I’ve lost a very dear friend and member of my family. I first met Joanne Townsend sometime in late 1962. I’m not sure how long it took for my brother to introduce her to the family.

He had met her on 23rd street, in Richmond, nearly in front of Richmond Union High School. Those were the days when young adults “cruised the main”, in order to see, and be seen, even during the late afternoon.

Joanne was with a girl-friend in her pristine black Ford Fairlane, called “a two door hardtop convertible”, not the one that stored the hard-top in the trunk, but something similar. It was a busy time on 23rd street, lots of stopping and going.

My brother Eddie (I called him Cork), was also on 23rd Street, but for different reasons. He was helping a friend drive a racing motorcycle from somewhere in the South Bay, all the way to San Pablo. He was nearly home, only a few blocks away. It was only a remarkable trip because the motorcycle had no brakes. It was a racing machine. If you wanted to slow down, you just down-shifted. Why have the extra weight of brakes?

So naturally, there was an accident, but Cork didn’t crash into a delivery truck, or a beat-up clunker driven by an underage ditty-bopper. He was behind a beautiful blonde in a black Ford Fairlane. And she suddenly stopped.

Joanne would say later that she briefly saw him in the mirror before impact, and then he disappeared. She thought that perhaps he slid under the car, but then after a second she heard a crunch on the roof, then silence. After some moments passed she saw a person roll off the roof, onto the right fender, then land in the street. Certain that he was dead, she did not immediately open the door. Her friend was crying!

Finally Joanne rolled down her window, and he asked if everyone was all right. They nodded, and they asked if he was all right. He didn’t know it at the time but his wrist was fractured. He was still in the Army, so he would have some explaining to do when he came back from leave, Then he asked for her number, told her he would pay next week, and ran off, leaving her in shock in the middle of the street. I think she would have called him, “Gink!”

He had to make right the dent in her rear bumper. He left so quickly because didn’t want the police or insurance to be involved. I suspect it was issues with the motorcycle’s registration, or the lack of it. It was only for racing, not riding on the street. The Ford was so badly damaged, the bumper and trunk had a big “V” dent, as if hit by a ship.

So that’s how they met, and within weeks of contacting her for the repairs, they were dating. It took Joanne’s father several years to trust Cork entirely. He was a crusty character in any case.

It wasn’t long before they were married, and Cork still had a few months left in the Army. Joanne and I bonded quite a bit, while she waited for Cork to become a civilian. Later, I babysat their baby boy Robert John (Bob) in their rented house on Burbeck Street. Strange house, everything painted the same grey color.

Later on, when Bob was in school, my mom and Joanne started a business, a second hand store on 23rd Street. I went down to help out. Most of the time Joanne and I would play cards, games, and just laugh a lot. Eventually, I graduated from high school and started my independent life. Joanne was always there to support me when I circled back “home”. My parents had moved to Tacoma, WA, but Cork and Joanne maintained a local residence when I had none, and all the while that I was in the military.

We even shared the duplex for a time when I got out.

It’s true that we didn’t see each other as often as I would have liked. My life spun wildly for some time. But we did not drift apart. As I settled with my family, we always had Uncle Cork and Aunt Joanne in our lives, and our children become close to both of them.

Joanne had so many gifts, as a great wife, homemaker, mother. We will share stories about her for years. But there is one thing I would like to share now. She was known far and wide, as the “Knowledge”. In London, it is said that you can’t be a taxi-cab driver without the “Knowledge”. In the Bay Area, you can’t make money finding treasures in garage sales or thrift stores without the “Knowledge”.

Venders and garage sale pros were in awe of Joanne’s abilities. Some would even give up if Joanne had beat them to a sale. They knew there would be nothing of value after she had gone through the items. Second hand store employees all knew her by name, and asked her opinion on suspicious items: “Was this a fake or knock-off?”. If it wasn’t a fake, then she would have already had it in her cart, ha!

Joanne would often bring the employees small jewelry gifts, or donuts, and they would save items for her that they thought she would like.

For the last five year’s, Parkinson’s has taken a deep toll on Joanne’s health, despite her courageous patience and perseverance, and it has brought out Cork’s ability to be a caretaker. An entire book can be written on the inventions that he came up with in order to make her life better. He never rested, or waivered

As Cork said, “… she grew weaker, and I grew stronger.”
That was her gift, and she shared it with everyone. I loved her so much as did our entire family.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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