The City of Sisterly Love 

An Act that Defies Gravity

Karen Ferrick-Roman

© Copyright 2010 by Karen Ferrick-Roman


Photo of an historical sign in Bedford, PA.

Forget Philadelphia and its claims on brotherly love.

The Pennsylvania town that serves as the City of Sisterly Love is Bedford, PA. Nestled in the hills of the Laurel Highlands, Bedford is an old town that is born new again. The Bedford Springs spa, once enjoyed by presidents and dignitaries--Presidents Polk, Taft and Eisenhower, a double-handful of Supreme Court justices, the likes of author Nathaniel Hawthorne and industrialist Henry Ford--has been revived. Metroland escapees from Philadelphia and DC fill the resort itself, the golf course, the fine dining. The once-sagging porch has pristine rockers for its guests. We mere mortals hike the trails and enjoy the formal gardens. We talk about taking a yoga class or buying a swimming pass to soak in the mineral springs. Yet, every trip, they stay on the to-do list.

Then there's Old Bedford Village, a re-enactor's haven that provides history buffs with insights into the 18th-century wilderness that was Pennsylvania--though the recreated version seems a bit more clean and tame. The down-home, quaint shops along Main Street reflect the small town feel. They're the kind of places where the restaurant owners and shopkeepers stop to chat and see who they're serving. Wandering through the farmer's market along the bubbling Juniata River provides the same kind of experiences. Besides walking off with pumpkins and oregano, you take away that person-to-person advice and expertise that used to be found in town square long before we developed carpal tunnel syndrome over our crazy clicking on the Internet.

Nostalgic, down-home comfort. It's great, but not why we come.

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Shawnee Lake is a gem of a spot for hiking, for shoving off in a kayak and enjoying the peace that comes with floating without a destination across a large lake of calm, flat water, for feeling the rush of the water wash away summer's stickiness. The Fall Foliage Festival brings chicken and barbeque cooked before your very eyes; the floating sounds of musicians sharing their talents, the mingling of the permanent rural residents with the cash-rich transients that make up the weekend crowd. There's the quilt show, the guided town tour, the Civil War generals-- and, of course, the country's largest coffee pot. (If you can resist taking your picture under the spout, you don't really deserve a vacation!)

Slow-lane activities. It's great, but not why we come.

The Golden Eagle Inn makes memorable pretzel-bun ham and cheese sandwiches served up in an old brick home that was the town's original bed and breakfast, except it was called an inn and tavern back then and the parking stalls were probably real horse stalls. We roam the streets, check out the yard sales and peek into store windows. We wander into the emporium and sit a spell with homemade pie.

Old-fashioned charm. It's great, but not why we come.

We come to Bedford because it's a compromise.

My sister lives in Washington, D.C. I live in Pittsburgh. As the crow flies or, better yet, as the car drives, Bedford is pretty darn close to equidistant. If the going gets rough and we need to spill our guts, clear our minds and validate our spirits, we can always find each other just three hours away. In the end, it's cheaper than therapy and way more fun. And it helps that a generous aunt throws open her cottage doors to her nieces. Even when she's not there, she lets us enjoy the gurgle of the Juniata as it flows past her front yard, the relative quiet amid the tall trees, the occasional wandering bear cub, wading great blue heron and ever-droning cicadas. We have our choice of beds, and revert to the days when we talked each other to sleep.

For years, we thought Bedford was our Secret Meeting Place. But the waitress at the Arena restaurant, where we guiltlessly grab the lunch buffet, lets us know we're not the only ones. Entire extended families meet in Bedford, for everything from summer weekends to Thanksgiving traditions. Some reservations are kept year-to-year.

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That news only spurs us to come back. Hey, we're on the cutting edge of a trend! By default, that makes us trendy! Wait till the folks at Bedford Springs hear about that!

On the other hand, if we tell everybody, we reveal our Secret Meeting Place. So we decide, after a split-second contemplation, to keep it to ourselves. As our reward, we allowed ourselves to embark on a New Adventure.

One fall afternoon, after we'd talked ourselves silly, my sister and I were kids again, driving around Bedford County on a postcard-perfect day with a blazing blue sky, trees dressed in yellow and red, the smell of apples in the air. Tooling down the winding two-lane road, past farmhouses and roadside stand, it was almost like the days of driving around Armstrong County, PA, the land of back roads where we lived as kids. But now, tourist map in hand, we were on the trail of covered bridges, at least for a while. The first two spans were absolutely charming. One was in the ivy-creeping, thought-provoking “I’m really old” state; a piece down the road, her renovated, red-and-white twin also cried to have her picture taken. But after the requisite stop for apples and cider, we were ready to kick this adventuring up a notch.

My sister—did I mention that she’s my older sister?—and I had planned a weekend of togetherness. For the first time in 20 years we were alone together for a weekend, without kids, husbands or parents. So we were, indeed, ready for a thrill.

We decided to seek out Gravity Hill.

Being at the age where we need to defy gravity, one way or another, it seemed a perfect fit.

Finding Gravity Hill presented the first challenge. However nice it would have been, we didn’t really expect a flashing billboard with a thousand lights to point and say, “Sisters, turn here!” (Wait, signs like that usually have three exclamation points!!!)  But the spatially challenged like us would have appreciated a nice little hand-painted sign saying “Gravity Hill” with an arrow pointing in the proper direction. (Sorry, Bedford County, but if you’re a newbie driving on the road, it’s pretty hard to see GH spray painted on the road and keep the car out of the ditch.) We continued bumbling along until we came to the little green-and-white, standard road sign. “Gravity Hill.” Oooooh. That was the cue to return to our juvenile ways. The car was filled with spooky-ooky sounds and giggles till we came to the spray-painted “Stop.” I stopped. Put the car in neutral. Nothing happened. No giggles. No spooky-ookies. We just stared at each other.

Hmmph. Let’s try again. This time, we got a very slight backward feeling. Hardly worth scouring the countryside for that.

So, the sisterhood thought long and hard. The metaphorical light bulb flickered. Maybe we should find “Start.” Hmmph. Novel idea. Down by the barn, where the road bends and the horses were being shoed was “Start,” in bold, red spray paint. This was no simple, throw-‘em-off track graffiti; it even was spelled right, so there was no mistaking it.

OK, “Start.”

Little gray Prius in neutral. Two middle-aged sisters. Car obligingly rolls backward. Shrieking in the middle of the afternoon, all the way to “Stop.”

Of course, being the little sister, I have a long history of being blamed for everything. Somehow, this most recent freak of nature is my doing. “You’re not in neutral! You’re hitting the gas just to freak me out!”

OK, Sis, we’ll do it again.

Rewind. Little gray Prius in neutral. Two middle-aged sisters. Car rolls backward. Shrieking in the middle of the afternoon.

Geez, how does it do that? Let’s try it again. The girl holding the horse that was being shoed smiled when we pulled up to Start this time. The guy shoeing the horse—and the horse—didn’t even look up at these crazy touristas.

Again. Neutral. Backward. This time, silence. Except for the giggles.

The third time around, I had the presence of mind to clock us at a speed topping 7 mph going up that hill.

We would have stayed there all afternoon, defying gravity, except for the two carloads of laughing 20-something girls that pulled up behind us.

Like we did the first time around, they diligently obeyed on the spray-painted “Stop” command.

No, we advised, as now veteran, experience-hardened experts of Gravity Hill. You have to go the whole way to the bottom.

They were cute and blonde and giggly.

“Let’s watch,” I said.

So, we pulled over as much as we could on the road that had a hill and a ditch on the upper side and a barbed wire fence and a field on the lower side.

We could hear the shrieking from our car. And we laughed right along with them.

Our little secret in the City of Sisterly Love.

Karen Ferrick-Roman lives in Beaver Falls, Pa., with her husband, sons and dreams of traveling.

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