|The mermaid said,|
"How do, my lady?"
Once upon a time, in South Carolina, "Story teller say, This happened oncet upon a time, on a little island off the coast.' A girl named Sukey lived with her ma and step-pa in a cabin with a sagging porch and a roof so rickety it let in sunshine or rain, depending on the weather. Every morning at day-clean" Sukey got right up and went to work, hoeing the garden, toting the water, starting the day's fire. But her step-pa hollered at her, no matter how hard she worked. Sukey had secretly named him "Mr. Hard Times", and she sang a song about him when she was away from the house. "Mister Hard Times, since you come, my ma don't like me,my work never done. Mister Hard Times won't do a lick, just say,'Work faster!' or whip you with a stick." Every time she could, Sukey escaped down to the beach, where she let her hair blow in the breeze and "wriggled her bare feet deep to where the sand was wet and cold. She sang a little song that she had heard somewhere. 'Thee, thee, down below, Come to me, Mama Jo!" That's when she heard a splash, and felt cold drops of sea water sprinkled over her. Before her, swimming in the shallows, was a glittering, green and brown flecked mermaid. Her dark green hair shone where it swirled in the water before her, and a million sparkles danced off the golden combs she wore. Sukey was startled by this creature, but the mermaid said,"How do, my lady? You look might hot there in the sun. Come into the water and cool off." But Sukey had heard neighbors say, "Them mermans cotch you and pull you beneath the water." So Sukey said politely that she could not swim. Now the mermaid offered,"I'll teach you to swim, if you wish. You have no reason to fear me, my lady. I came because your song called me." So Sukey spent the whole day at the shore with the mermaid, and when the sun set, Sukey cried out,"Oh, I'm gonna be whipped for sure. I clean forgot to feed the chickens and draw water from the well." The mermaid gave the child a large gold coin, telling her to give it to her mama when she got home. This Sukey did, and now she came every day to the shore. Her mama had told her to see if she couldn't find any more of those big golden coins buried in the sand. So each morning, in the dawn's fresh light, Sukey went to the shore, and sang to summon Mama Jo. Each evening when she went home, she gave her mama a golden coin. But Mister Hard Times took every one, and traded them for whiskey and drank every night. At last her mama's curiosity was too much for her to bear, and she followed Sukey down to the shore. There she hid herself, and observed while her daughter sang, and the mermaid appeared. When she went home she told her husband, and mean old Mister Hard Times said ," If I cotch that merman, I'll sell'm on the main for a pile of gold."So the next morning those two greedy people went down to the shore before Sukey was awake, and rowed out in a boat. The man had a big net, and the woman sang the song, and sure enough, Mama Jo rose from the water. But the minute she saw that she had been tricked she flicked her tail and disappeared and a wave rose from far out at sea and swept in with such a force that it near toppled the little boat. So those two had to go home with no gold after all. When Sukey ran down to the beach that morning and sang, nothing happened. Not that day or any other day, and Sukey was sent back out in the hot sun to do the hoeing. She was sick and weary with work and grief, and before long, swooned with a fever. As she tossed and turned in her sleep, she seemed to smell salt water, and to hear the gentle voice of Mama Jo, calling her to come down to the sea. So she did, crawling all the way because she was so sick. When she sang the song, Mama Jo appeared! She told Sukey that this would be the last time they would see each other — unless Sukey came to live below the waves. Life there was always serene and cool, Mama Jo said, and she would cherish Sukey for her own child. So Sukey agreed, and the mermaid wrapped her in her long green hair, and carried her down to the beautiful kingdom under the sea. For a long, long time, Sukey was purely happy. She had no work to do, and there was always a kind word for her. But at last, she missed her mama, and she begged to return to shore. Now Mama Jo had come to love Sukey, and did not want her to go. But at length, she agreed, on one condition. Sukey must ask her a riddle to which Mama Jo did not know the answser. Every day for a week Sukey posed a riddle, and Mama Jo guessed every one. One day Sukey asked, "There's something that walk all day, and when night come, she go under the bed and rest. What's that?" And Mama Jo just could not think what it was, so she had to let Sukey go. Now the girl laughed and told her the answer: shoes! She had known that Mama Jo would not guess this, because, having no feet, she never put her own shoes under the bed. Now Mama Jo said,"Time has passed in the world above, while you have been with me. You are a grown woman now. Go to the pirate's chest and take a bagful of coins and jewels, this will be your dowry." And the mermaid told her that many men would now come to court her, but the only one she must agree to marry would be named Dembo. Mama Joe carried Sukey back to the beach, and she ran home, and found her mother still alive. But mean old Mister Hard Times was still there too. When Sukey told them of the mermaid's dowry for her, her mama was overjoyed. But her step-pa began to plot. As the men of the village came around to court Sukey, he watched carefully. And when the one named Dembo came, and Sukey announced that she would marry him. Mister Hard Times put his plan into action. He followed Dembo back to the woods when he left Sukey, and there he "struck Dembo dead, and stole the treasure. No one saw him do the deed, so he hid the treasure under his mattress. Now Sukey waited in vain for Dembo to return. When he did not come, she finally guessed what had happened, and ran to the sea, sobbing bitterly. Mama Jo came when she sang, and said,"Think carefully: below the sea is a gentle place without time or pain. Up here, hurt and hunger are never far away, and time is always ready to steal what little you have." But Sukey only sobbed, and begged Mama Jo to help her get Dembo back. Finally, the mermaid "dropped a seed pearl into the young woman's palm. 'Set this on Dembo's lips. Goodbye, my lady." And with that, she sank below the waves and was gone. Now Sukey ran back to the cabin, and there was Dembo laid out in a pine coffin. She put the pearl upon his lips as all the mourners looked on. "Right away, life came into him again." and he jumped out of the coffin and yelled, "That's the one that hit me!" as he pointed to step-pa. But that bad man grabbed the sack of gold from under his bed and ran like the wind. Sukey was glad to see the man go, though she would have preferred to keep the gold. She and Dembo were married the very next day. "As the two of them sat on the beach, Sukey wriggled her toes deep in the white sand and felt something hidden there. Together, they dug up the lost treasure bag." That's when Sukey saw a glint of green and gold, and heard a splash. So "she blew a kiss across the waves and heard sweet laughter in return. 'Storyteller say, I step on a thing, and the thing bend. And that's the way my story end."
From:Sukey and the Mermaid (Aladdin Picture Books) by Robert San Souci (1992) New York: Four Winds Press.
Notes: Remember the path from water spirit/water creature, to mermaid granting wishes, to fairy godmother. This book is so lovely to look at, without even reading the words. Would be delightful to use as an example of a fine arts technique.
Montessori Connection: US History/South Carolina
1. Read this story and find South Carolina on the map.
2. Learn that it was the 8th state to form, and that its state birthday is May 23, 1788.
3. Learn more about South Carolina: Ghosts of the Carolinas for Kids or Pirates of the Carolinas for Kids or Lighthouses of the Carolinas for Kids or South Carolina: Indian Dictionary for Kids (Carole Marsh State Books) (Spanish Edition) or The South Carolina Colony (Thirteen Colonies (Lucent))