I don’t believe I ever told you about the Gypsies that traveled to my hometown each year.
Yes, it’s true. Every year they would come and camp out in our small park with its big oak trees west of town.
There were usually three or four wagons pulled by horses. The wagons were decorated in various colors, kind of like circus wagons. Usually they came in the summer, but one year they showed up around Thanksgiving.
The people in town never seemed to object to their staying for a few weeks. I guess they did odd jobs around town and told an occasional fortune. My grandmother, who lived less than a block from the park, cautioned me not to go near them. It seems there was a rumor that they took little children.
The day before Thanksgiving, I stopped to visit my grandmother on the way home from school to wish her a happy Thanksgiving. That year she was going to visit her son’s home on the farm rather than come to our home.
After wishing her a happy Thanksgiving, I decided to see what the Gypsies were doing. After all, they were just around the corner.
The wagons were gathered in a circle. The horses were in a corral made from a rope that was wrapped around five or six trees.
I was surprised to see children playing near the wagons. I never associated Gypsies with having children. A boy who was about my age waved to me, and I waved back. He then motioned for me to cover over.
I knew I should not have walked over to the wagons, remembering what my grandmother had told me, but it just seemed like the polite thing to do. The boy introduced himself as Rafael. I never knew anyone named Rafael before. I told him my name, and then an older woman came out of the wagon to see who he was talking to. Rafael said she was his grandmother.
She said hello to me. I told her she had a nice-looking wagon and she thanked me. She then asked me if I wanted my fortune told.
I knew a little about telling fortunes, because my grandmother had a special deck of cards she sent away for, and she used to tell my fortune for fun. Although she never admitted it, I think she really believed in them.
I told the woman it would be okay, and she then invited me into her wagon. Again, I knew I should not have gone in but at least I could tell my friends what the inside of a Gypsy wagon was like.
As I recall, it was kind of messy. There were lots of blankets and pillows.
On one end of the wagon was a small table. She pulled a curtain that gave us more privacy and invited me to sit down. She lit a candle that was setting in the middle of the table next to a deck of cards. She started to deal the cards, and I noticed that they were very similar to the cards my grandmother owned.
She dealt the cards in rows of four. Whenever there was a match pair in a row, she would tell me what that meant. When the first match pair were shown, she said that I would go to faraway places sometime in my life. When the second matching pair came up, she told me that I would live a long life but that I would continue to work and never have enough money to retire.
When the third matching set of cards were dealt, she gave a startling gasp.
She looked directly at me and asked if I knew anyone named Auckerman. I told her that Auckerman was my grandmother’s last name before she married.
She then asked me if my grandmother had ever lived in St. Paul.
I told her that she had, but that her real home was in Chaska. At a very early age my grandmother’s real parents had given her away to a couple in St. Paul.
I also told her that all of my grandmother’s brothers and sisters were given away.
She asked me where my grandmother lived, and I told her she was just around the corner. She quickly grabbed my hand, and off we went to my grandmother’s house.
Rafael’s grandmother introduced herself as Clara Auckerman to my grandmother.
The look on my grandmother’s face was the same look she had when one time we were walking near the railroad track and there was a train coming, and I ran across the tracks to beat the train. Yes, she was shocked. The Gypsy women turned out to be my grandmother’s long-lost sister.
Now how this came to be, you will just have to use your imagination. I will tell you this. Since my grandmother’s real parents gave all of their children away, she found all of them in mysterious ways. As it turned out, my visit to the Gypsy camp resulted in a Thanksgiving miracle.
Note: My grandmother lived to be 100 years old. Every time she told her fortune, the cards said she would have a long and interesting life, which she was always thankful for. Like my grandmother’s sister told me, I have traveled to faraway places and I am still working.
JOHN R. EGGERS of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.