Gypsy Boy, by Mikey Walsh
My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies
by Mikey Walsh
A heartbreaking, ultimately triumphant memoir, Gypsy Boy will have you cringing, laughing and crying, sometimes all at once. Mikey was a remarkable, resilient boy, who has grown into an insightfully sensitive and intelligent man, much to the reader’s delight.
Part of a wandering Romany Gypsy group, Mikey’s family is set in its violent ways, knows no other way, in fact. When Mikey’s father begins to notice the first signs of his son being “different,” as in, a gypsy who doesn’t like to fight, he becomes hell bent on toughening him up, making him into a fighter. While Mikey’s mother doesn’t exactly approve of his father’s aggressive ways with her son who’s just barely out of diapers, she can do nothing to stop him. In fact, she gets beaten badly as well, more often than not, for trying to step in, with the result being that the father is then even harder on Mikey. The father’s total lack of remorse is just one of the many incredulous facts of little Mikey’s life.
There are several aspects of Mikey’s character that make him a misfit in the Gypsy world. For instance, he is much too sensitive a soul to fit the Gypsy ideal of a man. That’s a hard thing for any kid to hide, and Mikey is no exception. He can easily see that his father is totally disgusted with what he perceives as weakness in his son, and it cuts Mikey to the core. Mikey, however, is nothing if not stoic. He takes all that his father dishes out partly because he has no choice, but mostly because to do anything else would mean his father had won, and Mikey is not about to let his father win.
This is a gritty coming-of-age memoir, and along the way you will see glimpses of the man Mikey is to become. As much as he abhors the regular training sessions in the gym and in the ring, they do teach him to stand up for himself, not to mention that they get him in fine, physical form. He learns who he can trust to be in his corner—a surprisingly low number compared to those he cannot. The abuse that Mikey is forced to undergo is hard to take, indeed; however, the fact that he somehow managed to come out of it alive and well and with his head screwed on straight is nothing short of amazing. His courage and fortitude are truly inspiring.
On the lighter side, it’s quite interesting—and often amusing–to learn of the gypsy ways, especially the ostentatious gypsy women, who love to clean their trailers in stilettos and tight-fitting clothing (I kept picturing Peg Bundy of Married with Children fame.) Also, some of their customs, including singing and storytelling, are quite charming. And parties, Gypsies love to throw them for both minor and major occasions. Weddings and funerals are attended by every Gypsy, related or not, for hundreds of miles around. It’s easy to see the things that Mikey found appealing about Gypsy life. Too bad for Mikey, the unappealing ways far outweighed the appealing ones.
Gypsy Boy is a worthwhile memoir that I have to believe was cathartic for Mikey to write. I do hope this contributed to his healing process, as he clearly has it in him to live a productive and enjoyable life. He may even have another book or two in him, which would be good news for his fans, of which I am now one.