- Associated Press - Saturday, July 19, 2014

HOMOSASSA, Fla. (AP) - The cavalcade of tourists rolled in for hours. Their beers iced and children lotioned, they drove through archways of mossy oaks and beneath an aging water tower that in faded letters advertised “Old Homosassa, est. 1835.” They wound past Neon Leon’s Zydeco Steakhouse and the First Baptist Church and the limestone ruins of the Yulee Sugar Mill. By 11 a.m. one recent Sunday, a line of SUVs and extended-cab pickups, their boats in tow, reached beyond the length of a football field from a ramp that sloped into the Homosassa River. Almost all had come for the same reason: scallops.

Homosassa is a mostly poor town of 2,600. Regionally, its waters are known for manatees and its streets for drug addiction. Nationally, it’s known for a little girl named Jessica Lunsford. It is not a place with a reputation for good fortune, but people here say maybe that has begun to change. Their cause for hope is a creature smaller than a hockey puck that holds within its shells a piece of meat the size of a marble.

The scallops mean more to few people here than to Cletis Huggins.

Three hundred feet from the crowded boat ramp on that recent morning, he and his brother and father stood in the shade of a gray tent and prepared for the day’s onslaught. They were stationed next to the docks at MacRae’s of Homosassa, a motel, bait shop and tiki bar that will host thousands of people on their way to or from the scallop beds every weekend until the season ends on Sept. 24.

Earlier, the men had set up stacks of 5-gallon buckets and four heavy-duty Rubbermaid trash cans, one pair right-side up and the other upside down. Cletis’ father wrapped neon pink duct tape around his fingers. His brother pulled a thick but fraying blue glove onto his left hand.

Cletis, who is 22, wore nothing on his hands. He preferred to feel what came next.

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Cletis was 13 when he first walked down to the docks and noticed what wasn’t there.

Day after day, boaters returned from Homosassa Bay with coolers full of scallops they wanted to eat but not clean, because cleaning scallops (better known as shucking) is hard.

The coveted delicacy inside, wrapped by innards, is a muscle that tightly holds the shells together, and the edges of those shells feel like the blades of a used, rusting handsaw.

A demand unmet, Cletis thought. He and a buddy started bringing bowls, gallon Ziploc bags and butter knives they sometimes appropriated from local restaurants. As interest in scalloping expanded, then exploded, so did Cletis’ operation. His brothers and father began to help, with as many as six of them working at once.

The timing was fortuitous.

The Huggins family is one of Homosassa’s oldest, but it has never been among its most prosperous.

Cletis’ father, James, was the third of 10 children. His family lived off the vegetables they grew and the deer his dad shot. For years, their home lacked running water, and, without toilet paper, they tore pages from the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog.

James, 65, worked for four decades as a painter. Married twice, he raised four of his sons alone after his second wife left him. Cletis, the youngest, was about 5 at the time.

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