There was an old woman
That lived in a shoe
Who reminded children of dark nights
And not Winnie-The-Pooh
She was dread by her neighbors
And kinfolk alike
And particularly dreaded
By every little tyke
I had remembered her as a child, and looking back over the years, regarded her with awe and fear. She was able to clear aisles of people in the local store just by her presence and even the biggest men made way so as not to be lashed by her tongue.
I had heard stories from other children who boasted of taunting her and others who
claimed neighbors shriveled up in fear as she walked from her house in the morning on a daily stroll, in what some referred to as her kingdom. Why no one firmly put her in her place at the time, made me wonder.
Yes, she was the neighborhood “crazy lady”. I guess every neighborhood or town has one. She is usually lonely, paranoid, and bitter. A person who gathers the last of her possessions around her like booty. Usually she is the first to antagonize the neighborhood children who are playing on “ her street”, but as fear of her wears off they retaliate and their mothers vividly take their part and join in to taunt the woman.
But some “crazy ladies” even the most fearless of people avoid Madeline Godwin, was one of these. She was a large woman in both height and stature. With her unkempt appearance and long gray stringy hair she would make the ideal pin-up as the witch of the month. In the summer months, it would not be uncommon to see her on her daily stroll clad in a house dress, slippers, and knee high nylons. She never wore a hat except in winter when she sported a skull cap opened up all the way to give the appearance that a flower pot had fallen on her head.
She wore it this way, as I understood, and once myself witnessed, to have people glance at her in order to buffet them with some of her juiciest lashings. At times I had lost track of her, living on the outskirts of her realm, as I did, but I would witness, on occasion, a confrontation between her and some unfortunate victim who fell beneath her gaze.
The local grocery store was the hangout for most us kids, and the jars of candy on the counter was the reward we paid ourselves with the coins we earned at odd jobs and allowances. We were never really entirely poor, but others, outside our neighborhood of bungalows and cottages, referred to us as their poorer neighbors.
Not being rich, though, gave us some things that better off than we could not have. These things that we possessed were dreams and fantasies that we carried out in full earnest.
There was a large grassy field near our house that we, looked on as the Great Plains or the icy tundra, and we held mock battles on it, or played baseball in the one section that afforded such a game.
Actually it was an old battlefield complete with a large building that once housed the ball- club and community dances. In its ruin now, it afforded us, as well as other neighborhood children, a place and enact out of our fantasies. We also had a beach near by that we occasionally commandeered small boats that we had fashioned out of wood or old car tire tubes, and rivaling a fleet of Argonauts set out to capture the golden fleece in a world of make believe.
Yes, at times it was good to be poor. It let your mind grow and allowed you to climb from the bottom to achieve some, if not most, of your dreams. In today’s modern times, its different with everything, even games, handed to you, to follow every rule and achieve a pre-determined end. Today’s children, I don’t wonder will never have the same things we enjoyed in our “Little Rascals” type of world.
I think that most of the colorful characters like the neighborhood crazy ladies have disappeared too, leaving instead local vagrants, even though equally avoided, who pass through our mists without revolving others lives around them. Madeline Godwin was one of these characters. I said the word “was” because of certain tails of her demise, although, in all honesty, I can’t uphold any of them. They may still be just stories, yet I haven’t seen hide or hair of her, though passage of time might be the only villain.
I remember once when she road havoc on one young woman who had to be carried out of
her own house strapped to a chair. The woman’s husband screamed of vengeance as police barred him from any acts of violence. As the crazy lady left her victim in her wake and trudged back to her own abode, people from our part of the neighborhood, who had been drawn to the scene by the rare appearance of police cars, made way for her along the small unpaved dirt road they lined.
My friend next to me spit at her receding footsteps, and I had followed suit in an act of bravado with encouragement from the hoard of murmuring onlookers, but when she turned around and growled we both stood back in the crowd so as not be in her view. I had always imagined that afterwards that she had seen my face, and late at nights she stirred a large black kettle and murmured enchanting curses upon my very person.
The look on that poor wretched young woman’s face as she was carried out of the house made me to believe that the crazy lady was one to be reckoned with. That was my first, and not my last, encounter with the crazy lady.
I guess we weren’t the only ones to antagonize her, my ragtag friends and I. I heard that other neighborhood groups of children considered her the neighborhood ogre as well, as if we recited in medieval times. On only three occasions we decided to taunt her. On the first, she had been in her garden and, after running sticks along her picket fence she emerged, to our dismay, and chased us down that little dirt road, and heaved stones as well as curses at us, as we departed in great haste.
We had originally decided to pick up our banners like crusaders and encircle her house, the day after the incident with the young woman, to show our fury against her, but her appearance made us give way to fear and shamed us with our lack of fortitude. Twice more, a week later, we ran sticks along her fence and ran pell mell back to our own area with a sense of accomplishment and bravado. After that we abandoned any further quests of vengeance, not because we feared her, mind you, but here was no further point in it, seeing that we met our justice.
But I had heard of stories, from others that lived closer to her house, of how neighbors entrenched themselves against her and nearly did daily battle with this wretched creature. I had also heard of other stories of her chasing grown men and stood barring the doors of their homes in which they fled, like some great dragon bearing not hellish flames, but a stout wood broom.
Yes, I guess she was a legend in her time.
The one story that always intrigues me though, is the mysterious way she died. She frequented often, I was told, a neighborhood pub where other rough people of her sort congregated. She would overcome even the loudest of men there, it was said, but found a comrade there more to her liking. Her fellow patrons in the pub often challenged her in drinking jousts and she had put many of them under the table. Her walks home, after she left her night time haunt, found her singing at times, and at others cursing the world and daring anyone to confront her. Most in hearing her approach, would close their curtains and shut off the lights in the rooms fronting the roads she traversed.
It was a winter night when she was found beaten to death along the path to the pub. Her bloodied knuckles though, showed that they took their toll of her assailant. Everyone thought at first that it had been the young husband of the woman she victimized years ago but this was not the case, being that they had moved from the area sometime before. Her face, they say, was set in a grimace of hate and fury and whoever did battle with her must have been fearful in their own rite.
It was in the field that her body was discovered, the same field where we had carried out many a make believe battle. That same field, we in later years told our children, was traversed by the ghost of that awful Madeline Godwin.
Near her body, outlined in the snow, were many footprints of all sizes. The police could not make out if they were the prints of the perpetrators, they determined that it was more than one, or the curious who awed her in death as much as they did life. They had been informed by a neighborhood gossips and well doers that she had encountered a group of ruffians in the pub that night, whom she had taunted, and it was possible that they had reciprocated by bludgeoning her to death.
Although the evidence of several bloodied clubs of wood were strewn about near the body had convinced the constables that this was the case, another tale had reached my ears which convinced me otherwise.
Earlier that day, a group of young boys and girls had been playing on “her road”. They did not live in her immediate vicinity, and therefore were neither fearful of her or knew her reputation. As usual she appeared at her gate and startled the small band by brandishing some of her wickedest vocabulary in their direction. As first they were struck dumb by her onslaught, but after several moments hurled insults back in her direction.
It was unusual, she though, that these young pranksters would not regard her with any respect. She then opened her gate and beset herself onto them swinging wildly with the aim to scare them with a physical reproach. She latched onto one poor boy and flung him into her fence and as he tried to rise, she kicked viciously further at him landing an awful blow to his buttocks.
He only escaped further injury by blinding her momentarily with a handful of dirt. The others in his little band tried to aid his escape by pelting her with stones that they hurled from a safe distance.
Angered even more now she tried to reek a stronger vengeance against her small quarry, but seeing now that he had other antagonists. That is when her gaze happened on the small girl, who was not part of the original group, holding a puppy in her arms nearby. Turning, she charged the poor waif, who, when subjected to the oncoming terror, dropped the puppy as she turned to run.
But the old woman was no match for the small girl, and with one swopping motion, grabbed the dog and the girl and shrieked with glee.
“So, you all thought that you would tease old Mrs. Godwin”, she screeched, “well I’ll show you what I’m going to do to you when I catch you.” She let of the little girl then holding the little dog by one hand, she grabbed it’s head with her massive paw and twisted and wrenched it till, with a snap and a scream, broke the poor small animal’s neck. She then hurled it at the feet of the little children and laughed with glee.
Something strange came over them as they witnessed the little dogs death throng. As a matter of fact the whole neighborhood had seemed to grow silent. AS the little animal kicked its hind foot for the last time, even the old ogre, Madeline Godwin, sensed the change. Her laughter had dimmed as the children shifted there gaze toward her and neighbors who had witnessed the commotion from their windows, and ventured out of their cottages and braved her wicked eyes.
“That goes for the rest of you” she said with a snare but could not, for once, shake them. It seemed that the death of the small animal had broken their fear of her and united them in a conspiracy of hate and loathing.
“What are you all staring at ,” she hissed. “Go on and get back to your business or I’ll give you all what’s coming to you.”
But, alas, not one person moved and they were all content just starring down at her. Turning now, she bustled back to her own cottage’s safely and before slamming the door on their hateful glances, she shrieked out a few more curses upon their persons. It troubled the old hag, that had all stood their ground as she ambled into her dark dirty
kitchen to pout herself a cup of tea. In the past, they would cower in their cottages at the slightest growl from her, but this new show of disrespect set a furrow on her brow and made her wonder.
It could not have been the small dog she thought, for once before she had killed a neighbor’s cat and left it on their doorstep as a reminder of her power over them. But, she not realizing, it was the small dog, because it was the final straw in a pattern of fear that she wove for years. A pattern whose end was hastened by this latest cruel act.
Later she put her old black coat and skull cap, which she assembled in its familiar flare, and left the house for her nightly visit to the pub. Stepping outside her door she noticed that the crowd had retreated behind their now dark windows and even that the body of the small dog had disappeared.
“Hah!,” she spat out loud. “Cowards!”, she cried, and with no further ado, she ambled down the little dirt road toward the path through the field that lead to her nightly haunt. As she passed the shapes of the darkened houses, she muttered, quiet curses, but unseen to her were the blazoned eyes that stared back, and the curtains that were pushed aside as their gazes followed
her every step.
Sensing something wrong she stopped once or twice to leer sideways into the darkened orifices of the cottages she passed by, but nothing stirred, and not even the local dogs barked. Turning away she continued onward, muttering curses again, toward the path in the field ahead on her right.
As she walked further she heard a gate shut somewhere behind her and the rustling sound of many feet in the snow, but shifting a backward glance, she stopped, but no movement was seen and she chuckled and continued her quest.
She turned up the path now, heading the two hundred yards toward the final destination, and as she did so hummed and sang intermittently, unknown tunes. As she continued on she became aware of the rustling sound again and turned and eyed back along the path in which she came.
“Who dares to tease old Mrs. Godwin?,” she hissed audibly. Again no answer. Chuckling and clucking she turned and proceeded on.
Suddenly, through the night air, a snowball found its mark on the hat perched precariously on top of Mrs. Godwin’s head. The impact startled her at first but her mood swiftly turned to anger and she picked up her hat and shrieked and cursed at the gloom around her.” You cowards!,” she screamed. “Come out where I can see you and I’ll twist your heads off like I did to a young wretches pet this morning.”
When no movement was made she shaded, “Don’t hide in the dark young ones, come on out and get a little treat from poor old Mrs. Godwin. “There was a rustling sound behind her now and when she turned to get a better look in
that direction, another snowball hit her square in the jaw and left her lips bleeding. This snowball had a small stone encased in it though, making the impact that much more severe.
“Come out you little bastards! ,” she screeched, but before she could utter another curse she was pummeled by no less than a half dozen of the same type of missals knocking her to the ground with their combined force.
“So you want to play that way? ,” she screamed in pain and rage and tried to stagger to her feet, but was net by a dozen more of the projectiles bowling her over on her back where she lay motionless for a moment to catch her breath. “Alright now, I’m really going to fix you good,” she hissed as she forced herself to her feet, but as she rose, she found herself surrounded by a circle of people, and she recognized some of them, as her neighbors.
“Have you all gone deaf? ,” she shouted at them, “where have those children gone? ,” but stopped again when she realized that some of the people around her were brandishing clubs and boards in their hands.
Before she could react, a wooden mace arced through the air behind her, catching her squarely on the side of the head and another one caught her on the opposite shoulder, dropping her to her knees with a thud. Dizzied by the impact and infuriated by her assailants she rose to meet this outrage, but she was then attacked from all sides at once in a pummeling that lasted a good half hour.
The next day as police combed the area for information they seemed to be met by the same story from everyone of the ruffians she may have encountered. They knew otherwise though, for the old woman never ventured near the pub that night, but they were stymied into not locating the culprits.
I never witnesses the corpse myself, but stories filtered down about her upturned face with the look of astonishment and hate and, amazingly, with a look of remorse toward what only could be the faces of her tormentors.
That following spring a new life had been breathed into that neighborhood and when no one had purchased her small, untidy cottage the neighbors chipped in themselves and bought it. They later had the bungalow torn down and a small garden built in its place. No mention of Mrs. Godwin has been heard since then, except by mothers wishing to scare their children, and we didn’t venture into the field again because of tales told of her ghost walking the path at night.
Even now, as a grown man, I avoid the same path she took on that fateful night so very long ago.