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Roatan Back In The Day

October 10, 1933 - July 19, 2015

I, Theodore Emile Cooper was born on October 10, 1933 in Oak Ridge, Roatan near the creek going to Silent Springs. My parents were Dr. Lloyd S. Cooper and Lilla Dixon Woods. I am the second of 5 children: Lloyd H. (Sonny); Theodore E. (Theo, Chip); Walter Dale; Sandra and Dwight Cooper. My father, Dr Lloyd S Cooper, left Roatan in 1929 for dentistry school in Chicago. He embarked on a schooner for his final school year and survived when it was cut down by a steam ship. The crew was rescued and taken to port in Philadelphia where he boarded a train for Chicago. When he returned, served the Bay Islands of Honduras which includes Banaca, Roatan and Utila. And occasionally he traveled to Trujillo and the Mosquito Coast at Black River where Uncle James had his Mahogany tree camp. Electricity on the Island was almost nonexistent so all of my father’s tools were manual. They consisted of a foot operated drill for filling cavities, etc. The other tool was also foot operated for grinding, sanding and polishing gold bridges, gold caps, partial plates and full sets of dentures. His work consisted of tooth extractions or building an entire set of false teeth from scratch from the wax mold to the finished product. Some of his dentistry tools were given to him by his Aunt Ellie Haylock’s father in law.

I spent the early years of my childhood in Oak Ridge and then mother took myself, Sonny and Dale to Belize to attend St. Mary’s School. In Belize we lived in a neighborhood within steps of family which included Uncle James Gough and Aunt Starry with six children: Stella; Lead Lindburg; Ida Beck; Simmons and Riley. James Gough worked in the Mosquito Coast in Spanish Honduras cutting Mahogany logs in their business. Uncle Robbie McNab and Aunt Lerly had two children: Allen & Whitney. Robbie McNab was a ship Chandler. All of the sisters, Lilla, Starry and Lerly moved to Belize to school their children. We lived there for a year.

We went back to Roatan then back to Belize where we embarked as a family on the Gwendelen, a banana boat, owned by Winfield McNab (Uncle Winnie) loaded with coconuts to Tampa, Florida. We lived in Tampa (during World War II). Our first address in Tampa was 6015 Elkin Street when my sister Sandra was born. I mowed lawns on weekends using a push mower, with a group of neighborhood kids including my brother Sonny (Lloyd). On Saturday we would go to the movies in town on the street car. We had 25 cent to spend: 10 cents to ride the streetcar round trip; 9 cents to watch a movie at the Florida Theater; 1 cent for the bubble gum machine; and 5 cents for either a coke, candy bar or popcorn. By this time I had a job at Interbay Dairy with a family by the name of Singleton. And at the same time, my family moved to 4220 Santiago Street. I, however stayed with the Singleton’s: Uncle Att, Aunt Dora and their 35 year old son, Snooky. He was exempt from Military service because he managed the Interbay Dairy. We were up at 3:30am and my work consisted of helping to wash bottles, milk cows by hand and deliver milk. We treated all the farm animals including the calves that had screwworm problems. The screwworm flies would lay eggs in any open wound or the navel. Turpentine was used to treat and kill the screwworm and then tar would be applied to seal the affected area. In the Winter after delivery, Snooky also ran a trap line that extended from MacDill Air Base fence to West Shore. The animals we trapped for their fur were raccoons, possums, skunks and at times fox. Cats and rabbits would sometimes fall prey to the traps. I was paid $7.00 per week for 7 days work and sometimes I was given milk, butter and eggs which I contributed to my family. School was almost non existent. After the war we went back to Roatan and I was 12 years old.

The days of my youth included motor dories (dugout canoes). I spent most of my time on my boat, The Sunny T. I rode my horse along the trails and through the hills of Roatan. Coxen Hole was the only town with electric light from dusk til 10pm. I never heard my grandfather or father say that they lacked anything. They used kerosene lamps and lanterns; wood stoves; rainwater was collected in barrels and water came from their own well. Palm and coconut trees and fruit trees grew wild! Mangos, key lime, avocados, guava and cashews too! Seafood was abundant and full of variety including fish, lobster, conchs, wilts and every now and then turtle meat but no shrimp! You could always go out on the sandbar in the night with a torch and catch your meal! Weekend dances or horse races might include white rum, beer and King B cigarettes.

Home remedies included Vicks salve and iodine. A good dose of castor oil and worm oil after fruit season was dispensed to all the children! My future father in law, Dr. Policarpo Galindo was the Island’s country doctor. Dark, rainy nights didn’t stop him from saddling up his horse and following trails through the bush to treat anyone in need. He also traveled by canoe or small boats depending on the urgency of the situation and the availability of transportation. Patients paid with money, livestock or whatever they had. He delivered lots of babies and held the hands of many who passed on.

I never felt poor or like I did without. We had everything we needed and were surrounded by a loving family. Everyone knew each other and were quick to lend a helping hand or meal.

I left my beloved Island in 1950 and went out to sea. I sailed out on the Don Emilio B which was a Tampa based, banana boat owned by the Hamilton Brothers and headed to Tampa, Florida. I started working on dredging boats in 1959 with Hendry Corporation. I married Maria Elena Galindo in 1960 and raised 5 children in Tampa.

I retired from dredging in 1986 and went back to Roatan. I settled in West End, Roatan and built Bamboo Hut, a restaurant plus a laundry business. I opened West End Boat and Tackle where I rebuilt rods and reels for the local fishermen. My wife, Maria and I left Roatan again on May 2, 2015 and moved back to Tampa, Florida where we reside with our children. My last living cousin, Ellie resides in Louisiana with her children. She is still spry as a spring
chicken at 97!

So long to God’s green jewel...for now!
One day I hope to return to my Roatan of yesterday!

Note: from Sondra Hill, Theo's daughter
My mom & dad started telling me about Sam Welcome aka Sam Band. He was a local musician on Roatan between 1945 and 1950. Everybody danced to his music. When the banana boats would come in from Tampa, the sailors would go get a hair trim and gather the band members. The band would get on a boat and ride to Oak Ridge. They would start playing and the folks on the shore would hear them coming and gather for a party.

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Sandy Bay Turtle Feasting on the Roatan Reef

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“Between the inner and outer beaches,
a strand of woods thrived: palms, palmettos, mahogany, figs, and calabash.
Coconut palms and fig trees dropped enough fruit to feed the wildlife that swooped by in droves.
It was so easy to catch a fish with your bare hands,
Tristan and I had made a game of it during our weeks of lovemaking on the warm, supple sand.
It truly was paradise.”
A. Violet End, The Billionaire Who Atoned to Me