David Treadwell

David Treadwell

The email came from a “Beverly Brown,” a name I couldn’t recall so I almost didn’t open it. But fortunately I did. Beverly Brown had written to let me know that her brother Jonny had been found dead in his apartment in Montreal. I knew “Jonny” as Jon — Jon Hopkins, my high school friend who had moved to Canada during the Vietnam War and never returned.

This news hit me hard. Jon was one of the brightest sweetest people I ever knew. He was also, perhaps, the loneliest. As his sister noted, “For all his brilliance and sense of humor, it was just so sad that he could not really navigate life. He became totally disconnected from society and that deepened over the years.”

Jon, two other boys (Jeff and Dick) and I had become good friends in high school, engaging in activities that reflected a nerdy bent: playing bridge, planning elaborate scavenger hunts and listening to Jonathan Winters records. During the summer of 1960, right after high school graduation, we took a road trip to Florida in my parents’ 1954 Chevy. (Actually, Jon had just completed his first year at Wesleyan University, to which he’d been admitted a year early.)

We were not wild on that trip — no drinking or drugs or girls — but we had our moments: almost getting killed after brazenly drinking from a “Colored Only” water fountain in South Carolina; getting kicked out of a $5 a night tourist cabin in Georgia because we’d only registered for two people and were later caught by the outraged proprietor (“I know what you boys want — you want somethin’ for nothin’!”), and sometimes “forgetting” to pay for the two quarts of oil required at every stop for gas.

We lost touch with each other after college: Jon was in Montreal; Jeff became a charter boat fishing captain in San Diego; and Dick imported wine and rare cheeses, although a severe problem with alcohol did him in a few years ago.

We did, however, get together here in Maine for a few days in the summer of 2010, right before our 50th high school reunion. The gathering was a bit stilted, since we had gone on to live very different lives. We did enjoy reliving the road trip. And we all marveled at Jon’s prodigious knowledge about almost everything. I joked that we should call him “Google.”

Another high school friend wrote to me last fall, noting that he had talked to Jon and passing along his phone number. So I called him at 6:30 pm. one night. He cautioned that it was fairly late for him to talk, as he was usually in bed by 7. I asked him what he was up to. He said that his computer had broken down so that he spent most of his time reading the Encyclopedia Britannica. (He didn’t earn the “Google” nickname for nothing.). He thanked me most sincerely for the call.

I later learned more about Jon’s life, such as it was, through correspondence with his sister. He began drinking heavily after their parents died. He only had one real love interest. He met a woman at a bar and they later became engaged. Then she ran off with the ring and a considerable amount of money. So much for love. In addition to reading and thinking, he most loved going to the symphony. Happily, he did have one good friend in Montreal.

As to Jon’s working life, he taught at two Canadian universities; worked for a large company; and then went on his own, teaching computer programming solutions. Beverly believes he should have been a teacher all along, noting that he had taught her a full year of Latin in just two months right before she switched high schools.

Jon stayed in touch with his parents and two sisters over the years; they visited him in Montreal and, after he received a pardon from the government, he sometimes visited them back in Delaware.

Something tells me that our road trip remained a highlight in Jon’s life. My two best memories of him were: his knowing all the answers to every question in every class and sometimes making wry side comments to the person next to him; his sitting on the beach at Cape Hatteras or Fort Lauderdale or at our makeshift mesquito-laden camping spot in the Dismal Swamp, wearing a pith helmet to ward off the sun and smirking about something he — or one of us — had said. I will miss his light.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]

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