My Father’s Day

My father, William Knowles, was a third generation Conch. . My father did not talk a lot, so I tended to listen. These are things he taught me.

When I was about eight, I asked my father why he named me Joanne. He said, “You must like it, you’ve been answering to it all these years.” (Joanne, don’t ask silly questions.)

When Key West was threatened with Hurricane Donna in 1960. I asked him why we didn’t evacuate. He said, “If this house goes, we’re going with it.” He didn’t believe in insurance. “Waste of money,” he said. When Hurricane Donna did not show up after all that preparation and excitement, he said, ‘They don’t know were that hurricane is, but I know it’s not here. I’m going to bed.” (Joanne, when it’s over it’s over.)

When the Cuban Missile Crises loomed, my father opened an old septic tank in the backyard to see if we could use it for a bomb shelter. He said that we could either die of radiation poisoning or stink. When my aunt in Tampa called and told him to send the children to her. He said, “Sarah, those missiles are going to go right over Key West and hit Tampa.” (Joanne, stay here with me. It’s safer.)

One time during college I picked up a cigarette and lit it. My father looked at me and said. “I didn’t know you smoked”, and without missing a beat said, “BECAUSE, when I started smoking many years ago, we didn’t know what we know now, and I’m finding it hard to stop. But you, knowing what you know now, if you start smoking, I will consider that one of the more stupid things you have ever done in your life and I used to think you were a pretty smart girl. (Joanne, respect your body and guard your health.)

One time while home I was reading the newspaper. There was a story about the houseboat people on the boulevard, paying no taxes and dumping sewage into the ocean. They had even become a tourist attraction. I mentioned to my father how terrible I thought that was. He said, ”I don’t know. They’re not bothering me.” (Joanne, mind your own business.)

Once, when he was in his 80’s, he was on the roof fixing something. I said, Dad, you shouldn’t be up there. He gently said, “Hush, Joanne.” (I’m the parent.)

My father was with Peter and me at breakfast and we got him talking about his experience during the war. He was in North Africa and Italy doing engineering repairs after the fighting. He said every time they moved camp, he dug a foxhole and the other men would laugh at him. One night, they were strafed and he found himself and several others in his foxhole. Two men who couldn’t be bothered to get up were killed. (Joanne, always think ahead and prepare.)

My father told me that when he was a child, they got all their water from rainwater collected in cisterns. He said there were all sorts of vermin running around inside of them, but no one ever died. I thought about that for a while and realized that it was probably true.

My father was a man of his times. He was born in 1906 and died in 2003 at the age of 97. He reached adulthood in the Roaring Twenties, suffered during the Great Depression, was drafted at age 36 and went to war. Built his house in 1947 with wood salvaged from barracks built during the war and no longer needed, bought his first car, used, in 1952, raised his children during the Fifties, made sure they got a good education, while he nor my Mom barely finished eighth grade, swam in the ocean a couple of times a day, but put his swimsuit away on Labor Day and took it out on Memorial Day. Even when he could no longer swim in the ocean, he got up every morning at 5:30 AM and walked to the beach. He loved the ocean and the sun and his little tropical island of Key West.

Market Street, San Francisco in 1906. Film shot from a trolley car:





5 thoughts on “My Father’s Day”

  1. Joanne
    I guess he knew you listened, although I’ll bet he never let on. Now that film you tacked on was incredible. Easy to see that traffic rules were really needed even then. I’m amazed there were no visible crack-ups during the whole ride. Summer is really here in Arlington – today it was 88, and tomorrow is expected to be even hotter. Thank goodness for air conditioning.
    Palaver Pal

  2. Joanne, I so wish I knew your father…this Key West Atticus Finch, Third Generation Conch. The world could use more fathers like yours, or rather, more “men” like him. O Lord, do we ever need them! Real men…men who fight in a myriad of ways for us and for our freedom; men who live modest, frugal, honest and hard working lives; men whose word is a bond sealed with a handshake men who are friends through thick and thin; men of commitment who love their families and teach wise life lessons to their children; and men of faith living out goodness and truth in actions, not rhetoric. I sometimes fear that your father’s mold was broken after he left the earth, this third generation Conch. But, in the end, I say, “No!” Thank the Lord that William Knowles’ legacy lives on in you, in yours, in mine and countless others.

    I only wish a few of your father’s wise words and ways of teaching a lesson would jump out of my own mouth, at least from from time-to-time when I am with my own children and grandchildren! I will keep working on it, though.

    We sit on the shoulders of giants, for sure!

  3. What a wise man your father was. Thank you for sharing his thoughts and advice with us. You should write a book….! Just think, you’re already part way there now with the blog.
    Thanks, too, for the youtube link. Did you notice the man busy with his broom trying to keep the streets clean at about the 1:30 mark? I wonder how many times he had narrow escapes, or maybe even some not-so-narrow escapes, with cars or horses as he did his job. Interesting thing is that drivers haven’t changed much in over a century and people still have dirty jobs.
    Some day remind me to tell you of our cistern experience in Indiana during Stan’s graduate school days and what the owner of the rental house and cistern said to us about the water!
    Love, Joan

  4. I told you that I would communicate back and here it is. I have to say that I’d love to have met your father. He sounds like a person who had a great head on his shoulders. As I was reading about him there were some parallels with my father. He was born in 1904 and died at the age of 97. Of course, that’s probably where the parallel ends. But it was fun thinking about him. He was raised by a nanny and dressed to be introduced to mother and father before their dinner, then ushered off to bed, ala the Darlings in Peter Pan. As a result he really didn’t know how to deal with us kids. What a wonderful relationship you had with your father. What a blessing.
    I’ll tell you the cistern story that Joan was going to tell you. We arrived in Bloomington where I was going to start on my PhD knowing that my major prof had arranged for us to rent a house a couple of miles out of town. The place hadn’t been occupied for some time as one could guess by the number of resident spiders that had set up housekeeping. When we opened the tap to fill a glass with water, it came out about the color of weak tea. The flavor was so strong that even coffee wouldn’t cover it up. Bloomington sits on a layer of about 75 feet of limestone so nobody had wells. This was our first introduction to cistern water. After deciding that we’d rather live on campus, I talked to the owner to get out of whatever lease had been arranged. I told him about the water problem. He said in a broad southernish accent, “I don’t know. I treat it with chlorine (pronounced with an extended O) about once a year.” We’ve not had another relationship with a cistern since and I expect we’ll probably avoid that for as long as we are able. At any rate, that’s the cistern story. We had a great time in Bloomington and in grad school in general. Neither of us had spent much time east of the Rockies so we tried to experience as much as we could.
    Again, thanks for the wonderful stories and your efforts to keep your blog going. Look forward to the next installment.

  5. Your Dad came to life in your sketches! But I want to annotate the lesson from story #7 (WWII) to include a comment: Glad he planned ahead … otherwise no Joanne!

    During a recent visit to a childhood home, my sister commented she’d forgotten the happy memories of that place. Aren’t we fortunate to have such wonderful recollections!

    My Dad was born in 1911 in India, the son of Mennonite missionaries. My favorite story is about his encounter in the Oslo airport with a group of Arab diplomatic colleagues. They looked at the three little blond girls and said surely the fourth in the bassinet was a boy. My Dad told them he was happy to have four daughters so he could select his sons! Would have been grand if he’d lived long enough to know (ironically) he only had grandsons — seven of them!

    Thanks for continuing your blog. Can’t wait to read the next edition!

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