For Paul and Ann Roberts, a trip back to Cayman Brac was 30 years in the making. And for their twin daughters Kate and Laura, it was a chance to see where they spent part of the first year of their lives.
The Roberts family, who now live in Manchester, U.K., traveled to the Cayman Islands this month and made a one-day journey back to Cayman Brac on April 10. Paul and Ann Roberts were teachers at Layman Scott High School back when it was still called Cayman Brac High School.
And that was just one of the changes in store for the Roberts family. Mr. Roberts said he had always vowed he would come back to Cayman Brac to commemorate his children’s 30th birthday. Ann went back to England to give birth to their girls, but then the family spent three months on the Brac in 1987.
“I flew back just in time,” Mr. Roberts said of arriving in time to see the birth of his daughters. “It was a bit of an emergency, but I managed to get there with the help of some people at Cayman Airways. We’ve always said to our girls, ‘You went there when you were 30 days old. We’ll take you back when you’re 30 years old.’ And that’s what we’ve done, because their birthday was at the end of March.”
Mr. Roberts said he taught English at Cayman Brac High School, and Mrs. Roberts was one of the science teachers there from 1985 to 1987. As fortune would have it, on their one-day visit to Cayman Brac, the Roberts couple had the opportunity to interact with a few of their former students.
“I’d been emailing this lady, explaining the situation, and she told Mr. Peter Dixon, one of our former students, who works in the Fire Department at the Brac airport,” said Mr. Roberts. “She mentioned it to him, and sadly he wasn’t on shift when we went there, but I walked in and lo and behold, there were three of my other former students there, and they were all firemen. And then word got out.”
The family also visited the Cayman Brac Power and Light Co., where another former student worked, but the rest of the visit was devoted to seeing what remained of the island they remembered. They visited both houses they’d lived in and also Layman E. Scott High School, which is now in its 50th year.
They also saw Spot Bay and the south side of the island, and spent part of the day relaxing at the Cayman Brac Beach Resort. The Roberts family also visited the site of the old Tiara Beach hotel, and Mr. Roberts said he was struck by the many changes that have occurred in the last three decades.
“The Brac entrepreneurial spirit lives on because there are lots more shopping facilities. We thought the new airport was really beautiful and very comfortable,” he said. “What was really surprising to Ann and I was that when we were here, [the] south side was virtually deserted.
“There had been just three or four houses, but now there are some beautiful homes there. And they’re even building up on the bluff now on the road that crosses over. That was much different. But places like Spot Bay were very pretty and looked as they did in the time when we lived over here.”
And despite their short visit, some indelible memories returned. The high school where they worked was quite small, and Mr. Roberts said there were just 165 students and about 20 staff in 1987. And because of that intimate environment, he said, his infant daughters got a great head start on life.
“They thrived. The warm air and the generosity of the people always stuck out,” he said. “The girls would come in and show us how to cradle them without sticking to them. We had been holding them close to our bodies, and of course with it being hot, it was very uncomfortable. They showed us how to do it with a pillow on our knee. They had baby showers for them and everything. It was just great.”
Now, 30 years later and adults, Kate and Laura Roberts had a chance to fully appreciate the place where they began to develop. The Roberts family had longed to come back and experience Cayman Brac as a family, but their lives and their careers and other opportunities to travel always stood in the way.
“It’s a big world out there, and we were both working,” Mr. Roberts said in a recent phone interview.
“And, of course, if you live in the U.K., you have access to Europe for family holidays, which is much more economic for us. Since retiring in Christmas 2010, we’ve traveled extensively. We’ve been to Australia and Southeast Asia and various other places. But we always stuck to our promise that this would be a 30th birthday present to our girls. Thirty days, 30 years. That’s how it worked, you see.”
And for the Roberts family, the trip had a fitting bookend. They did not just meet with their former students on the way in, but they also found a group waiting for them on their departure. It was special, said Mr. Roberts, and they exchanged email addresses and hope to keep in contact.
“It was just really nice,” he said of the brief journey. “You get that wonderful feeling … on the Brac of it being one large family. Everybody knows everybody. Even though we had just arrived in the morning and were going back in the evening, word got out. And it was lovely to see our former students, who are now about 45-46 years old. They’re running the Brac, basically. They were very generous in their praise for us.”