Image Each year as the fall would approach, we would have returning neighbors.  They would arrive about the end of October and rent the house next door until the middle or the end of April.  There would be a gentleman, his wife, a great number of his wife's relatives (all females) and a number of kids.  The number of kids used to increase every year.  The family was a Serbian Gypsy family.

From April to October they would travel wherever they wanted to travel.  Most Gypsies consider themselves nomads and the idea of a border is totally foreign to them.  This particular family would travel in two or three carriages and sell items carved from wood, pottery and jewelry.  The women were dressed in the most colorful clothes and they would have silver or gold embroidery.

While many residents of our village were afraid of them and would not welcome them to their homes, we had no choice.  They were our neighbors.  They came and borrowed things from us.  Many village residents complained that a visit from this family would make you look for things that you had yesterday and you would never find them.  We never had that happen to us.  While many said that they were some of the best thieves, my Father became good friends with this gentleman whom I will call Alexander.

What made my Father and Alexander good friends is that they would swap war stories.  My Father served in three different armies during World War II – the royal army which was disbanded, the chetnik army from which he managed to escape and the partisan army which gave him an honorable discharge.  I must note that in all these armies my father was always the cook and never saw battle on the front lines.  Our neighbor was a partisan.  Not only was he highly decorated, but he lost his left arm in a battle.  He could tell stories of the battles that I read about in the history books because he was in many of them, and he would carry his revolver in his holster so that everyone would see it.  Because he was a decorated war hero he was allowed to carry his guns in public, while everyone else who was not a part of the police or of the armed forces were not allowed to do so.

Yet our neighbor was a bitter man.  He could talk about government ministers on a first name basis, but he would also tell us that he no longer wanted to remember them.  He would tell us that his red star was given on this occasion, that this decoration was given on another, but those people have moved ahead and he was doing what he did before the war begun. He continued to be a peddling gypsy.

As we listened to his stories I never figured out if his friends indeed left him behind because he was an illiterate gypsy who was exceedingly brave in the battle fields, or if they left him behind because he had an uncontrollable temper.  There were moments when he would get drunk and start swaggering with his revolver and within minutes everyone in his household would go out, no matter how much snow was on the ground.  Thus for all the years that they lived next to us we tiptoed around this gentleman whose anger we did not want to provoke because there was bitterness in his heart.

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Rev. Dr. George Hancock-Stefan

George Hancock-Stefan

Pastor George Hancock-Stefan completed 30 years as the pastor of the great congregation at Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands in 2020. Those 30 years have been a blessed time for him, his wife...