Interview with Nancy Cayton, 1995-10-18

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Interview with Nancy Cayton, 1995-10-18
Cayton, Nancy ( Interviewee )
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University of North Florida Fisherfolk Oral History Collection ( local )


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'UNF Fisherfolk' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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UNF Fisherfolk 025 Nancy Cayton 10-18-1995 ( SPOHP IDENTIFIER )


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Interview with Nancv. in charge of Soft Shell crab operation at Palmo 10-18-95

Caryn: (This is) Caryn and Linda and we are going to be interviewing Nancy at the Palmo fish
camp and today is October 18, 1995.
Linda: And this is tape 1.

(It is hard to hear because we are touring the area where they keep the crabs. The background
noise is running water)

Nancy:...And I'm kinda like, running the place here. That's the way that...
Ivy: Well, I didn't want to hurt anything...
"Nancy: Uh uh. You're not ......... here's what, you know, you want to know and what I can tell
you. You know...
Ivy: I like what you showed me before about, you know, the difference between males and
females and also how to tell between......... (muffled).......stages.
Nancy: Uh huh. I'll try to get it here, but I may not be able to. But I'll show you this { }..
(Water running)
Nancy: I'm trying to find a male...a male.....I'm trying to find a male. See, there's your male,
into the soft shell operation. This is your female.
Ivy: Okay, that's the...
Nancy: That's the male...
Ivy: The male. Okay.
Nancy: And there's the female. There's the female.
Ivy: Would you say the female has what you'd call an apron?
Nancy: Yeah. This is the apron on the female. This is the, the male's, well you can call it the
penis, I guess...
Linda: ...the reproductive organ...
Nancy: ...but anyway, he's got two prongs underneath here, that when he gets, when she turns to
a soft shell, he has a real soft plate and he'll stick it into her two little holes as you will, I don't
know what to call it! I'll have to show you more about it when I get over there into the soft
shells. But that's what he does to her, he'll ride her like this.
Linda: Are they reproducing here in your..whatever this is called?
Nancy: They can, they can. They can if I will let them but I won't let them, I'll separate them.
If I see a male and a female, I'll separate them, because he'll convert back to a hard crab instead
of going ahead and shedding. So that's why a lot of times I'll have to throw him away in order
to save her. So a lot of times you'll see me toss one. Everybody's, "what do you do that for?"
I'll tell you it's because he is converting back. He is not going on to shed, he's converting back
to a hard crab.
Linda: Do people not eat hard crabs?
Nancy: Yes, they eat them. They eat hard crabs....
Linda: But you only deal in soft crabs, is that it?



Nancy: That's the only thing I deal with here, a soft shell operation.
(water running)
Nancy: There is your soft shell. That's what a soft shell is. This is a female. See her apron?
Okay, there's where he'll stick his two little prongs, right into that area, that's how they mate.
She'll pull her apron back, and he then goes ahead and does his thing. But she will turn over on
her stomach a lot of times like this and take her apron and flap it. What she's doing, she's trying
to call the mate to her. But now this is a soft shell, you want to touch it? He will not bite, the
crabs are real soft just like he is. It's very complicated...Here is one where he's trying to come
out of his shell. Right here, this is the hard part of the shell and it's backing out, instead of going
forward, it's backing out.
Linda: How long does it take for that whole process to complete itself?
Nancy: If the water is real warm, it takes about and hour. If the water's cool like it is, it takes an
hour to two hours. You know, it just depends on what stage the crab is in.
Linda: Are these all dead crabs that you've got in that in that basket?
Nancy: These are all dead stuff. Here's a real good one where you can see the softness of it, see,
he's backing out. Cause what they do, they move each part of their legs, they move this, every
part they move and it slides itself out. If they lose this, that stops the process of coming out of
the shell. They don't need to lose that top shell, any and all. If you see one like this and it lost
its top shell, more that likely if it didn't finish coming out of the top shell it'll die.
Linda: I don't think I heard the whole thing, could you repeat it again?
Nancy: Okay, this here has to stay on the crab, this top shell...For it to back out, it has a process
that it does. Okay, when they move all of their parts as it's backing out, they move every part,
their eyes, their lungs, everything comes out, and forms another crab. You've got to keep this
shell on, at all times. If at any time you see one that doesn't have that top shell on it, more than
likely it will die. Sometimes they will, depends on how far they are, but more than likely they
will go ahead and die. That top shell hooks to crab and they slide out, like this here. There's
one, where he's coming on out. See how it's moving, you can see the legs, there you go, see the
legs moving. The whole body comes out. That's what they do, and they come out, just a way.
That's the way they do it, they move every part of their body as they're coming out.
Linda: So how soon do you have to get them to market?
Nancy: I don't need to hold them no more than three or four days, because then they'll start
dying on me, something will happen. But normally I might keep them three or four days in the
cooler. I have a cooler that I put them in, and once they shed in here I pull them out of this tank
and I let them harden up a little bit more, and when they get to a certain point into that, then I
take them out of there, and I put them in a tray. With hay in the bottom of it, wet hay, and then I
put the crabs in there, then I put a wet piece of paper over that to keep the moisture in. So as
long as they stay moist, they stay fairly well good. That's the way they do it.
(Water muffled voices)
Nancy: I can (help the crab) if they get in trouble, I can help them and get them out...


Ivy: How do you know if they're in trouble?
(running water muffles voices)

(outside of the crab area)
Nancy: Buddy, he helps me a lot, with making coolers, with the soft shells, the whole bit. If it
hadn't been for him helping me I, well, I'd probably have been under by now. He's been a big
help to me as far as helping me keep things up because one person can't do this by themselves.
This is 24 hours, seven days a week. No break, no nothing. No time off at all in this. You do
not get any time unless you can figure out somebody that will come in here and take your place
for a little bit to give you a chance to get out.
Linda: Well, can we sit down over there and...
Nancy: Yeah!
Nancy: I try to keep (the trash) burned, but some days you don't....
Linda: I don't know how much time you have to spend with us, so just cut me short. I've got a
million questions.
Nancy: Alright. If I can answer them.
Linda: Oh, I know you can because they're all about you.
Nancy: Not about
Linda: Could you tell me how you got started in this business?
Nancy: God, you're starting way back...
Linda: Well, that's what we're interested in!
Nancy: Aw, let's see if I can start there, okay. Well I started with Ashley in North Carolina
working in hard crabs. Not this operation, but the regular hard crab, working in it, picking crabs
I used to pick crabs. And I came down here and I picked some down here. Then the picking
operation got more than what Ashley wanted to have, so he decided to go into soft shell
operation. IN the meantime of that, my ex husband and I started driving the tractor trailer. So
from there I kept staying down here a little bit, you know, off and on, kept working with Ashley
in the soft shells...
Linda: Who is Ashley?
Nancy: That's the main, that's the guy that owns it all this. Ashley Daniels. He owns it all.
And I just started staying down here, got a little interested, more and more into it, and I got stuck
with it. So I've been down here almost 4 years by myself trying to run this operation.
Linda: So Ashley owns it, but you run it...
Nancy: I run it. And when we've got everything in here, all these tanks, we've got tanks in this
room, we've got tanks on the back side, and we've got, you know, the tanks you saw. If all of
those are full, it's an operation. You're pushing yourself to the limit. You do not stop normally
to even get a sandwich, barely to get to the bathroom. I barely even know what I'm doing
because I have, lot of times in the summer time, spring time, we have to change the water out.
So I'm the one who changes the water, makes sure all of the pipes and stuff are like they should

^ ___ _______. _____________________________________^


be. We've got a bad leakage into the, this long tank here where we hold the water. We dug it out
this year so I could keep the water level up as good as I know how. God, what else? It's an
Linda: So, does anybody relieve you so you can get away...
Nancy: I try to keep somebody here to relieve me after, say 12 or so hours of being on my feet
just going hard as I can go. I try to have somebody here. Sometimes it doesn't work that way.
The girl wants off, she's tired, so that still puts you back { }. I operate it, I do
the freight, I tend all that. Some of them come in here and pick up the freight here to the plant,
some of them I have to meet out to the interstate as we call that on 16 and 95, I have to meet
them out there. It doesn't matter what time the freight truck comes in here, I try to get up and
make sure my freight is on the truck, he signs the tickets. If I go to the interstate it doesn't matter
what time, it can be three o' clock in the morning, I'd just lay down for thirty minutes, I'm back
up, I've got my stuff, I'm gone. Do what I've got to do. So it's...
Linda: Now who brings these crabs in?
Nancy: Okay it's the fishermen that go out into the water theirselves, and they bring, they peeler
pot, they have a peeler pot that they catch the peeler in. And then they bring them in here to me.
And I count them, grade them, and then I out them in my tanks, then they, the crab itself, does
it's own thing.
Linda: Now do you pay those fishermen as they give you the crab?
Nancy: Whatever I put down to them on a piece of paper is what I pay them. If they bring in a
thousand peelers that day and I count a thousand, they get the money for the thousand peelers. If
they bring in eight peelers, I still pay them for eight peelers. So it doesn't matter how many they
bring in that day, they get paid. If the crab is a good red and a good pink. If it's a white or a
green, I don't buy that. I don't buy that one at all. I can buy it but I don't buy it because that
puts you in more of a bind because you have to keep going through those tanks a little bit more.
Linda: And how much do they get paid per peeler?
Nancy: Okay, they get seventy cent per peeler that I out down on the tally for them that day.
Linda: And approximately how many, I want to call them suppliers, but fishermen do you have
that supply you?
Nancy: Let's see, there's one, two, three, four, five, six...six or seven.
Linda: Do they have other soft shell factories that they supply?
Nancy: just me, they bring the peeler here to me, and that's it.
Linda: Are there other factories like this around?
Nancy: Oh yeah, there's are not as big as this one. Gary down the street may have one about the
same size as mine, but I'm not real sure. but this is one of the bigger ones around here.
Linda: And so once these shed their hard shell and become soft shell...
Nancy: Whoever calls me and they say, I want like 2 cases. Okay, there's three dozen to the
tray, it's a little brown tray. I put three dozen crabs to those trays and I put three of those in to a
box. That's nine dozen I'll sell to those people.


Linda: And do they call you on like a daily basis?
Nancy: At least once a week they'll call twice a week, three times, you know, it's just according
to how they want the product theirselves. If they need it more, sometimes I have gone to the
airport and put some out on the airport to send to these people because they would run out.
Linda: How far away are these, what do we call these, your buyers?
Nancy: Some of them are up north to New York, Baltimore, slam down to Miami. And then I
have a few I can send over in Louisiana. It's wherever. We have the wholesale and retail
license. So I can sell to anybody.
Linda: Were your parents in this kind of business? So you just came upon it on your own.
Nancy: It's just me! No daddy farmed, mama done nothing, and I worked.
Linda: And, let's many years have you been in this business now? four?
Nancy: At least four right here by myself. I've been in it with Ashley, I've worked with him at
least twelve years.
Linda: Has the business changed at all over these twelve years?
Nancy: Yeah.
Linda: Can you tell us a little bit about the changes?
Nancy: It's not so much the business itself, it's just the seasons that's changing. Your spring,
your summer, your fall, we used to could tell you exactly when the soft shells was going to run,
like in the spring, the summer, and the fall. Now they could run all year long or they may, like
they've done this year, they started about June or July, we just had a little, short little run late,
maybe a week or two of it. Then it just died out to nothing. Then we had another little summer
run I call it, maybe a couple more weeks, died out. This one here has lasted about a month and a
half. So you never know when the peeler itself is going to do what it needs to do. It's not
something you can really sit down and say, you know, this is going to be a spring operation, a
summer operation, a fall operation. That's the way it normally should run, but the seasons itself
or the water change has a lot to do with the crabs theirselves.
Linda: When you say the water change...
Nancy: ...the temperature. It changes, of course then, like the summer running eight, eight
something degree temperatures. Now it's running about seventy degree temperatures. So the
temperature as far as water, it has a lot to do with how they shed, how they run, and the process
even out in the creek itself.
Linda: Has pollution had any effect on the business?
[Nancy shakes head yes]
Linda: Can you elaborate a little bit?
Nancy: Not on that one, nah. That's a little more then I think I should get into for the simple
reason, there's a lot of people that wouldn't like what I have to say. So, I mean, you know, I
know that the redness of the water, that's an acid that in there that's helping kill them. But
there's a lot more out there if it could be prevented it would help a lot with seafood itself. I
mean, that's not just the crabs, it's all of the seafood.


Linda: Is there a big decline in crabs over the last twelve years?
Nancy: Oh yeah, there's been a big decline.
Linda: Now, i see there's not a whole lot of technology in there, but I have an untrained eye...
Nancy: It's, yeah, you've got, it took me a couple of years to really want to catch the eye of what
I'd really needed to do. You just don't go in there like the boy a while ago that didn't have his
shirt on, he's just come up here, he's learned quite a bit about it. You just don't learn it
overnight. This is a lot that you have to learn about the crab itself, what kind of process it goes
through, when it dies, how it dies, what caused it to die, when to pull it and when not to pull it,
how firm or how soft I want it being pulled to put in the trays. It's not a whole lot to do, but
when you got the whole system going, you've got to know what you're doing because you've got
some that's going to firm up quicker, you've got some that's not going to firm up quicker,
you've got some that's going to, you need to pull this one or you need to pull that one, you need
to run to this buster tank pull this busters, you know, it's constantly going. Your mind is
constant and after a while you just boggle yourself down. Plus, with me still, I have all of the
other stuff to do. So it keeps me going. For the other people, they just run in there, they just pull
the buster soft shells, they don't have the strain like I do.
Linda: Are there any plants like this that have technology that make their work any...
Nancy: All the operations are like this. Every one of them are, you know, just like this. Even to
your Universities that's experimenting with this, it's, the only thing they do, they just watch the
crab a lot with what they're doing to experiment with it a little bit better then I would.
Linda: So twelve years ago when you started it basically looked the same as it does today?
Nancy: Same things it does today. It's no different as far as what the crab does itself, it does the
same thing year after year. Only thing is, the crab just grows each time that it sheds. It just, you
know, the points get a little larger, it gets bigger. There's a certain point where the crab will not
shed anymore also. That's when it's turned into a big female, male. The male, if he's a real big
pretty male, on the back side of his belly, he's got that real orangy look, dull look on him. Now
he's got a lot of meat in him if he's not just shedding...
Linda: These crabs have shed many times out in the water before you get them...
Nancy: They, yeah...
Linda: Is there a certain size that you won't take then?
Nancy: No, normally I'll take them all, any old size, except the little ones like this, you know
that's nothing. I mean, you can eat them, but I mean all it is is just a bite and you're through.
Normally what I do with those, I just go ahead and throw them back overboard and, I don't even
buy them, I just throw them back overboard and let nature take care of its course.
Linda: How much can you sell, do you sell them by the dozen? And how much do you get for a
Nancy: Twenty three to twenty four dollars a dozen. They're very expensive...
Linda: So what- I don't know if you're close to retirement, but...
Nancy: Oh God I wish I was!


Linda: What would happen if you retired?
Nancy: I'd still work. I've got to find something to do. I wouldn't do this, I'd go find another
Linda: So this business is not dependent on you? You'd actually be able to find somebody else
that could do what you do?
Nancy: It's harder then, with what I know now, it's, people don't want to do this type of
operation. But it's confining, it's very confining. Like when I got everything in...last year for
instance, I was down to, about like this. I mean, I was like, you could see every bone I had in my
body. Boy, I wouldn't eat. I didn't take the time to eat. I was up most of the time, I maybe got
three hours sleep out of the twenty four, that was in a twenty four hour period, seven days a
week. I...get somebody come in here a couple or so times to relieve me. But it's an operation. If
you could be here in the spring when it's...
(Technical difficulty)
Linda: What is it about this profession that keeps you going?
Nancy: I really don't want to find anotherjob. I'm not really willing to have somebody else to
tell me what to do. That's the hard part!
Linda: Well, that happens...Are there any special expressions or sayings that are particular to
this business?
Nancy: Not what I can repeat. Even now and then, I lose it, you know, and a crab'll bite me or
something, you know, and I'll lose my temper and I, well, I just say some words every now and
then, but I mean that's because I'm tired, I'm aggravated or something, you know, it's a crab,
you know, 'you bit me', sometimes I'll wind up killing it because it's hit me wrong, you know,
it's hit me at the wrong stage and it's hit a sore on my finger like here. If it's hit it again and I
catch that crab, I'm liable to kill it. So I say, well Ashley, I just owe you another seventy cent,
put it on my list, you know? Or...
Linda: Well that's ajoke, right?
Nancy: Its joke, you know, I just mark it down as I owe him another seventy cent for the crab.
Linda: Do you keep track of all the crabs that died in the bucket on the floor?
Nancy: No because, I can, but I don't. For some reason it would blow my mind at times.
Linda: I just...when you said you know, chalk up another seventy cents to my bill, I'm thinking,
look at that whole basket full of dead crabs.
Nancy: No, that's the ones that everybody's pulled out that's died. So that don't bother me
unless I start seeing a lot of death loss. The crab itself, the peeler itself, then I start watching real
close of how many's dying because I've got to keep a track of what's going on so I'll know
where I need to be at to cut back on the boy's pay or drop their pay, or how many's shedding,
putting over there in another tank and shedding, you know, so I'll know what I need to be doing.
It's more looks simple, but it's not. It's more than what you would realize, if
you could be here, you know, and just really see the operation when it's really going strong.
Linda: Well, I can imagine because when I called you a week ago you didn't even have the time

* 8

to give me directions!
Nancy: And I didn't at that point because I was pretty well tied up then. It's died back like I say
now. I bought two hundred and something peelers today. That's all I bought. That's good. But
tomorrow I may buy five hundred. So different days for different, whatever they come in with.
I've got a lot of the guys that may take their { } and I'll be through with it. And
when I cut that last pump off out there I'm, say thank you.
Linda: When you say you'll be through with it, how long?
Nancy: About four months.
Linda: So what do you do during those four months?
Nancy: I sit.
Linda: Just relax? Do you stay here in this area?
Nancy: I stay right here. I'll be right here, I, used to go to North Carolina because that's where
I'm originally from, but I won't now because I'm moving down here. So I'll be right here on
this property until Ashley decides what, if he wants to resell it, or if he wants to reopen it or what
he wants to do. You know, but I think we'll reopen again for next summer.
Linda: Have you had any interesting or funny experiences while working here?
Nancy: ...Part of life. The only thing that's really interesting to me is when my cats walked in
there and they fall in a tank or something like that will happen. You know, my cats are the most
interesting thing around here to me because a lot of times they'll go in there and they'll sit up
there on the tanks, you know, and they'll walk around there with you, you know, other than that,
a snake once in a while that I'll jump up, you know, and go try to kill, or, there's, at one time we
had raccoons in there, we've had turtles in there, you know. Other than that...
Linda: What do the raccoons do?
Nancy: They just { } you went one way, he went the other, you know, and
you say goodbye.
Linda: What do you like best about this operation?
Nancy: Friday. That's what everybody says, Friday. It's, when I first got into it it was really
interesting because I wasn't used to the peeler itself, I wasn't used to the soft shell, so I kept
watching, you know, how it would do it's thing and that's how I really got into it. It was just
watching the operation itself with Ashley here and ...(technical difficulty)... he just went to North
Carolina and said 'here it is', I said gee thanks.
Linda: What do you least like about this?
Nancy: The hours. The hours, seven days a week. That's the hardest part because you've got to
be here for so long. You don't get a chance to go out and even say hey to anybody. You just go
out and grab you a bite and cook when it's... { } brought this trailer down last
year so I refused. But I just, I will not cook. I'll starve first...
Linda: Is it unusual that you as a woman run this place? Is it mostly a man thing?
Nancy: It's, you need a man around.
Linda: Why do you need a man around?


Nancy: Like, this year my unit in the back has gone down because I had a little hole into it for
freon. Okay, Buddy, he knew, well, he's into it so he knew exactly what to do, so he's repaired
that. Okay, if I have anything go wrong with my pumps, you know, my pumps that brings the
water in, a lot of times, I could work on it, but I, you need a man around do something while I
can do something else. That's where you need a man around to do what I don't particularly want
to do.
Linda: Do the fishermen that supply you and the people, the truckers, do they...
Nancy: ...They help me.
Linda: They help you out?
Nancy: Yeah, they help me.
Linda: Well, that's nice...
Nancy: The fishermen, I've got a couple of them that I just call them and say hey I need such
and, 'okay, I'll be down there in a little while, give me a little time'. Okay, they're down here.
The truckers, when they come in here, I go in the cooler and I get my stuff out, they put it on the
freight truck for me because I'm so short like I am they stick it up there and, we run our mouth
like we normally do. We talk, I mean, you know, it's just...I get along with all of them.
Linda: Was it like that in the beginning?
Nancy: It was so so. You know, not really knowing them, they didn't know me, you know, get
to learn everybody, they learn me and...
Linda: ...So you didn't have to prove yourself because you're a woman.
Nancy: No...they found out that I'm the type of person, I won't take too much. I mean, it don't
matter if it's a buyer or who it is, I won't take but just so much because then I'm going to tell
you...if [Ashley] was here, I'll tell you the same thing as he would. So that's no problem.
Linda: Has the net ban affected this business at all?
Nancy: No...(recorder stopped)...and I kinda like, forbidded people to come in here, so
I...(battery difficulty, so interview was moved inside)
Linda: So, I was asking you about being part of the community, and you said that you don't let
people in here. Do you feel part of the community yourself? Do you...
Nancy: I don't socialize.
Linda: Okay...Are there any...I don't know how much you know about the people that supply
you and all, but are there any crafts or things that you, people like you do or they do in order to
augment their living?
Nancy: Some, you know, some of the crabbers their wives work at other places and all, you
know. As far as craft, in North Carolina there's been a few places that I've been that I've seen
them take the top shell and they painted like Halloween little pictures on the back where the
white is, or Christmasy or something like that. You know, or they've taken the top of the crab,
you know, and shellacked it, and fixed little things on, and I've seen some things like that. But
mainly the top crab, on a hard, on a blue crab, when it's being picked it usually used for a deviled
crab on the blue crab.


Linda: What's a devil crab?
Nancy: It's the top shell of the crab, after it's been cooked and everything, they make a batter
and they put it in the shell and then they dip it or eat it out, you know, with a spoon, fork,
whatever you prefer. And they'll eat it out of the shell, that's called a devilled crab. That's what
they did. They have like the little { } type shell that some people will buy and
stuff because they can't get the crab shell itself. So they'll use that and put the little dip in.
Linda: So do you save those hard shells?
Nancy: I don't do anything...I carry them to the dump. That's where I have to carry all of my
stuff because the game and fishery will not allow me to throw my scrap back overboard so I don't
do it. I just put in a van and haul it to the dump. I pay them to take care of the waste.
Linda: Are there any, what I would call, characters in this business that you know of? Anybody,
you know, that's got a special personality that you have a story to tell about them?
Nancy: No, not really. Richard's not been in it that long...There's some of the older ones around
here, but I mean, you know, you'd have to talk to them about it because the peeler fishermen
theirselves, it's just like they come in here, they dump their crabs, or they dump the peelers.
Then I'll ask them I said, how was your day was it rough out there...yes, no...How wet did you
get, or you know, raining, whatever, you know...or did it blow on the other side, you know,
what's going on...did anybody steal any of your traps, you know, this kind of conversation for a
few seconds, and out the door they go and I go and do what I've got to do.
Linda: Do you know any people that, names or how we could get in touch with any of these
peeler fishermen?
Nancy: [Yes] Richard Clemens would be one, he's real good...very good person to talk to. His
wife used to help me when I first, when we first started into it. She got sick on me and had to
quit, but very, very, very good help. I didn't have no problems, no worries, no cares at all, long
as I knew she was here. When she quit, that's when my headaches started because I didn't have
nobody I could really count on. But she's a very fine person...Richard is real good. I think the
world of him. He and I have got along real good. We joke, we carry on, and I mean you know, I
run up to him, I said, hey, you know, I love you today, you know, this kind of thing, you know,
and I mean, we just go on about our business. I mean, it's just that friendship that we've got
between us and his wife and I, the same way. So that's how I got to know those people and to
me you couldn't find any better people than those two. I would stick by them with everything
I'm worth and I'm not worth a dim, so...
Linda: You're still in touch with his wife? You get together and...
Nancy: Oh yeah, yeah. Right now I can't because I'm still busy, but just as soon as I can shut
this stuff down, she and I are going out one day and, goof off. We go to [ ], she loves
to eat, she'll eat anything, she a junky eater. When we worked here we would have at least three
or four bags of potato chips, cookies, dip, we'd come in here...sit down, and we would, like, you
know, live it up! We've gone to the grocery store, we would buy a bag of chips or something,
and before we'd get the bag back here, we'd already devoured it, you know, we're junkie type


people. She loved it, and I loved it the same. It worked out fine for she and I, and I, like I say, I,
those two people, to me, you couldn't ask for two better people on this earth then what I've come
to know, those two. And I can't say enough about them...(technical difficulty)..but as far as
working like this, they are two fine people.
Nancy: There's a Danny Patton. He's a fine person. I don't know his wife at all, I've only seen
her one time. But as far as him himself as a fishermen, he's a very fine person...(irrelevant
Linda: So he's one of your regular suppliers?
Nancy: [yes], he's a real good person too, I think the world of him. He's real real good.
Linda: When you say you think the world of him ,does he do something special for you that the
others don't?
Nancy: Not really, it's just the person. To me, if you hit me off on the right key when I first
meet you, then we're okay. But like you say something when I first walk in, I don't like your
attitude or you've got one of theses, as I call've hit me off on a wrong key and it takes me
a while then to get back in line with you because I've learned to tell how people are, you know,
the way you walk up, you approach, and all that good stuff. Some people to me are just, you
know, this tall and I'm, you'll want to be level with me. But as far as him doing anything
different, no, Danny's just a good person. He is very good, I mean, I think the world of him. All
these fisherman that I have are fairly, they're good. None of them really give me any trouble at
all, they're all good people. There's just some that's just, maybe you've got a special friend that
you like a little bit more than you do, okay, you've got a crabber that you, a little more on their
side than you are, you know, one or two more. That's where the, that part comes in.
Linda: Since you've been in this business, there's always been refrigeration, because you said
you put the crabs after they shed into the refrigeration for a couple of days. Do you know what it
was like before days of refrigeration?
Nancy: I've got a feeling they didn't know what a soft shell was! I got a sneaky feeling, and if
they did, I mean, they have to eat them right then because they will spoil on you. They're a
product that will spoil quick on you in the summertime. Real real quick.
Linda: So you said you keep yours for up to three days and then you turn them over to...
Nancy: ...Then I try to sell them.
Linda: How quickly do they have to, the people that buy them from you, how quickly do they
have to get it to their own consumer?
Nancy: They still have at least two more days. I try and get rid of them as quick as I can so that
person can go ahead and buy them or, you know, do what he needs to do with them, you know,
sell them to...get rid of the product also so he can get what he needs off of it.
Caryn: I'm still curious about the color, that you were explaining the color of the crabs. What is
the difference, like you said there were certain ones that you didn't want? Now what was the
reasoning for that?
Nancy: The reason for that, a white...I'll start out with the green. The green is more or less a

* 12

hard crab right on. It's trying to turn to a white, but it's far off, and it will eat, like if you've got
a soft shell in this tank that's trying to shed or something, it will nip it so it will kill the soft shell
and that's why I don't particularly want...
Caryn: That's not beneficial at all...
Nancy: No, not unless you really want to try and shed it and separate them like you should into
different tanks and try to shed it. But the law not doesn't really want us to do it. They'd rather
we throw it back overboard or a fisherman throw it back. So I go ahead and don't buy it, which
it's, it's an okay crab, don't get me wrong, I just don't want to be bothered with it. It's not one
of my favorite crabs because they bite hard. they let you know then who's boss. The whites also
will let you know that they're still kind of feisty. Your pinks will, I've even had the busters like
I was showing you the ones that was gapped, I've even had those to bite and bring blood. But
they were still real feisty. I mean, they still had a lot of life left in them, even trying to shed.
And so, you have to watch your crab and how it's in those tanks in order to know what to do.
Now the ones in there now, it won't bother me to go through any of them, run my hands through
any of it and go ahead and do what I've got to do, which I'll have one to nip me, you know, or a
lot of times I'll just lay my hand down in the water like this and they'll come up and just tap me,
barely, you know, it feels real funny to have that to happen, you know, up on your arm or
* something. I'll just lay my whole arm in it, they'll come up and they'll just pinch, barely touch
you know. It's real, funny feeling, you know, the way they do it. But they act like, you know,
you're not going to hurt them, so, you know, why hurt back, you know, it's a little funny feeling
that you can get from the crabs theirselves. They sense when I'm after them because they go up
in a corer. And a crab likes dark, very dark. They don't like light at all. So like it is now, I try
to keep the lights off as much as possible so they can go ahead and shed and I'll...they don't like
to shed good, they love to go in deeper water where the other predators out there in the creek
won't eat them because when they're real soft they're vulnerable to anything. There's no way to
protect theirselves because their claws are like real soft, I showed you. They're just, there, until
they can firm up and come back to the hard crab. And they eventually will firm back up. Some
take longer, some take just like that. I mean, he's in the tank, next thing you know, he's hard,
he's ready to come out of the tank. Next time you go back and out another crab in there, it may
be another thirty, thirty five minutes before he's firm enough to take out. So it's ,the crab has a
lot to do with how you have to figure out when to pull them and what to do.
Linda: So you really do have to check them all the time...
Nancy: You're checking them pretty well all the time. Right now it don't bother me to leave
them at least three and a half hours I can leave them. If I pull them like I want to, I can leave the
whole operation for about three and a half hours now. Of course the water's cooled down
enough that I'm satisfied with it. Now sometimes I was out there pretty well every thirty
minutes. If I came in here, just to say, get a drink of water or something, I'm back out. Time I
walk in, I do what I've got to do and I'm back out. I don't stop long enough to even say
anything. If the phone rings, I try to get it, do what I have to do on it real quick and get back to

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what I've got to do because you're getting behind every time you make a wrong move, you're
further behind. And that game in there, you need to try to stay ahead of it. So it's an operation..
You can lose weight real quick by not eating.
Linda: We'll suggest that people come help you in the summer...
Nancy: If anybody wants to lose weight, tell them to come on. They can lose it if they're
willing to follow me.
Linda: Do you eat the soft shell crab yourself?
Nancy: I haven't in two years because I haven't even wanted them.
Linda: You got sick of them?
Nancy: I'm tired of it. And I did, for a while I would eat them because...I still eat them, don't
get me wrong, I would eat them, but right now I'm just, worked in them and aggravated with
them until I just sell them, get them out of my hair. You know, and don't want to eat one,
Linda: Are there any festivals around here connected to the fishing life?
Nancy: In the summertime there's a few. There's one in Palatka, when was that...June, July..
something like that, they had a festival. I believe over in Palatka with seafood. There's a big
festival that goes in New Jersey with seafood. Miami has one, sometime in the summertime,
June, July, they have a big festival down there. They have it. There's a few that's around, you
know, with seafood, but mainly it's not so much the soft shell as it is your shrimp and your fish
and all because people don't really know soft shells. A lot of people are, you know, they're
dumb about it, and that's not the way you would put it, but that's how it would be because
they're not used to the soft shell. There's more probably now then there have been in say, the
past two years that even knew what a soft shell was because a lot of times, you know, where we
go and eat a lot... when I first got into this, that's where I was doing a lot of my eating was there,
and I had some friends that I was talking to them about it, and I would say, you know, I'm
messing with crabs. I didn't explain anything, you know, crabs...but anyway, I wouldn't explain
anything and they'd look at me and they'd be like 'crabs? What's she talking about?' you know.
And I wouldn't explain anything. After a while they'd get real curious, 'What do you do?'.
Crab, you know, then you've got to go through the whole procedure of a peeler, the coloring,
what it does. 'Oh, okay'. They're still dumbfounded because they're not sure what I'm talking
about because they've never seen it. So it, you can make it into a real nice conversation just
speaking of a crab because everybody, you know, it's what they're thinking.
Linda: Well, before I met you I didn't know anything about it myself, and I still have a lot of
questions. Like, when you go to a restaurant, you order crab that from a soft shell crab
Nancy: No, not that. You've got the blue crab. Okay, up to [ ] they pick crabs.
This is the picking crab. It's the blue crab that's. I've got some if them in a cooler that these
boys take up there. They cook them into a cooker. Then you've got these ladies that comes in
there and they pick the meat out of these crabs. That's where you get your devilled crab from,

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unless it's imitation. Or some people prefer the imitation. I prefer the regular crab meat because
to me it's a better crab, you know as far as for what you're going to use it for. You've got your
lump, that's a big piece, on the crab itself it's got a, well, it's where the biter is. There's a big
piece of meat inside of that. Then you've got your other type there they call, this is a jumbo
lump, I call it a flake, it's what I've always called it but now they call it a jumbo, or just a regular
lump. Then a claw, claw, that's the biter, is the real sweet sweet meat. It's, to me it's the best
one of all for what I, because I make, when I buy crab meat, I buy it for the, just a crab patty.
And I love crab patties to death. They're delicious. But I buy the claw meat because it's a
sweeter meat. Now if you're going to fix a salad or something, you'll probably want the white
meat. But to me I prefer the claw over all crab is, you would cut the face off of
them, you cut the apron off of them. There's [ ]in through the top part of the shell.
You pull those back, you cut those off. You go inside, you take your fingers, you go in where
the face is after you cut it. There's some stuff in there that you need to pull out, the insides of it
as I would call it. They have two eggs in there. You pull out those also. You clean it out with
just regular water, get all the yellow stuff, anything that's in there that you don't want to eat. To
me, when I was cooking them, a lot of people will fix a batter. I don't. I just go ahead and salt,
pepper it and put it in flour and put it in oil, and I cook it in, like you would a shrimp. Just like
you would a shrimp. Just put it in deep oil until it gets to, say three minutes, then flip it three
minutes. If it's not, I like the crab a little crispy. Some people don't, but I like it a little crispy.
To me it's better. And so I would cook it a little while longer to get it a little crispy. And that's
how I cook it. But like I said, a lot of people will batter them, you know, in a batter but you
know, I prefer not because I don't like the bread into it...I didn't like a shrimp...
Linda: This is going to really be my final question. You can have some if you'd like. Can you
tell me just out of curiosity what kind of money this business brings in on a yearly basis?
Nancy: Some years it does good if we can have a good season. This year, it's not. It's been a
bad season for us. That's as much as I can tell you on that. Now, if it's a real good season like it
was last year, yeah, it would be, you know, an okay. But like this year it's been a down season so
it's not been a good year on us so it's kind of a bit of a write off as you would call it. But, now
next year it could be an up season. You know, your years are like anything else, you have your
good years and you have your bad years. So this has been one of our bad years and we have had
quite a few of those because with seafood like it is and we have peeler not being here either,
some years it's a lot worse than even this one. So it's an up and down game.
Linda: So you really don't know from one year to the next...
Nancy: All the paperwork, what I've done, he'll sit down and see where it, if it was profitable to
try to keep it back open or if he wants to try to go and invest in something, you know, add a little
bit more to it, like you know, with the hard crabs or something like that. But this year's been a
bad season on us. It's not been one of our good seasons. We've only had a couple or so of those
real good seasons you know, where you say hey we made a little something, but this year it's all
taking away from what you have earned, so you've got your good seasons, you've got your bad



ones, just like any other seafood. You get your good seasons in shrimp, fish...down seasons.
This is one of our down this year.
(irrelevant conversation)
Caryn: I just have one last question. I'm interested in cooking and things like that. Besides you
were talking about crab patties, are there any other favorite crab meals that you cook that you
found to be your favorites? You're just sick of crabs, huh?
Nancy: I love crab patties. Love them to death, and I like them with claw meat, because like I
say, it's a sweeter meat than the white meat. And I'm not much of a cook, but when I'm after a
crab I go for the claw meat.
Caryn: Are they easy to make?
Nancy: Oh yeah. When you buy a can of crab meat, on the back of it it's got a couple recipes
most of the time on them and I usually go by that crab patty that's on there. Sometimes I add a
little of my, you know, my spices to it, you know, or whatever, but I do like the crab patty. And the, well the devil crab is okay, but to me as far as my devil crab I don't even
want it in the shell like I was telling you about, I just, I'll just go ahead and put it in a bowl and
dip it out and eat it. I'm kind of like one of these people that, I'm not really fancy on my food. If
it's there and it's good, I could care less how it's, you know, what it's on, what it's presented with
or how it's presented. If it's good, find me, put it on my plate, and I'll eat it. I'm that type of
person. I'm not, like I say, I'm just down to earth far as eating before Buddy and I started going
together and I'll, I could cook a pot of rice or macaroni and cheese...
Linda: How did you find time to meet Buddy anyway?
Nancy: That's just two and a half years of just talking. I was married for thirty years, and
staying down here like this, we just, he was always out there talking, you know, he's a mechanic
so he was doing his thing, I'd do mine. We'd always talk. If my car broke down, I said Buddy I
need such and such...this is kind of like tearing up on me or you know, can you help me. When
can you work on it, you know....talking, talking, just, coffee, just sit down and talk, okay I've got
to go, bye, see you later, you know, up and gone. And the truck broke down this year, and from
that point on it was just like, you know, I was going to the interstate, and it just struck me. You
know, what's going on in my life. I was miserable, I knew I was, but I couldn't figure out what
was happening at that point, nearly fifty years old and still going through the little eighteen year
old stage again!
Linda: Does he still do his mechanic business and help you?
Nancy: Just as soon as this shuts down we'll go back into it. But he's a mechanic by trade.
That's what his father done and that's what he's always done and he got into helping me out here.
Now we've always talked, I mean, you know, it's been about two and a half years that, you know,
we've like sit down and have a cup of coffee, or he's eating and I sit down with him and have a
cup of coffee, you know, whatever. And we've always just talked until this year we just, it's just,
I can't explain how it happened. There's no way, it's just one of those things it's just there and
there's nothing you can do about it. And like I said I was married for thirty years to my ex-


husband. And he was never mean to me, treated me good, no problems at all, had none
whatsoever, but staying down here like this I knew it was putting distance between us. I knew
that and I could feel it, you know, happening and I just...don't push me, that's the main thing,
don't push me.
Linda: Well, thank you so much, Nancy. You've given me for sure an education. I knew
nothing about crabs.
Nancy: Well, like I say, if you could come here in the spring, you know, when we really got
everything open then you would know exactly what I'm talking about. Especially when they do
the tanks and all, putting in salt, how much salt, what to do, when to change over a pipe, when to
pull in a pipe, what to's a headache because you've got to remember how long this water's
got to run, you've got to remember how long this water's got to run, cut this pump off to get this
going and, when to cut on the other pumps, when to cut other pumps off, you know, watch the
cooler. Somebody asked me here still about 'don't you want earplugs?' I said, I've got to listen
for everything that's going on. My pumps, my cooler, when she fires up, when she doesn't fire
up, how long she's been up. And if a car drives up, I try to listen for the sound of that vehicle if
it's one of my crabbers so I'll know when it's coming in. You learn to listen for them...