There are many seniors in Cayman who despite many hardships, have lived to see the Cayman islands change from a quiet backwater into a financial centre and tourist destination.
As Cayman has changed, these folks accounts of how life used to be, have become more and more valuable.
As can be noted from the many accounts in Cayman’s history, the Islanders have a tradition of hardiness and independence of spirit, which sustained them through many difficult years.
Most Caymanians earned a livelihood at sea, either as turtle fishermen or as crew members on foreign-owned ships.
The ladies were just as hard working, stayed at home to take care of the home, raise children, harvest crops and twist rope to supplement the income.
Those were the days as one would say when Cayman was known as “the islands time forgot.”
Starvation, hard times and bad and good sea days was Cayman long ago for 92-year-old Bertram Conolly. Born in the district of East End in 1915 to parents Robert and Clarabell Conolly, Mr. Conolly married Dean Dorrett in 1944.
Together they had six children; three boys and three girls. “Cayman had no food. If you did not catch a piece of fish or grow something in the ground you didn’t eat; and you couldn’t sell it because no one had money.”
He left for the sea at age 17 with the rest of the fishermen to catch turtles. A life spent on the sea and a wealth of information, Mr. Conolly has lots of experience and advice to give to the young generation.
He remembers the little fishing boat called Radium and his travels to South America to sell sea goods to the Army and Navy during the war. After the war he returned home, but later returned to transport passengers and goods up and down South America. After his marriage he relocated to Swan Island with his wife Dean. When he returned to Cayman a number of years later he raised cattle and grew produce. That was still not enough to sustain his family so he took to the sea again. This time he would meet with some misfortune. The boat he was travelling on went missing for three months during a bad storm near Cartagena, Colombia. “It was blowing so hard when the boat dipped and levelled back, water caught me to my waist,” he said, “The crew on the boat Hustler was not so fortunate, they all perished in the storm.” Mr. Conolly said they drifted into Mosquito Key and sent word back home that they were safe. Today, even though he is content at home, Mr. Conolly’s yearning for the sea makes him keep his boat equipped with fishing gear and goods ready to go. “The mind is ready but I am still waiting for the body to catch up. The funny thing about it is I do not even like fish!”
Ninety-two-year-old Stella Welcome would not change her district for anywhere else in the world. Born in 1915 in the district of East End, Ms Welcome married the late Barrie Welcome in 1956.
They had two daughters. With a passion for cooking and feeding seniors, Ms Welcome made it her point of duty that everyone was well fed.She also made sure their yards were swept and covered with white sand and a slice of bread or heavy cake in the larder.
Her first paying job was working with Thomas Rankine in his variety store earning seven shillings. She later lent her services to the Ryan family doing house work for 12 years and to a family at Petra Plantation, now known as the Grand Old House Restaurant. A staunch member of the Presbyterian United Church, Ms Welcome was a junior and senior president of Christian Endeavour, president of the Women’s Guild and elder of the church. She also sang in the choir. After all the hard work she is enjoying the life she has led in the comfort of her home.