Remember Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell’s passing left me sad, and not just because I enjoy his music. Campbell was the first celebrity I ever met: Not only was our encounter memorable but it struck me later as an amazingly instructive lesson for how a person should conduct oneself when faced with an awkward situation.

The year was 1970, my aunt and uncle had just bought a camper, and they took my three cousins, my sister, and me on a trip to Colorado. I was 5 years old.

I remember little about the trip other than how bizarre I found it to be so high in the mountains that I felt cold in the summer and how much fun it was to sleep in a tent with the brood. And I remember meeting Glen Campbell, who at the time was not only a country music artist but also the host of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, a popular TV show my family watched every week.

One afternoon I had an urgent need to go to the bathroom, so my uncle pulled into the next service station and I ran out, alone, to the bathroom. While I was standing at the urinal a wasp landed on my shoulder and I froze in fright.

The man next to me noticed it, too, and whispered to not move an inch while he slowly moved his free hand in position to make the kill.

Naturally, I immediately tried to shake the wasp off, which caused me to be stung just as Glen Campbell’s hand hit my shoulder, hard, right where I had been stung. I burst out in tears and I made a mess of the task at hand to boot.

Campbell went into parent mode (he had three kids at the time), cleaned me up and carried me in his arms to my aunt and uncle to explain what happened. The adults chatted for a couple minutes while waiting for me to catch my breath, my aunt took a photo of me with him that’s forever lost, and we went on our way.

The incident stuck with me not just because of the celebrity encounter; as I grew older I came to appreciate what an awkward situation it must have been to be alone in a bathroom with a screaming 5 year old, and how he handled it with grace and aplomb.

When we had children a few years ago I came to appreciate it as a good parenting lesson as well: As much as we might want to try, we simply can’t instruct our children on how to behave in every situation they may encounter: We have to give them a few lessons, instill some values, and hope that it’s enough for them to figure things out on their own.