While recently walking through the sponge dock district of Tarpon Springs, Florida, I noticed (and smelled) two mountains of sponges... and two men sorting them.
George, in the plaids with a hint of a Greek accent, was the owner of the boat docked a few feet away. Bill was the diver who harvests the sponge beds, just like the generations of Greek divers who first came to the area in 1905.
George and Bill had just arrived after 4 days out on the Agios Fanouris. A few men nearby were praising their good catch. They agreed they had had perfect weather conditions for diving. Bill guessed they had about 1,500 sponges in those piles.
On the Boat
They sat on a bench and leaned over 2 huge mounds of sponge. As they chatted, they examined each sponge then tossed it toward the appropriate pile. (Why didn't I ask what they were looking for?) There were a couple sponge-filled nets still on the boat, so I figured they would be there a while.
I asked about the things hanging from a boat railing that looked like cartoonish deer antlers. George laughed and said those were finger sponges. He liked my name of antler sponges and thought they should rename them. These are used mostly for decoration.
It looked pretty relaxing sitting in the late afternoon, tossing these sponges around. I asked if this was the easiest part of sponge fishing. Bill shook his head like I was crazy. "I wouldn't do this at all if it weren't for the diving."
I mentioned how much fun it was revisiting this part of Florida that I remembered from age 10. George, who seemed pretty focused on his sponges suddenly seemed to have a moment of nostalgia. He paused and studied my face as if guessing my age, then asked if I'd heard of St. Mark's. He shared a memory about fishing there in the 1960's. He narrowed the date in his head by remembering a fellow fisherman wanting to see the movie, Carpet Baggers. "I don't remember when that movie was, but I remember St. Mark's!" I joined in. "We would go to Posey's Pool Hall so my parents could eat oysters!" We both seemed pleased with our St. Mark's connection. But we also seemed a bit lost in our own separate memories.
The Bear on a Sponge
This 2-inch Bear does not belong in my Stranger Blog. But while my husband chatted a bit more, I pulled the bear out of my camera bag and took a couple pictures...for a different blog. When I heard Don ask what the boat's name meant, I was pretty delighted. Agios Fanouris is the patron saint of lost items. I turned to George and Bill, (the last people on earth who might understand my obsession with photographing this tiny bear) and I told them the story of losing the bear in New York and how a family had found my "Lost Bear" note and mailed him to me. These two weary fishermen paused and listened and studied the bear's battered body (after being run over by a car) and they seemed thoroughly delighted to know their boat's name fit this little bear!
Thanks George and Bill!
I learned about a new saint from you! But mostly I was invited to think about a world I didn't even know I was curious about. Since our chat I've learned more about the unique history of Tarpon Springs and how the Greek divers brought their knowledge and culture to this fishing village long ago. But mostly I wonder about your personal histories...up to the day when I saw you on the bench sorting sponges.
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers