Sullivan is the owner of Statewide Pest Control. Wheeler is, of course, a fishing captain. As they began to deliver their memories of island times gone by, one could tell this wouldn’t be an average History Bytes ... particularly one held in a church. The whole process started with a joke that cannot be reprinted in these hallowed pages, but if you talk to Dumplin’, he’ll probably share it with you.
Wheeler was born on this island, and his earliest memories are of trailing behind his father with a little red wagon, one of his mama’s purses and a makeshift cooler.
“It was a Huck Finn type of life,” he said. “I ran around in a pair of shorts and no shirt. The purse was because I was copying my granddad. There was always a screwdriver or hammer in there. My granddad worked on the beachfronters’ houses, and that purse was my ‘tool box.’”
The cooler in the wagon was for his side business. His family was in the charter fishing business, so Dumplin’ spent plenty of time at the guide docks. The fish that the customers and guides didn’t want, he would take and deliver to the fish house on the island, just like he saw the other fishermen doing.
“Tommy Parkinson – he ran the fish house – stopped me one day and handed me $25,” said Dumplin’. “I asked him what it was for, and he told me it was for all of the fish I had brought in. I didn’t even know you got money for that. I went home and built a bigger cooler after that!”
Dumplin’ had a whole string of business ventures as a kid, from diving for golf balls in the Bayou to selling Key limes he collected from Sam Whidden’s property on First Street. His most profitable venture, though, was checking boats to make sure no fishing line was caught on the bottom. It started with his dad’s boat, and since he was in the water anyway, the rest of the guides asked him to check their boats, too. At $5 to $10 per boat, and 32 boats at the dock, the money quickly added up.
When Dumplin’ hit the ripe old age of 10, he and a friend invested some of that money in a small boat. They ordered it from the Sears & Roebuck catalogue, and assembled it in the back yard.
“Once we were done, I thought about sending them a thank you letter for all of the extra screws and nuts that they sent us,” laughed Dumplin’. “Once we got that together, we started a car washing business at my grandma’s house. For $1.25, we would wash your car. We used the money for that, we bought a 12-hp motor.”
All this time, Jack Sullivan had been working at the Mercantile as a soda jerk. His feelings about the island were less Mayberry and more “The Prisoner.”
“We came to the island in 1945,” recalled Jack. “My mama married a Coleman, and we moved out here. It was not paradise to me. When they built that bridge, I was the first one off. I wasn’t interested in mosquitoes or commercial fishing, and that was pretty much all there was out here. You couldn’t walk down Banyan at noon because there were so many mosquitoes.”
Before the bridge, Jack thought of Boca Grande like the Old West.
“There were factions out on this island,” he said. “Sometimes, they collided. There were some really bad fights out here back then.”
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