When I was sixteen, my parents retired and we moved from Philadelphia to Ireland. However, I was unable to adjust to that mainly rural Catholic country and had a terrible argument with my mother about it. Dad wasn’t happy there, either, so we all agreed to give England a try. We had relatives there who helped us get into a British housing project.
|My nephew with English relatives in Corby Commons|
A few weeks after my big blow up with Mom, we headed for England. Our plane landed at London’s Heathrow airport. From there we took a train to a town called Corby, about ninety miles from that great metropolis. Our English relative had assured us that the housing project we were moving into was a nice one. Because my mother had dual citizenship and my parents were on a fixed income (social security checks from America) we were eligible to live in social housing.
I was skeptical after the culture shock I experienced in Ireland. People on the train stared at us upon hearing our American accent (Mom lost her Scottish one long before). It was okay, though, because they were smiling. A man asked if we were from the United States. After engaging us in conversation for some time, other passengers did the same, and I began to relax and enjoy myself.
After the train ride, I met two of our English relatives. They picked us up at the train station. As we rode in their car towards town, it was strange to think these people with the British accents were relatives of mine. Corby was bigger than I thought. There were lots of stores and houses. No dirt roads there. It looked clean and modern, and when the car pulled up to our social housing unit, I thought I was dreaming.
It was springtime and there were flowers all around. Except for a sign that read “Corby Commons” it was impossible to tell that this was subsidized housing. The buildings were designed to match the style of nearby market-priced homes. Built just two years prior, everything was practically new, including the appliances. The living room was spacious and it had sliding glass doors which opened up to a very small yard with a six foot privacy fence. “This is a housing project?” I asked in disbelief.
My relatives said they weren’t all like that and we were lucky they got us into Corby Commons. It had a plaza exclusively for the residents, too, where there was a youth center and a co-op food market with discounted prices. The sour mood I was wallowing in since leaving America completely vanished. “Are you happy now?” Mom wanted to know. I told her that I was.
That afternoon I decided to take a walk around the housing project and passed an open field behind it. I saw something so surprising that I ran back inside to get my mother. “Mom, you’ve got to see this,” I told her and brought her there. I pointed toward the field. “Look,” I said. Mom gazed upon the red caravan in the distance. Next to the caravan was a boy feeding a donkey. A few feet away from him, a woman was washing clothes in a big iron pot filled with water. She bent over the pot, pulled out a soaking wet garment and wrung it out. I asked, “Mom, are they gypsies?”
“In Britain they’re called tinkers,” she replied, “I wonder what they’re doing here in the city?”
“Well, how about that?” I remarked, delighted. “It’s not every day you see a gypsy caravan.” Now, I was a teenager and had romantic notions about gypsies. I saw them as having a colorful life, free of conventional things that tie the rest of us down. I wondered what adventures they had along the way. At night, in the quiet of my room they were the object of my wild imaginings.
Each morning, I woke up and the first thing I did was take a walk over to the field to see if the caravan was still there. In the evenings, I’d watch them sitting around a camp fire. I thought for sure they’d move on in a day or two, but after a week it started to look like they were settling in.
Part Two will be posted on Monday, August 30, 2010.