Camping and Gypsy Life on the Road

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Camping to us is a weekend sport, something we do on vacation for fun.  We pack up the kids, the bikes, swimsuits and sunscreen and off we go.  We might travel in a forty-foot motor home with all the latest gadgets and appliances, but most probably we start out in a tent or pop-up camper.  Whatever is affordable is our camper of choice as most of us begin when we have young children and little money to go to Disney World and the like.  But what if camping was our everyday life?

My husband and I bought our first camper when we were in our twenties.  As I think back now I am filled with fond memories (and some not so fond memories) of family camping.  A friend of my husband’s decided he didn’t want to fish any more and he had used a truck camper to take to the lake.  Hubby did some work for the man in exchange for the camper, which fit right in the box of his pickup truck.  I still remember when he brought it home.  We were so excited, the kids and I.  My husband, proud of himself for his trade, explained that the camper had been “sitting” for a couple of years and might need some TLC, but it seemed to be sound.  He hadn’t even seen the inside yet, so we gathered eagerly around the door as he unlocked it.  I’ll never forget the moment.  We climbed inside the small unit and looked around.  It was a mess (after all, a bachelor had owned it) but the worst thing was a stench we couldn’t identify.  We held our noses and looked around, then jumped to the ground.  “Wonder what that awful smell is?” my husband asked.

“It’s an odor I can’t identify,” I replied.

We decided that the next day would be cleanup day as we were off work.  The kids didn’t seem to be so excited any more, but we told them that this was a family thing and since we would all be using it together they had to participate in the cleaning.

The next day was beautiful and sunny.  While my husband began on the outside (funny he should pick that) I got inside with a bucket of ammonia and a sponge.  There was more grime and grease in that truck camper than I have ever seen in one since.  I applied a lot of elbow grease and soon the wood looked new again and the floor sparkled.  “Oh, I forgot about the fridge,” I said.  I told my little girl to go get me another cleaner from the house and some paper towels.  She made haste and we opened the door.  STENCH DEFINED!  The previous owner had left a dozen eggs in the tiny refrigerator, shut the door, and left it closed for two years, in the heat and cold.

“Eww, yuk, ick,” my son said, holding his nose.

“Get me a trash bag, now,” I shouted, my eyes watering.  I pried what was left of the carton of eggs off the shelf and spent the rest of the afternoon prying dried, caked yolks and shells off the bottom and sides.  It looked like they had exploded or something.   After a lot of hard work, the fridge was clean but the smell lingered.  Hubby and I opened all the windows, left the door to the refrigerator open, and let the camper air out for a couple of weeks.  We used air fresheners and everything else we could think of to get rid of the smell.

Two weeks later we loaded up the camper for our first trip to a small private lake where we would camp for three days and fish and swim.  Our whole family was excited, we now had our own camper and we were on our way.  I think we took a lot of pride in the family effort to get it ready to use.  That weekend was the first of many wonderful family camping trips, and although a bit of the smell lingered, we dealt with it and had fun anyway.  We kept that truck camper for a couple of years, until we could afford a bigger pull-type trailer and camped until the kids left home.  None of us ever forgot that first experience, though.

So, wonder what it was like in Inzared’s day?  The Gypsies in INZARED Queen of the Elephant Riders didn’t have any choice about where they would live.  The year was 1843 and they were part of the Romanoff Brothers Circus, on the move constantly as they traveled across the eastern half of the United States, performing in small towns along the way.  The Gypsies lived in a wagon known as a vardo.

Note:  The Gypsy Vardo was typically burned when a person died.  The Gypsies believed it was the conveyance used to transport a person in this life and once they had expired it was burned so that it would convey them through the next world.  Rarely were these wagons kept or passed to someone else.

The Vardo was basically a wagon that looked like a covered wagon; only it was fashioned out of wood.  They were probably heavy to pull.  The inside was small, but use was made of every inch.  After all, this was their home on the road.  They had no refrigeration.  No air conditioning or heat.  Travel was slow, and although they saw a lot of places, the circus Gypsies rarely took time to enjoy the sights, as they had animals to care for, acts to practice, and the like.  I’m sure there were times the Gypsy women yearned for a real home – one with windows and furniture.  But there must have been a sense of excitement every time the caravan took off for the next town.  And they carried everything they owned with them.  They were different people, nomadic, wanderers, mysterious.  Also the Gypsies were a happy lot, dancers, and skilled in many trades – musicians, carpenters, circus performers, and animal trainers, to name a few.  I enjoyed the research for INZARED Queen of the Elephant Riders.  I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.

I leave you with my mother’s mouth-watering recipe for Spanish Rice over the campfire.  We loved camping as a family, and begged mom to make this every time we went.  She loved cooking over an open fire, as do I, and taught us to make many dishes with only a cast iron fry pan or Dutch oven.

Arlene’s Campfire Spanish Rice

(Serves 6)

1 lb bacon

1 green pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 small bag rice, uncooked

1-2 cans tomatoes (adjust to taste)

salt, pepper, garlic powder

Place Dutch oven over campfire, either on a hook or on a grate over coals.  Cook bacon in Dutch oven until crispy.  Remove from heat.  Pour most of the grease off, but leave a scant amount in the bottom.  Return to heat and add green pepper and onion.  Fry until transparent.  Add one small bag of rice, salt, pepper, garlic powder (to taste), and crumbled bacon.  Add one large can of tomatoes.  I like to add two, but if you prefer, you can add more water (to cook the rice).  Cover and let simmer, stirring occasionally, for about ½ hour to 45 minutes.  Serve with hot buttered cornbread and a salad.  Enjoy!

Want to see a real Gypsy Vardo?  Follow this link:

Gypsy Wagons UK

L.Leander Books Website

L.Leander Books Facebook Page

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