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The Mysterious Gypsy
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The Mysterious Gypsy
Among old photos of Northern people, an exotic gypsy's photo appears. Who is she?
[1,457 words]
Liilia Morrison
Writer and artist living in South Florida
[August 2016]
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Garlic, Ginger And Golden Seal (Short Stories) An old woman's recipe for a long life [1,868 words] [Mystery]
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The Mysterious Gypsy
Liilia Morrison

It was years later that I discovered it. Rediscovered, I should say, because I had seen this old photo many times before. When mother and later father, died, we ended up with odd boxes and albums of photos and memorabilia. My brother probably took none of them. My sister, however, took quite a few. She had a chest full of some very choice family photos. I ended up with what was left. It's not that my siblings are uncaring or callous; it's just how it was then. Brother had never been into mementos. Probably many, if not most children of deceased parents don't care to wade through old things that mean very little. During the time of the parting, the family is usually more concerned with the will, the house, the funeral arrangement and the other unpleasant details of a death. Photos don't seem to hold a high priority at that time.

If your family is like mine, too late you regret never having asked whom this or that person was in a photo, when did mother go to the mountains, or why did dad marry her. You know, stuff like that. When the parents are alive, it seems kind of embarrassing to ask questions that might hint at the idea that you are doing it just in case they leave this world and you just want to get the facts straight. No, we were too polite to do that. It may also be that one doesn't really think the parent, the one who has nurtured you from day one, will leave, and perhaps sooner than you think. In this day and time, family gatherings usually deal with the present, since many families live separated by states if not cities or counties. And that is as it should be.

Of course, after a hearty pork roast dinner with sauerkraut and potatoes, when the wine and cakes are brought out, the old man would puff on his pipe and recall fond memories of the past. As the fragrant smell of cherry Prince Albert filled the air and mother finished putting the dishes away, we would sit in the living room and listen to the same tales, told every time we visited. We loved to hear them just the same.

Well, I shouldn't call those memories fond. Not a single story had to do with good times. The biggest laughs and pleasures were squeezed out of the hard times, the times when there was no bread, no shelter, no security. I must say I looked forward to the smiles and grins on my father's face as he recounted, word by word, a well worn story from forty, fifty years ago. The older he got, the more the stories went back in time. In his last year on this earth, he even mentioned how he, as a baby, had been brought to their new home in a basket lined with lamb's wool.

In that last year, I tried to get names of places from my father, but it was too late for that. It was now time to change his bedding, wheel him to the doctor and arrange for day nurses while his children were busy making a living. The call, the inevitable call came from a young, angelic looking Russian day nurse.

Time took its course, and finally the arrangements were in place, the house divided, the will settled and we were left disoriented, numb. He had, after all, been the patriarch. It was he who told us what colors to wear, whom to marry and who was the family bum.

Soon enough my brother and sister went off to their lives and I to mine. From time to time I would contact them, or they me, but it was quite obvious that we were branches without a tree trunk. The old oak, like that old oak around which Basques held their councils, fell.

Life has a way of regenerating. As the Basques planted a new oak, so our lives turned over a new leaf, if you will forgive the pun. I cannot speak for my siblings, but slowly I began to feel the spirit of poetry arising in me. I began to feel the spirit of telling stories. And very gradually, I began to paint. Oh yes, I had been the painter of the family, the talent. But I was also the one who didn't paint or do much of anything but survive most of my life. All this, while father reprimanded me for not painting. I am sure he placed similar well-intentioned burdens on the shoulders of my brother and sister.

Was it last year that I finally waded through my papers and boxes and found the old letters, photos and even my father's old wallet with tickets from fifty years ago? It was a lazy, summer afternoon. I had just finished a cup of peppermint tea. Most of the papers I had some idea about. Here was the old homestead, there a letter from an great-aunt to my mother, her favorite. Here an aunt, there an uncle, a grandfather.

I casually flipped through another stack of yellow-brown photos. There was that odd little postcard. It had meant nothing to me. My sister had chosen not to take it. It was just another little memento. My eyes had been tired from straining at the faded notes and images. Mostly to rest my eyes, I stared at this postcard, letting my mind wander where it might.

One side had three words scribbled on it. I'm not sure what they were. The other side was a profile of a young woman. I looked with amazement at the many ribbons and jewels dripping from her hair, her little tight cap hiding thick, long hair. There were rows of pearls wrapped tightly around her neck. Her vest, possibly velvet, was decorated with seed pearls and other embroidery. She was tan, exotic looking. She had to be a gypsy.

But we knew no gypsies. I had never heard mother or father speak of any family that was not the plain, northern type. Our women's fanciest jewels were a gold wedding band, or possibly a necklace or brooch worn to a wedding or church. This young woman was decked in the most wonderful, bohemian looking décor. But that wasn't what really caught my attention.

I looked up as the lazy afternoon sun cast dusty shadows in my room. Then I look a long moment, trying hard to focus on this postcard. Now her expression began to take on a life of its own. That was really strange because, as I said, it was a profile. She wasn't looking at you. She was gazing at something or perhaps at nothing. The more I looked, the more mysterious this image became. In my memory, nobody from our village or county was from somewhere else. We had all been pretty close to the land, plain people. We had lived like this for centuries.

Had there been a gypsy troupe that had gone through our farm? I knew of itinerant photographers, barbers and such, who would travel from farm to farm selling their wares and services. Could some gypsies have come through and my parents just never mentioned it. After all, gypsies have not had the best reputation, though as one gypsy woman pronounced to a non-gypsy, "We steal with our hands, you steal with your pen." I suppose she meant that we all have a bit of larceny in us.

I never did find out who she was or what her picture was doing in our family mementoes. I paint pictures of her now and try to capture that indefinable look, the look that is not even directed at the viewer. Was she born out of wedlock, a child never mentioned, to a farmer who fell for a gypsy's charms? I know that gypsy women are treated extremely harshly if they are found to not be virgins upon marriage. Was there some terrible tragedy in our family or among our kin that no one would mention?

As I walked into the kitchen to fix another cup of tea, I tried to dismiss these fanciful ideas. It was probably just a pretty picture someone picked up and it ended up in one of the old boxes. My parents are long gone. Since they lived to be very old, nobody else from that generation is around to tell. Even if they were, they would probably just look at me with a blank stare and say, "I have no idea."

I don't know where the gypsy picture came from. Nor do I know the source of a sentence running through my mind; "There are answers in old photographs."


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© 2007 Liilia Morrison
May 2007

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