Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The trail of the gypsies

I have had a lifelong fascination with gypsies. The roots of this intrigue likely sprouted in the early ‘60s, nurtured by movies that featured sly, rugged men and women with enough world-stopping beauty to keep me inside on a Savannah Saturday afternoon. As I think about the genesis of my interest, I suppose a tad can also be attributed to my parents. The looks of my mother, whose dark, wavy hair, and eyes like charred bark, reminded me of the movie stars on our black and white tv. Also, my father, whose own dark curls glistened with Brylcreem, when he was home long enough for me to see the shine, as he was more often than not a coming-and-going man, for someone who was a sergeant in the Air Force. They fought a bit and then divorced, with him going off to the luxury of war and Asian women, her not really existing with five kids in poverty. My mother did, however, add a nomadic lifestyle to the lives of her kids. We packed and moved with the gypsy moon. For me, the rambling stopped when I was in the eighth grade, after which I never lived under her roof again.

However, when I was in the sixth grade, I met Brenda, who said her mother was a gypsy, and she was darkly beautiful and mysterious enough, tightly packed into colorful and flouncy dresses and underneath, what seemed like, pounds of jewelry. They were from Pascagoulah. The two of them lived a few trailers away from us for only a few months. I came home one day, went to their place and, POOF!, they were gone. A midnight gypsy wind whisked them to a destination unknown to any of the neighbors.

Over the years songs have kept the elusive wanderers traveling through my thoughts. Brian Hyland, with Gypsy Woman, Cher and her Gypsies Tramps and Thieves and Fleetwood Mac’s Gypsy renewed old daydreams to current times.

I continue to have a here-again/gone-again relationship with the gypsies. Last week, along a country road in Ohio I spotted what I was certain was a small band of adults and children. There were, perhaps, a dozen individuals total, crossing from one wooded area on the north side to another, on the south side. They were carrying nothing. The location was a good distance from the nearest village, which led me to believe they were not a group of homeless people. Also, I caught glints and shimmers shooting from the arms and necks of the women and girls, all in the Brenda’s-mom fashion. Local folks out for a walk would not adorn themselves in such attire for a jaunt in the forest. By the time I drove to the place where they crossed, I could see nothing in the dusky density of the foliage; so, I turned around, found a place to park, grabbed my camera and set out to find them.

It was a fruitless journey in the beginning and I was losing hope. I eventually fell upon the trail, by happenstance. The animals along the way seemed unafraid and as I approached a squirrel I saw a small bead, dropped on the path. When I stooped to pick it up my eye caught dull flickers of light reflect off the oak canopy in the distance. That was the spot where the people were warming themselves around a small fire. Voices were low; faces had a tawny glow from the golden flames. I settled into a thicket and watched, not sure of my safety, should I approach the group. From there I could hear the low mumbles of the men and the reserved responses of women. The children were mostly silent and, eventually, huddled near an adult. I became weary and shifted my body, snapping a couple small twigs. A stocky man stood, held up both arms about chest high, with open hands directed at the others. There was an instant death thrown on the chatter. He walked slowly around the perimeter of the campfire light and, through squinted eyes,  peered into the forest and undergrowth. When he approached my spot, and got within maybe ten feet, he extended his arms fully to his front, hands still open, and uttered words in a language I did not understand. He backed up a few steps, tuned and rejoined the group. The next thing I remember was waking, at the beginning of dawn.

The embers of their small fire still had heat wafting in the early morning slant. Once again, I was foiled in my attempt to socialize with those who have always seemed to me to be the most social. I made my way through the foggy woods, returned to the car and drove to the village, where, by complete luck, I observed the gypsies entering, under the lifting mist, into a tavern, its neon sign offering a lazy glow through the haze. The fog within me, however, was dissipating much slower than the dampness of nature, I hesitated, decided to wait before entering the tavern. After thirty minutes or so, I grabbed my camera and courage, walked through the front door and looked around. The seats and booths were empty. “Sit anywhere you like. What can I get for you this morning?” called a man from near the rear of the place. “I am here to see some people who came in a little while ago.”  He walked towards me, “Well, you ain’t here to see anyone, then. You’re the first person for breakfast on this foggy morn. So, traveler, how you want your eggs? Those come with bacon or sausage and toast or biscuit.”