FEAR (How the Gypsies stole Christmas)

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself!” Words spoken by a man who had a kazillion military guys with guns backing him up. Nonetheless…an interesting thought.

The first fear I can recall was of gypsies. It was in the early 1950’s. We still had a King and I lived in the Drill Hall in the village of Munlochy in Northern Scotland. I would stand at the roadside and watch the solitary Clydesdale encumbered by a bright multi-colored wagon clop wearily up the slight incline past our house. I can remember the sounds so vividly; the sharp clack of metal shoes against the pavement, the squeaking wheels and the bells. I would gaze in wonder as they went by and wish I could travel with them to wherever it was they always seem to be going. And I can remember the fresh air. It must have been Spring. Everything felt clean and new. The sun reflected off the many shades of blues, reds and whites that decorated the wagon. Hanging from hooks against this backdrop rattled the utensils of daily life; cauldrons, pots and kettles clanged together in tin-pan harmony as the big wooden wheels wobbled past. I’m not sure who told me that gypsies stole children.

“Steals ’em, they do, and sells ’em or keeps them to perform unspeakable tasks. You’d best hide or the gypsies will get you. You’d better be good or I’ll give you to the gypsies.” And my all-time favorite: “The gypsies got Robbie last night”.

I didn’t know Robbie. I imagine if there was a Robbie he probably moved to Inverness or someplace, most likely with his parents. But then maybe that’s where the gypsies took children. Inverness. They couldn’t possibly carry all the munchkins they stole in such a little wagon…unless they did something to them; somehow made them smaller or turned them into something else. They can do that you know…gypsies are magical. They can turn you into dust or, worse yet, spiders or mice. Poor Robbie.

From that day on I ran and hid when I heard the clacking hooves and chinkling bells winding up the road. I remember once trying to drag our Boxer named ‘Mitzi’ into the house and down the stairs.


“Come on Mitzi,” I cried as I yanked on her heavy leather collar, “the gypsies will get you. Hurry we have to hide!” But the gypsies didn’t want Mitzi. Those bells tolled for me.

Sometimes I would run around the house to the shed. My dad might be back there chopping wood or stealing a quiet smoke. I’d tell him about the gypsies and he’d reassure me that he wouldn’t let them take me.

And everything was alright.

To this day the sound of bells conjures up the image of the small dark smelly space under our cellar stairs. This is why I fear Christmas. Those damn bells. The Salvation Army kettle-guys drive me almost to hysteria with their ‘jingle jingle’.

Of course I jest.

The wagon, horse, and gypsies are gone now. I outlived them. I outlived that fear and probably Robbie.

Fear has a lifespan. At best it’s a few seconds. At worst it’s a lifetime, no expiry date. One can’t bank on outliving all of them so one must learn to cope, to overcome that which causes the heart to race and the palms to sweat. But just how does ‘one’ do this? I no longer fear gypsies in painted wagons but then I haven’t met that many recently. I think they probably now travel in fifth wheels with ATV’s attached to the back bumper so I wouldn’t know a gypsy if he passed me on the highway.

I honestly can’t recall any other major fears when I was a child. I grew up on Winnie The Pooh and The Hound of the Baskervilles, appreciating that each of them were stories although I still relive that magical warmth I felt when Christopher Robin was saying his prayers. Back then Winnie was more real to me than Sherlock Holmes was.

And still is.