The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Jo Kane Re­view thislife@theaus­tralian.com.au

In wartime Britain, Mum found it a chal­lenge to put a meal on the ta­ble ev­ery evening for me and my three younger sis­ters.

To sup­ple­ment my fa­ther’s small in­come, Mum took up knit­ting for friends. They would pro­vide the wool and pat­tern, and Mum would of­ten be knit­ting far into the night to com­plete her or­ders.

Of­ten she was per­mit­ted to keep the left­over bits of wool, and with these she knit­ted all our clothes, dresses, hats, coats and socks. Once she found she had heaps of dif­fer­ent shades of green wool left over, and with this she knit­ted a striped dress for me.

I hated it im­me­di­ately, even more so when my sis­ters shrieked with laugh­ter, chris­ten­ing it the “cater­pil­lar dress”. Des­per­ately I tried to de­vise a way to get rid of it.

Then one day a gypsy turned up on our doorstep. Ev­ery summer the gyp­sies would set up camp in the fields nearby. We were warned never to go near them, as gyp­sies stole chil­dren, or so we were told. I know they helped them­selves to the farm­ers’ eggs, and then came round and sold them to ev­ery­one at a cheaper price than we could buy in the shops. We were poor enough not to ask any ques­tions.

This par­tic­u­lar day, the gypsy had a lit­tle girl with her who was cap­ti­vated by the cater­pil­lar dress I was wear­ing. “Ooh, lu­vly!” she said over and over again. The gypsy of­fered to read Mum’s for­tune for six­pence. No one ever said no to a gypsy, as that would bring bad luck. Fun­nily enough, she pre­dicted Mum was go­ing to live in a place filled with sun­shine. (A few years later we im­mi­grated to Aus­tralia.)

I wrapped the dress in news­pa­per and ran to the gypsy camp the next day. Lean­ing over the wall, I watched with envy the chil­dren play­ing around the brightly coloured horse-drawn car­a­vans — no mo­torised ve­hi­cles in those days. The kids didn’t go to school, as the tru­ant of­fi­cer could never catch up with them.

I could see the gypsy cook­ing over a fire. When she looked up I waved the news­pa­per at her and called out, “For your lit­tle girl!” She took the par­cel and, un­wrap­ping it, called out: “Annabelle! Come and see what I’ve got!” The girl raced over and ex­cit­edly held the dress against her­self, then raced off to put it on.

The gypsy gave me six eggs to take home, so I told Mum I’d met the gyp­sies at the end of the street. In my naivety, it never dawned on me that one day she might turn up on our doorstep again with the girl wear­ing that dress. Luck­ily that never hap­pened.

That lit­tle girl would be about my age and some­times I won­der if she re­mem­bers the green striped dress that gave her so much plea­sure — and me such in­tense re­lief.

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