I was born back in 1956 and for most of my young life the Cold War was going strong. Duck and cover drills when the sirens were being tested were just a part of school life. Family dynamics in that era of nuclear fears had a character all their own. Balanced somewhere between the old "work on the assembly line" mentality and the new anything is possible hopes that birthed everything from hippies to Star Wars, those times were not riding on an even keel. It made life very interesting for parents and their children.
I was the first of four kids. Mom and dad gave us all nice, solid christian names; John, Mark, Michael and Cathy. Our parents were Frank and Mary Carolyn. They were a typical couple playing out the then prevalent image of the great American dream. House, kids, car in the garage, steady job for dad, mom home raising the kids.
Mom was the love and dad was the authority. Don’t get me wrong, dad loved us, but he did not easily display affection the way our mom did. Perhaps dad's stoicism was rooted in the fact that he lost both his parents while still a toddler. Maybe it was just the way men were expected to be back then. I've come to understand that even mom suffered (as a woman) but she lavished her affections upon us, so we kids weren’t really lacking for love.
When dad spoke it was law. Little kids tend to see adults as sorta scary big and powerful, but I believe we obeyed our dad as much out of respect, as fear. I don't know. With children that may be more often true than not. Dad was such a positive personality he excelled at gaining most everyone's respect anyway and all the kids could see that, so some of us adored him as his due. Others rebelled. Here is an excerpt from the eulogy I wrote for his funeral back in 2015…
The tragedy of losing his mom, when everything he knew and felt about the world around him was still so tightly tied to her, was the greatest tragedy in and certainly the biggest influence on Frank’s young life. The worst thing that can happen to a baby happened to Frank.
Then, his dad left for greener pastures and with no absolute mother or father figure, Frank was forced to grow up in rural Texas, in the depression, depending on his own resources to figure out how to deal with and survive in that harsh environment. In essence, he had to build his own character from his very first impressions of what had to have seemed, to a fledgling awareness, a very hard and lonely world. That he went on to build such an extraordinarily positive belief in that same world is a near miraculous accomplishment.
Dad used to say that he had a choice about which side of the bed to get out on every morning of his life, and it only made sense to choose the right side. His beliefs were so concrete, they may even have been, more often than not, beyond conscious choice. If so, that served him so ill toward the end of his life (but that's another story).
Those beliefs were, in fact, the key contributor to all his kid's personalities. Here is another excerpt from his eulogy...
The enduring legacy of Frank Campbell can be found today, in his six children all of whom stand on their own two feet, are contributing members to society, and all of whom share the same positive nature that was so essential to his own character.
Did I say four at the start of this little memoir? Well, I meant six kids. Our step brother Erik and our half brother Scott came through dad’s second marriage to Nita. Nita is family. She is a mother figure for all six kids and it is worth noting that dad spent the rest of his life with her. Frank and Nita were just more compatible with each other. Their marriage far outlasted the one he had with our own mom.
During his life, hard work and the respect of many folk helped dad become a successful real estate mogul, but there is another, even more compelling aspect to his life that I spoke about in this final excerpt from his eulogy...
Frank Campbell was first and foremost, an athlete. In high school he lettered in every sport. After graduation he joined the Air Force, and tennis ruled and measured the days of his service. It was the Korean War and he was stationed on Johnston Atoll, a miniature island in the Pacific that acted as a refueling station for American planes and had the sad distinction of boasting one of the highest suicide rates in the military. When he wasn’t busy running the supply depot, Frank kept his sanity (and his positive attitude) by playing daily rounds with the officers, as well as volleyball, ping pong, poker and even chess with his fellow enlisted men.
After completing his military service, Frank Campbell married Mary Carolyn Koppert, a girl he had corresponded with by letters during his military service. Although he had been offered scholarships he used the GI Bill to finance his way to a BA in Electrical Engineering @ the University of Houston, still playing tennis and now volleyball in any free moment. After graduating he and Carolyn moved to Austin for a short time where his first son, John Carroll Campbell was born.
Then, Frank moved his small family to Irving, Texas, He bought a house at 1817 Standish and he set about helping raise and provide for his wife Carolyn and a family that grew to include three more kids; Mark Robert Campbell, Michael Kevin Campbell and Cathy Ann Campbell.
During this time he played volleyball several times a week at the Dallas YMCA and for many years he was their “Golden Setter” and a member of their All American team, winning hundreds of tournaments and even qualifying for the Olympics (although he did not actually go because of his age).
Although Frank retired from volleyball in his sixties, he continued to play tennis until a few months before his death, even winning Gold in the Senior Olympics; acknowledged by both his peers and the world as “The Best of the Best”!
Sports ruled my dad's life and, as much as his positive attitude, that affected how we all grew up. Our own sometimes fierce, but always friendly sports activities, in fact the entire attitude of athletes and athletics that all us kids inherited and that has stayed with us throughout our lives are major influencers we owe to our dad.
I realize I haven’t said much about mom. After all she was only a mom...raising four kids...cooking, cleaning, caring, supporting all of us and her husband...selflessly...completely. One small example of her selflessness came into play at a typical family dinner. She would make a great meal for everyone. Then, when she finally stopped to eat her own dinner, she would likely clean off whatever the kids had left on their own plates. "Waste not, want not," was her frugal motto.
I’ve known too many kids who grow up with just one parent. They always seem somehow shut in on themselves emotionally, missing some inherent balance. Men and women are so different. Maybe both contribute equally, in their very different ways, to making a child into a whole adult. I know having a mom and a dad during my tender years has always made me feel like I had a "Norman Rockwell" type upbringing.
As Spock would say with lifted eyebrow, growing up in the sixties was, ”Most interesting”. I remember mom and dad calling us kids into their room to see four young men with bowl haircuts making their first appearance in the US, singing on the Ed Sullivan show. After that, I listened to The Beatles endlessly as they took over the airwaves on my tough to tune little portable radio with its single mono earbud.
We may have only had a handful of black and white channels, but from Captain Kangaroo, to Mr Peppermint, to Neil Armstrong putting his foot on the moon while his thin voice proclaimed, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” I was just as entertained and mom had just as hard a time pulling us away from that small screen as mom’s of this computer bound, hundred channel, X-box oriented world do nowadays.
Truly, what you don’t know, you don’t miss. I expect it was still much the same for kids then as now. TV was for mornings and evenings. School days were school days.
What was very different though, was that our door was never locked during the day and when it was time for dinner our dad’s piercing whistle, called us home. We were always outdoors, somewhere in a few block radius, playing with friends, or having (what to us always seemed) grand adventures.
I remember one day I cut open a golf ball. Back then they had a long, thin rubber band winding round and round a hard rubber core. I carefully unwound that fragile rubber string, running it from our back yard through the neighbor's yard, across the next street and carefully, oh so carefully down the far sidewalk to my best friend’s house, where we were both amazed that there was still rubber left to unravel.
It was a great time to be a kid. Our mom shooed us out the door with our lunchboxes to walk to school alone, and she did it without a second thought for our safety. We pledged allegiance and sang "America the Beautiful" in our classrooms at the start of every day. I still remember the massive American flag (with forty-eight stars) that took up one entire wall of the cafeteria.
The Russians may have been a faceless, nameless mass of monsters, but our own little world was safe; secured by the love of our parents, the benevolence of adults in general, and the fact that we were lucky enough to live in the U.S.A..