LIFE CHAPTERS

I knew an old woman who lived in her shoes; in that small town, some said she was crazy

Commentary

Bill Stamps
Posted 9/16/17

My grandmother, Miz Lena, used to tell me, "Honey Baby, when yuh can, do somethin' good for somebody. God might be watchin' you and He'll do somethin' to make yore life better."

I was 9, living in …

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LIFE CHAPTERS

I knew an old woman who lived in her shoes; in that small town, some said she was crazy

Commentary

Posted

My grandmother, Miz Lena, used to tell me, "Honey Baby, when yuh can, do somethin' good for somebody. God might be watchin' you and He'll do somethin' to make yore life better."

I was 9, living in Middle Tennessee in a small rural community, with a population a touch over a hundred people. My mom taught school there. I fished. Sun perch. You had to catch a whole bunch of them to make a meal.

That wasn't much of a problem. All I had to do was get past Old Man Swikel. He had a pond on his farm filled to the rim with perch. His house sat downhill a bit. He couldn't see anybody coming until they were right up on him.

My dog Prince and I could walk halfway up his road and cut across the field and down to the pond without him knowing it. I'd put a worm on the hook and throw it out there. Then Prince and I would get down low to the ground. It was easy to catch a couple dozen, good-sized perch in a half-hour and high-tail it out of there.

It was a risk I took more than once. I guess I felt a little bad. But, I didn't figure Mr. Swikel would miss any of them. He had a lot of fish.

The Swikel farm lined up next to Miss Ruth's place. She probably had about 10 acres of land. An old white-washed house, with a porch and a couple of trees on the same side of the house as the chimney. There was a brown trailer that sat in the back of the property. A rusty roofed white shed and a matching smokehouse. Directly behind the back porch was an honest-to-goodness outhouse. It was painted green and functional. Miss Ruth used it.

She had several chickens and a few cows.

Miss Ruth was probably in her 50s. A little round white woman with great big lips. Her hair was grayish. She kept it up in a bun. Sometimes, she'd have cotton stuck up her nose. When she started talking her fast talk, every word sounded like it started with a G. She wore dark clothes and walked everywhere she went, carrying a medium-sized tote sack.

Miss Ruth grew up no more than five miles away from her front door step. She lived with her father and a sister. They said Miss Ruth was born crazy. According to the old timers who sat around an old pot-belly stove in the back of Whiteside Drug Store, she was a "holy woman." They said if she blessed you that you'd have some good luck come your way. Kinda like she would special order your good fortune direct from God.

When she was a teenager, her illiterate daddy kicked her out. He couldn't take her constant babbling anymore. She slept at the back of the high school gym, caught fish and pulled weeds and picked crops for a living. A few different times, over the years, some good church people would take her in. Those stays never lasted that long. Even the good Christians couldn't take her non-stop around-the-clock sermons.

For years, she walked up and down the roads. They used to compare her to the nursery rhyme about the old woman that lived in a shoe. Miss Ruth lived in her shoes. She was homeless.

I only spoke to her a few times. She walked fast. I could hear her coming up behind me. She would be preaching up a storm. Not loud. Just a little above normal. When she walked by, she would say, "Hello, Boy" and then go right back into where she left off. I always stopped and would let her get way ahead of me. I wasn't afraid of her. Actually, I was fascinated by her. Still, I felt more comfortable giving her some space.

When she was younger, she used to fish out of the same pond where I caught my perch. There was another fellow, not Mr. Swikel, who owned the farm, back then. He let her fish there all she wanted.

Where Miss Ruth lived, when I knew her, was previously owned by an old man who lived there all by himself. He hired her up to tend his garden and cook him fish in return for room and board. They lived together for several years. Not in a romantic way. More like a father-daughter way or maybe more like brother and sister. They prayed together for hours at a time. Miss Ruth and the old man both finally had somebody to talk to.

The old man died and left everything to Miss Ruth. She never stopped walking up and down the roads or preaching the "good word." If somebody was down on their luck, Miss Ruth would let them stay out back in the trailer. She knew firsthand what it felt like to have only your shoes in which to live.

There's a lot of us Americans out there, walking the streets. Down and out and dealing with their demons. They don't seem to have a friend in the world. If you have the heart and an opportunity to help those people, please do.

Never can tell. God might be watching you and do something to make your life better.

–––––

(About the writer: Bill Stamps can be reached by email at bill_stamps@aol.com or on Facebook.)

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