I have learned that all “tweens” go through tough adolescent years; it seems to be a universal truth. Mine seemed particularly brutal, as we moved from Detroit to a near-suburb, I skipped a grade at this crucial period, the new girls were far more sophisticated and I had a particularly ugly adolescence with buck teeth, ugly cat’s-eye glass frames, bad hair cut, slow to develop…you get the picture. Some of the new girls were unkind to me and I just curled up inside and wanted to disappear.
I was saved by going off to the National Music Camp (now the Interlochen Arts Camp), in Interlochen, MI beginning in the summer of 1964, after that awful 6th grade year. There I found sensitive, artistic kids simpatico with me and made friends of a lifetime.
By 1966, my third summer, I was in Intermediate Girls Cabin 12, now an “Upper” Intermediate. I was already close friends with Christie, who had been in my cabin the previous summer, but she was now in Cabin 13. Ida, who had been in Junior Girls 10 with me in 1964 and was also in IG 13, so I was an honorary member of that cabin and hung out there a lot. Emily, too, became a very close friend. She cut up her yearbook from Larchmont, NY so that I could build a shrine to a boy, now in the High School division, on whom I had a mad crush (he didn’t know I existed). Christie, Emily and I were in several classes together and remain very close friends to this day. Em sang at my wedding.
By this point, I was emerging from those ugly-duckling years. I was out of braces and wore a retainer at night. I had more attractive glass frames and would get contact lenses as soon as I returned home in the fall. Even my hair style improved. As I entered high school in September, I blossomed.
I liked the girls in my cabin. Everyone at camp knew why we were there and bullying didn’t really exist. We might feel competitive within our majors, but we were in awe of those more talented than ourselves (and yes, we knew who they were). We were tight-knit within our cabin structure and had the best counselor I’ve ever had over my many summers at Interlochen and several camps before going there. Her name was Marilynn Anderson (the return address on a letter I saved would indicate she was from Albion, MI) but she called herself “Grundy”. We don’t know why; she used the word however it suited her, “I’m going to grundy along”. Everyone who came into contact with her was drawn to her. In the Featured photo, she is the short round woman in the middle of the back row with the short, blonde hair. She read us “Winnie the Pooh” after Taps at night, doing all the voices. In my mind, she sort of looked like Pooh Bear, a pleasant association.
All counselors had day-time jobs in the division. Grundy worked as a life guard on the water front, but had a special gift for kindness and living. She played guitar and sang folk songs. We loved to gather round and sing along. I learned so many classic songs from her, the playlist of Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, John Denver, so many others. We delighted in her company and I assure you, this was not the case for many other counselors; all college students, many just marking time. They were not paid well and conditions, living in those cabins and taking care of these sensitive girls, was not ideal. Grundy reveled in it. She made us all feel special.
We were a pretty fun bunch. One girl, Carlina Paul, had a father who played the organ on the set of soap operas in New York City and had all sorts of juicy gossip with which to regale us. Several of us were from the Detroit area, which caused instant bonding. One was from Chicago and was SERIOUS about becoming an actress, though it was just not destined to be. Last I heard (and it was a long time ago), she was Lindsey Wagner’s personal assistant. A few, already at 13, were strikingly beautiful, as you can see from the photo. Some were supremely talented. We all enjoyed each other very much. Grundy fostered a wonderful spirit in the cabin. We adored her for it.
Camp was a serious place and we received report cards at 4 weeks and 8 weeks (the end of the camp season). We wanted to do well and be invited back the next summer. We were not only graded in our classes (Operetta, Choir and Acting Technique for me that summer), but also “Citizenship”, which was how we behaved in the cabin. For the ONLY time in my six summers, I received an “Excellent” both terms (the highest ranking). I was overjoyed.
Obviously, this was long before the Internet and camp had a long-standing tradition of writing “train letters” to everyone in our cabin to read on the way home. Since campers came from across the country and even from foreign countries, most had very long journeys and you could write anything to them – make up puzzles or games, put in candy, things to occupy your friends as they made their way back to civilization. Even the drive back to my home took 5 hours. I still have the letter Grundy wrote to me.
As must all good things end, so must our summer at Interlochen. These past 8 weeks have been weeks of learning for all of us, and especially for me, your dreary and feeble old counselor! We’ve had a lot fun, but there was more,…an understanding of each other as individuals, that made our cabin such a great one.
An excellent camper you’ve been all along. And you truly are a virtuoso in the art of living. Keep your sense of humor, enthusiasm, and intelligence always about you, and you’ll never ever lack for friends. “Just let a smile be your umbrella”, to quote a tried and true saying! I shall always think of you as a friend, the dearest possession any person could want.
“You call me friend…
But do you realize
How much the name implies…
It means that down the years
Through Sunshine and tears
There’s always someone standing by your heart…
And I would have you know…
Wherever you may go
There’s always someone — standing by your heart.”
Whew! That made my heart sing! For years and years. I still come back to that poem and repeat it to special friends. It may seem simplistic and trite, but for this 13 year old waif, it meant everything. My mother was quick to scold and criticize; short on praise back home. My brother, who was my rock, was already off to Brandeis. My father was a kind, gentle person, someone I came to rely on later in life, but worked 6 days and 2 nights a week until after I, too, left for Brandeis, when he switched careers and no longer worked in a retail capacity. I never lived at home again, marrying the month after graduation. Grundy was the first adult (in writing this piece I calculated that she was 7 years older than me) to tell me that I was a good person; not commenting on brains or looks or any other external attribute, just a good human being. That made a huge impact on me. And I was not alone. She did this for most of the girls in our cabin, I suspect.
I must have given her a little piece of jewelry; a pin from the camp store, as she commented on it in the Christmas card that she wrote in response to mine (which I still have). She thanked me again for the pin and said she wore it all the time. I have a postcard from Grenoble where she spent her Junior year abroad. She knew I was studying French, so the whole card is written in elementary French.
And finally, on that tissue-paper thin airmail paper, so redolent of the era, a letter dated April 12, 1967, also from France. She says my last letter took weeks to arrive, as it wasn’t sent airmail. She described a trip to London (visiting Windsor Castle was her favorite) and Paris (the Louvre and Easter Mass at Notre Dame were the highlights). She was accepted into a summer Peace Corps program, but the length of the assignment gets her back after her term at University of Michigan begins, so she will have to pass on that opportunity. She has written to Mary Jewell (head of staff for camp, wife of the music director for High School Operetta and an Interlochen legend) to see if she could do anything at the camp, but is doubtful. There, the trail runs cold. She did not return to camp in 1967.
I have thought of her often through the years. I tried to track her down. Years ago, the head of the Alumni Office at Interlochen tried, unsuccessfully, for me. This was before the Internet, so perhaps I might find something now. I don’t know if she married her boyfriend Neil or not, or what her name might be. So many times throughout the years I’ve wanted to tell her that she meant so much to me, that her kindness and smiles still light up my inside when I need a boost. I’m sure she’d like to hear that. Since this prompt, I did look for her on Facebook, and there are two “Marilynn Anderson”s, but neither look to be my Grundy.
My birthday was just a month ago. I am now Facebook friends with Marcy, the girl furtherest on the left on the cabin photo. In fact, she posted the cabin photo, used as the Featured photo (I have my own copy, but it was SO fun to see it show up in my Facebook feed) along with birthday greetings on my special day with the warning to “carpe diem”. We went off-line to catch up. She is the third of four sisters from Detroit, all of whom went to camp. Besides Marcy, I only knew her younger sister Vicki, who now lives in the Boston area. Vicki, also, was a Drama major at camp. Marcy told me quite a tale about her life. It is her story to tell, not mine, but she has lived a life full of highs and lows yet keeps impressively cheerful. I am in awe of her attitude and thrilled to be back in touch after so many years. She has stayed in touch with several of the other members of that wonderful Cabin 12, including Judy Harris (seated, last girl on the left in the front row; I am seated, second from the right). Judy is now a well-respected attorney in the juvenile court system in New York. She was mentioned in the book “The Notorious RBG”, as she was so helpful to the author! And she, also, has tried to track down Grundy, with no success. Grundy influenced and moved her in indescribable ways. Marcy and I chatted about that for a while. Isn’t it remarkable that in a mere 8 weeks, someone who wasn’t our teacher could have such a profound impact on so many of us.
If you are out there Marilynn “Grundy” Anderson, we love you. 54 years later, we still think about you, want to be in touch, want you to know that you made a difference for so many of us. We hope you are happy and well. Please contact us! We want to tell you what you’ve meant to us. You deserve to know.
Addendum: Since posting this story, I know what became of dear Grundy. As I’d hoped, someone with more internet savvy than I have tracked down information and, with great sadness here is what I can report:
Marilynn Helen Anderson, born August 13, 1946 in Michigan, died, 2008 in Naples, Florida.
The pin I reference in my story must have been a birthday gift, as we would still have been at camp on her birthday. She would have been around 62 when she passed.
I was able to reach out to cabin mate Judy who found the story moving. She believes that Grundy went into the Foreign Service, which would explain why we couldn’t track her down.
Rest in peace, dear friend. There is still someone standing by your heart.
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.