“An Unexpected Gift”
After the party we thanked all of our new friends for coming to the ceremony and party, and said our Aloha’s. Father Hendriks invited us to his house to watch a movie, so we walked to his house in the rain.
This is a photo of St. Francis Church, the Catholic Church that he has lovingly restored. To the left of the church is the Social Hall. To the left but forward about 40 yards is Father’s house, so we didn’t have far to walk.
We watched a movie about Father Damien and Kalaupapa (it was a good movie, but Peter O’Toole was a little over the top). Father Hendriks has about 14 photo albums full of newspaper clippings, photos, and postcards, all about Kalaupapa and Father Damien. We poured over them, amazed at the wealth of information he’s collected. It seems he has been interested in Kalaupapa for many years, even visiting there from time to time since the 70’s, long before he came to live there.
Father Joseph Hendriks was sent to Kalaupapa at the age of 78 and has worked tirelessly to raise money to restore the St. Francis Church, which he has definitely accomplished, as you can see. The original church was called “Our Lady Health of the Sick Church” and stood from 1881 – 1900.
It was replaced by a very large, elaborate (strange looking, really) building named after St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century saint who befriended leprosy patients. That building burned down in 1906. The building you see here was built in it’s place and has stood ever since, so you can imagine the wear and tear it must have sustained over the years.
The statue in the foreground is of Father Damien and was a gift from some person or organization in New York. Father Hendriks is a dear, energetic man who always seems to be on his way somewhere. He has a very good sense of humor, reaaallllly cold milk, and delicious oatmeal butterscotch cookies: all in all, a wonderful host. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and after the movie we said our goodnights and headed back to the Visitor’s Quarters.
Once there, Val brought out a bag containing tapes and transcripts of interviews Anwei Law of IDEA had conducted with my grandmother, Wilhelmina Cooke. Anwei is the founder of the Hansen’s Disease Association, I.D.E.A., and author of numerous books, articles, and a couple of movies. She had sent theses tapes to Val, just for us, along with a touching letter. We sat for a short while reading the transcripts and listening to the tapes. It was almost surreal to be sitting there in Kalaupapa listening to Wilhelmina’s voice talking about what it had been like when she and Doc were living there.
I was exhausted when I went to bed, but my mind was spinning. I was reminded of Ernie Pyle’s chapter about Kalaupapa in his book “Home Country”, when he say’s: “I could not believe I was really there. My brain whirled, and all night I tossed and rolled…”
Since that night, I have read and re-read the transcripts Anwei sent and they answered a number of questions I’d had, one of which was: “Who is the man on the rearing horse?” If you had been through the “Friends” photo section of the site before our trip to Kalaupapa and seen the photo, you would have seen that I wasn’t sure about the signature, and had no idea who he was. Now I knew exactly who the man was – Commander I.S.K. Reeves, a doctor in the Navy and a friend of Doc’s.
Soon after I returned home, Pat Boland sent me a copy of a 1932 letter from Doc to Commander Reeves (Doc called him “Skipper”.) It was the first time I had “heard” Doc’s voice; he was well-spoken and, I was pleasantly surprised to find, extremely witty. After reading the letter, I looked through the photos of Doc again. I was amazed to see how different he looked to me now, how tangible he felt. For the first time in my life I felt I was getting to know my grandfather, who had died 16 years before I was born. What an unexpected gift!