Today, thank goodness, some good news.
But first, if you will recall, several weeks ago a dear and rather large tortoise named Djembe, which lived at little Harmony School on Covenant Road, wandered away and sadly, wound up in the Congaree River where he died because he could not swim.
The situation was a heartbreaker for Harmony children who adored the 30-pound African Sulcata. Djembe (pronounced Jim-bay) roamed freely around the school grounds. The kids loved him, played with him, fed him his favorite food – strawberries.
After his body was recovered from the river, the children buried Djembe on the school grounds in a ceremony befitting a fine friend.
What followed was a story in this paper about the beloved creature and little folks grappling with the weighty business of life and death.
So now for the good news.
Shortly after the burial, a telephone call came to the Forest Acres school from Stacy McCorkle, who with her family lives near Corley Mill Road in Lexington County.
“We have some property and on a Sunday afternoon, my husband, Chris, and our two children, Connor and Caroline, had gone down there to check on a deer stand,” McCorkle said.
“They came back to the house and said, ‘You’re never gonna guess what we found.’ Well, they’d found a tortoise. He’d just been out there in the middle of a pasture … we tried to figure out what in the world he was and where he’d come from.”
Mystery One, solved. The tortoise was an African Sulcata, just like Djembe.
Mystery Two, unsolved.
“We asked all around,” McCorkle said, “and nobody knew where he could have come from…We wanted to make sure he got a good home…Then we came across the newspaper article.”
So McCorkle called Harmony.
“She said she realized I may not be ready,” said Harmony teacher Jennifer Mancke, who raised Djembe from a hatchling, “ but she wanted to let me know that the tortoise needed a home … Actually, I doubted that it was a Sulcata – how could it be that there was another African tortoise in the woods in South Carolina? Then she said her husband is a biologist and that the tortoise weighed 10 pounds and was a male. I began to believe that it was possible after all, but still could not imagine getting a ‘replacement’ for Djembe. Trying to be nice about it, I told her I’d keep her number in case I changed my mind. On Monday morning, she called back to apologize, saying the tortoise had escaped. I was off the hook and didn’t have to wonder if I was depriving the school’s kids just because I was grieving.”
What transpired next was a series of phone calls between Mancke, McCorkle and others involved in the rescue and re-rescue of the second tortoise. But still, no permanent home had been established for the creature.
And then, the flood came.
“Our school property was badly hit,” Mancke said.
“Steadfast parents worked through the week, all day long and into the night, to get the school ready again for their kids … Over those days, I observed the school being saved from the effects of the floods by the wonderful parents. I began to think of the Native American story of Turtle Island, and how Turtle gave his steady strength and shell on which North America could be formed. The thought of the tortoise who needed a home, and the remaking of our home, plus the old, old story, made me know in my heart that we needed to complete the circle by accepting the tortoise into our reborn home … it was meant to be … this was our chance to make our school complete again.”
And so, earlier this month, just a little more than a week after the Oct. 4 flood, a ceremony was held to welcome the tortoise into the Harmony fold.
To the great and giddy surprise of the school’s students, who were gathered in a large circle, Mancke pulled the creature from a large, cardboard box – filled with hay – and placed him on the classroom floor. The tortoise lumbered around, taking to his new home immediately.
Cortney, 8, rubbed his exquisitely patterned shell and said he had a “feeling something was coming, but I didn’t know it was this!”
“This” being Djembetoo.
Welcome home, dear fellow.
Salley McAden McInerney is a local writer. Her novel, Journey Proud, is based upon growing up in Columbia in the early 1960s. You may reach Ms. McInerney by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.