We all have one. A place.
A special place that was meaningful in some way.
A place where we spent time with other people and built memories.
What happens when you return to such a place?
Are you transported back in time? Do you relive those old memories? Are they bitter or sweet or a little of both?
I took such a trip last week and it was, indeed, bittersweet.
In the summer of 1978 I was a lonely, artistic kid graduating from a junior high school vaguely akin to those schools in The Blackboard Jungle. A lot of gangs, a lot of drugs, several pregnant girls, and about 80% of my class was not planning to go to college.
As someone who wasn't any of those things, I had a pretty small circle of friends.
My father had spent a couple summers at the Interlochen National Music Camp and felt strongly that I would benefit from a summer there.
So my parents scraped up the required tuition, which was a significant amount, and shipped me off to the woods of northern Michigan for eight weeks.
I was pretty nervous, I can tell you. My previous record for time away from home was two weeks at Girl Scout Camp.
I could not fathom what it was going to be like to spend two whole months away from family
Not to mention my nervousness about meeting a whole new set of people. And not just any old people. TALENTED people. In many cases VASTLY TALENTED people. (The official term, then, in all the Interlochen publicity materials was "gifted youth" - we all got a lot of laughs throwing that term around)
I needn't have worried. Within one week of my arrival, I knew I had found my people. My tribe. The set of peers that could keep me sane.
When you are feeling alone and unique in the world, there is no better remedy than suddenly meeting a whole flock of folks who share your interests and have a similar world outlook. Knowing that there are others like you - even if they are miles away the rest of your life - can help you through the tough times. Especially the teen age tough times.
I would spend a total of five summers at Interlochen. Three as a high school camper and two as the Harp Faculty Assistant/Practice Supervisor.
Last week I took my son up there to work (he has a job for the summer as a member of the lighting crew).
I had booked a room in the Stone Hotel so that I could split up the driving and also take time to get him settled. Which meant that I had two days to wander the campus and really drink it in. At times my son accompanied me around the place and at other times I explored alone. It was pretty deserted, as camp was not due to start for another full week.
In the thirty-four (yes THIRTY FOUR) years since I first set foot on the Interlochen campus, a LOT has changed. Many buildings have been torn down or renovated beyond recognition and several new buildings have been added.
And while I am happy for the institution itself - I know that all these changes mean the place is doing well - the powers that be are slowly erasing the camp that meant so much to so many of us.
A particularly bitter loss is that of graffiti. Yes, you heard me, graffiti. The living and practice spaces of Interlochen are literally plastered with the names, dates and pithy sayings of thousands of folks who have spent time there in the camp's alomost almost eighty five year history.
And some of those names are big. I mean BIG.
There is an amazing feeling you get when you are putting in your hours of practice in a room covered with the names of giants of your instrument and knowing that they sat in this very room - THIS VERY ROOM - thirty years before you.
If you played a something large like harp or tuba or timpani, you didn't practice in the regular practice cabins. Instead your instruments were housed in "huts" behind the open air stage known as "the Bowl".
Sometime in the 1990s the decision was made to tear all those huts down and move the instruments to "nicer" quarters. When I saw that those cabins had been removed, I actually teared up a little. My name, and all the names of my fellow harpists for over 60 years were just gone. Erased. As if we never existed.
I was able to show my son the first cabin I lived in - thankfully still housing the graffiti of myself and fellow 1978 cabin mates. (Liz "spiffy" Spier, if you are reading this, your name is still there! And Alison Cohen 1974 - your approach of plastering your name across every square inch of your living space has paid off. You are still everywhere!)
I said earlier that the experience was bittersweet
While walking around, I found myself having an odd reaction to the new buildings and renovated grounds. They are truly spectacular spaces and a vast improvement to the camp. Instead of crooked, worn wooden benches that could give you a splinter, there are shiny, stable seats mounted on secure railings. Everywhere you look there are state of the art facilities.
Why was I so nostalgic for the army surplus crappy jeeps and metal cafeteria trays? And cabins full of spiders?
The only answer I can come up with is that, to truly relive a memory, you need the place of the memory to be as close to its original state as possible. You cannot completely immerse yourself if too much has changed.
Also, memories made in the company of other people are sweetest when they are relived in the company of folks who were originally there with you. Without them, the memory cannot fully come to life. The true power of it remains tantalizingly out of reach.
Worse is attempting to explain those memories to the new friends or family who have accompanied you to your nostalgic spot. Try as they might to share your enthusiasm for this special place, they can really only politely humor you.
Still, I'm glad I returned. Bittersweet or not, Interlochen is still truly special place and I will carry my summers there with me always.
(End Note: - I will be visiting the campus again the last weekend in July. If you were there with me in 1978, 79, 80, 81 or 82 - and you are planning on visiting at the same time - let me know!)
Here is a scrapbook of sorts for fellow alums to enjoy - I have not taken pictures of the new buildings, only my old haunts:
I took many more photos but that's probably enough :-) I'll put together a facebook album eventually.......