The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge


By R. M. Janney © 1985

Issue: March, 1985

Editor’s Note: This story contains a view of Gypsies that was common throughout the mountains and among country residents in many places. The idea that Gypsies were all bad people to be afraid of was a common misconception in rural areas. Needless to say the Gypsies weren’t all bad; they were just different. Just like people everywhere there are good and bad among us all.

When I was five years old, my mother Nora Rakes Janney died in 1927. My dad, Charles Flem Janney sent me, along with my older brothers to Ferrum, Franklin County, Virginia.

We boarded a train in West Virginia for Roanoke. Here we changed trains and traveled on the "Ole Pumpkin (Punkin) Vine" to Ferrum, Virginia.

Time was spent with Aunt Sis (Mary Elizabeth Rakes Ferguson) and Aunt Annie (Ann Cannady Rakes).

During my stay with Aunt Sis, I remember one day she told me not to go to Aunt Annie's. Their two farms were adjacent to each other, located on what is now state road 623. The roads were not paved and were either dusty or muddy, depending on the weather. There was a pine wooded area between the road and the two farm houses, with a barbed wire fence along the road.

That day I disobeyed Aunt Sis, it was raining and I ran off through the woods to the road, intending to go down the road til I could slip back through the trees to Aunt Annie's.

While going down the road, I encountered a colorful gypsy wagon drawn by two horses. A man driving the team called to me to get on the wagon, which was going in the opposite direction than I was. I ran as he chased me down the road, frightened and bewildered. I slipped under the barbed wire and through the woods. I got away from him and continued my trek to Aunt Annie's.

I remembered telling them about the man chasing me and as grown ups sometimes are, they laughed and said I had a great imagination. No matter who I was with after that, while walking along the country roads, I would always hide in the bushes until the wagon or whatever passed.

I was thinking, if any of your readers in the year of 1926 or 1927 ever had any experiences with gypsies and if so, would they relate them in The Mountain Laurel.