My Gypsy Mother
by Charles C. Cole
I was living at home for the summer, saving money, part way through college. My recently retired parents liked the additional company. When I arrived home from my data-entry job, there was an unfamiliar car in the drive. Inside, my parents sat stiffly at the dining room table with a black-clad woman in heavy make-up. She had large sad eyes and smelled of lilacs.
“Hey, everybody!” I said.
“Cliff, we have a guest,” said Mom. I introduced myself.
“Brigita,” said the woman, with a vague European accent.
My mom’s family was originally from northern Italy and had moved stateside while she was still an infant. I knew we had relatives “back there” but, for unknown reasons, nobody had ever visited, in either direction.
“This is a long shot, but are you family?” I asked.
“Yes, family,” Brigita said.
“Brigita? Honestly, I’ve never heard of you. Which side of the family are you? My parents, to be honest, were never big on large family reunions.”
“No side. No side.”
I shrugged at my parents, “asking” if maybe our guest didn’t understand English.
Without a word, my father pushed away from the table and stepped outside.
“Sorry,” I said. “If Dad’s not riding his tractor, he’s like a fish out of water, gasping for air.” Brigita stared blankly. “It’s an inside joke.”
Mom stood. “Would you like some coffee, honey?”
“Kind of late, but sure,” I said. “I can help myself.”
“Nonsense,” said Mom, waving me down. As she poured the coffee, her back to me, Mom said, “Brigita’s here to take you home, dear.”
“Home? To her home?” Some kids, after graduating from high school, are given a trip overseas. I hadn’t been so lucky. Better late than never, I thought.
“You know how you asked us where you came from, dear, when you were still a boy?” asked Mom.
“Brigita,” I said, “you know when you’re young and your parents don’t want to answer questions directly, because they think you can’t absorb the information, because it might, you know, get personal?”
Brigita smiled weakly, probably not understanding.
I plowed forward. “Their answer at the time was — and I remember it vividly — ‘The Gypsies left you on the front porch.’”
“Yes, Gypsies!” said Brigita excitedly.
“Turns out,” said Mom, returning with my coffee, “we weren’t being evasive after all.”
I stood involuntarily.
“Sit down, dear.” I did. “Your father and I, let’s be candid, had been married six years with no success conceiving a child. And this couple came through the neighborhood. We thought they were dropping off religious pamphlets, and we didn’t want to be rude so we let them in.
“It turned out they were short on money, and they were hoping we would be interested in buying — no, not buying — leasing their baby. We assumed it was theirs and not stolen because the woman held it very close and cried a lot when the subject came up.
“We thought selling a baby was illegal, so we agreed to a 20-year lease instead. A nice round number, don’t you think? It was your father’s idea. Ironically, for a baby, you were fairly cheap.”
“This is a joke, right?” I asked.
“Our clever angle,” Mom continued, “was we were moving. We had only just that week spoken with a real estate agent. There was no sign out front and no way the Gypsies would have known. So we thought we’d go off and raise you as our own where there’d be fewer questions. But today, with the Internet, you know, I guess people have a way to find you. And they did.”
“Can we go back to the part about the Gypsies?” I asked.
“They want you back,” said Mom. “But, seeing as you’re an adult now, even though you’re living at home...”
“For the summer, living at home for the summer,” I said, a little embarrassed.
“And we pay for your health insurance.”
“Thank you for that,” I said. “But why now?”
“Family,” said Brigita.
“She said they lost track of time,” said Mom. “She just wanted a visit.”
“Is she my mother?” I asked.
“No, dear,” said Mom, “as I understand it, your mother was deported many years ago, got TB, and died in a sanatorium, poor dear. This is her sister.”
“Not that I’m ungrateful for the opportunity you and Dad have given me, but are we in trouble? Am I going to be deported, too?”
“Nobody knows, dear. Dr. Seward, a friend of your father’s from Hiram Falls, God bless his soul, made up a beautifully authentic birth certificate ages ago. We’ve always said you were delivered at home and, in a very real way, you were.”
“Brigita,” I began, “you weren’t planning on taking me away, were you?”
“Originally, yes,” said Mom. “But I think she’s happy now to take some pictures back with her and leave some photos of your extended family.”
“I think I missed the important part of the conversation. What happened before I got home?”
“After some negotiations, your father renewed your lease for another twenty years. You’re ours again, dear.”
Brigita must have understood that part because she stood as if to go. She smiled, extending her hand. I stood, and she stepped in for a bear hug. “Family good,” she said.
“Will I see you again?” I asked. She shook her head, patted my hand, and kissed me on the forehead.
“Happy Birfday,” she said. “Twenty happy birfdays.” Then she left.
That was seventeen years ago this summer. I’ve since lost both Mom and Dad to the diseases that ravage the elderly. I’m married and have a child of my own. I finally got brave and opened a Facebook account within the last year. We live many hours from my childhood home, but I figure it’s only a matter of time until the next “20-year family reunion.” I wonder if Brigita will come again. Honestly, I wonder if the rates are still the same.
Copyright © 2016 by Charles C. Cole