But mostly, I remember John. He wore glasses and a shaggy beard that made him look twice as old as his twenty-five years. He was not quick-witted and as a smartass teenager, I did my best to exemplify this quality through practical jokes. For some reason he liked me, though. He did not work at the bakery for very long, but I do remember an after-work invitation to visit the apartment he shared with his girlfriend a week or two before he quit. We sat around his kitchen table, an acquisition from the Salvation Army thrift store and I engaged in my first philosophical conversation. Our discussion didn’t include recitations from Voltaire or platitudes of Plato. Instead, it was a simple discussion of life and the little things that made people like John and his girlfriend continue the journey. They moved all over the country always trying to find better jobs. Neither had finished high school, but John was planning to stay around my hometown long enough to complete his equivalency test. I must have sat at that table for four hours that night just listening to their dreams. They reminded me of the Joad family in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, always searching for something better. There is one thing from that evening that John said that I have never forgotten. He stated that his greatest fear was Alzheimer’s disease and if he ever developed it, he would want to die before it advanced too far. What made this guy fear the loss of intelligence, when he so obviously didn’t have that much to lose?
I treasure knowledge and learning and work to instill that same respect for scholarship in my children – and that’s the answer to why John with so little knowledge valued what he had. He respected intelligence – to whatever degree, great or small.
Rather than actual cleverness, intellect is instead simply an acceptance of respect to personal aptitude. He resigned from the bakery and moved to