In 1955, a 5-year-old boy named Peter escaped from East Germany with his mother Eva. Their home was near Berlin, at the border of the Russian and the American zones, where the Berlin Wall would go up a few years later. When Peter and his mother escaped, they slipped past a Russian military camp and armed border guards and jumped on a train headed to the western zone. Peter’s father Dr. Victor Laskowski and his sister Vivian did not make it out until five years later.
In West Berlin, Peter and Eva stayed in a refugee camp before being taken in by Eva's two aunts for several months. But the apartment was small. It wasn't a sustainable arrangement. Fortunately, Eva's uncle had already emigrated to the United States. This uncle, Otto Becker, ran an inn called Beckeridge -- now The Featherbed Inn -- in Waitsfield, and he welcomed Eva and Peter to his home.
Beckeridge was one of the first inns in the Mad River Valley. In those days, Otto and his wife Elsie charged $10 for a bed and two full meals per day. There was a men's dormitory and a women's dormitory, with only two separate bathrooms. Today, the Inn has been renovated and belongs to Karen and Mick Rookwood.
Eva left Peter temporarily with Otto and Elsie. But the Beckers did not have children, so Peter gravitated to the Gaylord family across the road. Hadley Gaylord Sr. and his wife Eloise had three children at the time: Phyllis, Hayden (nicknamed Dennis), and Pearl. The three boys Hadley Jr., Walter, and Allen were born later. Hadley Sr. came to be known as "Hap," the man who led the Warren parade for decades, and eventually opened a garage with towing services.
Eloise Gaylord taught Peter to speak English using a Sears catalog as a textbook. She would point to the items and have Peter repeat: "shirt, pants, shoes," etc. Knowing just a few words of English, Peter attended Waitsfield School.
Since Peter's mother was not a resident of Waitsfield, Peter was asked to do chores at the school in exchange for non-resident tuition. He helped the custodian after school, by sweeping the floors and taking out the trash. Of course, there were also farm chores to do before and after school: feeding the animals (about 30 cows and several dozen hens) and cleaning up after them. To make some money, Peter and some of the Gaylord children would sell worms. Ordinary worms were sold: two for a penny. Big night crawlers were: one for two cents.
Later on, Peter took on other jobs, like helping to deliver bottled milk in the morning, and washing dishes at the Christmas Tree Inn after dinner. As a teenager, Peter helped out at Phyl Den’s Dairy Bar, named after the older two children. He also occasionally pumped gas and worked the afternoon shift at Hap's gas station. According to Peter, Hadley Sr. was proud to run the only gas station with a choice of either Esso or Texaco gas, at least until one of the suppliers backed out of the arrangement.
For fun, as a teenager, Peter and his buddies Johnny Gallagher, Brian Orr, and Harry Sherman rented small motorbikes called tote goats from Andy Hengsteller’s motorcycle shop. The boys would ride the bikes hard, up and down Dana Hill. The bikes weren't always returned to Andy in the best condition, but Andy didn't complain, and kept renting to them. Andy’s shop has since been turned into the offices of True North, next to Evergreen Place.
Peter took up skiing at Mad River Glen. He was featured in one of the first newsreels about the mountain. The cameraman filming the newsreel told Peter to ski down towards him as fast as he could. Peter did so and wound up skiing right into the camera!
As a teenager, Peter wrote an essay for a competition about "what my country means to me." Of course, he now thought of the United States as his country. He won the statewide competition and was asked to recite the essay at a public gathering attended by the then governor of Vermont. The prize essay and Hadley Sr.'s personal recommendation must have stood in his favor, and Peter eventually got his green card and U.S. citizenship.
Peter left The Valley to finish his education and embark on his career. He became director of the Shaker Museum, a history museum in Old Chatham, NY. Afterwards, he became a consultant to museums and other organizations. His work took him to various countries, including Costa Rica, Austria, Belgium, and Mexico. After he retired, he returned to The Valley in 2001 with his wife Blaine and youngest daughter Hadley. The older children, Kristina, Alexander, and Nicholas were already grown and out of the house.
In 2004, the town of Waitsfield appointed Peter as constable, and he trained at the Police Academy to become deputy sheriff. But, like many people in the Mad River Valley, Peter wore several hats. He served on the boards of the Waitsfield Historical Society, Rootswork, and the Mad River Path, to name a few. He also volunteered as an EMT on the Mad River Valley Ambulance Service. So, if you met him one day when he was on patrol as deputy sheriff (perhaps while you were speeding through town?), he might come to your rescue the next day with the ambulance. Whatever hat he was wearing, Peter was joyful to be of service to The Valley where he grew up.
To suggest story ideas, buy the fundraising book Take Me Back: An Anecdotal History of the Mad River Valley or be on MRVTV in Take Me Back: The Interviews write to