Friday, November 1, 2013

True Confession: I threatened to sell my child to the gypsies!

True Confession: I threatened to sell my child to the gypsies!

Back in the day, during my folk music phase, I used to sing this song, accompanied by guitar:

The gypsy rover came over the hill

Down through the valley so shady,

He whistled and he sang 'til the greenwoods rang,

And he won the heart of a lady.


Ah-de-do, ah-de-do-da-day,

Ah-de-do, ah-de-da-ay

He whistled and he sang 'til the greenwoods rang,

And he won the heart of a lady.

She left her father's castle gates

She left her own fine lover

She left her servants and her state

To follow the gypsy rover.

Her father saddled up his fastest steed

And roamed the valleys all over

Sought his daughter at great speed

And the whistling gypsy rover.

He came at last to a mansion fine,

Down by the river Claydee

And there was music and there was wine,

For the gypsy and his lady.

"He is no gypsy, father dear"

"But lord of these lands all over,

And I shall stay 'til my dying day

With my whistling gypsy rover."

Of course, in this song the handsome  rover turns out to be a wealthy, landed lord traveling in disguise as a gypsy, and all ends happily. I’m assuming the father was thrilled with his new son-in-law once he digested the startling truth.

I used to picture gypsies as the characters featured in poetry, as well as folk and fairy tales. I imagined them as romantic, handsome, passionate and fiercely loyal. I have since had some first-hand encounters with European gypsies that have been less than romantic. But that is now.

Back to then: When #2 Son was a toddler, he knew which of Mom's buttons to push, and I'd get get frustrated with his behavior. That’s an understatement. He had/has a very strong personality and wasn’t the most compliant of children. On occasion I would threaten to sell him to the gypsies. He claims he doesn’t remember this, so I don’t think it traumatized him (not like the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, which still petrify him).

Now he has an adorable headstrong toddler of his own and I don’t have to say a thing. Not a thing. I just smile.

Back to the gypsies: I read of a recent case in which a gypsy encampment near Greece was searched for stolen goods, and a little blonde, blue-eyed girl with fair skin caught the attention of authorities. What was she doing in this band of dark-haired, dark-eyed gypsies? DNA tests have shown she isn’t the biological child of the couple who are raising her, but that she was born to another Roma couple and informally adopted. So this little fair-haired girl is of gypsy heritage after all. 

In light of this story, though, parents of missing children have expressed renewed hope that their children are still alive and living within other cultures. Recently, in wake of the incident in Greece, two children in from Irish Traveler families were removed from their homes until DNA testing proved they belonged to their parents.  

Fear breeds fear.
I’ve done some reading, and it appears that 800 years ago, groups of olive-skinned, dark-haired people migrated from India to various parts of Europe. They were called Roma or Romani. Their original language has Indian roots. Most Europeans weren’t very accepting or trusting of these new, exotic-looking people, so they were forced to adopt a nomadic lifestyle and professions that didn’t require permanent homes. 

The men were noted for many skills such as tinkering, and raising and training animals. The women were famous for fortune telling. Gypsy music ranged from happy dancing tunes, often accompanied by violin, guitar and accordion, and ballads passed from one generation to another in the oral tradition. Sometimes called Travelers, they were known for their fine horses, colorful wagons, beautiful women and lively music. The women wore shawls, scarves, jangly jewelry, multi-tired skirts, and peasant blouses with flowing sleeves. They often went barefoot until the snow began to fall. Today, trailers have replaced many of the colorful wagons.

The stereotype of a gypsy man resembles Johnny Depp, who played the romantic guitar-playing gypsy in Chocolat: dressed all in black and oozing testosterone.

In the British Isles, Travelers are outsiders. When they try to book venues for weddings and other parties, and the owners of the businesses discover they’re dealing with Travelers, they find reasons to back out of their agreements.

Given their lack of acceptance by other groups, gypsies tended to keep to themselves, and marriage outside of their clans was forbidden. Children were valued and everyone in the community felt a responsibility for them. Traditional schooling was discouraged for fear the children would lose their Gypsy values and culture. Gypsy populations, like many other minorities, were decimated by the Holocaust.

There are many similar groups of people in the world: minorities, not accepted by the general population, forced to adapt to less than advantageous conditions, and fiercely protective of their own children, values, traditions, and cultures.

My own western pioneer ancestors left Illinois and Missouri and crossed the plains to find a better life for themselves. But when they were established in the west, they didn't welcome outsiders into their tight inner circles. Their treatment of the “Gentiles” was unfriendly. 

It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen throughout history. For example, the original Puritans came to our shores in 1620 for the purpose of religious freedom, but they didn’t extend it to others who were not of their faith. And so it goes.

On a recent trip to Finland I saw a gypsy woman at a grocery store. She wore the typical heavy long multi-tiered black velvet skirt.  Her bodice was made of a black and white cotton print, trimmed with white lace, and it glittered with numerous silver buttons. Her long, dark hair with threads of silver was pinned into a loose disheveled bun, and her face was creased with worry lines. She looked like any other overworked homemaker who was clipping coupons, providing for her family, and wondering what to cook for dinner that night.

Stereotyping by race, ethnicity, language and culture is just too easy to do. Why do we do it, I wonder? Maybe it makes us feel more secure, more right, more justified with our own lifestyles.

And about that empty threat, that I would sell my adorable but challenging son to the gypsies: If I could go back in time, I’d just give him a timeout. 

Maybe I'd give one to his mom, too.

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