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franklin county times

Old South: The Gypsies come calling

By Elton Camp

The day after the arrival of the Gypsies, two of the women, along with a two-year old girl, began to visit homes. The presence of the child lessened apprehension. Their objective was to obtain items of value or money. Southern hospitality, combined with a superstitious dread of a “Gypsy curse,” caused most people to open their doors to them.

“Do you have anything you can give us?” they asked Mrs. Heaton.

The widow had little to share, but recalled Jesus’ advice to give to the poor. Perhaps He’d want her to help. If she refused, they might put a hex on her. She’d heard of that being done.

“Come ’n ’n’ I’ll see whut I kin find t’ spare,” she replied.

She presented the women with some potatoes and onions and gave a piece of peppermint candy to the child.

“We have no money to pay for these fine things, but I want to help you,” the older Gypsy woman offered. “I will tell you about your life and the future.”

Superstitious people generally believed that Gypsies had power to tell fortunes. The crone, with colorful scarves and dangling earrings, deliberately dressed to fit the part.

“Let me look at your hand,” she requested in a tone that allowed no refusal. Mrs. Heaton extended her shaking hand, palm up.

The Gypsy traced four lines on her palm and named each. “I see the heart line, the head line, the life line, and finally the fate line.”

The woman went on to speak in generalities about present and future matters. She adapted her statements to what she could see or surmise about the woman.

“Your children sometimes disappoint you, but you love them. You’ll be coming into a little money, but expect problems in your life. Sickness will come, but you’ll recover. Something unexpected will happen and you must decide what to do.”

The Gypsy watched her reaction and continued with broad statements that could apply to almost any person.

“Sometimes you are friendly and like to be around people, but at other times you want to be alone. You have learned not to let neighbors know what you think. You want people to speak well of you.”

Mrs. Heaton took the generalities and applied them, with amazement, to specific aspects of her life.

“If you truly appreciate knowing these things, you should reward me in some way. Perhaps a little money?” the woman coaxed. Soon she was on her way with a few jingling coins in her pocket.

“I declare, they purt ner knew everythin’ ’bout me,” Mrs. Heaton confided to a neighbor that afternoon. “Hit was jest shockin,’ like she could see rite inside me.”

A few Roma weren’t above outright stealing. Milas entered Poe’s Store to find the proprietor standing behind the counter with a blank stare. An older Gypsy woman stood beside him, opening the cash drawer.

“Whut air y’u doin’?  Git out o’ heer rite now,” he ordered.

She spit out a sentence in Romany and began to stare into his eyes and point the fingers of both hands in his direction.

“Y’u can’t hypnotize me like y’u done him. Git away from thar. Keep yore hand out o’ th’ cash drawer.”

The woman slowly backed away empty-handed, all the time muttering under her breath. The business owner, left in a state of hypnosis, didn’t feel normal for several days. He recalled little about the incident.

Milas reported the crime to the sheriff who cut short the visit of the band. “Don’t be comin’ back heer enny more,” he ordered the group’s leader.

It was an empty threat since the victim was unable to testify, but it had the desired result. The caravan continued its travels, but only far enough to be out of the jurisdiction of the local sheriff. Despite the warning, it reappeared the next year.

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