Except for a few independent strands, her soft white hair is pulled back from one of the gentlest faces ever to smile through a window. Her dress is plain, as comfortable as her worn blue tennis shoes, yet feminine. Gypsy Hollingsworth is one of those women one might have seen traveling in a Conestoga wagon during the nineteenth century: appearing as fragile as a dandelion puff-ball, yet as indomitable as the plant itself. The strong silent type, she is, with a girlish spark in eyes that have seen 76 years.
Down a quarter-mile dirt drive is “Gypsy’s Community”: a collection of artisans and folks who have built an assortment of dwellings and who live fairly simple, independent and creative lives. There are the Allens (he’s a printer/poet) who have built a beehive palace of interconnected yurts for their family, and the Nygnen’s (he’s a glass blower) who have become almost as self-sufficient as pioneer homesteaders, and Tom, the Finnish potter, whose home, and studio, and sauna, are as delightfully original as his clay bowls, planters, tea pots and geese. Others have come for a while, lived in a trailer or old tobacco barn, and then gone on to places of their own. And then there are the trusted friends to whom Gypsy has sold some of her land at very fair prices, knowing that the woods and creeks will be loved and respected by the new owners. Several times a year they all get together for a pot luck dinner where the menu ranges from organically-grown vegetables in an agar-agar aspic to fried chicken and hot dogs, from yogurt ice cream to chocolate cake.
Gypsy built most of her own little house herself, a house where the doors seem to open automatically for cats and the neighborhood dog who is addicted to fish-flavored cat food. The living room is dominated by a loom, for Gypsy is a skillful and admired weaver; the walls are decorated with samples of her craft: a cityscape, two calico cats, a milkweed pod hanging. All about the house are handcrafted objects that she has received from her many talented friends: a gilt horseshoe on a marble base, scented candles, stained glass, pottery, wood carvings, glassware, pictures. It is a home full of memories and treasures.
Our conversations are gentle, rooted in the present and the earth: what the neighbors are doing, how the children are growing, what birds have returned from their winter vacations, where the geese go to sit on their eggs. I once asked her how she first started weaving and the artificiality of the question brought a response as bland as a plastic flower. Such inquisitiveness is futile, she implies; I accept you for who you are now; think of me the same way. The past is simply a fairy tale but the present is a still unfurling flower. I accept her wisdom and change the subject. We talk about round houses and square houses and windows and light while my girls stroke the cats and bang the shutters and whirl the spinning wheel. The moment is ripe and sweet like a pear which must be eaten right now. And just as the perfect flavor of the fruit lingers in one taste bud even when the pear tree is bare, so, too, this visit is encased in my memory, a vibrant atom split from a small, intense piece of infinity.
Since Gypsy does not like to cook but does like to eat, for Christmas I made and froze a batch of rolls which she could heat and eat one at a time. So I’ll call this recipe Gypsy Sesame Rolls.
Gypsy Sesame Rolls
(About 2 dozen rolls)
1½ c. warm water
3 tblspns. melted butter
¼ cup honey
1 tspn. salt
2 eggs, beaten
7-8 cups whole wheat flour
½ cup soy grits
½ cup sesame seeds
1 tblspn. yeast dissolved in ¼ c. warm water
In a large bowl, mix together the water, butter, honey, salt and eggs. Stir in dissolved yeast. Add 2 cups flour and mix well (about 200 strokes). Stir in soy grits and all but 2 tblspns. of sesame seeds. Mix in flour, 1 cup at a time, until dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and becomes too stiff to mix with a spoon. Work in the rest of the flour with your hands — knead it in (imagine you are massaging your beloved) until the dough is “as firm and smooth as a baby’s bottom.”
Place dough in a well-oiled bowl and allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour. Then punch down the dough and form plum-sized rolls. Roll them in the remaining sesame seeds and place on a cookie sheet sprinkled with corn meal. Bake in a preheated oven at 350º for 20 minutes or until brown.