The Wicked Witch and Me  


Like many children of the 1960s I loved The Wizard of Oz.  It was shown on television at Thanksgiving, and I think only having access to it once a year, and no rewind or record button, made it more special, magical, momentous.  

As excited as I was to watch every year, I remember covering my eyes when the Wicked Witch and her monkeys appeared on my television screen.  Margaret Hamilton, the actress who played the witch, did an incredible job.  I don’t think anyone has ever played the part of a witch more believably.  I would go to sleep certain she was living under my bed.  And then, one night, I was proven right, she was indeed under my bed.  Something had snagged my toe.  I wrestled to free my foot.  I was convinced it was the witch pulling me under to be hers forever.  My parents would wake up in the morning to find me gone.  This was the night I had feared my whole childhood.  

It turns out my mother had innocently safety pinned a blanket to the foot of my bed and one of my fingerlike toes became tangled in it.  I was not vanquished by the Wicked Witch of the West, but continued to live in fear of her.  Where would she and her horrifying monkeys appear?  On the playground?  On the street while I walked to my grandma’s house?  In my basement?  Could a swirl of green mist suddenly appear and there she would be with her broom, ready to snatch me away to her tower? 

Though I grew out of my fright of witches and Oz, one day in my adulthood that fear was reawakened.  I went to visit Grandma at her healthcare facility and found her sitting on a bench in the hallway with another old woman.  They were huddled together, the other old woman with her arm around my grandma.  That struck me as funny.  Even though my grandma was a warm and loving person, she was Sicilian and was not open to strangers embracing her.  I approached the happy couple and whose face looked up at me, but the Wicked Witch of the West.  

I froze on the spot.  What was happening?  I was an adult and knew monsters weren’t real, yet the monster of my childhood sat here before me.  Now a diminutive old woman, she still took my breath away.  
Margaret Hamilton looked at me with that same scrunched up face that had haunted me in the 1960s, told me to go away, to leave her and her best friend alone.  My grandmother was best friends with the Wicked Witch of the West?  Again, what was happening?  

Unfortunately, at this point in her life my grandma wasn’t capable of being friends with anyone.  She was practically catatonic, but Margaret Hamilton didn’t seem to mind.  I stood my ground, feet planted in front of my grandmother.  Had the witch come for my grandma to remind me she was in fact real?  I had managed to escape her as a child, but was she back for one more try?  This bizarre moment became even more surreal.  The Wicked Witch of the West kicked me.   This occurred in the 1980s, years before I owned a cell phone with video, but it is etched in my mind for eternity, right next to the feeling of being pulled under my bed, albeit by a safety pin. 

An aide came and led Margaret away.  I sat down on the bench, still warm from the Wicked Witch, and visited with my grandma.  I could not believe what had just happened.  I wish I could have told my younger self that the Wicked Witch would indeed get me one day but it would all turn out okay.  I sat there with a smile, my arm around my grandma.  She and I had vanquished the monster of my childhood. 

A few years later, my two-year-old daughter would also become obsessed with the movie.  We owned the special 50th anniversary edition, and she watched it repeatedly.  She had a blue gingham nightgown that was many sizes too big that was her Dorothy dress, which she wore every day of her little life.  Side note, what the heck was I thinking letting my not quite two-year-old watch that very scary movie?  I guess I just couldn’t wait for her to grow up to pass on my love for the wonder of Judy Garland and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  Yet, my daughter showed no fear of the witch or her monkeys.  She didn’t cover her eyes or check under her bed.  Maybe watching the movie on repeat desensitized her to the terror I felt.  Perhaps I can give my mothering a small pat on the back, having raised a daughter to be braver than I had been. 

Now my daughter is thirty-five and the mother of a one-year-old.  I wonder when she will allow her child to watch The Wizard of Oz for the first time.  Something tells me she will be more vigilant and wait until an age-appropriate time.  I didn’t have the benefit of instant parenting advice ala You Tube and was flying by the seat of my pants.  My Dr. Spock book didn’t contain a chapter on age-appropriate exposure to scary movies.  I couldn’t ask Jeeves, and Google wasn’t even a verb yet.  Even though I erred in indulging my toddler’s obsession with Oz, I still loved watching my curly haired daughter happily run around in a much too big blue check nightgown with a picnic basket complete with Toto, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at the top of her lungs.  

Will the Wicked Witch hide under my granddaughter’s bed?  So far, that powerhouse of a one-year-old seems pretty fearless, and I hope it stays that way.  Her mom is better equipped to help her find her confidence and courage with the tools and knowledge that we have today.  Little girls in the 1960s were taught to be quiet, polite, and submissive.  We weren’t taught we could face our fears and had the intelligence and strength to overcome them.  Had I thought it was okay to talk about my worries and doubts, maybe I could have vanquished that witch myself as a child.  I am glad things have changed.  I know my granddaughter will feel the freedom to express herself, ask for help when needed, and face any challenges that come her way. 

Lions, and tigers and bears aside, I hope The Wizard of Oz continues to be a theme in our family.  After all, there’s no place like home, even if the Wicked Witch is living under your bed. 


Liz Colbert is writer and a resident of Manchester.