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Sunny Side Mary

Searle-White, Joshua. 2007. Sunny Side Mary. In Magic Wanda's Travel Emporium: Tales of Love, Hate and Things in Between. Boston : Skinner House —Used with permission

In a medium-sized town not far from here, there was a middle school. It was just like any other middle school, except for two things. First, instead of an auditorium, it had a courtyard, a huge round covered area right in the center of the school. In the middle of the courtyard was a big round pool with fountains and lights. Right in the middle of the pool was a circular stage, connected to one side of the courtyard by a narrow bridge.

The kids who went there liked having the only school with a round stage; it was very cool. But there was one problem. Whenever there was a concert, half of the kids would always have to look at the performers' backs. Plus, that side of the courtyard didn't have very good lights, and it was always a little bit cold. Because of this, everyone called that part the shady side, while the other part of the courtyard was called the sunny side. Now, it wouldn't be too bad to have a sunny side and a shady side, if the kids sometimes got to be on one side and sometimes on the other. But that's not the way it was.

That's the second thing that was different about this school. Some kids in the school came from the North Side of town and some from the South Side. And there was a rule: during concerts in the courtyard, only the North Side kids could sit on the sunny side. The South Side kids had to sit on the shady side.

What would happen if a South Side kid went onto the sunny side? It was always the same. The North Side kids would just pick her up and dump her into the fountain. And if she came back, they'd just keep dumping her into the fountain until she went back to her side. It was pretty awful.

You're probably wondering exactly who made up this crazy rule. Well, no one exactly knows. The North Side kids always said that the principal had made the rules and they were just doing what she said. So besides getting to sit on the sunny side, the North Side kids got to feel important, too, because they said they were doing what the grown-ups wanted. However, if you asked the principal, she would say that it was the kids' choice, and that the South Side kids actually liked to be on the shady side because they were used to it. And what if you talked to the teachers? Well, some of them would say that the North Side kids behaved better than the other kids, and so the North Side kids should be on the sunny side. Besides, they would say, it was natural for kids to divide up like that. There were some other teachers who would say it probably shouldn't be that way. But none of them did anything to change it.

So the school was a great place to be, if you were from the North Side. But if you were from the South Side, it wasn't so great. It wasn't just that you couldn't really see what was going on during concerts. What was worse? Knowing that you couldn't go over to the other side, because if you did, you'd get thrown in the fountain. It just didn't seem fair.

Things went on like that for a long time, until the day that Mary went wading. A big concert was planned for lunchtime that day, with a band called the Zoot Suit Tooters. Mary had been waiting to see this band for a long time. She was a huge Zoot Suit Tooters fan. She had all the Tooters CDs and tee-shirts, and she had their posters plastered all over the walls of her bedroom. They were her absolutely favorite group. But Mary was a South Side kid so she knew she was going to have to sit on the shady side and not see the front of the band at all. That made her angry.

So Mary decided to do something different. She planned it all out. On the day of the concert, she got to the courtyard early and found a place to sit on the sunny side. Over and over, she said to herself, "I don't care what they do or what they say, I am not moving. The Tooters are my favorite band, and I am going to see them from the front, no matter what."

Well, it came time for the assembly, and the North Side kids started showing up. Of course, the first thing they saw was Mary sitting on their side. And what do you think they did? First they just looked at her like she was crazy. Mary didn't move.

Then they said, "Hey South Sider, get over on your side of the courtyard!"

Mary just pretended not to hear them. They yelled louder. They called her names. They stared at her and told her to move or else. And still Mary ignored them. So what did they do? A bunch of the biggest North Side kids picked her up and threw her in the fountain with a big splash!

Mary did not like that at all. She stood up in the water, dripping. She wasn't hurt, since the pool wasn't that deep—only up to her waist or so—and the water was pretty warm. But she did not like being thrown out of her seat. It made her angry. She glared at the North Side kids. They glared back.

Mary stepped out and went back to where she was sitting. The North Side kids threw her into the fountain again. She got up and went back to her seat. They threw her back in the fountain. She got up again, and as she got out of the fountain, they started to come after her... so she walked back into the fountain. It was better than getting thrown in, anyway.

Mary sat down in the water and thought, "This is awful! Here I am, soaking wet. If I ask the teachers to help, they'll just say that I should have stayed on my side. If I ask the principal, she'll just say that I should like the shady side better. Nobody's going to help me. What am I going to do?"

Finally, she stood up, feeling totally defeated. She started walking through the fountain back toward the shady side—slosh, slosh, slosh. As she walked, the rhythm of her feet reminded her of a song that her grandmother used to sing. It went like this:

Wade in the water

Wade in the water, children,

Wade in the water,

God's gonna trouble the water.

With that song flowing over and over again in her head, she realized with a giggle that, believe it or not, she actually was wading in the water! She looked at the shady side and all the South Side kids there. She looked at the stage, and she thought about the song. And she thought to herself, "Wait a minute. If wading in the water is good enough for God, it's good enough for me!"

And you know what Mary did? She turned right around and started sloshing back to where she had started.

Wade in the water

Wade in the water, children,

Wade in the water,

God's gonna trouble the water.

As she hummed the song and bounced along with the rhythm, the strangest thing happened. Somehow the other South Side kids must have heard the song. They got up from where they were sitting, and they walked into the fountain, too. Slosh, slosh, slosh, slosh, all together! Mary sloshed back toward the sunny side, and the other South Side kids followed. And wouldn't you know it, just as they all got to the front of the stage, the Zoot Suit Tooters ran across the bridge and onto the stage, and the concert started. Mary and the other South Side kids were on the sunny side, in the water.

The North Side kids were stunned. They had never seen anything like this! They didn't know what to do. They couldn't throw the South Side kids into the fountain because they were already in the fountain—with the best view of the concert. It was wrong! The North Side kids looked at each other, and then they all rushed into the fountain to get in front of the South Side kids. They had to be first! They were always first! So they pushed, and shoved, and squirmed, and finally they got themselves right up to the front, squished right up next to the stage, where no one could be in front of them. The Zoot Suit Tooters were playing practically right over their heads, and... and... and they looked around and suddenly realized that while they were struggling to get in front of the South Side kids, the South Side kids had all gotten out of the fountain and were now sitting in the seats on the sunny side, drying off!

The North Side kids were stunned again. What could they do? They were in the fountain, and the South Side kids had all the best seats, with Mary right in front. There was no way the North Side kids could throw all the South Side kids in the fountain at once. The teachers and principal were speechless. The Zoot Suit Tooters played, and the South Side kids listened, and there wasn't much else the North Side kids could do. They sloshed over to the shady side to dry off. And that's where they sat to watch the concert.

Things were different in that school from then on. The principal learned that if she made crazy rules, people wouldn't follow them. The teachers learned that the South Side kids didn't want to be behind the stage all the time. The North Side kids learned that if they wanted to get a good seat at an assembly, they had to get there early. The South Side kids learned that if you all stand up together for something that is right, sometimes you can win. And because Mary had helped the South Side kids get a place on the sunny side, all her friends began to call her Sunny Side Mary, the name they call her to this very day.

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Last updated on Saturday, December 10, 2011.

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