A ring in a sock drawer: A tiny capsule of big memories

Memories are curious things. As a person ages, many memories slowly become locked away as if waiting for a key to release them. It may be the smell of a campfire. Or perhaps the sound of waves lapping on a summer shoreline. Or perhaps the sight of a long-forgotten National Music Camp ring.

Mrs. Mary Shaweker Crull (NMC 35-37) has one such ring. Within it are precious, warm memories lovingly stored and beautifully aging for more than 80 years.

It was a different world back in 1935. The Great Depression still rolled on. News of European unrest floated across the Atlantic. Gas was ten cents a gallon. Benny Goodman gave us the birth of Swing. The plains states experienced a horrific dust storm that became the inspiration for John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath”. And one morning at the beginning of that summer a Buick sedan made its way north from a small steel-mill town in Ohio. Dr. Shaweker was driving his teenage daughter, Mary, and her older sister, Margaret, to an even smaller town in northern Michigan to attend the National Music Camp. It was Mary’s first of what would be three cherished summers on the shores of Green Lake.

Mary loved her flute and her piccolo. Back home she played in her Dover High School band. But at the National Music Camp she found herself in the orchestra with other young musicians from all over the country playing the works of Beethoven and Grofé. And just like today’s students, her experience was amazing. Over those three summers, Mary found herself learning and performing music under the direction of those who have since become legendary music educators—Dr. Joseph Maddy, Howard Hanson and Raymond Dvorak. Cherished memories.

She remembers the pace of Camp as similar to today. Instruction, practice, rehearsals, concerts Sunday evening. But at the end of the day, tucked away in their bunk beds after taps were played, a different soloist each night would ease these girls into their dreams. Sometimes she heard the music of a cello drifting through her cabin window. Other times a violin. Each night was never the same. And each night became a piece of her endearing memories.

Mary’s birthday was toward the end of camp. By then, the girls in her cabin had all become good friends. And as good friends do, they surprised Mary with a birthday party. The goodies, laughter and smiles would have been enough, but they had one more surprise for her. Earlier that day they had pooled their money together to purchase a National Music Camp ring from the gift shop in the hotel. That ring sealed the bond of their friendship and securely encircled Mary’s memories from that summer.

Like many such possessions, it rattled around in a sock drawer for decades. But one day a few months ago, it caught her eye. It sparked a memory. Then another.

The ring’s face is like a miniature time capsule. At first glance, it looks like just any other high school ring. A closer look, however, reveals much more. There is a tiny outline of The Interlochen Bowl. Above and below are the words, “National Music Camp.” And within it, as if arising from The Bowl itself, are the notes to the opening strains of Howard Hanson’s “Interlochen Theme.” All were iconic keys that released a rush of Mary’s long-forgotten memories.

Those summers at Interlochen had a tremendous impact on her appreciation for the arts over the course of her adult life. For this reason, Mrs. Crull is lovingly donating her ring of memories to the Interlochen Center for the Arts’ archives department. Back home where all those memories began over 80 years ago.

--Gordon Berg