Memories - The Giants Camp

 

Back in the late 30's, my parents Al and Jeanie Tomaini came to Gibsonton to winter away from the snow in New Jersey. They had friends Joe and Ruth Pontico that lived in Tampa, Florida. The first year they visited they stayed in an upstairs apartment near the Pontico's, and would drive to Gibsonton to fish as the Alafia river was the place to go. The fish would almost jump in the boat. So the next year, they brought their small trailer to Gibsonton and stayed in a park on the North side of the river. After checking into who owned the 3 1/2 acres on the South side of the river a deal was struck and my parents became the new owners.  Included in the deal was an old run down tavern, a house that was pushing 50 years old and a big swamp.  The big swamp of course included the usual items such as trees, scrub palmettos, snakes, bugs and gators, just to name a few.

 

There was a little park south of us that had a tavern and restaurant owned by Eddie LaMay and his wife. He was about the first to move to this little town. When my parents came here, the rest followed. They would winter here with us, and all the while, help to make improvements to the property.

 

The first thing that was built was the bait shop.  Then 30 fishing boats were ordered.  The boats took a while to arrive as they were made by hand out of cypress. Every summer my parents would leave and go on the road, make some money, and come back.  They would take the money they made and put it into the business by building cottages, and making various improvements. The waterfront was leased from the USPP company, as they held all of the water rights.

 

We built a pole barn for a picnic area, and several Bar-B-Q pits were added. The Greater Tampa Showman's Association would have huge parties on the water, and the place was always full on the weekends. The boats would be rented out several times a day as the fish were plentiful and a lot of people fed their families that way. The little tavern was turned into a bar and grill and food was added to the fare. Sandwiches and fries for the fishermen to take out on the water, and cold beer for when they returned.

 

You have to remember that back then there were no VCR's, video games, not too many TV's, no shopping malls and no fast food. The only place you could even get takeout was from a certain hotel that had a Chinese restaurant and an Italian restaurant owned by a friend that had take out pizza. Both of these were in down town Tampa about 15 miles away so we didn't get that too often.

 

Back then people visited in their homes. I remember that almost every night Daddy would play cards with Dotty Blackhall the fat lady, who was lovingly referred to as Aunt Dotty by me. Dotty passed when I was twelve. Home and family was what was happening back then. The Porters, who had a monkey speedway, lived a couple of blocks away. The Sciortinos had a Girlshow, and got a place in Tampa when they got off the road. Their son Tommy has a tent and canvas company in Tampa and deals in antique Carousels as well.

 

Back in the late 50's the highway through town was made into 4 lanes.  It also had two parking lanes that were going to be built right where our front yard was so the restaurant had to go. After they paid my Dad for it he asked what their plans for it were, to which they replied "tear it down."  So, being the quick thinker he was, he asked if he could have it back if he moved it out of their way. They were more than glad to give it to him, as it meant they didn't have to haul it away. He had a mover come and give him a price for moving it and it was moved south 15 feet, west 30 feet, and is still operating today.

 

Most of the old timers are gone now but some of the families still live here. We still have a theatrical supply house and Bill Rodgers still has the material, rhinestones, and sequins, for making costumes. There are still some people making big rides, and you can see grab joints sitting in yards. It has mostly been taken over by transients, that pick the crops that grow here and in Ruskin which is just south of us. Most of the younger generation have either moved away or given up the road and just retired further inland. The fishing is about nonexistent as a nearby plant dumps hazardous waste in the river and has killed off about everything, including the people that have lived here so long.

 

We will stay as long as we can, as Alex Zander wants to live here "forever". And now that he has the swords in his belly, the balloon and screw driver up his nose and has his nail bed to rest his weary body, the Giant's Camp will have a reason for being here.

 

2003 Judy Tomaini Rock, All Rights Reserved

Published with the permission of Judy Tomaini Rock

 

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