Born in 1979, Roxy Freeman grew up travelling around Ireland and England in a horse-drawn wagon with her mother and father and five siblings. Life was harsh but it was a childhood of freedom spent in harmony with nature. Roxy didn’t know her time-tables but she could milk a goat, ride a horse and cook dinner on an open fire before she was ten.
I have mentioned this before that I find it tough to review non-fiction which is somebody’s life story. But some books grab you so hard that you cannot but talk about it. Little Gypsy is one of those. I had first come across gypsies in Enid Blyton books. They seemed fascinating to me. Not aspirational, but definitely fascinating. To be reading the tale of a real life gypsy was exciting!
Roxy Freeman’s dad came from an ancestry of Romani Gypsies, possibly. His great-great grandfather suffered an injury and that resulted in them giving up their nomadic life until Dik, Roxy’s dad rediscovered his nomadic tendencies. Roxy’s mum was from a wealthy family in America who meets the love of her life, Dik, while back-packing in Ireland. They go on to live a proper nomadic life with their 6 children. Life, when Roxy was young was harsh, but fun. Roxy was born in Ireland and that was a more idyllic existence. Things changed a lot for them when the Freemans moved over to England, where prejudices ran high. They faced trouble from the local communities and had to deal with regular evictions from the police. Despite all that, the children did have a good childhood.
All that changed for Roxy and Perly, her younger sister, when they fell prey to the unwanted attention of their ‘uncle’ Tony. Tony was a friend of their parents, and a highly trusted one. They were abused for years by him, and they kept quiet, terrified by what might happen if they spoke out about what Tony did. It was years before Roxy managed to speak up about the abuse.
They had a kind of upbringing that is hard to imagine. No schooling, it was only after Roxy was over 8 that she started to recognise letters and learned to read. I find it hard to understand how her mother, who grew up well-educated never felt the need to educate her children. As for her dad, so many things I find difficult to understand. But then that just might be a different type of life, one which most of us would find tough to understand. I guess that is why that life is called unconventional. What is heart-warming is how Roxy made the most of her life. Despite her childhood, Roxy went on to educate herself and get a life for herself.
The book had me marvelling at their lives and wishing they had better at the same time. The small things that we take for granted like having a hot bath, were luxuries for them, had only when their mum’s parents came visiting. Once when she slept over at a friend’s place, she felt it odd to be in such a hot place, never having had central heating or electric blankets, it was something her body just couldn’t adjust to.
Her mother, I have to say, must have been the most gentle, adjusting person possible. To take to the life of gypsies like she did, despite being from such a different background, accepting the things her husband did.. sounds almost unbelievable to me. I can understand some from a less privileged background behaving like this but her mother, who seemingly had options.. very difficult to understand. But then, that’s people, isn’t it? Everybody functions in their own way, with their own motivations.
It was a fantastic book. It gives an insight into the nomadic way of living. The prejudice and hostility that they face from people unable to accept a different style of living. As for the abuse she faced, I guess that could happen in any sort of environment. It is heart breaking to see that child sexual abuse happens everywhere, just goes to show, I guess there are all sorts of people in all sorts of societies. The author wanted to write her story to show that even a childhood disrupted by abuse can be happy, and I guess she does do that with the book.
It is a fascinating tale of a way of life, which I would think will soon be one of the past. It makes me wonder if it is right to expect nomadic people/tribal people give up their ways and adopt the ways of the majority? While in some ways they might be at a disadvantage, I can’t help wondering if that is only true because the society is tuned to the way most of us function. So ‘lifestyle minorities’ like the gypsies would have to conform, eventually? That makes me feel a little sad.
It was 5/5 read for me. A window into a totally different life.
About the Author
Roxy Freeman was born into a travelling family. She has had an unusual life, to say the least. She was 23 before she saw the inside of a classroom. This is her first book.