Sanctuary Ridge Stories #2

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August 1973

A Winnebago turned into the newly paved portion of the old gravel road to Sanctuary Ridge. The gate was open. David Peterson and his thirteen-year-old son Jacob stepped out of the vehicle. The sign at the entry had faded in the years they’d been gone. The canopy of large oaks that welcomed them triggered memories in David of his departure to college all those years ago. He opened the rusting mailbox marked Walter T. Peterson. His last check from California has arrived.

 Pointing at the fading sign, he said to his son, “We’ll need to paint this. And I’ll need your help replacing the post.”

Jacob asked, “Are we going to rename it, come up with something new?”

“No, we’ll keep it the name.”

“What’s a sanctuary?”

“Good question. Usually a holy place like church, but “sanctuary” can mean a lot of things. Maybe the way Yosemite felt for John Muir—a place of peace, a refuge.”

“I think it will be for me,” Jacob said. “I hope it will be for Ruth, too.”

David looked away pensively and walked toward the motorhome. “So do I.”

David and Jacob had driven from San Mateo, California. Naomi, Jacob’s mother, and Scarlett, his older sister, had flown out the week before. The family had lived in San Mateo for ten years, but now David was taking over his father’s business. It was a tool company that specialized in axes and sledgehammers. David was going to revive the blacksmithing dimension. His parents sold him the house and land for a bargain price.

***

After catching up with his mother and Scarlett and telling them how great the trip was, Jacob decided to visit his grandparents Walter and Minnie. They had recently moved into the St. Andrew’s retirement village just beyond the Sanctuary Ridge property line.

He walked past the big bell that was mounted on a log about seven feet high. He made a mental note to ask his father where such a thing came from and its purpose. Proceeding past a small garden of rhubarb and tomatoes, he passed the old foundation of a barn. A black snake at least five feet long slithered near his feet and disappeared into a pile of rocks. He then came to a structure with peeling red paint that looked like a cabin. It was his grandfather’s tool shed, though built only twenty years earlier, appeared to Jacob like it was from another century. He heard buzzing and looked up at the hornets’ nest hanging from the eave. Shaped like a heart, made of what looked like grayish crinkled paper, the bustling, vibrating factory was bigger than a basketball.

Nervous, Jacob moved on only to be startled by the sound of the shed door slowly creaking open. A thin old man emerged. He had white hair, a pointed chin, and wore faded overalls. In his hand was a sickle that Jacob knew from Cold War propaganda posters. The man could have passed for a mad prophet like a drawing he’d seen in his old Children’s Bible. Maybe Ezekiel.

“You must be Davey’s boy!” the old man said.

Jacob nodded and kept walking.

“I’m John. Welcome, boy!”

Jacob nodded again and walked down the path another hundred yards or so to a level clearing. He could see across the valley and up another ridge. The ground was littered with shotgun shells and cigarette butts. He walked down the hill about ten feet into a small concrete block structure with three walls and an open front. Mounted on two posts was a metal contraption that he didn’t understand. It looked like a robot arm. On the ground, there were yellow shards that appeared to be broken pottery. He opened a cardboard box labeled “clay pigeons.” When he opened the box, he saw that the contents did not resemble pigeons at all but little clay discs, like hardened hamburger buns.

Jacob would soon learn all about trapshooting—the thrill of yelling “pull,” his body becoming one with the Browning over-under double-barrel twelve-gauge, and a split second later turning a “clay bird” into an explosion of dust. Trap was a good sport for dealing with anger too.

***

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Jacob emerged from the woods into a mowed field. Just ahead was St Andrew’s, a four-story brick building in an L shape. He found his grandparents in the lobby smoking, having cocktails, and laughing with their fellow seniors who were also smoking and drinking.

Jacob smelled the familiar fragrance of perfume, Old Spice, Cutty Sark whiskey, and Camels. Though the cloud of smoke rings, he heard Papaw cough, then proclaim with some gravel in his voice, “Well, it seems a young man has returned from the West. Shake my hand.” Gran cried with joy and kissed him on the cheek.

Papaw took Jacob for a walk from St. Andrew’s back onto the Sanctuary Ridge property.  They joined the mowed path that Jacob had been on then took a right on a narrower trail. After a minute or two, Jacob heard water running; then he saw where it came out of the hillside and was gathered in a barrel. “This is the Spring, ” Papaw said in his wizard voice. He filled the tin cup that hung from a nail on the barrel and sipped. “I expect I’ll live to be at least a hundred from this water. Have some.”

Moving from the “water of life,” as Papaw called it, he led Jacob off the path and up a hill through rows and rows of pines. They came upon a stone cross and partially constructed wall that was covered in tree branches. It seemed to a custom detailed masonry and mosaics with religious symbols Jacob was unfamiliar with.  Papaw lifted off the branches. “This is the ruins of the chapel I was going to build for your grandmother. But she only came to the sight once. I regret to say I gave up. But I was thinking maybe you could help me get it started again. It could be our little project.”

“I’d like that,” Jacob said.

***

A month later, after some of the unforeseen realities of Jacob’s new life set in, his cousin Ruth arrived. She was sixteen, tall like her father Homer, and direct like her mother, Delores.

“Here’s your room, Ruthie,” Naomi said. “I want you to feel at home here.”

Jacob had always been in awe of Ruth. Their parents were close, and the families saw each other many times in California. Ruth was smart, funny, and confident. Jacob was worried, however, that she might be sad about moving like he was.

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