A chapter from Tales from the End of the Old Military Road
Brenda J. Thompson
The Gypsies of West Dalhousie
She picked up the rotary-dial phone and dialed the four numbers of Shirley’s extension. One short and two long rings and Shirley picked up the party line.
“Shirley! You have got to see this! Land o’ Goshen, they’s gypsies comin’ up the Morse Road!!”
“Myrtle, are you putting Harold’s hooch in your tea cup again? Gypsies don’t live in this part of the world!”
Myrtle could hear a snicker on the line; someone else was listening in. Gosh darn, these party lines don’t give anyone any private conversations.
“Shirley, I do not drink Harold’s hooch. I have told you that many times. It gives me indigestion. I’m tellin’ ya, there is a band of gypsies comin’ up the mountain! They’s comin’ up yer way. Yer gonna see them in about ten minutes at the rate they is a movin’.”
Myrtle heard Shirley snort on the other end of the line.
But then, “Wait, I sees them meself,” Annie Hannam cried.
“Annie, get off the phone,” Shirley shouted. “This here is a private conversation.
Annie barrelled on. “They’ve got a van with all sorts of painted colours and signs on it.”
“What do the signs say?” Shirley asked.
“Uhh, lemme see....” Annie was clearly pulling back her curtains to get a better look. “They says ‘peace’ and ‘love’ and ‘no more ears’.”
“What?? No more ears?” Shirley and Myrtle both said at the same time.
“Oh, wait,” said Annie. “Sorry, it reads ‘no more wars’.”
Charlie Durling was sitting on his wood pile, taking a break from splitting wood, sipping a little of the ‘shine from his still out back. He took a big swig to quench his thirst and, as he lowered his cup, he saw a most amazing sight.
He stared with his mouth open at a band of colourful young people...wait, some were older...walking and dancing and driving vans and cars that were painted with every bright colour under the sun.
Charlie looked into his cup to make note of which batch he was drinking in case he wanted some more. He took another big swallow and looked at the road again. Yup. They were still there, moving slowly, jingling with bells. The colours were still as bright as ever. Charlie decided he would keep this batch of shine to himself.
“I will swear on the bible that I saw George Buckler’s grandson, Joseph, with that crowd of gypsies,” Shirley said as she watched the procession out her kitchen window. By golly, Myrtle was right. There was an army of gypsies moving up the Morse road toward Dalhousie Settlement.
“Joey Buckler moved away to Tarana two years ago,” Annie said, stating what they all knew.
“I heard he was attending some college up there. Can’t remember the name of it” Shirley responded.
“It was something like Rockdale,” Myrtle said. “Let me think on it....oh yeah, it was Rochdale.”
“Well if he is supposed to be at this fancy college, what’s he doing, dressed like he’s homeless, in with that buncha gypsies?” Shirley asked. “Why, his hair is so long he looks like a girl!”
“Maybe he dropped out,” Annie offered. “His grandfather is gonna be upset after paying good money to get him an education.”
They clucked their tongues in unison. Wait until the rest of the settlement sees this.
The elders and concerned citizens of West Dalhousie called a meeting at the school house. People from all the churches attended to talk about these gypsies who had taken up camping on George Buckler’s land, with his blessing!
“One of those young women was in the store the other day and noticed my wife is expecting.” Caleb Spurr said. “She told my wife that her ‘community’ was having a ‘womb workshop’, if she would like to attend. I told Mary that there was no way I was letting her go near any such weird people. They sound like a buncha commies for heaven’s sake, with the way they talk about sharing and loving and how they don’t work for the man. ‘What man?’ I ask. No one round here would hire them bunch a dirty long haired people.”
People murmured and nodded their heads in agreement.
“They are not gypsies,” George Buckler told the group. “They call themselves hippies. And they believe in peace and love and sharing.”
“Hippies? Why on God’s green earth do they call themselves hippies?” Albert Spurr asked incredulously.
“My grandson says it’s from the African Wolof word ‘hipi’, which means ‘to open your eyes’ or ‘become aware’,” George answered.
A couple of people snorted in laughter. “They don’t look like no Africans,” one of them said.
“Become aware of what?” asked another person.
“To become aware of love,” George answered. “To become aware that we need to all love one another, to get along, to not have wars that kill our young men.”
Some people lowered their heads. They agreed with that notion. So many community members in West Dalhousie had lost sons, grandsons, nephews to wars in parts of the world they had never heard of.
“Where did they all come from? someone shouted from the crowd.
“The hippie movement started in a place in California. City of San Francisco and a neighbourhood called Haight Ashbury,” George answered. “Least, that’s what my grandson told me.”
“Why do they hate ashbury?” someone asked. “Is that why they moved here?”
“Californy?? Why did they move all the way here from Californy?” another asked.
“They did not all come from California,” George answered. A lot of these hippies come from Toronto. But some of the young men are from the United States because, as you know, they are fighting a war over in Vietnam and a lot of them don’t want to fight in a war they don’t believe in.”
“So they’re a bunch a fraidy cats,” someone shouted out.
“Now, Henry,” Lester said, “even Canada won’t get involved in that war. Didn’t you hear on the radio that our government in Ottawa offered these young men the chance to come to Canada so they don’t have to serve in that war?”
“I don’t like it,” Henry answered back. “It’s a man’s duty and privilege to serve and protect his country. And if they don’t like that war, fine. But why do they have to dress like that, with men wearing long hair and long dresses?”
“It is what they call their freedom to choose what they do, what they wear, who they love, how they live,” George Buckler said.
This got the crowd buzzing. What do you mean, they get to choose? There is no choice. You do what you are supposed to do, according to the bible, according to your elders, according to your neighbours. You dress like you are supposed to, according to the job you have and how much money you have. You marry the girl down the road that you grew up with. You have children and you teach them to work hard, don’t spend any money on frivolous things, save for your old age, don’t fool around on your spouse (or, at least, don’t get caught), attend church every Sunday and don’t give your neighbours anything to talk about.
That’s been the rules since this settlement was been founded by good, hard-working, God-fearing citizens. And now this bunch of new people are coming here and saying they don’t have to follow any of these rules, that they won’t follow any of these rules? What was happening to the world??
The crowd dispersed muttering, shaking their heads in disbelief. Some of the people secretly liked what they were hearing about this new group of people, these ‘hippies’. Others just hoped these near-naked people camping in the fields would move along quickly so the settlement could get back to normal.
The men adjusted their caps and touched their pistols to assure themselves they were protected should any of these crazy hippies go wild on them. The RCMP had educated these police on Reefer Madness: if any of these weirdos went off on them and started getting violent because of The Weed, they were prepared.
At first the constables surrounded the hippie camp, hiding behind trees, stumps and bushes, watching the community in action. Women were breast-feeding their babies, some men and women were pounding nails to build things...but some of them were working naked! Children were running around without clothes, playing in mud puddles, making mud pies and laughing with each other. People were setting up gardens, cooking food, smiling and having a good time. This was definitely a problem.
Damn it! One of the hippies had spotted them! He smiled and waved to them. “Come on out!” he shouted.
The constables touched their pistols again and looked over to their supervisor for direction.
By this time some of the hippies, men and women, were walking toward them, some with their arms opened wide in a gesture of a hug, some with bowls of food. Damn, that food smelled good, almost exotic smelling.
One of the cops involuntarily said, “Yummm, I smell curry”.
Their supervisor gestured to them: their cover was blown. The cops stepped out from behind their hiding spots.
“Welcome, gentle men,” one of the hippies said. “Please eat with us. Share our meal.”
“There’ll be none of that,” the head cop snarled. “You probably have it laced with marijuana. We’ll not be falling for that, you dope fiends.” He gestured to the other cops, “Men, toss their camp!”
The cops moved in pairs to the tents and cabins and began ripping blankets off beds, throwing pillows and clothes. They ripped down Grateful Dead posters and knocked over candles, incense and shrines to peace.
The women and men comforted the children who were becoming upset by this. There were more cops than hippies, but, by the end of it all, they came up with less than an ounce of marijuana...mostly because cops pocketed the vast majority of what they had found.
An older hippie, sporting an Afro like a halo and wearing an African dashiki, stepped forward. “I am assuming you have a warrant for searching our buildings and private belongings,” he said.
“Who are you?” the head cop asked, looking over this very tall, African-looking man..
“I am known by my African name, Malik,” he answered. “But I am also known by my Halifax name, Harold Ruggles, LLB. And unless you come here with a warrant for the purposes of finding a specific object, I suggest that you do not do this again or we shall be forced to take legal measures against you in response.”
The elders and concerned citizens of the settlement met again. They had to get rid of this bunch of people who didn’t believe in following the rules. Getting the police to raid them for drugs didn’t work. Not only did it not work, but the lawyer hippie scared the cops right away. That didn’t seem right.
Finally, it was decided that the elders, Ed, Henry and Albert, would get together and confront George Buckler personally about moving them hippies off his property. They went by car over to George’s homestead to threaten him, not with violence, but with banishment from the community. They liked George and did not want to banish him but he was letting these hippies go too far.
They gathered in the kitchen. George’s wife had passed years ago, so George made them some tea himself while they presented their arguments.
George listened to their persuasion and thinly-veiled threats and said very little. Finally, he drained the tea from his cup and said, “Why don’t you come and meet my neighbours before you decide that I have to evict them? Perhaps if you got to know them a little better, you might change your minds.”
Henry, Ed and Albert discussed it for a bit and then decided that, yes, they would meet the hippies. They were sure it would strengthen their case for getting rid of them.
George led the men along a wooded path toward the field where the hippies were camping. But then he turned off that path, and took them down the path toward the Spurr stillwater.
The elders could hear some of those damn dirty hippies splashing around, laughing and having fun.
“Well, at least some of ‘em will be clean” Ed thought to himself.
“Joey!” George shouted to his grandson. “Bring some of your friends here to meet my friends”
Joey straightway came out of the water. Durned if he wasn’t naked as the day he was born.
But then Joey’s hippie friends started coming out of the water as well. And they were all naked. They were smiling and talking and introduced themselves to the elders.
Alfred didn’t hear a darn word they said. He just smiled and hoped he wasn’t staring. He had never seen such beauty as the naked body in his life. He had never even seen his wife completely naked. He had never realized what beauty he was missing. And when one of the young women spoke to him, all he could hear in his head was his own voice telling him, “Smile and look her in her eyes, you old goat!”
Henry felt like he couldn’t move his facial muscles. He had a deadpan face as the hippies came out of the water and strolled around, naked, and talked with the elders. Women, men, children all naked and acting like this was as natural as nature.
When one of the hippie men took his hand and looked into his eyes, Henry felt himself begin to blush. No one in the Settlement had ever known the real Henry, and all this hippie had to do was look into his eyes.
Ed couldn’t manage to sputter out a single word. He just tried to keep his mouth shut and he did it by smiling and shaking the hands of the hippies as they introduced themselves and their children.
The three elder talked for a bit with the hippies then followed George back up the path to his homestead. They said goodbye to George and got into the truck and drove away, down the old military road, back toward the settlement. Nobody said a thing for the first two miles.
Finally Henry spoke up. “They weren’t so bad,” he said decisively.
“Nope,” said Ed, remembering the beauty of the nakedness he has just witnessed.
“Soft,” said Henry, almost wistfully. Albert and Ed looked over at him.
“I meant ‘gentle’,” he corrected himself. “These are gentle people.”.
All was quiet in the truck for another two miles.
“I don’t have problem with them living here now that I’ve talked to them,” Henry said.
“Nope,” Ed agreed.
“I think we need to just let the rest of the community know that they’re okay, just different from us,” Henry suggested.
“Yup,” Ed agreed.
“What about you, Albert?” Ed and Henry asked, turning to him. “What do you think about them hippies staying here?”
“Darn it! I forgot my hat down by the still water,” he said. “We’ll have to go back.”
Ed turned the truck around right away.