One summer morning I stood on the front porch of my grandparentsí old farm house and watched a strange procession come over the hill and down the road to the little village below. It was led by a slender, dark-skinned man on horseback. He was wearing a funny porkpie hat with a bright red feather on top. He wore a loose, flowing cape that came down to his black leather boots. He was followed by four covered wagons and a pony cart full of children. Tied to each wagon were several nondescript horses of various sizes and colors. There were also several colts and a red mule walking beside the wagons. In addition, there were several mongrel dogs. The Gypsies had come to visit
The wagon train proceeded down the road to the little village, which consisted of a grocery store, a church, a post office, a blacksmith shop and a railroad depot. The group gathered in a grove of trees along the railroad right of way and set up camp.
There were perhaps a dozen adults, both men and women, and an equal number of children of various ages. They turned the livestock loose to graze on the right of way and everyone seemed to have a chore to do. By midday, they were cooking their noon meal around a fire in the center of the wagon train circle. In a large, black kettle hung over the fire, some sort of mulligan stew was boiling. One could only guess what went into the pot.
Shortly after noon, the Gypsy women descended on the storekeeper in his little country grocery store. They all spoke some English, but not well. Mostly they conversed in their own language. They looked over every exposed item in the store and finally bought a few pounds of sugar and some tobacco. The women wore brightly colored, full-flowing dresses and leather sandals. They wore costume jewelry and had large earrings in their ears. Their features were dark, with flashing black eyes and disarming smiles. After they left, the storekeeper found that several items from his store were missing.
While the women were visiting the country store, some of the Gypsy men disappeared into the woods adjacent to the village, and soon appeared with some small game they had shot. Another group of the men went into a field of corn and came back with their arms full of roasting ears. They were gathering their evening meal.
All of this was strange to me and my friends. We saddled up our ponies and rode down to learn more about this strange group. Grandpa cautioned me to stay clear of them and not talk to them. Grandma gave the general call on the party line --- five long rings --- and alerted the neighborhood that a band of roving Gypsies had arrived.
After the Gypsies had prepared and eaten their evening meal, the men brought out their violins and began to play their beautiful, haunting music. They were joined by the women, with tambourines and castanets. Soon the children were dancing and singing around the campfire. It was quite a show for me and my friends.
That night, Grandpa closed and locked the chicken house and the fruit cellar. Grandma moved everything that was loose off the back porch and the clothesline. During the night, old Bowser sounded off with his watch-dog bark. But the next morning we could find nothing missing.
By morning, the word was out and a crowd began to gather. The Gypsy men approached some of the farmers to sell them some of the extra horses they had. It was soon apparent to me that they were sharp traders. Also, that there seemed to be something wrong with all the horses. The Gypsy women moved about the crowd attempting to sell handmade costume jewelry and to tell fortunes for a fee. They were friendly, outgoing and witty in their bantering way. As the crowd began to drift away, the violins and tambourines appeared and again the dancing began.
The roving band stayed two days and the next morning, bright and early, they were gone. They moved on to the next village to stay awhile. I was rather glad they came, as it was a new experience for me. Grandma and Grandpa were glad they were gone. So were the other farmers.