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         Reflections of:

Diana Beckham Topping
copyright: 2003 - Diana Beckham Topping

     Hi!  My name is Diana Beckham Topping.  I am from a small town, on the west coast of Florida, called Cedar Key.  It is a quiet little fishing village in which my family has lived for many generations.  It's one of those places where everyone knows each other.  It's nice to drive through the streets and wave at everyone you see because more than likely they are someone I've grown up with.  The pace here is real slow.  I figure why wear a watch when you live by the tide.  Watching the water going in and out is much more appealing then looking at my wrist.

     I am now 27 years old, very happily married to Christopher Topping.  We have a 1 1/2 year old son named Riley  Malachi; with blond hair, blue eyes, great personality and a very tan little body.  We love him so much and hope to hand our traditional way of life on the water to him.

     For generations my family [The Beckhams] have worked on the water by means of commercial fishing [which includes net fishing, oystering, crabbing, shark fishing with long lines, Sanddollaring, conching, etc.]  whatever we could do at the time to make money.  Net fishing was our main source of income.  Though not very profitable.

     In our family the kids started working at real young age.  I was 4 years old when I started helping my father every day on the boat.  We ate a lot of  seafood.  Usually we would have whatever we caught that day for supper that night.

     Until the netban was passed in 1994, which took our way of life away.  That was when clam farming came into play.  The State introduced farm raised clams from microscopic seed to a full grown littleneck/cherrystone clam.  They provided 2 acre regulated parcels about 2 miles offshore  to grow them.  Financially it has treated us well.  We are still able to survive on the water  providing  seafood and loving every minute of it.  I am very fortunate to live this way I feel.  I am very happy to wake up to beautiful sun rises.  To jog along the sand sprit gandering gently across  the horizon  at the picture perfect , never the same, ever so colorful sunset.  Watching as the birds soar across the sky.  Pelicans, seagulls and other birds swooping and diving into  the water.  The wind is blowing briskly.  I have to swipe the hair  away from my face.  As I breath in the warm  salty sweet  air, I can hear the lapping  of the waves as it caresses the shoreline, thinking to myself "There's no place like home."


     ~ As a release from work I ran miles each day.  At a young age I started running competitions finding that I was the toughest girl around, winning race after race.  All of that hard work paid off.  I had fun with it but running is only a hobby for me so my focus stayed on my expectant clam farming career. 

     ~  Went to work in Fort Myers Beach in '94 on the Sun Kruz Europa Star  cruise ship.  As a casino cashier age 17.  Was crowned  Mrs. [Miss?}  Fort Myers Beach 1995.  Beauty queen and Ms. Congeniality.  2 titles first time ever done there.

     ~  Few months later went to Togiak Alaska to work salmon, smelt, herring jobs as quality control/grader/process worker.

     ~  Came home with enough capital to independently start my clam farming operation back in Cedar Key, FL.

     ~  And now, successfully clam farming.  My husband Christopher is a very smart business man, so he started a wholesale clam business so we can sell our own clams and those of my family.  We take care of each other around here.

     ~  I remember as a child going on the boat with my father who was a commercial fisherman.  He would always recognize the most beautiful things.  The porpoises would play and dance around the boat as we cruised through the water in search of schools of mullet, pompano, jacks, fatbacks, reds, trout or whatever it was we were after at the time.  My father knew the water like the back of his hand.  As a child it always amazed me how he could remember where every oysterbar, sandbank, rock, etc. was.  We trolled waters from Crystal River to the Suwannee River and sometimes Horseshoe Beach.
 I would sit on the ice box with what we called the  leter go, a weight made out of some old lead, sand, a can, in the fire out back, which was attached to the cork line of the net with which we had piled on the back of the bird-dog.  When my father spotted a bunch of fish he would holler "let her go."  When I hear this I knew to throw that small anchor off the left side of the boat.  Then we would proceed to take them in.  Circle around them so they can't get out  without getting caught in the net.  The boat would be in the middle of the circle where we would proceed to yell, stomp the floor of the boat and my Dad would hit the top of the water with his pole oar to try and scare the fish into the net.  We would fish from daylight until after dark somedays.  Sometimes we'd leave after dark and get back in the morning, depending on the tides.  In the evening the phosphorous would light up the water with every movement.  It was  absolutely magical.

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