Monday, September 22, 2014

Fifty less one

Today is the 49th anniversary of my Grandpa Fulford's death. It is one of those monumental days for me that made such an impact I will always remember where and when I the heard the news.

I was just coming home from elementary school on my bike with a neighborhood friend riding on the front handlebars, which I had been told several times not to do. As we pulled into our driveway I saw my Dad in the carport and thought I was in big trouble. He didn't say anything about our daredevil bike tricks but only waited for me to pull up so he could give me the news that Papa Tink was dead.
Unloading fish with Tink 1959

Walton "Tink" Fulford was only 62 years old, younger than two of my siblings are today. He was born March 8, 1903 and died September 22, 1965 in Cortez, Florida

He looked much older than 62, but that is because he spent 50 years as a commercial fisherman, in the sun most days and working harder than anyone else. I've heard several older cousins say he always outworked younger men and was always either fishing or thinking about fishing. He was regarded as the most successful fisherman of his generation. He had three sons but at least another three that I know of who considered him a father. Some were related some weren't. There are few men who grew up in Cortez who didn't fish for him or claim that they had. I met one recently who told me he fished with Tink during the 1950s but my mother's cousin Blue shook his head and said "there are a lot of folks around today who say they fished with Tink but I never saw em on the boat."

He fished without benefit of GPS, electronic fish finders, mechanical rollers or spotter planes. Most of his years he fished with cotton nets which required constant repair and maintenance. I've found many newspaper articles telling about the tens of thousands of fish he brought to the dock.

I can remember being miles out in the Gulf of Mexico at night and he told us to put the nets out because he smelled Bluefish. None of the rest of us saw or smelled anything, but Tink seldom came home without a load of fish.

I was fortunate to be the youngest grandson, who was old enough to fish with him. Those who were younger never got the chance and those who were older thought it was work, not fun. For me, it was the best thing I could think of doing. He would take me out fishing but since I was the youngest, I got to sit up front and help him steer the boat. He sat up on the left side of the cabin, using his right foot to reach the steering wheel. I would sit on the other side of the cabin, with my left foot stretching to reach the wheel too. The other members of the crew slept in the cabin or hung out in the back.

When he died, after a summer of treatment for cancer, the day after his funeral, I distinctly remember a group of fishermen, headed up by my mother's cousin Gene Fulford, meeting on the dock of Fulford Fish and collecting money for his grave marker. My grandmother could have bought the marker, but this was something the men of the community wanted and needed to do.

The marker was engraved, "In loving memory by friends of Tink."

1 comment:

Andrea Kelleher said...

Beautiful tribute to your grandfather!