I first came to Marathon with the Sunshine Fins Skin Diving Club from St. Petersburg. The year was about 1962.
At that time, about 98 percent of all divers were spear fishermen. Three or four divers would go out to the reef for a day of spear fishing and free dive. We would only spear the biggest grouper, and in a day’s diving, each diver may only spear four to six grouper — but each diver may have a hundred pounds.
The local residents would see us selling about 20 big grouper at the fish house and think we were out there raping the reef. At the same time, a local fisherman could go to the reef and catch a hundred pounds of grouper a day. Where we killed only four to six fish for our hundred pounds, the local fisherman would catch 20 to 30 fish to make his hundred pounds.
And they thought we were ruining the fishing! Therefore, divers weren’t welcome in Marathon. If they found out you were a diver, you got poor service in a restaurant. If they knew you were a diver, they didn’t want to rent you a cabin.
We stayed in a cabin behind Ted and Mary’s Restaurant.
A diver couldn’t rent a boat; they said they didn’t want their boats beat up with our tanks. We told them we were free divers and didn’t use tanks. They said they didn’t want to rent their boat to us, anyway. The only place we were treated like we were welcome was at Ted and Mary’s Restaurant.
They opened at 5 a.m. and closed at 11 a.m. The rest of the day was set aside for bonefishing. Ted would guide Mary bonefishing, and she set several records. That restaurant today is the Wooden Spoon.
But in those days, it had a little porch on the front; now the windows have been moved to the outer edge of the porch to make it bigger inside. I believe that was done when it was called Jim and Terry’s; they ran it after Ted and Mary sold out.
One morning early, five or six of us divers went in Ted and Mary’s; Ted waited tables and Mary cooked. Two tables were pushed together and, after we set down, Ted cleared the table. While wiping it off, he pushed all the crumbs in a pile and instead of catching them in his hand, as a joke, he pushed them off into my friend Windy’s lap.
Later Ted brought the mustard and catsup to the table and knocked the plastic mustard bottle over like it was an accident, and then pushed on it. It shot a yellow piece of yarn at Windy. He jumped back, upsetting his chair. It hit the window but it didn’t break.
Of course, we all got a big laugh out of that. That is the only place in Marathon that we were treated like human beings on that trip.
Ted died in 2001, Mary in 1997. But in the Middle Keys, memories of them remain.