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A Youthful Experience with Travellers

©Shers Gallagher 2015 

I was one of the fortunate few to have had an experience of a lifetime as a teen runaway. I didn't run far, though, from the Valley to Hollywood (of my birthplace). What a city to be born in, eh? But I've never been a star. Only in my own mind. Yet, I did eventually end up with a Russian family of travellers who lived in a dilapidated mansion in Los Angeles's belly. Now, these weren't just any travellers. They were part of an intellectual bohemian group of artists during the time when (as I was growing up) clans, groups, kith and ken, tended to stick together. And, after my initial running away from home and living in the Nirvana apartments behind Grauman's Chinese Theater with a classmate and his gay friends from my theater group, I'd had enough of them and their silly antics and took up the invitation to stay with an eccentric artistic family of Russian Europeans. The daughter was seven years older than me, a recent UCLA graduate and potter by trade, who picked up her handsome boyfriends via the mustache cups she made and sold at art fairs, which included the old renaissance fair in the Southern California hills. So, I guess you could say that I truly was an original rennie.

The mother of the family ran a bookshop in a Russian neighbourhood, as the LA I was growing up in had many cultures and subcultures developing into communities. And this bookshop was called Izbushka, which is an endearing title for a little witch's hut. Now, the naming has nothing to do with any Western connotation of witches and warlocks. In Russian culture it’s more perceived as a wise old crone practicing folkways.

The father was a retired Kurdish professor, who for whatever reason was an honorary member of the Smithsonian Institute. To me he was a harmless and charming older gentleman who would patiently chat with me while disclosing a font of rich knowledge to this once impressionable teen. And I simply idolized him. As for his friends, in my mind, they were an odd assortment of dusty old troll-like labourers who would, once a month, spend a week with him in the old mansion's basement churning out 'Free Russia' underground newspapers that, when published, would be bought and sold at Izbushka. These newspapers must have been a very popular item. And it’s a pity I didn't then speak a word of Russian to read them myself. But I saw individuals line the block for a copy, and they did so till every copy was sold.

I didn't have a camera in those days. Nor did I ever think to take any pictures. Such a pity, eh? As for me, living with this family was a strange and enchanting experience in my young and very confused life. I think, though, that the couple impressing me most were the two young marrieds, who when I asked where they were from would only laughingly tell me they were from the European gypsy camps. They nicknamed me the Russian word for ‘Bubbles’, telling me they thought I was so light and happy and full of adventure, as I was in those days. And with them and the potter daughter I spent many an evening around the campfire in a location not too far from the tracks of a local train yard, where we would chat, listen to and sing songs of some of the most soulful music I ever heard played.

Not till the privilege and pleasure of my own youthful folly and experience was I familiar with travellers and how they'd been snubbed and ill-treated all over the world. Some with good reason, as travellers in general have been known to be tinkers, traders, con artists and the like. Hide the chickens! Hide the children! The travellers are in town!

And I was thinking of travellers when I wrote a portion of 'Murder On The Rocks!', having seen travellers in Ireland. Although keeping my distance, I marvelled at especially the ones travelling around with horses in an Irish town not too far from where my friend lives in Co. Cork. And I saw them setting up their trailers, which in the old days would have been gypsy caravans including a palm reading van, and parade their horses decorated with ribbons and the like through the streets they would soon be racing them down for a profit. Such colourful folk. 
Aisling Books


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