In the early 1970s, I spent summers working at Poole’s Fish Market in Menemsha. Everett Poole, the son of a fisherman, began buying and selling fish from a handcart when he was 13 years old, not long after the hurricane of 1938 wiped out the docks. By the time I worked for him, Everett had built a wholesale and retail business that employed 15 or more people during the summer season and supported many more.

From June through August, the market was a beehive of activity — open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. six days a week, and noon until 5 p.m. on Sunday. Everett ran every facet of the operation, sometimes from the small office in the attic of the market — a place most of us rarely glimpsed — but more often from the floor of the market. A manager oversaw the retail sales, and the more experienced of those below the manager cut fish and staffed the counter. I and the other less experienced employees handled the menial tasks. We moved fish. We removed dead lobsters from the vast tanks. We smelled them to see if the meat was still good (a task not recommended for those who had a few too many the previous evening). We picked meat from cooked lobsters — bushels and bushels of cooked lobster. We hauled fish carcasses to barrels on the dock for use as lobster bait. And we cleaned, and we cleaned, and we cleaned.

Those of us in our teens had a certain apprehension of Everett. Our wariness stemmed from his uncompromising standards. He left no doubt of what was expected. And his expectations, derived from many years of experience, did not always meet those of the retail customer. On more than one occasion, faced with a customer who asked for more than Everett thought was reasonable (“I wanted one of those lobsters to be 1 7/8 pounds, not 1 ¾!”), Everett sent them to find another market to cater to their needs.

Every day had a rhythm. The first order of business — wholesale orders. Twenty pounds of heavy sole and 15 pounds of striped bass to the Outrigger. Thirty pounds of little necks and 40 lobsters to the Harborview. Fifty pounds of swordfish to the Home Port. On most days, the delivery van was full by 10 a.m., ready to head down-Island or, occasionally, off-Island. Once the van was on its way, we got a 15-minute coffee break — always spent at The Bite. After the break, we processed whatever came into the market. Bob Flanders delivered clams which had to be separated into sizes (Quahaugs, Cherry Stones and Little Necks). Donald Poole, Everett’s father (whom we called “Cap’n Poole”), delivered lobsters that also had to be sorted (Chickens, Quarters, Halves, Jumbos). Whenever a commercial boat pulled up at the dock outside the market, we unloaded, weighed and iced the fish, all under Everett’s watchful eye.

On occasion, the sea gave us something to marvel at. The 28-pound lobster was so large it required its own tank. The 50-pound striped bass brought pangs of jealousy from those of us who labored to catch just such a beast. But the greatest source of awe was the swordfish.

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, schools of swordfish still roamed Georges Bank. Following their fathers, and their fathers’ fathers, Menemsha fishermen threw their harpoons to harvest the fish. And what fish they were. Everett usually had half a day’s notice that a boat was approaching. He ensured that several of his strong young men were available, checked the proper functioning of the hoist, and prepared for the delivery.

The first fish off the boat was always a wonder — a huge thing, even without head, tail or innards. We hoisted the fish from deck to scale. Everett weighed the fish and carved its weight in the small fin next to the cleaved tail. We moved the fish to the walk-in cooler, packed it in ice, and brought in the next.

As we unloaded the boat, sightseers gathered to watch on the dock. And inevitably, they were treated to at least one behemoth. Perhaps it was 500 pounds. Perhaps 600. Hoisted over the dock, it brought gasps. Those of us handling the fish treated it casually — all in a day’s work. But secretly, our awe was as great as their’s. Perhaps greater, because we all knew that the days of unloading such fish in Menemsha were numbered.

Today, the market still exists, but Everett is no longer a part of it. The business looks the same, but the operation is different. Locally-caught swordfish is a rarity. The lobster catch has dwindled. The trays in the display case contain salmon and halibut — caught far away — and farmed oysters. There’s still locally caught sole, although with catch limits fewer and fewer fisherman can afford to harvest them. There are still clams and bluefish and, for a brief period each summer, striped bass. But much of the operation is now prepared food — seafood lunch or dinner for the tourists. The meal is delicious, but the wonder at the bounty of the sea is gone.

What did I learn from my years at Poole’s? My wife will tell you that I learned how to pick meat from a lobster faster than anyone she’s ever known. She may be right (although those who worked with me surely get similar accolades), but I learned much more than that. I learned the usual sorts of things one learns from a first job: the importance of showing up on time; the importance of taking direction; the importance of looking for ways to do something just a bit better than correctly. But I also learned about the wonder of the natural world and the rhythms of the sea. I learned about the value (and stress) of entrepreneurship. I learned that earning trust and responsibility takes time and can easily be lost. And I learned the comfort that comes from a job that requires hard work but can be left at the end of a shift.

Some of us who worked for him kept in touch. One is a neurosurgeon. Others work in finance, law, education — all manner of different occupations and professions. One or two fell to the curses of modern life — isolation, depression, drugs. But we all feel a kinship, having worked for Everett, a kinship borne of respect for the man and what he created.

Everett’s passing represents the passing of a way of life on the Island. Gone are the days when men made their living entirely off the sea. Gone are the days when the bounty of the sea was all a man needed to survive. Everett was a man rarely seen today — a man whose ambition neither undershot or overshot its mark. He worked hard for himself and his family. But having achieved success in his business, he set it aside not for some greater ambition but to be a valued part of his community.

Although much of Everett’s working life was spent on land, he reaped his bounty from the sea. And so I am sure he would, if asked, echo the sentiments of his father.

“Sometimes I almost wonder why God Almighty made the land, and the best reason I can think of is to separate the oceans,” he said. “Can you think of any better way to make a living than at sea?”

James Harrison lives in Colorado.