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Legacy on Winter’s Bay, part 1

Frank Gross: It’s a rough life. You get used to it somehow, but it’s rough, a rough way of making a living. Yep.

Narrator: It’s brutally cold on Winter’s Bay. For nearly two hundred years, the ritual of going on the water to harvest oysters and earn a living has been preserved by Marylanders. It’s a harsh way of life, a legacy of the rugged individualist, sadly, perhaps the last of their breed.

James Gross: It’s a way of life, you know, I’ve been around here in Shady Side, that’s a way of life. It’s not very much else to do around here, and that keeps you going. You put your hands over the exhaust pipes in the morning, put your gloves over the exhaust pipe in the morning, and you go to work. You just, as they say, you bite the bullet and go to work.

Narrator: James Gross and his uncle, Captain Frank Gross, are two generations of a large watermen’s family out of Shady Side, Maryland.

James: There’s a big tradition in my family. My family has been doing this as far as I can remember, as far as they tell me it goes back to my great great grandfather. This is all I’ve known all my life, and everything. I know my father did it, all my uncles has done it, all my cousins do it. I got a brother that does it. Just pass boats down, older generations, from, you know, your son, if he’s going, and your father stopped working on the water…that’s how I got my boat. It was passed down from my father to me. As far as I know, this is all my family has ever done.

James: To be a waterman, I mean, you’re going to have to love the job. You’re going to have to put up and down with oystering in the wintertime like that, and it’s cold. You get wet. You know, I mean basically you have to love the job to do it. My father never really told me. It was more about experience going out with him and just learning the trade as you went along. You get on the boat with him in the morning, and he might say, “Watch the compass. Make sure you know exactly which way you’re going.” Ever since I can remember, ever since I’ve been able to walk, I’ve been out on a boat. I learned how to swim before I could walk.

Narrator: The spirit of the Chesapeake Bay is inspiring. Folkways, lots of optimism, a strong family creed, dogged independence are the sustenance that drives them through their hazardous work. They are a central part of Maryland’s economic and cultural fabric.


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