Random Recollections—Orange Cappuccino

16 Mar 2009 by Jim Gibbons, 12 Comments »

In my last year as a camper at Camp Shewahmegon, during which I would have been 14 years old, I went on my second Border Trip—a 10-day canoeing excursion in the remote Canadian wilderness, usually in a waterway reached only by floatplanes or miles upon miles of driving to a secluded boat landing. I was in Cabin Bunkhouse at the time—the oldest cabin at camp during my seven years, though it had been used for younger campers in the past—and was wearing the same black-and-gray plaid, long-sleeved button-down shirt I’d worn the whole trip during our hours on the water canoeing each day, just like I had on Border the year before. It was the last morning we’d awaken in our tents on some secluded, make-shift camp site, as we would reach the put-in point by day’s end where the vans the brought us this far north were parked, thus completing the circular journey of that year’s Canada trip. We had camped on a small island, which on two sides was comprised mostly of large boulders, and had pitched our tents in the wooded area toward the island’s center. The kitchen and campfire of our site was located on the rocky side that faced the direction we’d be heading out towards when we got in our canoes later that morning. As had been the case at every breakfast on the trip, there was hot water for cocoa, to make instant oatmeal or, in this case of my brother’s Australian counselor Miles Bence, to make some General Foods International Orange Cappuccino.

OrangeCappuccinoAt some point earlier in the trip, Miles had discovered that the tin housing the cappuccino mix had one of those goofy little descriptions oft-times found on coffees. Though I can’t be sure General Foods International hasn’t changed it since then, it would have read something like, “A wonderfully full-bodied coffee with the enticing flavors of orange and spices, inspired by the cafe’s of Europe.” Each morning afterward, including the final one of the trip, Miles would riff on other possible coffee tin epithets, switching into a rich, TV commercial-like voice, probably placing one foot on a rock and leaning on his raised knee with a steaming mug in hand.

“There’s nothing like the warm aroma of General Foods Orange Cappuccino to thaw the chill of a crisp Fall evening from your quivering lips.”


“Just like the snow falls on a barren meadow, blanketing in white the homes of the forest denizens, General Foods Orange Cappuccino is a fresh, clean start to your day—whether you’re waking up to the peace of a thatched cottage or to the hustle and bustle of the big city.”

Years later, I actually saw a skit on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” where two rival writers of these coffee tin vignettes had a poetry slam-esque face-off before deciding the victor in a brutal cage match. After seeing that, I couldn’t help but be reminded of those mornings and think, “Man, camp certainly was ahead of its time in the comedy department!” As, so very clearly, we were.

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  1. David Will says:

    Clearwater West?

  2. Jim Gibbons says:

    Might be. I’d have to see a map of that year’s Border to confirm…but, as you were paddling in the other group that year, perhaps you remember…
    That morning, your group caught up to us and said hello while we finished our breakfast. Then you paddled on, till both groups met before taking on that final bit of paddling across a the lake we’d put in at…right when that massive storm came up and we all ended up having to paddle across through what I can only exaggeratedly remember as ten foot swells, rain and a helluva lot of yelling, “Oh sh&$! Rock! Huge Rock! Just came out of nowhere….RIGHT!” as the giant waves kept revealing rocks that we normally never would have seen, nor would have mattered as the rockiness of said waves was all that made them visible.

  3. Danny Gibbons says:

    I still have some dead mosquito stains on my tent from rolling up my tent without clearing them out…Some may consider this gross, I consider them memories!

  4. Danny Gibbons says:

    Out of curiousity, can anyone recall the name of the wooden castle up on the border trip and the reason why it was built there? From time to time it pops in my head as stopping there and eating lunch was a joyous occasion.

    Also to note, I recently noticed that my right pectoral muscle is larger than the left, I blame this on paddling to much on the same side during the border trip. How come no one explained the consequences of these actions to me before I went?

  5. David Will says:

    To answer your question Dan(ny), it was called McQuat’s Castle, and I am pretty sure he made it for a women who never came to claim it. It is pretty cool though.

    Also, sorry for making you paddle on one side the whole time, but you can blame Evan for making you work so hard.

  6. Jim Gibbons says:

    That right pec is well worth it though, Dan. Really, it is just a fabulous muscle!

  7. DrNightmare says:

    Sorry to ramble, but I felt like writing again 😛

    The last year of Elementary School (5th-6th grade) was when I got to go for a few weeks. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was unfortunate enough to go around the time almost every kid on the planet had a cellphone or a Game Boy (or an old Game Gear, in my case, hah). There were no rules for the trip that stated we couldn’t take electronics, so naturally, everyone tried to take the biggest mini-TV they could possibly carry.

    I remember about 30 of us going, it was one of those Honor Roll-only type of trips. When the bus dropped us off in some remote undisclosed location (I’m serious, none of us even knew the name of the camp, there weren’t even any signs around the place! The field-trip slips only said “Camp Grounds” xD ), we were greeted by a cheery 20-something year-old guy in very short shorts and 2 very pretty women around the same age. One of them was a Redhead, I remember that distinctly. :) We were broken into equally-sized groups and assigned cabins to sleep in and stash our clothes and stuff, also split by gender of course.

    Most mornings we got up at around 8 or 9 and participated in planned activities, though honestly, I think the counselors were making them up as we went along and getting us to do their chores… I mean, who plans “Let’s move this log out from the middle of the road!”. Or how about “Hey kids, lets pull all of these weeds out from around the campsite!” Jerks!

    Anyway, we had the standard hike-out-into-the-mountain-for-no-apparent-reason sessions. They were very fun because the environment was gorgeous! All I could see was green, brown, and gold because Fall was coming. There were piles of leaves to play with, trees to climb, and lots of cool-looking bugs and animals everywhere if you looked for them. The weather was almost always cool and breezy and the sky had just the right amount of clouds that I liked, enough to hide the sun and cast a grey-blue haze over the world. I could have stayed in that place forever. The only thing that ruined it for me were the other kids.

    Like I said, everyone’s parents were buying them cellphones and junk, so the kids were usually glued to an electronic of some kind. I don’t know why though, there was no TV or cell-reception in the area, it was funny hearing them go NOOOOO! AARRRGGG! because of it. So really, there was no one to have fun with, my friends had their parents go as chaperones, so they couldn’t do anything exciting without being nagged-at.

    Most days turned-out to be the hikes, but we also went on a few night-hikes, those were awesome. The trees and terrain looked scary as hell, and there was the constant low-lying fog, hiding whatever snakes or mutant serial killers might be lurking around. Shining eyes peering at us from all directions. We’d aim for the pre-made clearing to raise a bonfire, marshmallows were passed-out and we’d gather our own sticks. I’d get pine cones and eat the nuts because apparently the berries in the area were poisonous. x_X

    It was a fun place for me, but goddamn, I couldn’t stand the whining from everyone. My toe hurts! My hair is frizzy! I need batteries! OMG I SAW A DEER! WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE! I understand now, that they were city kids, spoiled by their adoring parents who bought them everything they wanted because they wanted them to be doctors and lawyers. That’s not a bad thing of course, I just wish they would’ve sucked it up.

    But I also understand that I’m a ruggedly handsome lone wolf raised in the harshest environments, physically and mentally. Forged of steel, tempered by fire, frozen by the icy chill of an uncaring family, shackled by an unending cycle of poverty, and unchained by sheer willpower alone… oops, I thought I was writing my autobiography for a second. xD

    Anyway, my camp experiences were great only because I’d stray from the group and come back when it was time to head back to the base camp. No one really noticed when I was gone, and that was fine.

    On a lighter note, the food was AMAZINGLY FANTABULOUS. Holy crap, they had a glass-walled mess-hall that had 2 walls lined with as much delicious food as you could shovel onto your tray! Everyday was a buffet! Yay! I’d make triple chicken sandwiches, enchiladas, burritos, tacos, and tried not to look like a total beaner while I as at it! xD

  8. DrNightmare says:

    Oops, I just remembered I was supposed to make a point 😛

    At camp, I enjoyed the feeling of living with bare essentials. It surprised me because I I really hate that I’ve had to live with that bareness most of my life. I still don’t understand it really.

    I guess it was because at camp I figured, well, if I ever want to stop living with only cold showers and 2 sets of clothes, I can always end it by going home. And then I realized home wasn’t much different. At least at camp, I got to eat once in a while. Lol.

  9. Jim Gibbons says:

    Doc, you raise a few points in your tale (thanks for sharing, by the way!) that really made me further appreciate my camp experience. Let me elaborate…

    When I was a camper, the best bits of portable technology it seemed that were widely available to people were boom boxes and Walkmen. I have to say that most of my musical taste seemed to really mature at camp thanks to a number of my counselors (Mac Harris specifically…more on this later on NMA) and the lack of iPods and MP3s led to an interesting culture of massive CD binders full of peoples’ music that would be shared, traded and played on those little AA battery-powered speakers that plugged right into your Walkman…er…Discman. Still, the lack of cell phones and TV was key in so many ways and I have often wondered how camp would have possibly changed in a world where those luxuries are increasingly common everywhere you go.

    Secondly, after working at a Day Camp—which was great, but catered to the campers a bit too much, maybe—the tough-love family forged at Shewahmegon is something that I’ve grown more and more appreciative of over the years. Counselors and staff were, in a way, like cool older brothers you just wanted to hang with and not piss off. Not that this led us all, as campers, to be perfect little soldiers, but being part of that community and wanting to be someone who was looked at as an asset (so to speak) and not a pain in the ass was (in my opinion) a far better way of making men out of boys. Was it always gentle and PC? No. But it certainly reinforced the benefits of not acting like a little punk.

    That point leads into my last point that your post brought up, Doc, and that is how good organization at camp really is essential. Life at Camp Shewahmegon was very structured and logical—as much as any conglomeration of crazy, filthy kids living up in the woods can be—and I think many people don’t realize how smart kids are and how much a good reason for doing something matters to them. If I learned one thing working as a counselor to a group of 10-15 6-year-olds at Banner Day Camp, it is that “Because” is never a satisfactory answer for why campers have to do things, and the more kids—even ones that young—get the “why,” the better they are going to behave and the more fun the are consequently going to have. So, while that may have been infused with tough love at Shewahmegon—”Why can’t we jump off this bridge?” “So you don’t die, you little morons.”—at least I always felt like I was getting the truth.

    Sidenote, I feel the above was even more fully realized as a junior counselor when we were tasked with work like “raking the beach” in the morning. Does raking a beach sound crazy? Yes. But did that beach look fucking amazing after raking all the lakeweed and drift wood off it every morning? YES!

  10. David Will says:

    Camp Technology

    Shewahmegon, as many of you know, is pretty darn rustic. Cabins with no water or electricity, mosquitoes and ticks everywhere, and cooking food over an open fire on a regular basis. But the truth is, Camp Shewahmegon also had technology that was not available to me the rest of the year.

    Dining Hall games was an activity reserved for rainy, cold days. Many would play board games, card games, table games (warhammer & D&D), but computers were also available. At the near end of the dining hall were three Apple 2 computers. That’s right, with monochromatic screens and huge floppy disks, you could literally play a handful of games! While these games were terribly outdated , they were still exciting, and getting a chance to play them was a highly coveted experience you could get nowhere else!

    The cabin during rest time is actually where my adult musical taste developed. Far and away, the greatest influence were the counselors. In Cabin 11, there was Andrew who taught me to love Oasis with all my heart. In 12, there was Mac who allowed me to transcend something or other with the tunes of Archers of Loaf. In Bunkhouse (sorry to skip the in between cabins), there was J Geils, Jackson Browne, and Live. The only thing facilitating this musical growth were CD players and boomboxes. I must confess that I did not own either of these items till I was far into my teenage years, so if I wanted to hear new & good music, I did it at camp.

    The last piece of technology that factored into my camp life was portable gaming systems. In our cabin, only Danny G and A had gaming devices. When I got a chance to play one, I was absorbed into the realms of handheld Zelda and Mario for a few minutes. I was kind of a technophile back at the time, so I would do nearly anything to use their gameboys during rest period. Danny G certainly took advantage of my gamelust and on occasion would refuse to let me play, just to see me squirm!

    In all honesty though, I am glad technology was limited to these things. Video games, while I love them, would have definitely decreased my social skills (which are already somewhat lacking). I am happy I learned how to occupy myself in a 12×12 room with 6 other guys without having to resort to video games or movies. We would play cards, make fun of each other, play the little hand game (“enter the store”), etc. We weren’t given prewrapped fun, we made it ourselves!

  11. Jim Gibbons says:

    Oh man, I remember an Apple 2 game up at Shewahmegon that I believe was called “People Pong.” In all it’s green and black graphic glory, a man would jump off a diving board towards a bed of spikes and you would have nothing but a small trampoline-like paddle to bounce him away from certain doom!

    I also remember battling with Pressy over the high score on Pac Man or Brickles or some such nonsense during counselor snack (held after the campers had “lights out”) on the nicer dining hall computer.

  12. Danny Gibbons says:

    Hey david, I did not banish you from playing cause i wanted to watch you squirm…when I did not want people to play it was because I did not want to play, and so I needed people to play somehting else with me….If I allowed you to play I would have no one to play star wars cards with!

    I liked a lot of your points DR. While every camp has so many different things to add, one thing I defiently appreiciate from camp was being able to explore and adventure on my own. Whether it was on a hike, or just in the woods on the way up from the A field I loved to discover new things in a place that seemed untouched in the wild. Being in a rural woodsy area it was great to branch off from the group and look for something exciting or weird. It was always the best to find a goofy looking mushroom or nickel sized frog, sometimes you wanted to find it to be the first and show the group, othertimes it was solely for my own entertainment. Going to camp allows you to discover yourself and to feed the desire to discover.

    Night HIKES…To this day I learned the most terriyfing game on night hikes. David you will recall. WHen you have a faint bit of light you stair at your cabinmates face and as you do it starts to manipulate and change into some scary-horrid monster. i do not know the science behind how this works, whether it be that your eyes are playing tricks due to the small amount of light or if it is a mind game. Either way, as a young child it will freak you out!!!!

    Also I had a dream last night where I found a flag in Capture the three flags, but glenn was guarding it and I could not escape his lanky reach. Every time I tried to bolt out of the safe zone with it he would tag me. He never took me to jail though… he let me become free, which then I would try to get the flag again and he would tag me. We lost the game!

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