October 31, 2013

Maine town’s witchy woman remains spellbinding

A well-kept kitchen in a house on Belgrade Road is the last place you might look to find a witch . . .

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Tradition: Leola Roberts dressed as “Eldora” in 2010.

Contributed photo

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Born on Halloween 100 years ago, Leola Roberts can still be the bewitching presence she was while delighting – and scaring – generations of children as Eldora the witch.

David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

At family gatherings, Eldora took the children into the cellar, decorated with homemade eyeballs and littered with corpses. There, she blindfolded the kids and had them touch frightening items in her witch’s cauldron.

“I’d get them kids down there and I would tell them stories,” she said.

She remembered one little boy in particular.

“He says, ‘You can’t scare me. My father’s a policeman,’” Roberts said. “I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to scare you. Just come on down into the cellar.’ And he came with me.”

She paused, ominously.

“And he. Was. Scared.”

The secret to frightening a stalwart child, she said, is all in the mouth. She demonstrated, opening and closing her mouth rapidly while creating a wet, smacking sound with her tongue and lips, just one of the witchy tricks she has amassed over the decades.

On Tuesday, thinking about those days, she tottered off, excited, leaving her walker behind – another neat trick – and came back a minute later with an armful of her creative works: a painting, photos and five books she has written and bound herself. They contain her memories, family history, recipes and hundreds of poems.

“I had so many coming out of my stupid brain,” she said.

Her poem on Halloween, in which she plays a Halloween trick on her mother, opens: “Halloween is a day of excitement/and of mystery, you will find./But the first time Mother looked at me,/she almost lost her mind.”

If the family history is to be believed, Roberts’ very existence demonstrates a kind of magic. When she was born, on Oct. 31, 1913, her mother was only seven months pregnant. The family history quotes Roberts’ sister, Ellen, 8 at the time, describing how a midwife and a doctor went into her mother’s bedroom, while her father boiled water on the wood stove and her oldest sister, Viola, 21, assisted.

Ellen and her brother Earl, 4, only knew that their mother was suffering a stomach ache, and they were kept out of the room.

“Viola told us the doctor had brought the baby in his big black bag, and we believed her,” Ellen wrote.

Roberts was born weighing an estimated 11/2 pounds, so small that the midwife could put her wedding ring on her wrist. She spent much of her first few months in a shoe box near the stove, where it was warm.

“The doctor told my mother and dad not to get accustomed to me, that I may not live,” she said.

A century later, she is small still.

Roberts stopped playing Eldora a couple of years ago. Just last year, at the age of 99, she moved in with her daughter, Ellis, now 75.

Sitting at the kitchen table in her daughter’s home, Roberts sifted through the pieces of the Eldora costume, stored in a plastic bag from Levine’s, a Waterville clothing store that closed 17 years ago.

“The shoes aren’t in there, Mama,” Ellis said. “I don’t know what happened to the shoes.”

Roberts didn’t hear her.

Eldora may have disappeared, she said, but the character was just one small part of her family’s Halloween traditions. And Halloween was just one part of her memories.

She fingered the rubber nose, the cape she sewed 50 years ago.

“What are we going to do with all that junk?” she said. “Probably put it in the rubbish.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287 mhhetling@centralmaine.com@hh_matt;http://www.twitter.com
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