Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Reflecting on a Milestone

By Chester Campbell

Yesterday was my birthday, and I was overwhelmed by all the good wishes I received on Facebook. I'm not a prolific Facebooker, maybe once a day, sometimes not at all. But it's heartening to bask in my moment of glory at the passing of another milestone. Actually, the dictionary defines milestone as an important event, a turning point. When you're in your thirties or forties, another birthday coming along may seem a bit bothersome, but at my age you wear 'em with pride.

Hey, I'm still here.

Coming so close to Thanksgiving, my birthday was a time to look back and be thankful for all the friends I've known, the people I've met, the places I've seen, the things I've accomplished and, most of all, the family whose love I have experienced.

I thought about Johnny Green, my early boyhood best friend, who didn't make it past his forties. We did a lot of wild things together, like riding our bicycles to the Nashville airport (without our mothers knowing, of course) and paying five bucks apiece to fly in an open-cockpit airplane. This was back in the thirties. I reminisced about my high school and college buddy, Dan Leech, with whom I did equally outrageous things. Dan had a Model A Ford he'd gotten from his grandfather. When we were at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, we'd drive it home and back. Traveling U.S. 70 late at night, we'd turn off the headlights and navigate the winding road by moonlight.

As a newspaper reporter and later a local magazine editor, I met countless people both important (at least in their estimation) and ordinary. While working for a PR agency, I wrote a campaign brochure for Dr. Winfield Dunn, who went on to become governor of Tennessee. I worked on it with his campaign manager, a young lawyer named Lamar Alexander. Lamar went on to become governor, and I was impressed that whenever I saw him, he always called me by my first name. I haven't seen him in years, but he's now one of the most influential Republican senators.

I did numerous interviews as a reporter. One I remember distinctly was with the violinist David Rubinoff, better known as Rubinoff and his Violin. He had come to Knoxville to play with the symphony. I walked into his hotel room, introduced myself and he started talking. I don't remember if I said anything else but "thanks" before leaving, but he was a tour de force. He insisted on giving me a little violin-shaped card with his autograph. I probably still have it somewhere.

Among the not-so-eminent, by normal standards, people I've encountered was a man whose name I can't recall. He wandered into my Sunday School class one morning looking for a cup of coffee. He was dressed in jeans and a clean but well-worn shirt. This was several years ago before such attire was common in church. He told us he was homeless. He was fairly new to Nashville and had lived with another guy but moved out. He joined us for several Sundays. We kept him in coffee and donuts, when we had 'em. Eventually he moved on and we never heard from him again.

I've had lots of friends who enjoyed life as they found it, never making it big, but never having the desire to. A lot of them are no longer around, which happens when you keep on having birthdays. We joined another Sunday School classes when the old one dwindled to nearly nothing.

I saved the family for the last, though it really comes first. After the mother of my children died, I remarried. Sarah brought along two children, three grandchildren, and now three great-grandchildren, to add to my four kids, eight grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. When holidays like Thanksgiving come along, it's pandemonium at our house. Fortunately, lots of people bring food, so Sarah doesn't do a lot of cooking. We had 26 people last Thursday, and it's a good thing nobody called the fire marshal. All of my crowd wasn't there, with a son and his family in Pennsylvania and a daughter around Atlanta. We'd've had to move into the garage if they had been.

The youngest member of the family is Link (don't know why they spell it that way, his name is Lincoln). He turned two yesterday, on my birthday. His mother and dad threw a party for him on Sunday. So I wouldn't be left out, they had a small cake with "Chester" on it and one candle. I extinguished it with one puff. Forgot to make a wish, but what the heck.

For all those well-wishers, I had a great day, and I'm looking forward to number 85. I'll have another book out before then, if I stay off Facebook and get the writing done. So pardon me if I'm a little scarce on the Internet for a while.


Anonymous said...

What a gift you gave us all with this blog post, Chester. I can identify with large families, and love the tales from your past. Write well and drop in every now and then!

Chester Campbell said...

Thanks, Sylvia. It's been a blast.

Beth Terrell said...

Chester, this is a wonderful post. What a rich life you've led so far--and I have no doubt the rest will be just as rich.

You are my hero.

P.S. Happy birthday.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Nice of you to leave a piece of your history behind, Chester. I've had a really difficult time getting anything out of my folks or my 94 year old friend. Stories like this are memorable for all.

Anonymous said...

Great memories and great post, Chester! Thanks for taking us all along for the ride. (-:
Pat Browning