The Footprint Girl, Part 3

PART III
“The Footprint Girl Returns”

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We stopped at the Kalaupapa Post Office so Val and I could phone our worried husbands and let them know that we had survived the flight. While there we got to meet Ellen, who fills in for the Postmistress when she can’t be there. Ellen a lovely woman with a very serene nature, as you can probably tell from her picture. She said she would definitely be joining us at the ceremony.

 There at the Post Office, Val showed me the bulletin board under the eave to the left of Ellen’s service window. Her printer was on the blink, so Val had hand-printed a poster announcing the ceremony.

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It said: “Welcome back….’The Footprint Girl’. When R.L.’Doc’ Cooke was administrator at Kalaupapa from 1925 – 1939, he and his wife, Wilhelmina, had two children. Those children unknowingly became part of history when they put their footprints in cement in the sidewalk near the (new) State Kitchen and the Staff Quarters. This Friday – Jan 24 – one of those children, Leslie Cooke Mayer (now a grandmother) is coming back to find her footprints. Please welcome Leslie and her family! 4:30 pm Friday – Footprint Ceremony by Staff Quarters. 5 pm – Hot dogs, cake, talk story St. Francis Social Hall” EVERYONE WELCOME!”.

 It was so sweet, and such a lovely gesture. There was a bad cold going around Kalaupapa and that, combined with the stormy weather, made Val think that we probably wouldn’t have much of a turnout for the ceremony. No matter, we were completely caught up in our mission and certain it was going to be a marvelous time.

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We headed over to the State Kitchen, which is actually the old Superintendent’s Quarters and the house Doc, Wilhelmina, Abbie, and Biffie lived in. To the right of the kitchen is the Staff Quarters, which is what it’s always been. There is a cement sidewalk connecting the buildings, and halfway between them there is a covered carport.

Right next to the carport, we found the footprints. Abbie’s, and, I was suprised to see, Biffie’s as well. They were faint and worn, but the impressions were still there. How precious, this little place that had survived the elements for 70 years. Here was a tangible link to the past! I wondered if my grandparents’ spirits were with us.

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We tried taking some photographs, but they didn’t come out very clearly in the flat light of the overcast day, so we found some dark brown grains of lava dirt and carefully sprinkled it into the impressions, then brushed the excess away with flat hands. It worked – it was much easier to see the footprints and writing, which said: “Biffie Cooke” and to the right of that: “Sept. 10, 1932 Edna L. Cooke”.

We took our photographs and then covered the footprints with palm fronds to protect them from the wind so they would be easily seen at the ceremony. Then we headed back to the Visitor’s Quarters to get Dad and “The Footprint Girl”.

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We stopped by Val’s friend Cathrine’s house and picked her up in her van, and headed for the ceremony. As we pulled up to the Staff Quarters I was surprised to see a small crowd of people waiting for us by the footprints. Pat was there, and Ellen, and our sponsor Father Hendriks, as well as some residents and a few members of the Park Service.

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There were introductions all around, and such an outpouring of warmth. Leslie obligingly took off her shoe and let us photograph her foot next to her tiny footprint. She told us how the workers came and poured the cement, and how she and Biffie were held over the cement and carefully lowered to make the prints. Then she and Biffie were instructed to stay away from the cement until it was dry. Well, later that day she felt the top of the cement and it seemed pretty dry to her, so she got Biffie and told him to ride his tricycle down the sidewalk while she stood on the back.

Down the sidewalk they went, having a grand time, and leaving three good ruts in the fresh cement behind them. The next thing she knew, there were Doc, Wilhelmina, Iko and Kobe (the Japanese nanny and cook) and as many staff as they could find, all on their hands and knees with boards, trying to smooth the ruts out of the sidewalk! When she told the story, we all turned to see if we could still see the ruts, but they’d done a pretty good job.

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In this picture (taken by my father Gene) you can see us all standing by the sidewalk, with the old Superintendent’s Quarters and Cooke family home in the background. Some of these people I met only briefly, others I had a chance to talk with and get to know.

Father Hendriks is in the blue hat on the left, Cathrine is in the green jacket next to him, Leslie is in the red jacket, Jennifer in the gray park service uniform, and her mother Susan is next to her, just behind Susan’s head with the dark hair is B.J., then there’s Pat in the white T-shirt and shorts, Ellen in the dark top, and the two blondes on the far right are Val and me.

We took some time to “talk story”, then were ready for hot dogs and cake, so we headed over to the Social Hall, laughing and talking, new friends.

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Here’s Leslie, laughing with Susan and Ellen; Jennifer and Gene behind them; and the Staff Quarters in the background.

It’s hard for me to adequately describe the warmth radiating from everyone we met at Kalaupapa. I’ve lived on an island before, and some of the local people can be a little “clique-ish”. But we were greeted with open arms and made to feel so welcome and accepted. I think you can see that in this photograph.

…And so off to the party we went.

CONTINUE ON TO PART 4