Son tells the tale of Earl Eugene ‘Gene’ Nokes, 1917-2013

This remembrance of Gene Nokes by his son Don isn’t “just” an obituary … it’s a story about a man, his life and times and memories. He’s gone but clearly will never be forgotten:

Earl Eugene “Gene” Nokes Sr. passed away peacefully at Providence Mount St. Vincent on February 2, 2013.

Gene was the last of his ten other brothers and sisters to check out of Nokesville, which at its inception was a large army tent located on the corner of 48th SW and Hanford St. He and his wife Margie both moved into the Mount facility back in 2000. Margie passed away in September of 2001 and after a brief hiatus, Gene and Margie will now reunite on the other side of life. Gene lived to be 95 years old and spent more than a decade in a very symbiotic relationship with his Mount Saint Vincent family and friends – they loved him and he loved them in return.

Gene Nokes Sr. never graduated from anything other than 8th grade, as far as I know. The story Uncle Pat told me about Dad and him and Joe and Tom and West Seattle High School went like this:

“We went up to the front of the place, and there were these great big iron bars on it. Gene and I looked at it, and I told Gene, ‘It looks a lot like places we’ve already been before.’ So we went through the front and out the back….and never looked back.” And that was the extent of Nokes boys’ dalliance with higher learning.

Although Dad, Gene, was never a graduate, he was always a fierce supporter of the local schools. Here’s the version of the West Seattle fight song I learned from listening to him, “Oskie Wah Wah – Whiskey Wee Wee – Holy Muckee-Kie – West Seattle High.” Which, in my opinion, kicks the stuffings out of “Westside High My Alma Mater……”

Gene and Margaret Sophrine Murray Nokes (Margie) were married on September 20, 1943. They raised seven of us children – beginning in a home just off Alki Beach at 54th Place SW. It was circa 1940 when they began to beget, and Margie had 7 children in 8 years – Gene Jr., Peggie, Kathi, Bill, Don, Ed, and the baby Elaine Marie. To Margie and Gene’s credit, all of my brothers and sisters are still alive, walking upright, fairly spry and sneaking up on our 70’s.

Gene drove a truck for Bar-S Cudahy and Serve-U meats for 30 odd years, and raised his family with Margie. What I liked about Dad maybe most, was his sense of aplomb. When the chips were down you really couldn’t rattle him. And believe me, that house was rockin’.

There was the time he had spent all weekend painting the ceiling in the dining room. Then he papered the walls so us kids could go in, take our pens and colors and draw to our hearts content – on the walls. Great parenting – a good move, until he arrived home and found pen marks and drawings on his freshly painted – ceiling. “Who’s the Michelangelo?” He gathered the kids and went around the room commenting on the art work. Peggie’s – always got high marks, but speaking of marks, this time he singled out one of mine. He mentioned that ALL the paintings were great and lovely, blah, blah, blah …..“But this one on the ceiling. Now that’s something special, but I don’t know how you could have done it.” Then I proceeded to hang myself, by telling him – “It was easy, Dad.” dragging in chairs and boxes to prove my point. Oh, I stepped in it that time. Hoisted on my own petard – Dad was great. I got a big bear hug for that one – best grade I ever got in art.

Whenever it rained at the old home, we all grabbed pots and pans, and looked for drips and spent the day catching water. Poor Margie didn’t have a pot to cook in, depending on the severity of the storm. She probably welcomed anything that kept the kids occupied. Nothing more fascinating for a four-year-old than watching water … unless it’s watching paint dry and waiting to make your mark.

Margie and Gene saved money wherever and however they could. Homemade haircuts were one money-saver that Dad employed. He had a professional barbering kit, with five separate combs, to cut our hair. He started with the longest comb, buzzed your head, put on the next comb and buzzed you again – until he had shaved your head down to a nub. He had no finesse. All his aplomb was gone – when it came to haircuts, and with four brothers in waiting – one thing you didn’t want to be was last in line. By the time the last kid got in the chair, that razor was like a branding iron. Red hot! I think Bill did the best imitation of the last guy dancing in the chair – looking like a reluctant horse thief going to the gallows. The best thing was when Gene Jr. took over for Dad and rescued us from having to go to school looking like we had ring worm, when what we had were red welts from Dad’s razor. God Bless brother Gene, who mercifully practiced on us, and then went off to earn money at college cutting hair there.

Dad’s life reminds me of a poem by T.S. Eliot where he talks about “Old men ought to be explorers.” Dad, Earl Eugene “Gene” Nokes, was like that ….just because you can’t see, and you can’t hear, and you can’t walk, and you can’t even breathe – doesn’t mean that you stop exploring. If it all abandons you, or you must toss it all overboard – never lose the sense of adventure that is life. Reach out – love, explore ….

Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
– T.S. Eliot

A memorial service is planned at The Mount this Saturday (February 16) at 10:30 am.

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16 Replies to "Son tells the tale of Earl Eugene 'Gene' Nokes, 1917-2013"

  • Alki Resident February 12, 2013 (6:02 am)

    Thanks for the great story, I was cracking up reading it. Sounds like it was a fun household, never a dull moment. What a great loss to a wonderful family. Thanks for sharing him on the blog.

  • Suzanne February 12, 2013 (7:40 am)

    Thanks for sharing that lovely tribute. I didn’t know him until he moved to the Mount, but I always enjoyed chatting and singing with him and he will be missed by many. What a very sweet man he was.

  • Work downtown February 12, 2013 (7:55 am)

    What a great tribute! I thought the Nokes family owned West Seattle when I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s! They were everywhere. Fun families. They don’t make them like this anymore!

  • Jennifer February 12, 2013 (8:12 am)

    What a wonderful story. I’m sorry for your loss but wow, you have such wonderful memories to hold on too. Thanks for sharing a bit with us.

  • Ben February 12, 2013 (9:13 am)

    thank you to the author for sharing this beautiful piece, and thank you to west seattle blog for providing a venue. things like this help brighten lives and strengthen community.

  • Teri Ensley February 12, 2013 (9:29 am)

    What a gift you just gave us all…sharing loving, fun memories of your father. Beautifully written, with warmth, humor and loving kindness.

  • Morgan February 12, 2013 (9:41 am)

    That’s how life should be for all of us! I didn’t have kids, but I do know, if there was “art work” on the wall and ceiling when I got home from work, my reaction would have been a little different than Gene’s ; ) Bless his gentle, loving spirit and may it continue to reside in all of us.

  • let them swim February 12, 2013 (9:51 am)

    Anyone growing up in West Seattle in the 50’s-60’s
    and 70’s knew at least one of the Nokes. Great family and the boys/men-all great ball players. Thanks Donny.

  • ghar72 February 12, 2013 (10:48 am)

    This was so lovely to read. My mom grew up during this same time period, a family of six kids. Reading this made me feel like I was listening to my aunts and uncles tell stories from their childhood. Lots of mischief, but so much fun and laughter. Thank you for sharing about the life of your dad.

  • Lisbeth February 12, 2013 (11:54 am)

    What a beautiful remembrance of your Dad Don- thanks for sharing!

  • Brontosaurus February 12, 2013 (3:47 pm)

    A lovely story, really brightened my day. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • Sue Howard February 12, 2013 (3:55 pm)

    What a lovely tribute to your dad (and mom). It was a very nice read, thanks for sharing. Both of my children work(ed) at the Mt. and though I never got to meet your dad, they always mentioned what great people both your parents were. Prayers for you and your family during this time of grief.

  • Kill your television February 12, 2013 (4:03 pm)

    Just a beautiful tribute, Donny. So sorry for your loss. I can see where you get your imp-ish spirit. Thanks for sharing the fun memories.

  • Dale February 12, 2013 (10:56 pm)

    I remember Donny giving a hilarious history of HR church years ago which of course dealt with his family and other larger families on the westside and his memories of childhood. Our own Garrison Keilor. He & the Nokes family are a treasure.

  • Debbie February 15, 2013 (6:24 am)

    I will truly miss Gene. The morning coffee group will never be the same without him. His wit and humor were my favorite qualities. I enjoyed your tribute, Don. Thanks for sharing the memories with us.

  • Yvonne Grisvard February 25, 2013 (5:26 pm)

    I grew up next door to Joe and Della Nokes family….the 5 boys and Irene! I remember going with my mom to Margies for ceramics class. All of us kids played in the basement while the moms created. I still have my moms pieces that she made there. What a great and very large family. You can’t think of West Seattle without thinking of the Nokes’.

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