icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

My Writer's Journal

Behind the Books: Gideon's People

Gideon's People, 1996
One summer in the 1990's I went back to my home town, Lewistown, Pennsylvania, for a visit. I no longer had any family there, my parents both long dead, and everything had changed so much over the decades that I could scarcely find my way around.

Nevertheless, one day I was wandering along Market Street, looking for anything that looked familiar, when I ran into an old family friend. Stanley Siegel had been my mother's lawyer, as his father had been before that. He suggested that we have lunch, and I agreed. I didn't know Stan very well, and I was curious about him and his family. Lewistown was a very small town with lots of German names, mostly "Pennsylvania Dutch"--my grandparents' name was Knepp--and only a small handful of Jewish families. So I asked Stan how his father had ended up there, of all places. And he told me his story.

His grandfather had been driven out of Europe and wound up in Philadelphia, where he became a peddler, traveling to Lancaster County every week with a pack on his back to sell his goods to Amish farmers. Stan's father, Harry Siegel, went with him. It was a good business relationship, Stan told me, because they had a nearly common language--Yiddish and the German dialect spoken by the Amish. They also were deeply religious, although not the same religion. Eventually, Stan's father went to law school, but at that time, many big city law firms didn't hire Jews. So he made his way to central Pennsylvania, to Lewistown, and established his practice there.

I was fascinated by this story, and of course the research was fun, searching for commonalities of which there were a lot. Not one of my most popular books, but one I really enjoyed writing.
Be the first to comment