Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cinderella #66 Ashpet (1948)

"Pots and skillet, handle and spout!
Get in the sand and scour out!"
Once upon  a time, in Tennessee, “there was a woman had two daughters, and they kept a hired girl.  They treated this girl mean.  She was bound out to ‘em, had to do all the hard work, little as she was. They wouldn’t buy her any clothes, or nothin’ , made her sleep right up against a fireplace and the ashes got all over her, so they called her Ashpet. Well, one day, they were all fixin’ to go to church meetin’.  They never let Ashpet go anywhere.”  This particular evening, just as they needed to cook their supper, their fire went out.  The only person who lived near enough to borrow some fire from was “ an old witch-woman lived over the gap in the mountains.  These rich folks, they wouldn’t have nothin’ to do with this woman, but they had to have fire, so they sent” along one of their daughters.  The eldest went first, and she “went traipsin’ on over the gap.  She thought herself so go she didn’t go in the house, just stuck her hand through a crack in the logs.  ‘I come after fire.’  ‘Come in and comb my hair and I’ll give you some.’ ‘I’ll not put my pretty, clean hands on your old cat comb!’ ‘ You’ll get no fire.” That was how that conversation went.  So the the girl went on back home.  Now it was her younger sister’s turn to go for a coal.  She marched right over the gap, walked up to the old woman’s log house, stuck her hand through the crack and said, “ I want some fire.’  ‘Come in, and comb my hair.’  ‘Me? Put my nice white hands on your old catcomb?’ ‘Put off then. You’ll get no fire.”  And the old woman sent that girl marching right back over the gap with no fire.  But she hollered after that she should sent Ashpet next.  So along she came, and when Ashpet got to the little cabin, she said, “ Good evenin’, Auntie.’ ‘Good evenin’, Ashpet.’ ‘ I want to borry a coal of fire, please ma’am.’ ‘Comb my hair for me, and you can have it.”  So Ashpet sat down, and carefully combed the old woman’s thin, white hair.  Then she handed back the comb.  The old woman smiled, and got slowly to her feet.  She took “an old, hard-dried toadstool, the kind that grows kind of like a shelf on the side of a dead tree, cut it on the edge, and put a hot coal there.” Then she handed it to Ashpet, and asked if she was going to the meeting.  “Law no, I never get to go anywhere at all! I got to wash the dishes and scour the pots.  I’ll not get done till meetin’-time is plumb over.’ ‘You want to go?” asked the old lady, and Ashpet said, yes, she did.  So they made a plan. Ashpet went on back home with the fire, cooked supper and got the family off to church.  As soon as they were gone, “here come that old witch-woman a-hobblin’ through the gap with her stick.”  She told Ashpet to get out of the way.  The old lady went straight into the kitchen, laid the dirty dishes at one end of the table and basin of water at the other.  “Then she knocked on the table, says, ‘All dirty dishes, stay off the shelf! Get in the water, shake yourself! Wash, dish! Wash!’ And all the plates and cups and saucers and bowls and knives and forks and spoons ran over and slipped through the hot water and rose up and shook themselves.”  Then the witch-woman “opened the back door, says, ‘Pots and skillets —handle and spout! Get in the sand and scour out!’ And it was a sight in the world” how they all did just that.  “Ashpet had an awful good time watchin’ all that, she nearly laughed herself to death.  Then the old woman reached in her apron pocket, took out a mouse, and an old piece of leather and a rawhide string, two scraps of shoe leather, and an old piece of rag.  She put the mouse down before the door, laid that chunk of leather on it, dropped that rawhide string over its head, says, ‘ Co-up, little mare! Whoa now! Whoa!’—And there stood the finest little pied-ed mare you ever saw; pretty new saddle and bridle on it, and it was just as gentle as a girl ‘uld want.”  Then she laid the scraps of cloth on the bed, and the leather on the floor, and said to Ashpet, “ You shut your eyes and wish for the dress and slippers you want to wear to meetin’.’  Ashpet shut her eyes and wished and when she opened ‘em again there was a pretty red dress stretched out on the coverlet, and under the bed were the prettiest red slippers—the littlest ‘uns you ever saw.   Then Ashpet she washed herself” and put those lovely things on.  Then the old woman told her, “Quick as meetin’ breaks, you get back here and hide your horse in the bresh, and hide your dress and slippers, and put on your old, ashy clothes again.”  So Ashpet said she would do that, and off she rode to church.  When she got there, she tied her pretty mare up right out in front, and walked in. What a stir she caused! Nobody knew who she was.  But that day, “the King’s son was there, and he kept his eyes right on her.  When meetin’ started to break up” Ashpet scooted right out of there.  The King’s son followed and rode right along with her.  Finally, she let one of her slippers slide off of her foot and drop to the ground.  In a few minutes she said, “ I’ve lost one of my slippers, sure’s the world it must have dropped off.”  And the King’s son said he would ride back for it, and would the young lady kindly wait for him?  Well, she said she would,but as soon as he rode away she “galloped her little mare on home, hid it in the woods, ran to the house and hid her dress and slipper, got her old ashy dress again and went to sweepin’ and dustin’”  Soon the girls came back in, full of news about the mysterious lady who came to church, and how the King’s son rode off with her. The very next day the King’s son came riding down the road right to their house! He ws carrying a red slipper.  He came in and said, “ This slipper came off the prettiest woman in the world, and the one it fits is the one I’ll marry.”  Well, when the older sister heard this she made the younger one go back in the kitchen and put a washtub right over Ashpet so no one could see her.  Then the older gal went back out to the front room and grabbed the little slipper.  Seeing how small it was, she excused herself out the back door.   There she took a knife “and trimmed her heel and toes till she made it fit.”  Then she went back into the house.  The King’s son looked at her feet—and just at that very moment, a little bird "flew down to the door and started singin’: “Trim your heels and trim your toes!  Under the tub the slipper goes!"  Well, the King’s son didn’t know what that meant but he could see that the slipper did not fit.  He made that girl take it off and let her sister try it on.  She ducked outside and squeezed her foot into the slipper.  She only had to trim off a little bit of her heel and toes.  She thought she might fool the King’s son, but that little bird fluttered down just as she opened the door. Again it sang, “ Trim your heels and trim your toes! Under the tub the slipper goes!” So the boy went out and lifted the tub and looked in under it and thee was Ashpet. ‘What you doin’ under there?’ ‘They always put me under here.’ ‘ Come on out.’ ‘ I’m too ragged and dirty.’ ‘You try this slipper on. Here.!’ So Ashpet stuck out her foot” and the slipper fitted perfectly.  Now Ashpet had a quick wash-up and went and got her red dress, the other slipper and her pretty little mare.  The King’s son told her he loved her, and they “rode on off and got married.”  But the story does not end here.  You see, the woman and her two daughters were mighty jealous of Ashpet.  So they made a plan.  They began visiting Ahspet, and taking her gifts.  One day, they “the girls told her about a fine place to go swimmin’, says, ‘Let’s go up there today and go in. Come on and go with us, Ashpet.” She agreed to go.  Now all three girls went to the swimming hole, but as soon as Ashpet got in the water, those two mean girls ran away.  They knew that this was the swimming hole where Old Hairy Man lived.  When Ashpet “got in the water, he got her.  The two girls laughed, and went on home.”  Well, Ashpet did her best to make friends with Old Hairy Man, and one day, he told her that his hide was so tough that no weapon could hurt him, except in one place, “ a little mole back of my left shoulder.” Well now, when the girls had come back without Ashpet and claimed they knew nothing about her, the King’s son got suspicious.  He went looking for his wife, and he brought his army along with him.  When they got to the swimming hole, and saw Old Hairy Man, Ashpet shouted to her husband, “Shoot him in the back of his left shoulder!” and hid behind a big rock. So the King’s army jumped into their rowboats and rowed over and fought Old Hairy Man, and finally, the King’s son got the chance to shoot him right where the little mole was.  He fell down but he didn’t die.  The King and his army grabbed Ashpet and rowed away as fast as they could. leaving Old Hairy Man shouting that they had stolen his woman.  So as soon as the King got home he told his army to arrest the mean woman and both of her daughters and row them over to Old Hairy Man. So that is what they did, “and they’re down there yet, I reckon.” 
As told by Tom Hunt to Richard Chase, 1948, and published as Grandfather Tales: American-English Folk Tales. (1948/1976, Houghton Mifflin Company. Grandfather Tales
The language here is wonderful; this is a story that is alive, meant to be shared in a crowded room packed with children and grown ups of all ages.  Chase describes collecting stories by visiting hill families in North Carolina and Tennessee. This story is preceded by the note that Mr. Hunt had come into the little cabin where Chase was recording stories, to fetch his children.  He got so caught up in the story telling that he passed the evening with that crowd, his little ones snuggled on his lap as their daddy told of Ashpet.  It is interesting to see how this story parallels the Irish tale of Fair, Brown and Trembling, in which the event is also church.  There the girl Trembling also gets to choose her dress.  Again we have practical people, as shown by Ashpet's resourcefulness in dropping her shoe, and the manner in which the witch-woman gets the chores done.  This is clearly a Grimm-inspired version, right down to the knife and the bird warning the king's son. 
Montessori Connection 6-12: American History/ The American Revolution
1. Read Ashpet and compare it to the Cinderella story from Ireland: Fair, Brown and Trembling.  
2. Think about why there would be a story in the United States that is so close to stories from Ireland. 
3. Read about the American Revolution and see if you can figure out why.