Witches

Scene from Macbeth, depicting the witches' conjuring of an apparition in Act IV, Scene I. Painting by William Rimmer

Scene from Macbeth, depicting the witches’ conjuring of an apparition in Act IV, Scene I. Painting by William Rimmer.

Back in the day, at the corner down the street from my grandmother’s house, there lived a grim, wiry and solitary Old Lady who was wrinkled with age. To our horror, she could usually be found every afternoon sitting on the porch before her garden, leaning on her cane and smoking a cigar.

To our minds—we were a gang of seven-year olds playing in the street—that was evident proof that she was a witch.

Sometimes an adventurer among us would dare to approach her garden and pick a flower or a leaf. That would set her off. She would chase us away brandishing her cane, spewing tobacco fumes and shouting curses in a loud screech: “Look here, you damned little…” What was always surprising was that our parents and elders, instead of complimenting us for giving a witch her just deserts, would sternly reprimand us: “Don’t bother that Old Lady. She means no harm.”

This was puzzling to us until one day when we were being bullied by a gang of eleven and twelve-year olds who would not return to us our baseball. To our great surprise, the Old Lady confronted the gang of scoundrels by herself, recovered our baseball, and chased them away. Since then I have always remembered that old age can often disguise beauty (her flowers), and that bitterness from a hard life is not always inconsistent with a kind soul.

Later—I was twelve by then—I saw her figure once again (at least her spitting image) encased in glass, her half-torso dressed in the garbs of a gypsy, set on top of mechanical contraption at a carnival fair. You put a nickel in the slot and the Puppet Witch would move, shake her arms at you, and shout insults and offensive phrases for a few seconds. This was a source of immense amusement to us. We knew the witch could not harm us, and we could delight in her show of anger and bitterness without regard for her gentle soul.

"Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692." Painting by Thomkins H. Matteson (1855).  (Credit:  Collection of the Peabody Essex Museum)

“Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692.” Painting by Thomkins H. Matteson (1855). (Credit: Collection of the Peabody Essex Museum)

For the first time in many years, I remembered that Old Lady and the Puppet Witch this Halloween season. The occasion was the recent ruling by a federal judge that legalized same sex marriage in Arizona by striking down its constitutional amendment defining marriage. As in other states, the event was received with joy, with revelry, and with a deep savoring of winds of freedom and equality. It was one of those times when this great nation, finally and forever, does the right thing. But not all were sympathetic with the dignity finally conferred on fellow Americans; not all of us participated in their exultation. Governor Jan Brewer released a statement:

In 2008, Arizona voters approved a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Now, with their rulings, the federal courts have again thwarted the will of the people and further eroded the authority of states to regulate and uphold our laws….

It is not the role of the judiciary to determine that same-sex marriages should be allowed. Historically and traditionally, that power belongs to the states, and to the people. If society wants to recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions, that decision should be made through our elected representatives or at the ballot – not the courts.

In Governor Brewer’s words I heard the bitterness of the Old Lady without her caring soul; the anger of the Puppet Witch without her harmlessness. Never mind. I choose to react as I used to do as a child: run away, and rejoice with everyone else.

OG

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