Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Apples, almonds and philosophy

It has been raining here, on and off, mostly a slow, soaking rain that makes most people crabby, and makes me think of Michigan, where I was born and where I went to college.

On Monday, claustrophobic from the rain and antsy from a grinding morning at my desk, I decided to run errands at lunch, rain be damned. My lunch that day was a salad -- delicious, but not road-friendly -- so I grabbed my coat, keys and an apple, and headed out.

In the car, the apple proved delicious, but not enough to keep my stomach happy, so I rummaged in the door pocket, where I found a baggie of almonds and raisins. As I started in on these, it occured to me that this was exactly the kind of lunch Henryk Skolimowski would have served me.

Henryk was the paramour of my work-study job boss, Joan, a kind, funny, soulful woman who paid me the maximum allowed by the university for my clerical position. Her professor beau could not type all that well, and she told me that if I wanted to, I could work for him on the weekends, essentially taking dictation into a computer. She also mentioned that he would feed me, and this being college, that appealed to me immensely.

On my first day, once we had worked for a few hours, me typing furiously and occasionally supplying the right word for something, Henryk announced that we would stop for some food and tea. We trundled downstairs and he brought out apples, cheese, bread, nuts and dried fruit.

I'd look forward to this kind of simple meal for as along as I worked for him, but it wasn't just the food I liked. We'd sit at a small table near a window in the snug kitchen, munching and sipping and talking, sometimes about his wartime childhood in Warwaw, sometimes about current events, sometimes about not much at all.

Looking back, and looking at the man's Wikipedia entry, I'm surprised that I wasn't intimidated by this man's intellect; he was a profssor of philosophy, in his late 50s and writing about really weighty stuff involving UNESCO. As far as I can figure out, I felt comfortable with him because he was Polish, as I am, and even though I had never been to Poland at that point, we had enough common cultural ground that he seemed more like an uncle than an employer.

The last I knew, Henryk and Joan were married and splitting their time between Poland and the U.S. I hope to see them again someday, and in the meantime, I'll think of them whenever I have a simple lunch on a rainy day.

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