He said, ‘Huh?’ He said, ‘Where’s papa?’ I said, ‘He’s laying down.’ He never said a word; he turned the boat back and headed back towards Biloxi. He said, ‘Papa never lays down. He’s sick.’
Corky Hire may have had an inauspicious beginning to his shrimping career, taking over for his ailing father, but now 70 years later, his memories of working the Gulf are almost all fond ones. His time on boats, through the 30’s and 40’s, was during a time when Biloxi’s seafood industry was growing tremendously – sail schooners were being replaced by powered boats, and Croatian families were making the shift from immigrant laborers to cannery owners and professionals.
Corky, the child of immigrants himself, grew up during a time when all his neighbors on land grew grapes for their own wine, when he was hauling in shrimp nets by hand, when ice for the shrimp was in short enough supply that the canneries sent out their own boats to unload fishermen’s catch while still at sea. He retired from shrimping in 1955, before the Hurricanes Camille and Katrina, before government-mandated holes in the shrimp nets, before casinos bought up the waterfront, before shrimp importation all combined to threaten the state of the industry as it stands today. His work back then was hard, Corky says, but “there wasn’t nothing really hard.”
Date of interview: July 28, 2008 Interviewer: Francis Lam Photographer: Francis Lam