Over the years — decades, actually — Lynn Strauss wondered whatever happened to Anita Lovelace, the smart and observant girl with whom she’d formed a special bond while working as a counselor at Camp Birchwood near Cass Lake, Minn.
Lovelace, meanwhile, kept wondering about Strauss, her favorite counselor, the one who was so friendly and laughed easily. Lovelace searched Facebook for Strauss, but she wasn’t on the site.
This mutual seeking was more than casual curiosity between long-ago friends. The bond they formed at camp was exceptional, they say.
“Some people come into your life and just make these impressions,” Lovelace said.
After almost 50 years, they were brought back together one year ago — thanks, appropriately enough, to the 2019 Great Minnesota Get-Together, otherwise known as the Minnesota State Fair.
Credit also belongs to a jingle dress, a traditional Native American garment adorned with elaborate patterns of metal cones whose rhythmic tingling when worn in a dance is said to have healing properties. Lovelace made the dress by hand and submitted it to the fair, where it was displayed in the Creative Activities Building.
In a year when the fair has been canceled because of the pandemic, the two can look back and marvel at the serendipitous fair-related events that led to their reunion.
Strauss and Lovelace spent several summers together at camp. Strauss was a counselor in her mid-to-late teens; Lovelace was four years her junior. Both had come from rough family backgrounds. The camp felt safe, a carefree place to swim and canoe, build fires and make arts and crafts. When they went out canoeing together, the conversation flowed. Lovelace made a bracelet of green beads and gave it to Strauss.
In future years, Strauss would wear that bracelet to powwows and other Native American gatherings, back to Cass Lake and to the State Fair, hoping Lovelace would see her and spot the bracelet.
“My connection with Anita was special — I really felt connected at the heart,” Strauss said. “All those years I felt just such a need to have [her] in my life.”
“She was like a sister to me, a mentor to me,” Lovelace said. “As a young girl, I idolized her.”
After those summers at camp, they went on to lead very different lives. Strauss, now 65, became a psychologist, moving around and finally settling in Plymouth. Lovelace, 61, lives in Minneapolis, where she drove a school bus for many years.
Lovelace is also an accomplished crafts artist. A member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, she makes a variety of Native American arts — moccasins, quilts, dolls, jewelry — decorated with intricate beadwork. Each year, she submits some of these creations to the State Fair, where they are displayed in the garment section of the Creative Activities Building in an exhibit for ethnic or folk attire. In 2019, she submitted a jingle dress.
It wasn’t just any jingle dress. For one thing, it won an award from the American Craft Council. But more than that, Lovelace said, she felt “an urgency” about making it. Her art always flows from her inspirations, but this was different.
“This one was just, like, I gotta make this jingle dress,” she said. “It just wanted to be made.”
She labored over it. At one point, she attached about 200 jingles, decided they weren’t placed quite right, removed them all and started over. She decorated it with colorful butterflies. Strauss, it turns out, loves butterflies.
“I was on a mission,” Lovelace said. “At the time, I didn’t know. But now I know.”
Strauss is a State Fair devotee. In an ordinary year, she goes four times — sees her favorite exhibits, eats cheese curds from her favorite stand. In 2019, Strauss was strolling through the Creative Activities Building when “all of a sudden, I felt like my heart just filled with energy,” she said.
“It was like everything froze around me. I felt magnetically drawn.”
She turned a corner and there was the jingle dress, displayed in its own glass case. She looked at the name of the artist, posted next to the beautiful dress. “I cried and I was shaking,” Strauss said.
After that, Strauss renewed her efforts to track down Lovelace. Finally, after much googling and combing through social media, she found her and sent an e-mail. Lovelace was surprised, but cautious at first. Could this be some kind of scam?
But then came an e-mail with a picture of a green beaded bracelet. “It gave me a chill,” Lovelace said.
Now the two celebrate their happy ending with frequent phone calls and texts. They get together and talk about their children and, in Lovelace’s case, grandchildren.
“We’ve come full circle,” Strauss said. “The hole in my heart has been healed.”
“It’s been filled,” Lovelace said.