Already a bestseller in the UK, Mikey Walsh’s life story of growing up a Gypsy offers that rare glimpse into a fascinating yet horrifying life that many of us can hardly imagine in Gypsy Boy.
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Born to a family of bare-knuckle boxers, Mikey’s dad is intent on teaching his son the ropes. Mikey, however, fails horribly at learning the family trade, which leads to yet more hideous abuse within his clan. We called it “a poignant memoir that bears comparison to the bestselling Running With Scissors—but better written and far darker.”
Here is a brief excerpt:
Neither of my parents ever said they loved us. Words like those were seen as a sign of weakness. But I could tell by the look my mother sometimes gave me that she did indeed love me. Even if she had wanted to be more openly affectionate, a look was as much as she could have given me. Women were strictly forbidden from ‘mollycoddling’ boys in case they compromised the tough masculinity that was expected of Gypsy men.
The one time our mother did show us affection, of a sort, was when we were ill. Like most Gypsy women, she was not keen on the benefits of modern medicine; she had more faith in the practice of positive thought, mixed with a touch of denial, and the odd old-wives’ remedy. Her methods were slapdash, to say the least. When I caught cold, I’d be made to lie on the couch, mint leaves up my nose and whatever sauce she had a lot of in the cupboard slapped all over my chest.
‘Let’s get that ball of snot out of you,’ she’d say as she rummaged through the kitchen drawer. Then, for one verse of ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ she would tap a wooden spoon across my chest to break up the phlegm.
By the time the cold had reached my sister Frankie, the method would have changed. Frankie would be laid out on her front, with a different kind of sauce over her back, and the mint leaves would be threaded around her neck on a shoelace. The only thing that was always part of the process was the wooden spoon tap. She would lightly bounce the spoon off Frankie’s shoulder blades like a xylophone.
When Frankie came out in warts all over her hands our mother was convinced it was the revenge of a toad Frankie had crushed when she leaped from the trailer steps a few days earlier. She sent us out with a small bucket to collect some slugs, one slug for each wart. Once we had brought them home she squeezed the juice from the base of each slug, rubbing the slimy excess against each wart, while Frankie squealed and retched. Once basted in slug juice, Frankie’s hands were wrapped in old carrier bags, which were then taped in place.
The next day I leaped out of bed and dragged Frankie from the top bunk to see if our mother’s magic had worked as she had promised. To our dismay Frankie’s hands were exactly as they had been before. Our mother, baffled by the failure of her foolproof medicine, drove us down to the local phone box to call Granny Bettie to see if there was some part of the process she had missed. We waited in the car as she waved her arms and shouted down the receiver. After slamming it down she stormed back into the car and headed for the local supermarket where she bought several packs of bacon, all of which were to be wrapped around Frankie’s hands overnight, and then buried in the garden the next morning. This was solemnly done, but after a week of eager anticipation the warts had not budged. If anything they’d got bigger. At which point, accepting that she was a terrible failure as a witch, our mother finally caved and took Frankie to the doctor.
From Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh. Copyright © 2012 by the author and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.