I also dedicate my song today to the birthday celebrant, Kevin Power who lives in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, Ireland. Enjoy your special day, Kevin, and thank you for being my Facebook friend.
My song today is, ‘I Recall a Gypsy Woman’. This song was written by Bob McDill and Allen Reynolds and was originally recorded by Don Williams in 1973. In 1976, at the height of the country and western boom in Britain, his version charted at Number 13 on the ‘UK Singles Chart’; the best position that Don Williams ever achieved on this chart.
I have only ever known one woman who might have been described as being ‘a gipsy woman’, and she was a person in her 50s when I was in my 40s. I was living in Mirfield, West Yorkshire at the time (about 25 miles away from where I live now in Haworth).
One Christmas Eve, a woman traveller knocked on my door in Mirfield. She was selling tea towels and a few other items at an inflated price to what they could have been bought for at any local store. The woman was dressed in clothes that had seen better days, and her hands were calloused and slightly dirtied beneath her fingernails with hard work. When she spoke, her deep Irish accent and overall appearance essentially told me that she was a traveller of the highways, someone we would previously have called, ‘a gypsy’.
Now, let me declare here and now that I am the firstborn of seven children to an Irish mother, who herself was born the oldest of seven children. I was also born in Portlaw, County Waterford, Ireland, and have retained both my Irish citizenship, along with most Irish traditions and customs all my life.
When my mother was two months pregnant with me, she was unmarried at the time and had not yet started to show in her belly the fetus she was harbouring. She had just learned about the consequences of her courting indiscretion and realised that she was pregnant when she heard a knock on the door. My grandparents were out at the time, as were the rest of the household, and my mother was doing some household chores in their absence. My mother opened the door and saw that the house caller was a peg-selling Romany traveller selling her wares.
Now, let me explain two things. First, Southern Ireland is built upon the bedrock of superstition and rebellious resistance, with its people exercising a strict observance of Roman Catholic religion and blind adherence to custom and folklore. Secondly, there is something about true Romany travellers that few none-Irish folks are likely to know, but which every Irish person is aware of from childhood onwards. If a Romany traveller knocks on your door and is selling goods, your life will never be quite the same again whether you buy their wares or send them away empty-handed. Purchase some of their goods and your household will be blessed for seven years, but do not buy and your household will be automatically cursed with seven years bad luck. The more grateful the Romany traveller is upon leaving your house, the greater will be the blessing they bestow upon you and your family, but the more disappointed they are, the darker and more distressing will be their curse of damnation upon you and all of your household!
Knowing this, all travellers of the road have always received a warm welcome whenever they knock on the door of any Irish person. Should they knock on my door selling their wares, I will either buy something from them or give them some money for themselves. If they happen to sound Irish in their speech and proclaim themselves to be of true Romany origin, I will be instantly prepared to ‘temporarily forget the strict observance of the Roman Catholic faith’ and agree to have my fortune told, if the service is on offer, in exchange for a few coins.
I gave my Mirfield home visitor a few pounds as a Christmas gift and wished her seasonal greetings. She left saying, “Bless this house and all who dwell here!” and I knew as she disappeared from sight that I could look forward to having an enjoyable Christmas and a fortuitous year ahead.
The year after, the same lady traveller returned to my door on Christmas Eve and I gave her £2 like I had done the previous year. Again, she left me in good heart with her blessing. For the next seven years, the same lady would return to my Mirfield home on Christmas Eve and I never let her leave without giving her some money, wishing her seasonal greetings and receiving her blessing.
About six months after her visit, my wife decided that she wanted to separate. Our children had now grown and had left home, and my wife decided that our relationship had reached its ‘end of shelf life’. While I was initially reluctant to separate after 28 years of married life, our parting was the right thing for both of us as it turned out, and we remain on friendly terms as ex-partners and the parents of two of our children. The matrimonial house was sold, and divorce proceedings were commenced as my ex-wife and myself moved elsewhere to live.
Initially, I began to wonder if my marriage separation represented that ‘ill-fortune’ had befallen me after the Romany traveller’s last Christmas Eve visit to our Mirfield home. I started to consider if I had been less than generous enough in the amount of my Christmas money that I gave my Romany visitor. I wondered if instead of the £2 Christmas money, I should have given her a £5 note instead, and thought if I had been more generous of purse, perhaps my marriage might not have ended?
About four years after my separation and subsequent divorce, I met my wife Sheila, and I have never been happier in my life. Upon meeting Sheila and marrying her, I now realise that the travelling Romany house visitor to my Mirfield home had indeed blessed me when we last met. Sheila and I live in Haworth (25 miles away from my Mirfield home).
I am approaching 78 years old in a month’s time and I guess that my Christmas Eve home visitor would now be deceased. I have often wondered if she ever returned to my old Mirfield home after I had left it, and if she did, how the new occupants dealt with her on her Christmas Eve visit, selling her wares? I did notice whenever I had occasion to pass by my old home in Mirfield that the people we sold the house to only lived there less than 18 months before selling it on again. Perhaps, they responded less kindly than was advisable to the Christmas Eve Romany traveller when she next visited and had sent her packing empty-handed with a flea in her ear as she cursed them to hell and back?
Since I met and married my wife, Sheila, I have never been happier in my life, so knew that the traveller had indeed blessed me the last time we met. A few months after marrying Sheila, I contracted terminal blood cancer, and over the past eight years, I have had an additional three cancers, two nine-month courses of chemotherapy, three years of monthly blood transfusions, ten cancer operations (six operations within the past 18 months and 40 sessions of radiotherapy). I am also awaiting another hospital consultation to have another suspected cancer checked out.
Some might indeed think initially that my Christmas Eve visitor of 15 years ago might have cursed me, but given my positive responses to all my operations and hospital procedures since I married Sheila, I know that I am indeed blessed.
God bless my Irish sounding traveller wherever she may be; and if her current resting place is at the other side of the green sod, God rest her soul, and let me tread ever so lightly should I occasion to walk by it.
Love and peace Bill xxx