By Susan M. Thigpen © 1985
Issue: May, 1985
Here are a couple of responses we received after Mr. R.M. Janney's story about his childhood experiences was printed. It seems that the “fear of gypsies” was a common one. Few actually ever saw gypsies, but all had heard vague warnings from their parents or grandparents. These were just the undeserved stereotypes and fear of anything, or anyone, different that were a part of the lore of yesterday.
The Last Of The Playhouse Gang
By Eunice N. Harrelson
The doll house was on display in the bank's lobby, sitting under the Christmas tree. A magnificent creation, a tiny mansion with flawlessly appointed rooms filled with hand made furniture.
Some lucky person would draw the winning ticket and take it home to gladden a child's Christmas.
It brought to mind the happy time we had spent playing "playhouse" in the late twenties.
But what a difference in the playhouses! Mine was a rural family living on a farm in Caswell County near the old Walter's Mill. Our nearest neighbor was the Gregory family. Every day the Gregory children, my brothers and I would meet in the woods near the tobacco barns and play.
We would sweep the pine needles back to form the walls of our playhouses. Bits of broken pottery and stones made up the furniture. Here we would play "Mama and Children" and "Hide and Seek" for hours on end.
Those were happy days and there was little to give us concern.
One day Daddy came home and reported seeing a wagon train of Gypsies go down the road.
This news seemed to agitate Mama. She warned us not to leave the safety of the house, or go near the playhouse, because "Gypsies would steal little children and carry them away"
We soon grew tired of hiding indoors from something we didn't quite understand. We begged to be allowed to go to "the playhouse".
After a day or so of having us underfoot, we were allowed to go to the playhouse.
We were so glad to get back together again. We played all morning, forgetting the warning to "look out for gypsies".
It was near dinner time when we were brought up short by a strange noise coming from the woods behind us. We froze in our tracks. There - a loud wailing sound!
We tarried no longer. The Gregory children were streaking for home - the eldest in the lead. My brothers and I were raising a dust going to the house.
As we neared home, our older sister came out of the woods near where we had heard the wailing.
I thought, "Good thing she is old or the gypsies would have gotten her for sure!"
She must have been every day of fourteen!
It was many years later I recalled the incident and concluded my sister must have been the "gypsy" that broke up our playhouse gang that day!
Dear Mountain Laurel,
I can relate to Mr. R.M. Janney' s story about Gypsies. I recall once when I was a young girl around 5 years old, when some Gypsies came to our home. We lived on a farm. On that day there wasn't anyone home except my mother, my baby sister and me. These people came up to our home and asked for water to drink. We raised chickens and the lady and her two boys said they wanted to buy some chickens.
Mother said she would sell them some chickens. The lady said she would look after my sister and me while Mom helped catch the chickens. My mother told her no, she would not leave her children with her to walk off with. (We had always heard that Gypsies would take kids off with them if they could get them away from their parents.) So, the boys got the chickens and they went away.
I would not go in the bedroom that afternoon and take a nap, because I was afraid they would come back and take us while Mom was cooking supper.
I was born in 1923 and was very young when that took place, but like Mr. Janney, I'll never forget that day,
Mrs. Alma Harrison
Mt. Gilead, N.C.