Robin Redbreast

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

Friday, June 24, 2011

Cinderella #172 Ash Pet, an Appalachian Tale

Doc Ellison's boy was
comin' down the road!

Once upon a time, "long ago in a cabin deep in the shadow of Eagle's Nest Mountain, lived a serving girl called Ashpet. She'd been hired out, since she was a young girl, to the Widow Hooper and her two daughters, Myrtle and Ethel." Those three ordered Ashpet around all day long, saying,"After you're done washin' up, there's firewood that wants bustin', and our supper to cook. And don't forget to tend the animals." People on Eagle's Nest Mountain worked hard most of the year, and they liked to celebrate in the summer with a "big church meeting". Ashpet was never allowed to go, but Myrtle and Ethel and their mama went every year "in their finest clothes". They always brought a huge picnic hamper filled with sandwiches and cookies. "It happened one year, on the evening before the meeting, Ashpet stayed up all night washing, ironing, and mending the girls dresses. She was so busy she didn't notice that the fire had gone out." Those people did not used matches, and the only thing to do if your fire went out was to borrow some from someone that had it. And the only person who lived near enough to borrow from was Granny. "Run over the ridge to old Granny's house and borry us some fire." the widow said to her oldest girl. But she said,"Granny's too peculiar. Anyway, that's Ashpet's job. Make her go!" But the widow said that Ashpet was busy preparing her gown, and could not go. "Myrtle sure didn't want to go but she knew when her mama meant buisiness." So she went. When she came to Granny's house, instead of going up on the porch and knocking on the door, she just shouted from the front lawn. "I come fer fire, old woman." She kept on yelling like this, and watching the window to see  if Granny was there, but she could not see anyone. "Well, Granny wouldn't give fire to anyone acting so uppity, so Myrtle went home empty-handed." Her sister Ethel tried next, but since her manners weren't any better, she came home without fire too. That's when they decided they'd better send Ashpet over.  Well, she "skedaddled over the ridge" in no time flat, and went and knocked on Granny's door.  She called softly, "My name is Ashpet, and I come to borry some fire, please." And Granny came to the door and said, "You may. But first, won't you brush my hair out for me? My brush is jus' on the table here." And Ashpet combed the lady's thin, gray hair, and smoothed it prettily, and then helped herself to a big, orange coal. She carried it home in a hollow toadstool, and lit the fire again. Then she heated up a big ol' pot of water for her sisters' bath, and then she helped them get dressed. The Widow Hooper scolded her,"We're going now! Ashpet, you best get this cabin cleaned up 'fore we git back or there'll be more trouble than you can think about. Let's go girls!" With that, those three hoighty-toities stuck their noses up in the air and traipsed off to meetin'. That's when Ashpet heard a knock at the door! It was Granny, and and Ashpet opened the door for her. But Granny did not even say hello, she just "poked her head in the door, muttered something under her breath, and tapped her walking stick three times on the floor." Then she dragged Ashpet out, real quick. At once, they heard the house groaning and scratching as though a bag of cats got let loose in a house with a dozen dogs.  "What's goin' on in there?' asked Ashpet. 'Don't you worry 'bout it, child." replied the old one. At that very minute, the door to the cabin swung open, and the sun shone in. Ashpet went inside and found that the house had cleaned itself and set its own self to rights. And lying right on her very own bed was "the prettiest red calico dress that Ashpet had ever seen and a pair of new red shoes." Now Granny told her to get dressed and get a move on, she better get to the church meeting as fast as she could. But, warned Granny, she must be home before midnight, for that is when the magic would end, and the red dress and shoes vanish. Well, Ashpet did not need to be told twice. Granny had scarce finished speaking when Ashpet dashed down the mountain and on to the church.  When she opened the door and came panting in, all out of breath from running the whole way, everyone in the entire church, "even the doctor's son" turned their head to look. The preacher got irritated and kept on preaching until it was way past time for supper. Finally, "he ran out of something to say", so he stopped talking. Then everyone grabbed their picnic hampers and dashed out to the lawn to have a big meal. When the Widow Hooper saw the doctor's boy coming right at her with a smile on his face, she was flattered. When he walked right past her and into the path of the pretty girl in a red calico dress who had interrupted the meeting, she was annoyed. Then she said, "Oh, let me introduce you to MY daughter, Ethel and Myrtle", and tried to push her daughters in front of the calico girl.  But the doctor's son smiled at her blankly, grabbed the picnic hamper she was holding...and walked off with Ashpet.  Yet this girl in the new red shoes and purty dress couldn't, just couldn't, be Ashpet, said the girls. Where would she get those clothes? Well, it was Ashpet. And she spent the entire evening with the doctor's son. "Time slipped by and they walked and talked and laughed long into the night. " Suddenly, Ashpet remembered the warning about midnight. Quick as a cricket, she kicked one shoe off into the bushes, said " I declare! It's time for me to get on home!", and started trotting up the road. When the doctor's boy said he'd like to walk her there, she answered, "All right, but first, how 'bout findin' my shoe? I b'lieve I lost it, somewhere back on the road." The minute that kind young man turned back to look for the shoe, Ashpet hightailed it home.  The boy found the shoe, but by then, the girl was gone. Ashpet smiled in her dreams all night. The next morning, early, the widow dragged Ashpet out of bed by her ear, scolding her for staying out so late the night before. Where had she been, anyway? the woman demanded to know? But Ashpet wouldn't say. Just then, Ethel and Myrtle started screeching like a pair of cats with their tales on fire. When the widow ran to see what was the matter, they squealed, "It's Doc Ellison's boy. I can see him out the window. He's comin' down the road, right towards our house." That's when the widow shoved Ashpet under the big tin washtub. When the doctor's son knocked on the door, she answered, saying ,"Wont' you please come in, sir?" And when he had come in, and sat down, he took out the little red shoe and said,"I've been goin' to every cabin up and down Eagle's Nest Mountain. I'm lookin' for the girl who lost this shoe at the meetin' last night. Could it belong to someone in this house?" And the widow said that she was just sure it was one of her girl's shoe. But first Ethel and then Myrtle tried to put a foot in that shoe, and could not. It was like trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube, trying to stuff those girls' big fat feet into that little shoe. All of a sudden, a big, black crow flew in the window and grabbed the red shoe! "The doctor's son chased that bird, shouting,"Gimmee that back, you ole crow!" But it would not. Instead, it flew around in circles, then dropped the shoe right on top of the washtub that covered Ashpet. When the doc's boy leaped for it, he tripped, "landed on the tub, and knocked it right side up. There sat Ashpet, wearing the other shoe." Staring at the girl in the rags, he said,"Are you the one?" and she answered, "That shoe sure looks like the mate to this one." and put on the shoe she had kept in her pocket. Of course, it was a perfect fit! Now Doc Ellison's boy said,"Ma'am, would you marry me?' and Ashpet smiled, and said that she would. But the widow objected. "You can't marry her! She's hired out to me for two more years!" So the doc's son gave her a bag of gold, and she suddenly quit complaining. And then, "without looking back, Ashpet walked out the door to marry the doctor's son....and from then on, they were as happy as could be."
From Ashpet, an Appalachian Tale, retold by Joanne Compton, Illustrated by Kenn Compton. (1994) New York: Holliday House
Notes: Here again a bird plays an important role: the crow steals the shoe and drops it on the tub, thus showing Doc Ellison's boy where Ashpet has been hidden. This seems to me a holdover from the body of tales that the Grimms collected, making this story part of the  "Aschenputtel" genre. The author/illustrator team identifies this as being based on the story collected by Richard Chase in North Carolina duirng the 1940's. 
Montessori Connection: US Geography/ North Carolina
1. Read this story, and then find North Carolina on a map.
2. Compare it to Sukey and the Mermaid, by San Souci, R., a Cinderella story from South Carolina.