Often, with their parents in jail and facing abuse and ostracism at school and in their neighborhoods, the children of the Old Left needed to get away, preferably to the country in the summer; they needed shelter and unconditional love, and this was provided by Manny and Grace Granich. That neither of them had much experience working with children made no difference. They provided a summer home in which American ideals of tolerance, the virtue of physical labor and inclusiveness were lived. However, Grace had little tolerance for competitive games, fancy makeup, smoking or “wild” music. For Linda, this was a blessed shelter, as indeed it was for most of the children who attended Higley. Of course, as in all summer camps, some kids were not overly happy. One of the stories in the camp was that among these was Bobby Fisher, of chess fame, who temporarily ran away. But on the whole, Higley Hill was a haven.
So, it was no surprise that as young adults, Paula (who as a child had spent her summers at Higley Hill) and her husband, Billy Gerson (whose father was a writer and editor at the “Daily Worker,” and had been New York City’s last Communist councilman) were picked by Grace and Manny when they retired to be camp directors. Billy and Paula continued the traditions that had been established. Linda and I helped, although I had absolutely no experience with summer camping or the “lefty” atmosphere of the place.
Paula and Billy were wonderful with kids. Paula was great at organizing a rich cultural program and Billy was absolutely a Pied Piper. He was a shambling figure, not particularly tall, without hips, and as a result, keeping his pants from falling was a real and constant concern. Kids gravitated towards him and loved him.
Linda was a ball of organizing energy. She did whatever was required and in addition, every summer had the children put on a production of a musical which she organized and directed. Sometimes this was a classic, such as “The Pirates of Penzance” and sometimes a musical of more recent vintage, such as “The Three Penny Opera.” These productions were wonderful, as the children themselves were a remarkable lot, and when parents came up to visit their offspring in mid-summer, they were often surprised by their talented children.
I was “head counselor”, which meant I supervised the staff and organized endless prison ball games. I also led three day hikes on the Long Trail, a Vermont section of the Appalachian Trail. Some of these hikes were made interesting by rain, and on one of them, during the night, the local porcupines ate all the stitching on our backpacks.
At the end of one summer, however, Manny and Grace decided that they wanted to sell Higley Hill. Now Paula and Billy had to decide whether they wanted to continue running Higley elsewhere, which meant buying another property and getting it ready for the following season, or giving up on running a camp. Decisions never came easily to Paula and Billy, and at the time both of them were working on Ph.D.’s at Columbia (she in art history, he in physics), and time passed. Linda and I decided that if Paula and Billy didn’t want to run Higley any longer, we would continue doing so, but this meant they had to decide one way or another, and they really couldn’t make up their minds, and time was passing.