Gypsies In Town

In the war years of the 1940’s, I live in the small town of Mamaroneck.  Gypsies come to town most summers.  There’s an open field near Mamaroneck High where they set up camp.  They arrive over several days in cars with tents and a few trucks with trailers.  Many arrive in closed wagons, painted and decorated in once bright colors and, to me, mysterious looking scrolling designs and flowers.  Those wagons are pulled by large, well-cared for horses.  Gas is scarce during the war and hay is cheap.

Mom says they are families that come together for marriages.  She warns the Gypsies steal children and I’m to play in the backyard while they’re in town.  I want to go to the Gypsy camp but I’ve only seen it when we drive by.  I’m not allowed to visit there when Mom and Nan go.  They say I’m too young.  The two of them whisper together about the camp and it’s possible dangers: pickpockets, child-stealers and black magic spells; but it doesn’t stop the two of them from going to have their fortunes told and later whispering together about their future.

When the camp is in town, a very handsome Gypsy man comes to our street with a pony cart and a bell he rings.  We know he’s here to take us kids on rides for a quarter.  One time he has a monkey on his shoulder too. Mom lets me ride in the cart all the way down the block and back.  The pony’s buff colored with a long brushed light blonde mane and a braided tail.   It’s glossy fur looks like gold in the afternoon sunlight. The cart is painted shiny black like my patent leather Sally pumps, with some delicate designs in gold paint.  The seats have red plush cushions with gold fringe.  The harness and fittings are polished leather with silver.  To my innocent eyes, it’s the height of elegance.

I take my seat alone in the cart, touching the softness of the red plush spread around me.  The driver turns to me and smiles, his big black mustache is long and soft looking—much handsomer than Pop’s grey and red one—and his teeth shine white against his dark skin.  He flicks his whip over the pony’s head and we begin our leisurely trip to one end of the long block and back. He walks next to the cart with a whip in one hand and the other on the harness to make sure the pony doesn’t steal me, a delighted little girl with blonde curls and a missing front tooth.  He walks at a slow pace, the pony clopping next to him, and I notice he has a ring in one ear, pierced.  I’ve never seen a pierced ear before.  It’s almost as fascinating as the pony and cart.

As we turn the bend in the road,  Mom and Nan and our house disappear from sight. The big maple and oak trees on either side wave their canopy over Stuart Avenue and change it from a country street to a far-away place.  The sun filtering through the leaves dance shadows across my private coach, surely a magic spell transporting us…somewhere else.  The lazy summer air fills with the drone of bees, birds and insects, the hum of a few cars or an occasional truck left with enough gas during these war years to drive the Boston Post Road, and the clop-clop of the pony on its slow journey.  Several orange and black butterflies come and visit this strange entourage.

The Gypsy turns back to make sure I’m still there.  I’ve been very quiet.  He smiles.  I smile back.  A tear slides down my cheek.  I’m so thrilled with this adventure I can’t control the joy.  All by myself.  No one else to share the magic with.  I imagine for these special moments I’m transported beyond imagination into the reality of my mind: a princess riding in a magical coach.

We go to the corner of Sophia Street and turn around.  A dog barks off in the distance, probably chasing something down by Guion Creek.  No cars pass us.  No one is on the street or in their yards.  We have the whole road to ourselves.  I look around our neighborhood for the first time with total clarity and see the Victorian houses, the large three story monsters with verandas that lace around them, gliders on some, others with a chair or two to catch the cooling summer air in the stifling heat of summer.  Two story houses, country farm style sprawling into lawns that languish down the hill in back to touch the creek.  A 1920’s French replica with stucco and odd shaped roof-line, and then our house, Mom calls it a Dutch Colonial.  Mom and Nan standing on the sidewalk talking together as they wait for me to return from my journey.  I can see them as soon as we clear the bend.  They turn and wave.

My coach stops in front on the welcoming slate step, crooked and raised on one end as if punched by a giant’s fist, but really a root from the tall maple that shades our front walk. Mom and Nan have been joined by Gongie, my grandmother.  They stop talking to greet me, their princess, as is my due.  I’m smiling so hard I fear my cheeks will crumble under the pressure.

Feet once more on solid ground, I turn and grab the man around the waist and hug him as  I whisper so only he can hear, “Oh, thank you, it was especially wonderful.”  He seems shy and a bit stiff but he pats me on the head and says nothing.  Do Gypsies speak our language? I wonder.

“Did you have fun?” Mom asks as she hands the man a quarter, plus a generous ten cent tip.

“Oh yes.”  My eyes must still be shining, not dimmed by the fading magic of the ride.  “It was wonderful. Thank you Mom.”  I sigh.  A princess must be gracious.

He turns the cart back down the street and I wave goodbye to him.  He waves back with a grin.

I give all three of them a hug before I sweep majestically up the walk.

It takes almost two days before the glow of my journey fades.  By then the Gypsies have packed up their tents and wagons, gone to places unknown.  I cross my fingers and with eyes closed, wish very hard that the Gypsies come back again next year.

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Mexican Patio Concert

The sliding glass door opens to my patio. Dog beds scatter the cracked stone floor while leaves skitter across, stopping only for a detour around a chair, a table, anything in their way.

Seconds ago rude birds intruded on the mornings silence in cacophony almost painful to the ears. Now it’s quiet. Cat on the prowl? The birds have no respect for the four small patio dogs, knowing their jumping skills are limited to the dining room table when no one is looking to guard a cake left in the middle, a wedge cut out perfectly for a snout to forage in.
There once was a Jack Russell Terrier on the patio who, in his youth, could snag a bird mid-flight, faster than an eye could blink he’d have a grin on his doggy face and feathers out each side of his mouth. He’s long gone, beyond bird memory, and when he was on this patio he was too old for bird-snagging, slow with arthritis and half blind with age.

No, must be a cat on the prowl.
The school across the street is quiet. No singing, no children’s voices lilting “Frere Jacques” over the fence and across the street. Quiet. Where have the birds gone?
A car passes in the street. One of those non-bird-catching dogs jumps on a tarp protecting the outdoor loveseat. It’s plastic creaks and crumples in complaint. Somewhere close, maybe a block or so away, a loud bang breaks the silence left by birds. Backfire? Firecracker? Gunshot? Neighbor dogs bark up and down the fraccionamiento, but the patio dogs are silent. They save their voices for skateboarders. The bang must be too far away, outside their zone to protect.
An electric saw rumbles nearby. Could be home repair. Maybe a new roof to brave the winter rains? Maybe a new house bringing a new family to a once empty lot. New dogs to join the Hound Chorale as they stake their verbal claim.
But cats challenge both birds and dogs in the contest of who or what makes the most noise. Late at night, on the verge of sleep, lights out and two patio dogs snuggled close, the howling, yowling, crying, screeching begins. Generally close—outside my bedroom window. For some reason unknown to me, my corner attracts skateboarders and fornicating cats. The skateboarders own the day, the cats the night. Thankfully, the dogs remain respectfully quiet when the cats sing. Perhaps they are jealous or maybe enjoy vicariously the thrill of mating. Perhaps they don’t give a fig about cats.
One day we had a feral kitten in the bushes. It was thrown there by someone. To feed the dogs? Maybe they thought with four dogs one cat wouldn’t be noticed?
Two days, two friends, many scratches and several cat traps later this three-quarter pound angry soul was out of the planter and into a home where it was appreciated. Neither the dogs nor I appreciate cats. It was cute, as kittens can be. No thanks.
Still no birds. An occasional car. Children’s voices chatter far in the distance. A loudspeaker on a truck chants its presence in and out of hearing. The saw quiets.

My coffee cup is empty. Time to take a shower. No patio concert to miss.