was wrought with much ambivalence. To drink from the drinking fountain would be to forsake the moment, to cast away any pretense of being a frontiersman. But to sit by and do nothing, well that was just not an option. In truth, for a ten-year-old it was an easy decision…I readily absconded to the shiny, silver drinking fountain and hurriedly lapped the cool, refreshing water.

Any lesson that was intended for our fourth grade class was lost to me that day, although I am grateful for Mrs. Holfman for everything she did for us. Well, on second thought, maybe not every lesson was lost. If ever I find myself in a frontier town, miles away from civilization, and someone offers me a nice glass of tea, well, I will know better…and I won’t drink the milk!

Member Comments
Member Date
darlene hight07/26/04
Enjoyed the story.alot!
Angela Moore07/26/04
Very cute. Sometimes, lessons are deeper than they appear!
Deborah Anderson07/26/04
There are some good, humorous stories this week, and yours is one of them. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless you.
L.M. Lee07/26/04
what memories! I remember when I was in 6th grade and it was the bi-centenial or something and we had to wear pioneer clothes, etc. on Fridays.
Gary Warren07/26/04
Funny story!
Marcell Billinghurst07/27/04
A very humorous story, rich with memories and new experiences. Well done.
Karen Treharne07/29/04
Great story, John, well told and fun to read. Indeed, I will be doubly cautious myself the next frontier town I stop at for refreshment! Since I prefer diet cola and water as my drinks of choice...but I do like ice tea...I will have to stick to what I know from now on. Thanks for the warning and the enjoyable words of description.
Joanne Malley07/30/04
Awesome job and adorable story, John!

Vivid, vibrant and full of life...funny too!
John Hunt09/08/04

Oh, to be a kid again.