'The right guy caught the fish'
Emory Solomon reeled in a shellcracker fish bigger than his hand recently during a beautiful day on Lake Tarpon.
"It couldn't have been no better day,'' the 76-year-old said.
Solomon has cancer and he's been told he has less than a year to live. His wish? To go fishing once more. Three firefighters with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue answered the call.
"He was so excited, he was like a kid at Christmas,'' said Patty Klein, who helped coordinate the outing for LifePath Hospice.
After almost five hours cruising around the big lake in north Pinellas County, Solomon was the only one with any luck Monday.
"I couldn't get but one, but that's all right,'' he said, adding it felt as good "as catching 50 or 60.'' He planned to take the catch — also called a redear sunfish — home. He was going to clean it, roll it in cornbread batter and fry it for supper.
Though he's loved fishing all his life, he rarely had a chance to go because he worked all the time, said Solomon, who lives in east Tampa. He started out plowing behind a mule on the Georgia farm his parents worked as sharecroppers. He worked in construction as a laborer before becoming a masonry contractor, toiling long days and sometimes nights.
"He was smiling most of the day,'' said firefighter Kevin Kahmeyer, who organized the outing after reading about Solomon's wish.
Kahmeyer recruited Randy Fitzpatrick, who had the boat, and Fitzpatrick summoned Kimble McNeal, who knows Lake Tarpon.
"The right guy caught the fish,'' said McNeal.
Solomon couldn't have been more grateful.
"These guys are the best guys I ever met in my life,'' he said.
Philip Morgan, Times staff writer
Helping hands for a young mother
With the father of her baby in jail for charges of sexual assault on minors, Tiffany Aponte wanted help to change their baby's name to hers and to terminate his parental rights.
As of this week, two local attorneys had offered to help Aponte with the legal process and contacted the director at Starting Right, Now, the nonprofit organization that has helped with her needs, including getting an apartment. Another reader called to offer Christmas gifts.
Aponte, now 18, met her baby's father when she was 15 and got pregnant at 16. As a single parent, she struggles to stay in school and plans to one day become a social worker.
Many of the Armwood High student's friends learned of her ordeal for the first time after reading her story in the paper. Some contacted her on Facebook They posted messages, Aponte said, such as this: "You're always so positive. I had no idea. I'm so proud of you."
Elisabeth Parker, Times staff writer
Big Easy bus ride
Readers donated $409 to Norman Marshall — more than enough for a round-trip Greyhound ticket back to his native New Orleans for Christmas. He left Dec. 14.
"I'm going to get me a couple po'boys," he said, with a big grin at the bus station, just before boarding.
The bus ticket Marshall wished for cost only $209, so he intended to use the rest for incidentals and some of his favorite Louisiana eats.
Marshall, 65, has lived in Tampa five years, since Hurricane Katrina poured 6 feet of water into his home. The Vietnam veteran suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is bipolar. In Tampa, a program called Project Return provides support and manages his medicine intake. Comparable services are not yet available in New Orleans, Marshall said, but it'll always be his home.
He was excited but also nervous, as he waited with his suitcase. Going home meant facing memories and the changes after Katrina.
He remembers people singing We Shall Overcome in the Superdome after the hurricane and he remembers seeing children without food.
In his childhood, the Ninth Ward was a place where kids played ball in the streets and parents visited from front porch swings and rocking chairs.
Now the neighborhood's new houses, built post-Katrina, are perched on stilts separating them from their neighbors.
He planned to spend Christmas Day with three of his sons, his 13 grandchildren and his brother.
"I'll be like a kid in a candy shop," Marshall said. "I haven't seen them in so long."
Elisabeth Parker, Times staff writer
Choices for Carlito
Readers resonated with the aging-out foster teen who wants a chance to work with animals as a beginning step in his dream to become a veterinarian.
So many animal lovers contacted the Children's Board Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay with opportunities for 17-year-old Carlito that his caseworker is having meetings to narrow down his options to the best choice.
Four veterinarians wanted to give him a chance to learn from their expertise. Three farms wanted to take him on. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Catherine Catlin offered to arrange a visit to animal court — "I hope other children in foster care can be inspired by Carlito's spirit and strength," she said. Even Lowry Park Zoo called with an invitation.
Others wanted to know where to send Carlito letters of encouragement. Some sent checks. One reader said she is willing to help support his continued schooling once he gets his associate's degree.
"Once people in our community hear the stories of these kids in their own words," said Heart Gallery director Jesse Miller, "they can begin to see how a little of their time and support could really make a difference."
Alexandra Zayas, Times staff writer