Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

January 22, 2010

Tarpon Springs, Florida

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

Tarpon Springs, Florida sits along the Anclote River where the river meets the Gulf of Mexico.  The city was chartered in 1887, but a few years before, in 1873, sponges were discovered off the mouth of the Anclote River.  By 1900 Tarpon Springs was considered the largest sponge port in the United States.

The discovery of sponges brought Greek immigrants to the area.  More than 500 Greek sponge divers came and most brought their families.  Tarpon Springs became a predominantly Greek settlement.  By 1948 there were 180 sponge diving boats.  Today, however, tourism has replaced sponging as the major economic activity. 

We were blessed to live there prior to the dramatic shift from the activity of sponging to the tourist attraction it has become. We have lived in so many interesting places, but  Tarpon Springs ranks high on my list of favorite places.  I have realized that God provides so many good things for us even when we are not in His will.  I make that statement because the time we lived in Tarpon Springs was not when I was in the center of God’s will.  It was a period when I had walked away from the church and sought secular  employment  to provide adequately for my family. Yet, it was such a wonderful experience that I am thankful for a Heavenly Father who granted mercy and blessings in spite of  “living my way.”

Our days were filled with  much joy.  Our home was the last house before the bayou, and provided such a feeling of living on the edge of a jungle.  We could go out in the evenings and scallop.  It was a feeling of vacation so much of the time.  Each evening a stop would be made at the Greek bakery for hot bread.  We enjoyed the picturesque  city with all the bayous and beauty.  The city also had heritage for Judy.  Her mother had been raised here, and her grandfather had operated a grocery store.

The Greek Orthodox Church sponsored (and still does) many festivals.  The observance of Epiphany was a time for us to find enjoyment.  A blessing of the water and boats was a special time.  There was also a ceremonial throwing of a wooden cross into Spring Bayou, and boys ages 16-18 dove in to retrieve it.  Whoever recovered the cross was said to be blessed for a full year.  Doves were also released and the homes where they landed were said to be blessed for the coming year.  Tarpon Springs, indeed, was an enchanted place to us.

Amid this, I sought to earn a living by selling insurance. Now imagine this.  A southern boy from Georgia, called to preach, selling insurance in a predominantly Greek community.  Most of the older Greek citizens still spoke only their native language.  It was a closed community in many ways.  There was a basic distrust of someone like me.  Why would they believe me when I would explain the details of an insurance policy.  Few would comprehend my English, and even when it was interpreted, there was suspicion and doubt about believing me.

But with time, much of that suspicion disappeared and I became a welcome guest in many homes.  I would always be invited in and pastries were a must!  Of course, I had no problem accepting this hospitality!  There are such wonderful memories of some of those elderly women and their expressions of love toward me.

I soon found acceptance down on the sponge docks.  Those divers and workers from the boats and at the Sponge Exchange knew me and that I was seeking to sell the insurance.  And that I did.  We offered a small accident policy.  One worker on a boat purchased the plan.  Within a week, he had an accident, and the  payment from the company brought even more trust in me.  Countless numbers of policies were then sold. Oh, it was such a joy to become a part of this unique culture.

But there came a time when Judy and I knew that God had more than this for us.  We would soon close this period of our lives, borrow funds, cash in assets, and head off to graduate school to what we perceived to be God’s leadership in becoming a pastor again.  That’s another story to share some time.

My purpose today is to promote the wonderful city of Tarpon Springs and to share memories with you.  And especially, as I discovered from this Tarpon Springs experience,  to remind you that our Heavenly Father continues to love us and bless us, even when we are not making Him the priority of our life. 

“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”  (Psalm 145:8)

Lawson

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1 Comment »

  1. I love Tarpon Springs-especially loved being there with the whole family a few Christmas’ ago! Loved the hand-made soaps, sponges and food!

    Comment by jjr, mo — January 22, 2010 @ 10:19 am | Reply


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