NOTE: This is my attempt to tell a fiction story as a “serial”—like was once popular in magazines and newspapers. The text is below the video option. –Mark Bair
These stories are about a family, their house, and their land, which Walter Peterson named Sanctuary Ridge. It’s a place that gets stored in your body like a recording that years later starts to play. Sometimes those forgotten sensations arrive like a fragrant breeze.
Jacob Peterson gathered the stories from a variety of sources. Rebecca Kalanta Theodoros was of great help, for she helped Jacob see himself more clearly. Jacob (me) writes in the 3rd person because that makes it less awkward. He did not always arrange the stories in the order that they happened. Sometimes the stories are in the order that he heard them. Sometimes he listened to a story but was not ready to accept it. Jacob would leave it unsaid until he could think on it. Some stories he never bothered to look into until he was old, so some of the older stories are told last.
Sanctuary Ridge casts a spell with its beauty and seclusion, but to many in the family, the Ridge was the kind of place you had to leave before you could like it. After giving everything he had to the homestead, even old Walter got bored for a while and went searching.
In the rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania, in a rural area known as Smoke Valley, sat a sprawling brick house that overlooked a valley that a large Jewish family had once farmed. In 1950, David Peterson’s father, Walter, purchased fifty-five acres and hired a company to build the house he designed. After the house was finished, Walter began construction of a chapel for his wife. That’s why he named his estate Sanctuary Ridge. But the work was never completed. David was not sure why but suspected it was because his mother had a falling out with the local priest. But the name stuck.
According to tradition, Smoke Valley was originally named “Hebel” by the Jewish community that farmed there in the 1820s. Hebel was the Hebrew word “vapor” or “vanity” from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. “All is hebel (vapor) under the sun,” the elders said. The world after Eden was shrouded in a fog of uncertainty. Suffering seemed random and unexplainable.
As the Jewish families migrated to Pittsburgh, the area became known as Smoke Valley—still a possible translation of hebel but less religious. Smoke Valley was more to the liking of the new inhabitants who had a “can do” spirit of enterprise. Plus, the valley was hazy because the winds blew from the direction of the steel mills.
The one remaining Jewish farm was called Shalom, a twenty-acre spot owned by the Sapersteins about a mile from Sanctuary Ridge. Homer Bardly, David’s brother-in-law, was raised at Shalom Farm, for his parents worked for Doctor Saperstein.
Bordering Sanctuary Ridge on the north was a retirement village, run by St. Andrew’s, the old church that sat next to the complex. When David first roamed his father’s acreage as a twelve-year-old, he would sometimes run into a disoriented older man or woman who had wandered off.
On a warm sunny day in the early summer of 1957, Homer Bardly drove his light blue rusted Chevy truck up the gravel road at Sanctuary Ridge. Stuffed in the cab were Delores and Naomi Edmunds, sisters from the tiny borough of Warren just north of Smoke Valley. Naomi and David had been dating for six months. Homer and Delores were getting married the next day.
David heard the car and met them when they reached the top of the driveway. Naomi jumped out and hugged David, who then jumped into the bed of the truck. They went to the drive-in diner in town and ordered fries and milkshakes. Homer, Delores, and Naomi joined David in the truck bed.
“We found a small place in Los Angeles,” Homer said. “And I’ve hired an agent. He says he’ll find me a role in a movie.”
“That’s great, Homer,” David said. “Does your agent know about your cauliflower ears?”
“Well, he knows I was a wrestler before I took to the stage.”
“We’re going to miss you so much,” Naomi said. “Delores and I have never been apart. Not since our parents died.”
“I raised you good, little sister,” Delores asserted as she lit a cigarette. “But you can visit anytime.”
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