Sam I Am…Johnny I Was

Something pretty funny has been happening to me in the last few weeks.  People in Lancaster, Baltimore, York and other points east have called me John.  Honestly, I thought they just forgot my name.  Then it dawned on me that I had said, “I love it when people call me John” in a recent blog where I thanked people for all the 50th birthday greetings.  That freaked me out almost as much.  People are actually reading my blog?

John, Johnny, Little John: those are my childhood names.  My dad’s name was Samuel, as was his father’s, and all of us lived together for a while.  My full name is Samuel John; I was named for both my grandfathers.  For my mom to yell, “Sam” when she wanted me would have made for an awful lot of jumping up and down for my dad and pap.  She yelled for me a lot.  Sometimes she even blew a cab whistle because those were the days when kids could run around wherever and weren’t just parked on the couch.  So John it was.  Friends, family, teachers and coaches knew me as Johnny Campbell.  They still do.

In the year book room c. 1981

During my high school party years, some friends decided John was not a fitting name: too bland.  They liked much better the way Sam, Sammy, Sam Man, Smiling Sam, Slammin’ Sam, Sammy Cammy, Slammy Clambowl and dozens of other monikers rolled off the tongue.  A girl who actually paid attention to me called me Samuel Jonathan.  No way was I complaining about that!  When I graduated and enlisted in the Army, I officially became Campbell, Samuel J.  I won’t tell you what the drill sergeants called me.

Fast forward ten years to when another girl paid attention to me; I married her.  She has only known me as Sam but has learned to understand when everyone west of Carlisle calls me John.  Actually, she learned this lesson the hard way.

She was studying for the CPA exam in Harrisburg.  We drove up together and I dropped her off then went to visit an old friend and her fiancé.  I gave her the number where to reach me and said to just call when classes were over.  Now, this dear friend (since kindergarden) introduced me to her fiancé as John Campbell.  We were hanging out, having fun, playing records and the phone rings.  Fiancé answers it, says, “Nobody here by that name,” and hangs up.   It took me a few minutes but it occurred to me; “Did that caller ask for Sam by any chance?”

“Yeah, how did you know that?”

“Shit, I have to leave!”  My newly minted bride had just used her last quarter to call for me and got hung up on!  She was now standing on a corner in Harrisburg with no cash, no car, and no idea if the number I gave her was wrong or what.  We laughed about it later.  She was pretty glad to see me roll up but whoa, Nelly she was hot to know what happened.

So that’s my name game.  If you know me as Sam, you can call me Sam.  If you knew me as John, feel free to still call me that.  It’s like a little youth elixir for me.  If you have some other names for me, that’s cool too.  I have 4,000 former students who call me Mr. Campbell, Mister, Campbell, Soup and I’m flattered to be remembered by them at all.  For you, for them, for everyone: just keep calling!

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