Four Life Stories

At the Outskirts of Giurgiu*At the outskirts of Giurgiu there was a Turkish village, and that village was called Selima. When the Turks left the city, a hundred and a half years ago, we, the gypsies who tinned the pails, continued to live in that village.We remained in Giurgiu, where we have been living up to this day.When I was little, my father and mother would take us in the cart, fill it with coal, hammers, lots of pairs of pliers, tin, and we would roam through the villages. There, we would spend all summer and tin the frying pans, the stew pans and the pails of the peasants. At the fringes of the village we would stop the cart and tent; two poles at each side of the tent, so as not to fall. We would put a piece of wood on top, a perch. We would enter the tent beneath those poles, placed in front of the door.On the floor, in the tent, were our togs, and our things were also on the floor.Over the ground, we would lay the straw mat.We would collect pails from the village and bring them there, where we camped.In order to tin the pail, first I make a bonfire; I rub the tin with sand and then I wash it with water; my wife gives me the tool bag. I heat the pail, put tin, sal ammoniac, a little zinc, then I wipe it with hemp or cotton. I wash the pail.Until the fire was kindled, my father would straighten the bottom of the pail with the hammer, fix the handles, wipe it with a cloth dipped in vinegar or in aqua fortis.Mother and father sat on the ground, the pails between their legs, and made them fine-looking, like clean silver. Father would collect maize, wheat and money from the peasants, fill up the cart and then we would all come back to Giurgiu. Thus we lived on. We believed in the God of Turks, in Allah. In 1935, the mayor of the town gathered all of us, the Gypsies, took us to the river bank and baptized us. Our names remained Turkish: Memet, Mustafa, Selim, Tosun, etc.Some of the old people were not baptized. When someone who was not baptized dies, the priest does not take him to the grave, but sets him on a throne, covered in a counterpane, with a new star on him; on his mouth there is a black cloth, which means that the person is a Turk who was not baptized. My father had two horses and two buffalo cows. In the winter we would make a living by selling milk.My children went to school and are now working; we are living better now than before. We still have buffalo cows and horses and, in the autumn, my father, my old father, still goes through the villages to tin pails. My Mother and Father Were no Longer Slaves**My grandfather's grandfather slogged over the land of Comana monastery. My mother and father were no longer slaves, but they were poor. To make a living, they labored for the peasants. In the summer, they cut the wheat and the rye with the sickle and hoed up the maize.We, the little ones, were sick and laid low with fever.My father didn't own a land or a vineyard, had no cows, neither did he have oxen, or donkeys, or pigs; he had nothing. Up on the hill, there was a princely church, where we, the little ones, would go at Easter time and the peasants would give us food.Downwards from the church, Arges River flows turbidly. In the summer, we would play on the sand shore and bathe in the river, under the sun, and hide in the reed.I heard that the church (monastery) of Comana was built by a great ruler, who was called Vlad the Impaler, but I don't quite know these things, this is what I heard, because I didn't go to school. My mother taught me to tell people's fortunes from cards, and I can still do it. When I was a lass, the great war began. The Germans came to our country. Then, came an order from the king, and we, the Gypsies, were taken far away, to another country, to Russia, to Bug river.One day, I heard some girls talking our language. This is how we became friends. In the village near Bug, we stayed for two years, until the Russians defeated the Germans and the latter fled to their country. Then, we returned to our country, where we had come from. I got married in Comana to my man and we both toiled so as to be able to build a house. We had children who went to school. The eldest is an engineer and he comes to visit us, from Bucharest, from time to time. Now we are old, but we are still working. My man makes iron fences for the villagers, and I work in the factory, at Jilava. We have made a good living, and we could raise the children. When I think of my mother, in the evening I sometimes take the cards and tell the fortune. My man laughs at me and so we spend our time. Twenty-four cards… I Was Raised on the Danube Shore***I was raised in the Parapani village, on the Danube shore. My father would go to the fish pond at night and catch fish with the creel, and then trade it for corn-flour and wheat-flour with the peasants in the village. My father had two old horses and an old cart. He would walk the lanes of the village and shout:"Fish, fish, who wants to buy fish?"When the wind was blowing, father used to come home without any fish and say:"The fish has hidden from the wind!"In the morning, he would leave for the fish pond again, where he would catch oysters with the creel, or collect them out of the water with his hands.Mother would walk about the village to charm away the illness from sick children or to tell fortunes for lasses. I remember up to this day the charm she used to say for sick children, and how she put her finger on the forehead of the sick child and blew hard so that the evil should leave the sick. "You, evil eye, go and break like glasses break!"Mother used to tell girls that they would marry handsome boys and would live for a hundred but two years.She would carry a large sack where she would collect the things that mothers gave her and the gifts from the girls.We were six children and we lived as we could from what mother amassed and from what father gathered.In the summer, my father would put us all in the cart and we would go to the fair in Giurgiu, to see it.We, the children, were very happy. I am a Gypsy, but my face is white, and my hair is not black. I am fair, as the Gypsies call me. Gypsies are very fond of fair (white) faces.When I was sixteen, after the war, I got married. In eight years, I gave birth to three children.My man worked at the bakery in Giurgiu. And there, he met a brunette (a woman with a swarthy face). He left our home, left me and even the children and went away, with his mistress, to the mountains, in Moldavia, so as not to be found.But the old woman, my mother, said:"Even if you crept into a nook, I would still find you."I think that he will come back, that his mistress will leave him; that he will come home to the children.My daughter, Thilora, goes to school and likes to sing. She wants to become a great singer. My elder boy works in the factory where he is a carpenter and makes a lot of money, so we manage even without my man, who left with his mistress. I Was Born on the Far-away Field****I was born by the cart wheel, on the far-away field. We walked about the villages, to work, to fix the peasants' pails, and to sell new ones to the peasants. We took maize flour for the children and made more money. When my mother gave birth to me, she wrapped me in green grass, and only after the rain fell, would she bathe me. The Gypsies were all gathered in one place, had pitched their tents near the well, as that was the place where they gave water to their horses and mules.We were raised only in villages, on the road, since we were little, until we grew old. We had a large cart, and father would put us in it. Up, in the cart, we would also put the pig and the turkeys, on top of the bags.I learnt how to shout, like the other gypsies:"New pails, we make and fix pails, we sell pails!"In the village, in Fratesti, we had seven adobe houses.We would move about the villages and settle for a month or two as if they were our homes. Under a shed, our bulibasha (Gypsy leader) had built a smithy where they kept the bellows, hammers, punches, pliers, shears, the chisel, mortar, file, anvil, the copper blades, iron and coals.The bulibasha would shout:"Light the fire, turn on the bellows, and strike with the hammers."Five or six of us would thin the copper so as to make it softer, and then we would make pails from it; we made the handles, the bail, the bottom, and the pail was ready.The new pail shone so brightly that it dazzled you. I got married, got myself a wife, and had four children, two girls and two boys. One night, we were at the edge of the village, in Slobozia, with our tents pitched. Two drunken soldiers came and asked for our papers. When they asked for the papers, there was this man who was not inside, he was at his brother's. His children, who saw this, started to cry and ran for their father."Come on father, come home: the soldiers came to us, all armed, with guns in their hands, to shoot us."The man, when he heard this, came home and asked the soldiers:"What is it that you want from us; can't you see you're scaring the children? What do you want? The papers? You come with us to the police station, that's where our papers are." Then, oh, God, you could see a gun held at the man; the Gypsy woman got in front of it:"Don't shoot, sir, heigh! You'll kill our babies!"Then, when the soldier shot, he hit Zambila (Hyacinth). That instant, the Gypsies who saw this, ran after him, up to the platoon. And the woman died, and they buried her in Slobozia, with a priest. And they put for her a stone cross, so that her burial place would never be lost.Some time passed, a year or two, and I met a woman whose name was also Zambila (Hyacinth). She was seventeen. Her father asked fourteen thousand for her.A lot of time passed since then. And she had three children; now, I have seven children as well, younger and elder.The young ones don't want to live on the move, like us, with the tents, they want to stay in one place and go to school, they want to go to the factory, and have a job. The young ones don't believe in charms any more, don't walk about charming people away, as the peasants got the trick as well. The young ones say that the elders are lying. "Big lie!"We, the old ones, let them go to the factory, because they make good money. Two fellows make in a month as much as we make after we sell thirty large pails.We, the old ones, still walk about the villages in the cart. As soon as we arrive in the village, we pitch the tents, bind our horses and go through the village. We walk about the village with our children and our women. We come home in the autumn and gather logs and stalks. The boys go to the factory, the girls sing and dance, we, the elderly, work at the bellows and strike the sledgehammers against the pails. from Rromane Paramica / Povesti tiganesti (Gypsy Stories) by Petre COPOIUKriterion, Bucharest 1996
* a story collected from the Gypsy tinsmiths in Giurgiu.** a story collected from the bear leader Gypsies in Comana, Giurgiu county.*** a story collected from the bear leader Gypsies in Vedea, Giurgiu county. In the text, there are many features of the dialect spoken by Gypsy coppersmiths. **** a story collected from the Gypsy coppersmiths in Sintesti, Giurgiu county.

by Anonymous