A van full of gypsies


1963 ish. Give or take a year.

My family stopped at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant on our way home to New York from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

We were seated next to a parking lot view window and ordered lunch. A truck, similar to a large US mail truck, pulled up outside our window. The back door slid open and a large group of colorfully dressed, somewhat dark skinned people (mostly women) jumped out of the truck.

“Oh, shit!”, yelled my Dad.

Dad grabbed Mom’s purse and stuffed it next to his wall facing leg. He instructed us to keep any wallets or purses buried deep inside our pockets.

My siblings exchanged glances in clueless wonder. The group of people walked slowly down the aisle past our table toward the restrooms.

Once they were in the restroom, our Dad spoke up…

“Gypsies….you MUST hide anything of value or they will steal it.”

This was our first exposure to gypsies, and to be honest, I have not seen them many times since. But when I have, I stuck my wallet down the front of my pants.

Occasionally, the word ‘gypsy’ would pop up at our dinner table- always from my Dad, and always when speaking about a young female acquaintance.

“Well, what do you expect? She’s got gypsy blood.”

Now, regretfully, I never asked Dad to elaborate. Not sure if he would have, or could have.

In 1971, all of my limited gypsy memories came to the forefront with the release of the song “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” by Cher. Cher’s anguished interpretation pretty much confirmed what Dad said.


Dad’s habit of associating personal traits with one’s heritage definitely did not end with gypsies.

Anyone with an alcohol problem had some Irish in them (he disregarded the fact that we were half Irish), and anyone with a mean streak was certain to be part or all German (Oh, how those Bodtman’s were brutalized by Dad) . And unfortunately, if someone was a bit lacking in intelligence, they MIGHT be Polish.

Now, even though he combined these opinions with other less then wonderful opinions of black people, I am here to tell you that I really don’t think he was a bigot. It did not matter what race or ethnicity you were, he would stop and talk you into a coma when at the village square. And he really did want to know how you were doing, and what your kids were up to.

As for the gypsies, the last I heard was an unfortunate incident from a manager of a grocery store. Apparently, a group of gypsies set up a diversion by urinating on an aisle floor while others stuffed items under their dresses.

And this apparently was all on video.

Or so he said.

Maybe I can find something a bit more flattering.

For next time


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