Because of Winn-Dixie
With a name like Dump, she has to be good, right? Actually, laughing about her name is what warms up Opal the first time they meet (that and a peanut butter sandwich). Gloria lives in a classic witch's abode, an old house overgrown by every vegetation known to man. In fact, the Dewberry boys claim she is a witch. But she's actually nothing of the sort—even though the evidence isn't exactly in her favor. Check it out:
She keeps a creepy overgrown yard.
True, but the creepy trees and vegetation actually testify to Gloria's warm, loving nature. See, she likes to make things grow. Case in point: Gloria tells Opal to plant a "wait-and-see tree," in order to find out if she's got a green thumb like her mom (10.12). This tree winds up symbolizing much more to Opal (read the discussion of the "Wait-and-See Tree" in Symbols).
There are ghosts at her house.
Okay, not real live ghosts. But Gloria has to deal with the ghosts of her mistakes on a regular basis. She hangs old alcohol bottles from a big tree to represent her mistakes, and as they clank against each other, she reminds herself to avoid going back to those parts of her life (more on the Mistake Tree in "Symbols" as well).
She's old, wrinkled and mostly blind.
While these may seem like weaknesses, her physical faults are actually her strengths. Because she's old, she's been able to figure out her personal "most important thing" (14.38). While this "thing" is "different for everyone," her experiences have blessed her with wisdom, which she bestows on Opal regularly (14.40). These nuggets of advice penetrate Opal's heart and teach her Very Important Lessons about life (you have to live it), loss (you have to let it go), and love (you have to do it).
In addition, Gloria's bad eyesight forces her to look beyond the face and into the heart of each person (and animal) she meets. Opal claims that she "could feel [Gloria] listening with all her heart, and it felt good" (10.3).
Does this sound familiar? It should. Wise blind characters are literally all over literature, starting way back in ancient Greece and stretching all the way up to the twenty-first century in Harry Potter. In all these stories, the "blind" character "sees" the truth. Sound familiar?
So there you have it. The town witch is, in fact, a peanut-butter loving gardener who is more likely to love you to death than chop you up in little pieces and eat you for supper.
What's in it for Opal?
Besides peanut butter sandwiches, you mean? Here's the skinny. Gloria teaches Opal:
• She's worth listening to.
• People make mistakes. It just goes along with the territory. It's what you do afterwards that defines you.
• It's okay to let go.
• You have to find your Most Important Thing.
• And … how to make Dump Punch and egg salad!
What's in it for Gloria?
Besides a yard scattered with lights and crepe paper, you mean? Here's her skinny. Opal & Winn-Dixie teach Gloria:
• She's worth listening to.
• She's not alone.
• Dogs like peanut butter, too!