Excerpt from Chapter 1

American Gypsy

George and Harold stood on either side of the gas pump waiting for the next vehicle to come past the general store. So far none of the carnival trucks had stopped, but a man and woman with an assortment of colorful two-by-fours and plywood panels lashed to the roof of their thirty-two Chevy had pulled in for gas. The dust from the store’s front lot was still hovering in the hot summer air where their car had rejoined the paved highway heading toward Monroe, Louisiana when another car, this one pulling a trailer house, came into view.

“Thirty-seven Plymouth,” Harold announced.

“Could be a thirty-eight,” said George, who felt that the young stock boy should be less decisive in his pronouncements to the store clerk.

“Thirty-seven,” Harold insisted. “Grill goes clear down to the bumper. Thirty-eight doesn’t.”

“Well, at least you know it’s not this year’s model.”

“Course not,” said Harold. “Thirty-nine’s got a whole different body on it.”

Mr. Simpson, the proprietor of the general store, stood on the covered front porch looking at the backs of his two employees as they watched the little dust devils stirred up along the edge of the pavement by the passing car and trailer. Then they glanced behind them, saw Mr. Simpson watching them, and quickly returned to the store.

Another car, a four-door Buick pulling a trailer house, turned off the pavement with a creaking of springs and a grinding of the trailer hitch and came to rest beside the gas pump. As all four doors began to open, Mr. Simpson turned his head toward the store’s open door and called, “George! Harold! Get back out here!”

“What is it?” George asked.

“Gypsies,” replied Mr. Simpson.

Harold asked, “What should we do?”

“Watch ’em like a hawk.”

They saw Victor emerge from the driver’s seat, briefly stretching and bending while his arms hung loose, then shrugging comfortably as he walked around the front of the car and into full view. He was in his late twenties, of average height, with a head of black hair that would have seemed more appropriate framing a swarthier and less amiable-looking face. He wore the ordinary clothes of a respectable workman.

From the passenger side of the front seat, Theresa swung one foot out onto the running board and, slightly lifting the hem of her long multi-colored skirt, stepped down to the ground. The three males on the porch admired the young woman: the contours which were emphasized by the cut and cling of her white peasant blouse; her long light-brown hair tied behind her neck with a gold-colored ribbon; and the gentle smile on her pretty face which never diverted attention very long from the intensity of her brown eyes.

The golden hoops dangling from Theresa’s ear lobes swayed as she turned to help five-year-old Peggy out of the front seat. Peggy’s black hair and impish features went well with her twinkling blue eyes and the energy with which she leaped off the running board.

Seven-year-old Leah, climbing out of the back seat, shared Peggy’s impish features; but something of the intensity of Theresa’s eyes was present in the blue eyes that peered out through Leah’s tangle of blonde hair as she stepped gracefully out of the car.

Peggy and Leah wore play clothes typical of children their age; but Mama Livorna, the elderly woman who slowly and carefully followed Leah out of the back seat, wore a full skirt similar to Theresa’s and a finely crocheted shawl over her ivory-colored blouse. Her gray hair was braided, coiled, and pinned up. She wore silver hoops in her ears, multiple silver bands at both wrists, and a variety of rings on her fingers.

Nine-year-old Steven, a scaled-down version of Victor, came around the back of the car from the driver’s side. He stood a moment looking down at the tongue of the trailer before bending slightly at the knees and then vaulting over it, landing gracefully on both feet and extending his arms with a modest bow to acknowledge the cheers of an imaginary audience.

. . . .

“Hey, mister!” Leah’s voice came from behind a row of high shelves. “How much you want for this?”

George hurried around the end of the row of shelves and found her holding a galvanized bucket.

“That’s seventy-five cents,” he told her. Then he noticed Steven trying on caps at the far end of the row and hurried toward him saying, “Please don’t try them on unless you’re planning to buy one.”

A loud crash behind George caused him to whirl around.

“Sorry,” Leah said as she stooped to pick up the bucket she’d dropped. While George’s back was turned, Steven tucked a cap inside his shirt.

“Hey, mister!” Peggy called from another part of the store. “You got any candy bars?”

George hurried to where Peggy’s voice had come from and led her to the candy racks at the front of the store. As she explored the choices, Steven called, “Hey, mister! You got any jackknives?”

As George turned toward Steven’s new location, Peggy slipped a candy bar inside her dress.

Mr. Simpson hurried into the store shouting, “What are these kids doing in here? Get ’em out right now!”

George, pointing at Peggy, said, “I think this one stuck a candy bar inside her dress.”

Theresa returned from the back room followed by Harold as Victor and Mama Livorna came in from outdoors. Victor frisked Peggy, retrieved the candy bar, and handed it to Mr. Simpson saying, “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know where she learned such a thing. But she’ll be punished.”

Peggy cried and tried to squirm out of her father’s grasp but succeeded only in knocking over one of the candy racks as Steven’s voice came from across the store asking, “Hey, mister! How much is this?”

As George and Mr. Simpson tried to locate Steven, Victor helped Harold pick up the scattered candy bars and in the process stuffed several inside Peggy’s dress.

Mama Livorna tried ineffectually to round up the children but kept getting in the way of George, Harold, and Mr. Simpson. Each time she realized that she was blocking their view of the children, she apologized profusely and, moving as well as she could in her enfeebled condition, eased around behind them.

Victor told Peggy, “Go get in the trailer.”

“Okay, Papa,” she replied cheerfully and scampered out of the store. Theresa herded Steven and Leah toward the door. George, Harold, and Mr. Simpson followed Theresa out onto the porch and stood watching as Victor opened the trailer door. Mama Livorna slipped past them to join Theresa, who took her elbow and helped her down the steps and out to the car.

. . . .

Mr. Simpson and his two employees watched as the car and trailer creaked and groaned out onto the highway and picked up speed before they went back inside the store.

. . . .

As Victor shifted up through the gears, Theresa reached through an unseen slit among the folds of her skirt and withdrew a frying pan. Then she raised the hem of her skirt, revealing baggy bloomers extending to below her knees. She stretched the elastic band on one leg of the bloomers and out fell three bars of soap, a roll of toilet paper,two cans of fruit, and a rolled-up shirt which had all entered the bloomers by way of the slit in the skirt. From the other leg of the bloomers she produced two loaves of bread, another roll of toilet paper, and two more cans of fruit.

In the back seat, from a similar repository, Mama Livorna brought forth a small bag of flour, a pair of work gloves,two scarves, two balls of twine, and three hand towels.

. . . .

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