Are you Gypsy?

Skirt I was wearing.
Skirt I was wearing.
The house on West Grand Blvd looked like this one.

The first time I met Gypsies was the summer of 1964. I was 17, wearing a patterned skirt, my hair was long then, pulled back in a clip. I had on gold hoop earrings. My sister Pearl and I were walking down West Grand Blvd. to the Main Library. We passed a house like the one pictured.  Three little girls ran off the porch and began to walk down the street with us.

“Are you Gypsy?” they asked me.  I wasn’t, I told them. My sister assured them that we weren’t. They weren’t talking to her, they said. Was I sure? I was sure. When we got to the first cross street, they turned and ran back to their house.

Several months later, an article came out in the Sunday Detroit Free Press Parade Magazine. There was a picture of the three little girls.  It was all about being a modern Gypsy in Detroit.  The man was their grandfather, identified as the head of their family’s clan.

In 1968 I was an art student at Wayne State.  I had been to the Utrecht art supply store on Woodward.  As I was on my way back to Campus, some women were sitting on the porch of a large house. They were wearing long skirts and of various ages.

“Want your fortune told?” One of them called out. What if it was a bad one? I thought. No, I called back and kept moving. I sometimes wonder what they would have told me was coming up if I had stopped.

In the early 1980s I was living in Mississippi. One summer afternoon, I was visiting my friend Carrie Ann, when a woman about my age came by in a pickup selling sets of hand made wooden porch furniture.  She had an incomplete set at a reduced rate and I bought it.  She drove them down the road to my house and said I reminded her of her cousin. She reminded me of my cousin Barbara, I told her.

No caravans of any kind were involved, but this is what I remembered when I saw the Sepia Saturday prompt for this week.

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58 thoughts on “Are you Gypsy?

  1. Sweet story about the 3 little girls. The gypsy lady in the pickup story reminds me why my wife keeps our patio (no porches here) furniture chained together !

    1. Nigel, they were making it themselves and selling it. It was all identical wooden stuff. The incomplete set I bought was missing a chair. It wasn’t stolen off of somebody’s patio.

  2. I am curious…..What made you keep that article all these years? Or did you go back and find it in the archives?

  3. The Roma (gypsies) are really struggling in some of the European countries. It has been an issue as some of the Eastern European countries want to join the European Union.

    1. I have a friend who spent years teaching in the Czech Republic and also traveled quite a bit there and in Romania and other Eastern European countries. He always travels as a person in the local would travel, never as a tourist. He had horrible and depressing stories to tell about the treatment of the Roma. I started to quote a few of his letters but decided to go with just my personal experience.

      1. I’ve learned a little bit about Roma culture in the U.S. and worldwide through some movies my son has worked on: _Searching for the 4th Nail_ by George Eli about Roma culture in the United States (which can be seen for $1.99 through Vimeo on Demand) and _Gypsy Caravan_ by Jasmine Dellal, which follows a group of Roma musicians on a U.S. concert tour, and then back to the countries each of them is from. _Searching for the 4th Nail_ is told from the point of view of a Roma man trying to learn about his history, but also trying to determine what parts of the culture to pass on to his own sons (and what not to pass on).
        Love the skirt, and the photo of the King with his grandchildren.

        1. I saw a movie online a few years ago that I wanted to link to but I can’t remember the name and couldn’t find it. These don’t sound like them – I think it ended with a wedding. I was beautiful but also, as I remember sort of sad. I’ll look for the two you mention.

  4. If you were wearing a colorful head scarf with the skirt and hoop earrings, the little girls wouldn’t had asked if you were a gypsy, they would have known you were. 🙂

    1. I probaby was wearing a colorful headscarf, along with the ever present hoop earrings but minus the skirt, when I met the woman with the furniture. Both of us were wearing jeans. 🙂

    1. Ha! Pearl sent me a birthday card once with a little baby with earrings on in a basket on a porch. It said something like “I hate to tell you but the Gypsies left you on our porch.” Strangely though my dna matches up to you mother and all the other relatives, so I guess not.

  5. I don’t think I ever encountered any gypsies, but I do remember there was a stereotype about them stealing children.

  6. Kristin:I understand your regret at not having your fortune read.But,I guess, what would have been fortold happened anyway? So,No Loss!:)
    I wish Someone mistook me for a Gypsy! It has never happened at all to me!:)

    1. Maybe. Perhaps if I’d had it read, what they told me would have influenced what I did and therefore the future. You’re right though, it should have matched up. I’ll never know.

      There’s still a chance you may be mistaken, maybe one day… 🙂

  7. That’s a great story; I wonder what would have happened if you’d said “Yes” to the little girls. You could have been part of the clan by now!

    1. I’m pretty sure the adults would have known immediately. If not, once they asked who’s your mother, who’s your father etc., I would have been busted.

  8. According to Augustus John, gypsy was a state of mind rather than an inherited gene – my words, but that’s what I interpret from his lifestyle choices.

    1. Talking about Romany Gypsies here, not the romantic version of the gypsy life as the free, wandering lifestyle. Being a Romany Gypsy would not be contingent on the traveling life.

    1. I don’t think I ever heard the Gypsy Barons, but I do remember the name. You don’t think those little girls, now in their 50s, remember the time they followed strangers down the street when they were 5? I don’t think they would either.

      So many memories are not shared by both people involved. Now I’ll go read the link. I guess since they were playing in 1929 that would explain why I hadn’t heard them.

      1. In 1929-30, the band’s head scarfs were a cliche for gypsy culture but authentic for them. I’ve seen many similarly dressed theatrical people from this era. So perhaps your gold earrings were a subtle miscue that the girls spotted. A head bandana might have really confused them.

  9. I enjoyed your post Kristin. As I said on mine, there was a tentative myth that my Grandmother’s family somewhere down the genetic line were gypsies and I used the prompt to try and start exploring that. Especially as the Drakeley family that appears in my Grandmothers line were canal workers and fairground workers.

    I didn’t unravel any secrets or facts one way or other, but I did write a few pages in my Grandmother’s memorial journal, something that I hadn’t done for a while.

  10. If my memory is correct it was white heather (for luck, they said) and wooden clothes pegs that the gypsies touted door to door. They only got to ours if the dogs weren’t there.

  11. If you’d claimed yourself as a gypsy wouldn’t you get free siding on your house? I love your Boho skirt…still in fashion today.

    1. In 1964? Even if I’d had a house of my own that needed siding, I don’t think those programs were around then.

  12. Your post reminded me of the “broomstick” dirndl skirts that were in vogue when I was in school. I thought them quite exotic. Dirndl was probably a misnomer, but that was what my mother called the skirt.

  13. You may not be gypsy and any good about telling the future,
    but you’re great at recalling the past.
    As far as fortune telling goes,
    I tried it once and what the woman told me was total bullsh^t.
    Cost me $40 to hear nonsense…

    1. If they’d been charging $40, I still would have missed it. Anyway, life went on with or without the foretelling.

  14. How interesting and funny that the 3 girls were gypsies. Maybe the gold hoop earrings gave you the air of familiarity!

    Two girlfriends and I went on a girls birthday weekend. One wanted to have our tarot cards read. Eh – I hate that stuff – but we all went anyway because it was HER birthday. The other girl and I got good readings but the birthday girl’s reading was BAD. Oh – awkward! Whose idea was this??

  15. Kristin,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your story. Some of the comments reminded me of an episode.

    In the early 1970’s, I was a teacher/chaperone for Upward Bound students visiting Mahattan (Columbia University) from Binghamton, NY.

    One of my students, very euro-gypsy looking, wanted to have her fortune read down in the Village. We went, she got a good read, I got a scary bad read. My cure was to cost more money. Forget that! LOL

    While we’re on the subject, have you seen the 1993 film ‘Latcho Drom’?
    It’s about the journey of the Romany people told through musicians and dancers of India, Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, France, and Spain.

    1. So I guess it’s just as well I walked on. If I got a bad fortune and had to pay to get the curse taken off, no good. Maybe ‘Latcho Drom’ is the movie I’m thinking of that i saw a few years ago. I’ll go take a look. It’s on youtube.

  16. Yes, you are a gypsy. No doubt about it. And that’s a compliment! Gypsy are noted for being free spirited, but you had a Cleage touch to it: A free MIND. Let me take this opportunity to thank you and your wonderful family for the ongoing project of freeing mine! (Smile.)

  17. I enjoyed reading this again – and all the comments underneath, which I probably missed first time round.

  18. I’m going to look for the films on gypsy life and history. I loved that skirt in 2013, still love it now.

  19. I had my fortune told once at a fair. I’m still waiting for it to come true. Back then I was kind of hoping it would. Now, I’m not so sure. So am I glad I had my fortune told? Maybe not. That first pic’ of you in the printed skirt & white blouse is so ’60s! Love it!!

  20. Yes, it is fun to visit not only our “way back” past in photos, but a SS from 2013, and all the comments. I remember posting some caravan/varda pics for that one! And I still have some floral colorful skirts, but haven’t ever worn hoop earrings. The Roma have had quite a time of it, and with more refugees now, it probably is more difficult.

  21. A good story retold is still a good story. I’ve encountered a few more references since 2013 to the Roma people of the Detroit area. Their heritage certainly adds a special spice to American culture.

  22. Very sweet that the gurls thought you could be a gypsy like themselves. I didn’t know there were gypsies in the States. They have been badly treated in the UK, always being told to move on.

  23. A great story and I’m amazed you found that photo of the three little girls. I am taken with the stack of bangle bracelets one of the girls is wearing — and I’m sure I would have remembered them, too. Very enjoyable to read a bit of memoir like this after reading about your ancestors. Your writing is very versatile!

    1. I do mix things up between my ancestors and my own memories. The bracelets look like plastic. I wouldn’t be surprised I they were just for play. I recognized them right off when they appeared in the Sunday Parade magazine not too long after I met them.

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