An interview with Dan Gibbons: Part 1

28 Jun 2011 by Jim Gibbons, No Comments »

A long time ago, I promised that this blog would feature interviews. Today, I post my first.

I recently started an email dialogue with my brother Dan about camp. We hit on a number of topics. Dan’s 20 months younger than I am and we both went to camp at Shewahmegon for seven years. Dan was always in the cabin just below mine, age-wise.

Some quick explanation of the interview that follows: My bits of the conversation are in bold. The rest is all Dan. I’ve cleaned up the grammar throughout for readability. I’ve also added some explanatory notes in parentheses where Dan and I had just been using nickname’s or short hand. Dan’s parenthetical asides should be obvious in comparison.

Now, enough introduction—here’s Part 1 of our discussion.

On the right, Dan Gibbons on the A-Field at Camp Shewahmegon. The year: 2000. Also featured, Ted Marino.

What’s your earliest memory of wanting to go to camp and what did you think the experience would be like before spending a summer at Shewahmegon?

DAN GIBBONS: I can’t particularly recall a single moment where I wanted to be at camp. As I first thought about, I thought I recalled a moment at some family reunion… However, after thinking about it, I remembered we visited camp while on vacation at Eagle Nob. I remember thinking the place seemed so cool—very happening! So much happening in the eyes of a young kid… I have slight memories of walking around on the dirt path from the waterfront to the a-field.  

One major thing that led me (and I am sure you) to want to go there is I recall knowing my two older cousins went (to Shewahmegon). The way they kind of talked about it, or just their attitude about it, made it seem like it was really awesome. Knowing that our cousins liked it so much and that our uncles went—it seemed kinda like family tradition. So, I knew I wanted to go, because if they liked it, well, I would probably like it.

Of course, I was much more nervous when it came time to (actually) go. But then I decided I was just excited. Almost like a kid before college… just so ready to go and experience a new adventure.

Our cousin Ryan Bergstrom in 1997. One of the reasons we went to camp.

If memory serves, I fell and skinned my knee around Cabin 15 (Our cousin Ryan’s cabin the year we visited… I think.) and had to go to the nurse during that visit.

When you got to camp that first year, what are your best memories? I know you have a great story about peeing in a tent at Two Lakes Campground…

DAN GIBBONS: Man, first memories of camp… I feel like I have a lot of distinct memories from the first year of camp. Probably because it was the first year, I can clearly identify those memories as (being from the) first year. Other memories can kind of blend in to just camp and then you have to think about what year that really was.
I can remember being on the bus riding up (to Shewahmegon). It seemed like such a long ride that first time with a combination of uncertainty, not knowing many people and scary older kids on the back of the bus.
Weird note: I remember waking up in the early morning It was light out and we were still on the bus. I had this weird boogery shit all over me. It was a super weird consistency. I still, to this day, don’t know if some prank was played on me in my sleep or if I just sneezed all over myself.
I remember getting to camp and having the staff there. Everything seemed very new. I remember thinking it was kind of a big moment when they were assigning us counselors—knowing you were going to be given to that person who would look out for your group for the whole summer.
The things I remember the most from the first year were the camping trips, goofing in the cabin and the fireworks at the Johnson residence. I still remember those as being one of the coolest shows because it was so dark out on the lake. Oh, I also remember the first counsel fires and trying to learn songs! David (Will) was in my cabin, so he basically came out of the womb signing Johnny Verbeck (Weird visual there!) and I felt left out not knowing them.
Within the first years we were at camp, I really remember the evening and weekend games! I think the camp’s population (attendance) was higher in our younger years, so the games were fun. As the years went on, I felt we played the games less and less. Especially in my last year as JC (Junior Counselor).

Dan as a Junior Counselor on a day off in 2001. We're at the mini golf course in Hayward, WI.

Okay. Twin Lakes camping trip… I have tons of memories from my first campout. We cooked puffers for the first time—an epic moment in my life. 
So as the story goes, we had a long night of playing capture the life jacket, cooking, goofing and exploring at the majestic Two Lakes campground.  As it was time to go to sleep, the counselors asked us to go to the restroom because the tents only zipped from the outside or something… really weird. I was fine at the moment and did not need to go. About two hours later I wake up and now I have to pee. The fire is still going and I can hear Ben (McIntyre) and Thor (Berg) still talking. It’s probably like 10:30pm…

Also, thinking back, what do a 20-year-old college kid and 35ish Swedish giant talk about? 

…Oh boy, do I have to pee. But as Thor is a monster of a man and I think he will crush me if I bother him, I am scared to ask. I don’t know why I was so scared to ask, maybe it was that whole mentality of “do you have to go now” and then feeling guilty when you gotta go two exits later on a road trip. Or the whole I was “supposed to be in bed” thing.
Anyway, I managed to fall back a sleep. While sleeping, I peed all over myself—my sleeping bag and my mattress pad. I also managed to do the same to David’s gear. When we first woke up, there was your normal morning confusion. That morning also had the confusion of trying to figure out what that smell was and where it came from (Pee and me). There is a quick moment of denial and disbelief and then you just accept it.
One of my vivid memories was the last morning when we were getting picked up by (Camp co-owner and co-founder) Bill (Will) to because it was raining really bad. We ate cereal in the rain and then the counselors, along with a couple JCs, had to paddle the canoes back by themselves. I remember Thor getting in the back of a canoe (with nothing else in it) and seeing how monstrous he truly was—the whole front of the canoe was out of the water!
I also remember riding back to camp in the old (Old!) maroon and white van from Twin Lakes to camp.  Being in that van was a good summary of camp in general, because camp was basically like going back in time. Whether it was going back in time because of the lack of technology or just the fact that the style and feeling of camp was stuck in the ’60s and ’70s, it was like a little time capsule up in Drummond, Wisconsin!

Dan as Cyclops on the A-Field in 2000.

It’s funny to look back on those summers when we were younger. I can never tell if everything was bigger (The games, the camp population, etc.) or if we were just smaller. Back then camp was such an unknown that, even after the first year, there was still such an exciting air of mystery and discovery about it as you learned more about the Shewahmegon Way (a.k.a. the Law of the Jungle) each year.

Speaking of The Law of The Jungle—which became a term synonymous for the weird but fun rules of camp after hearing that phrase uttered numerous times during BIll Will’s Rudyard Kipling readings—camp was full of inside jokes, running jokes, camp-wide slang and gags. Out of the many camp conversational aspects and turns of phrase, which ones do you reminisce about most?

DAN GIBBONS: I honestly do not remember the “law of the jungle” phrase being mentioned all that much at camp, but it sounds vaguely familiar. I think you’re being a year older and having a cooler cabin helped you to be more “in the know” at camp than I.

Running jokes… I mean I can remember a lot of phrases that I still go through from time to time…

-“Cool beans”: While used all the time, I still am holding onto the dream that Lee Graves came up with this phrase!
-“Hey buddy!”
-“You kill it you fill it.”
-“Spring Chicken” (As in “Bobby is no spring chicken…”)

More than just phrases, things that really define camp language and always make me think of camp are certain words that we used there. When I hear them I almost always have a different definition in my mind from other people since I first heard these words at camp. Now, both their meaning and visual representation mean something very distinct in my mind.

-Council fire

While I rarely hear some of these words, they make me think of camp. They are a representation of camp, these words that are so distinct to camp.

The Gibbons Bros in 2000.

You know what just came to mind? Bucket golf. What a ridiculous activity! I loved it, though!  There were a lot of really silly activities at camp. You needed a lot of activities because you could easily get tired of even the best activities. You know what came up the other day in conversation with someone? I don’t even remember how… the activity Turtle Hunt.

That sounds like the silliest activity. It was so distinct to camp… going out just looking for turtles! The only thing I didn’t enjoy was putting them in the reptile pit. So sad!

Speaking of the reptile pit, wasn’t that a big area of Bill Will’s “erosion?” I felt like there was always a joke about erosion due to campers running down the hills.

How a bout “raking the beach?” That was a duty that was pretty distinct to camp in my mind.  
Ha! Oh man, you are dredging up some great memories!

I had kinda forgotten about turtle hunts. I never went on one until I was in Bunkhouse or when I was a JC, but I remember thinking it was kinda fun. Some younger camper was in the front of my canoe scooping up turtles with gusto, so perhaps his enthusiasm was just infectious.

For the record, Law of the Jungle was a Bill Will-ism taken from some Rudyard Kipling story. One of the Mowgli tales, I believe. I remember Adam Kwasman using it often to describe general life rules and camp rules… possibly been something his whole cabin did, I don’t know. But when I think of rules or things in life that just should be common knowledge/sense (Not pulling on Superman’s cape. Not spitting into the wind.), I still think of them as the Law of the Jungle.

I remember the erosion thing too, but can’t remember why. Maybe it was like Bill’s croquet etiquette demonstration. I have a photo of him shooting hook shots on the basketball court. I should dig that up!

Ok, ok... It's not a hook shot, nor is it a very good photo, but that's Bill Will shooting hoops. Found it!

Part 2 coming soon! Stay tuned!

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