I’m working on a project about my grandmother’s life. A life that blossomed after WWII, with a narrative that reads like a movie, I had to pen this, it is like a fire growing inside me that I really can’t ignore. While working on this, I had a gentle nudge to involve my family, meaning aunts and uncles, my sister and cousins. I want their perspectives, and truly, their permission to run with this project. I want to give voice to everyone and create a collective group of memories that will honor my grandmother and grandfather. It’s a lot more difficult to work with people. I mean if I have liberty to make up the narrative as I think it happened, that’s one thing but when I begin to hear the real life stories of my family members, different perspectives, timelines, and experiences, it can be hard to find that part that melts it all together to create a story that exemplifies lives well-lived and honors those who were a part of it.
However, I received my dad’s stories about my grandma and growing up. They were interesting, funny and reflective. I will cherish the pages he sent in his very own writing, a piece of the history he remembers.
I’ve decided to start sharing snippets of my project here on my blog. So here is the first installment of these snippets. I started with this one, not necessarily having to do with my grandma, but an experience my dad remembered from his town in the 1960’s. This is my writing, mixed with his and my very own voice. I hope you enjoy.
-Jeff (mid to late 1960’s, Beckley, WV)
I slipped through the front door as quickly and quietly as I could. It had been a warm, fall day early in October and the moon was bright overhead. A breeze was floating through the trees as we kicked at rocks and made our way down to the L& B Supermarket, about a mile from our house.
We had seen them passing through for the past few days in their caravans. It was like something out of a movie, something from a wild world that we had never existed in. They had furniture and other goods that they made from wood and sold to people in our town. We felt like we were watching the most exotic, foreign people we could ever see in Beckley, West Virginia. We were watching real life gypsies. The girls were beautiful with their long hair and colorful clothing, like fairies floating through our town that would appear one day and be gone soon.
These people, that seemed to be transported from another world and time, lived amongst our very normal, regular community in Beckley, WV for a week or so out of the year. As if they were passing through to assess what they could and couldn’t take from the community, houses that were otherwise left unlocked, were safely locked tight. Mothers held their children’s hands a little tighter and fathers looked over their shoulders.
No matter how the community felt about these real life gypsies, I was so intrigued by them. It made me think about how other people lived, how they traveled and made a living, how their children went to school or maybe didn’t. What a life!
My neighbor and I continued to kick at the rocks as we made our way toward the L & B, knowing we probably shouldn’t be going-but here we were, embarking on an exotic adventure-or so we felt. I smiled and whistled a tune that I was learning on my guitar. I knew we didn’t have a lot of time but this was worth it.
We made our way past the L & B, where we could just make out the light of fire in the woods situated behind the supermarket. The smell of smoke and something that smelled a little like barbecue wafted through the air. We found a small crate behind the side of the supermarket and stood on our tiptoes to see through the trees that had now turned dark, like old spindly hands spreading their fingers to the sky.
As if on cue, someone started singing a song we had never heard, a guitar strumming along caught the melody and a tambourine held onto the beat. A few of the colorfully dressed women seemed to float up along with the music as they danced and sang. It was one of the most beautiful and strange sights I had ever encountered, right here behind the supermarket where my mom shopped every Tuesday.
We noticed some smaller children joining into the dance, walking and dancing around the fire with the women and a few men. Their makeshift tents were set up near the fire. I wondered how long they would be here and if the children had to be at school soon. Where did they bathe and where did they keep their food? My young mind raced with questions.
We watched for what seemed like a long time, through a few songs and dances, and we even tapped our own feet to the strange, tribal beat. We knew we had to get back and didn’t want to be seen by the gypsies or our parents out here on these old crates, spying like young boys do.
We climbed off the crates, making our way home, talking about what it would be like to travel the country like the gypsies and never have to go to school. We whistled a gypsy tune the rest of the way home.