By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Captain friend turned beatnick
Many of you know, by now, that I married a Central Kansas girl named Polly Bessette. From her hometown of Concordia came Jean Lasnier, (pronounced lawn-yay). Concordia was a community formed by people of many backgrounds but mostly the French who had migrated from Canada to the rich farmland and rolling hills. In Concordia one could hear French spoken and hear names such as Letourneau, Chaput, La Barge, Doirais, Begnoche, and Lasnier.

Jean Lasnier was born the only son of a wealthy merchant in this town operating a ladies apparel store, The Bon Marche on the main street. They lived in a big home on the top or the hill. As such he had every advantage for education and advancement but in his 16th year he ran away from his family and this superior situation to San Francisco and put out to sea as an ordinary seaman.

Soon after Polly and I married in 1950, Jean would visit us in Ceres on Central Avenue, formally Old Creamery Road, after each time at sea. He would spend a night or two and since I sailed the Pacific in the U.S. Merchant Marine in World War ll Jean and I had a lot in common. Sometimes we would talk well into the night playing many hands of cards such as Cribbage. At that time Jean was no longer a ordinary seaman but had studied navigation and ship nomenclature, the "rules of the road," the handling of ships cargo and had become a ships officer and sailing "topside" as a second mate. Sailing "topside" is a term used by merchant seamen when they speak of the ship's officers.

As time went on each trip Jean would visit us and bring us gifts from his ports of call driving down from San Francisco in his Studebaker convertible. These were happy times for us! Polly had known this fellow while growing up in Concordia who could be seen frequently in their youth in her family home many times in her hometown.

Jean continued his seafaring occupation and took advantage of his free time at sea to further study the laws, rules and regulations directed by the various government entities. So one day he "sailed" into our driveway in his Studebaker convertible wearing the brass button uniform of a ship captain with four gold braided stripes on his sleeves. He was so proud and we were quite surprised by his achievement. This man - born on the top of the hill - had returned to the top of the hill, this time by his own attainment. He basked in his fulfillment for he appeared to be very proud!

Time continued on and commercial shipping slowed down with the use of foreign ships and its foreign crews, all registered in ports of different countries. Jean failed to come to see us and we simply lost touch.

Times had changed and the beatnik generation entered into the scene of San Francisco and other big cities in America. At that time Polly and I would leave our kids with her sister and we'd motor to San Francisco for a weekend together in a cooler environment. We would see a show on Geary Street and wander about the streets and into the many little shops offered in the North Beach and Union Square districts. We would ride a cable car to Fisherman's Wharf and stroll about to see the many boats tied up there or take a ferry ride to Sausalito for lunch.

One Saturday we ran across a fellow sweeping the sidewalk in front of his little shop with paintings, jewelry and other items. He wore a little green beret and nodded and spoke to us as we passed by. Somehow he seemed familiar to both of us and by further examination we discovered that this shopkeeper was Jean Lasnier!

Jean Lasnier was no longer was a captain but was playing the part of a beatnik and running a little shop displaying and selling various jewelry and merchandise to local San Franciscans and tourists. His patrons were from all walks of life, many were ladies from Nob Hill who would have him fashion and make special items such as rings, pins and necklaces. He spoke the language of the people he was imitating and he certainly had me fooled for I felt that he had gone off the starboard side of his ship! We chatted for some time and Jean seemed to enjoy his new life as a beatnik in North Beach area.

I wondered at that time and still do, if this man which had made many achievements in his lifetime had once again reached the top of the hill. Had he found the richness and fullness of life that mankind long has sought? That dear friends is an evaluation you shall have to make for yourselves!

Bill Noble may be reached via email at