My grandmother was the original blogger. It was a wild little thing she did. She used something called a “journal,” which, if you don’t know, is just blank sheets of paper bound into a little book. And she wrote in this journal with something called a pen – a long, straight object filled with ink that, when pressed against said paper, leaves a mark. I know! It’s crazy, huh?
I adored my grandmother. She was spunky and funny. She was very conservative, but if you caught her at the right moment, when her guard was down, you could catch a glimpse of her mischief. When she passed away, six years ago, my mom found her journals and together we have poured over the memories and wisdom that she left behind.
In 1961, my grandparents, Jim and Betty Cooper, sold everything they had, packed up their four young children and moved to the British West Indies as missionaries. Settling in South Caicos, a small island on the south end of the Turks and Caicos chain, my granddad immediately got himself a small 17 foot boat and began making frequent trips through the Caribbean to the other Caicos islands.
Life as a missionary in the ’60’s was difficult. The land was dry, desolate and harsh. Food was sparse, running water and electricity were not to be found and on any given day, someone in the Cooper family was ill. As my grandfather wrote in one of his letters after they first arrived:
> “It’s hard to believe we are only 1,000 miles from the States. It’s a different world here. Life is hard for these people. They are very, very poor. It’s a 24 hour a day job just scraping up enough to eat…It’s almost impossible to buy food just before the [supply ship] is due – everything is gone. Prices on canned goods are very, very expensive. No wonder these people live on conch and rice…”
Once my grandfather got his family settled in their new home, he immediately began travelling to the different islands. At only 32 years old, my grandfather was young, handsome (he strongly resembled Jimmy Stewart) and extremely charismatic. The islanders were immediately drawn to this attractive preacher and his pretty family.
And my grandparents loved the people they worked with as well. My grandmother always spoke with great joy of “her” beloved islands. As my grandfather navigated his way through the blue-green waters and hiked miles along the dusty terrain of the different islands, my grandmother worked hard at keeping her young brood healthy while also ministering to the people of South Caicos.
There are so many stories to tell – so much to record of my grandparents years. Just one example – after they arrived my grandfather realized almost immediately that his little boat would not be sufficient for the work he hoped to do, so he began searching for an airplane. When his kids asked him who would fly the plane for him, he replied, “If the Lord provides the plane, then I know He’ll help me learn to fly it.” And sure enough, my grandfather was given an airplane and after only a few lessons he became an extremely accomplished pilot, landing his little plane wherever he found a long enough strip, whether it be the salt flats of North Caicos or a strip of beach in Grand Turk. He eventually became the main pilot people came to if they needed medical attention, or had emergencies and needed to fly out quickly.
My grandfather died very young. He was only 44 when he passed away, several years before I was born. For as long as I can remember, I’ve longed to know my grandfather. I’ve fantasized about who he was, what he was like, whether or not he would have liked me.
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel, with my mom, to the Turks and Caicos islands. It was more than a vacation for me. It was a quest. A quest into the heritage that I so deeply treasure. With my grandmother’s journals in tow, a few old pictures and a heart full of anticipation, we headed back to the place that my mom still calls home.
And I was not disappointed. I saw the home my mom lived in as a child. It has been ravaged by time and hurricanes, but it is still standing. I saw the water catchment, where they used to catch rain water, which they then had to boil in order to drink or use it. I saw the wild donkeys that ran along the streets, I saw the churches that my grandfather started. And, in a small but distinct way, I met my grandfather. I saw who he was and I felt his presence.
The thing that made the strongest impression upon me as we travelled the dusty roads were the people. As we alked along the streets of the different islands, we would stop and talk to the folks sitting outside. All my mom had to do was say her father’s name and people would clap their hands and laugh.
“Oooohhh, I knew your daddy,” they all exclaimed. And it struck me that though 48 years have gone by since Jim and Betty Cooper first set foot in the Caribbean, people still remember them. One man told us of flying with my grandfather. Another woman talked about the laughter that my grandparents brought to the islands.
“The work your grandparents did and what they accomplished while they were here,” one woman told me, “was amazing. These islands haven’t seen another man like Jim Cooper.”
I am home now, filled with memories to pass on to my own children. My grandmother’s journals sit on my nightstand. The yellowed pages smell of time and wisdom. The words are a link to a piece of who I am. They are a treasure more valuable than gold.
They are a reminder to me that there is power in preserving history. The written word is more descriptive than any photograph. The picture can give you a glimpse of the shell, but the written word reveals the soul. And as I blog, which, let’s face it, is our generations form of journaling, I find myself thinking a little more carefully about the words I write. These are the words that my children will (hopefully) one day read. Will they treasure my words as deeply as I treasure my grandmother’s words? I’m not sure, but I do know that I want to preserve today because time moves so quickly. And when the years are gone and the pages (or discs or thumbsticks, whatever) are weathered, will I have left a heritage that my children will want to display and pass on proudly?
It’s worth striving for and it is the main reason that I blog.