A last glimpse of community's history is lost to the ages

“Never put off until tomorrow what you can to today…” is indeed cliché and, quite possibly, one of the most over-used pieces of advice out there. And yet, that doesn’t make it any less true or less useful.

I attended a funeral last week of an old family friend, Milton Cooper, who was 98 years old and a local legend. While a funeral is always a sad event, it is not every day the person you are celebrating has lived a full life into his late 90s, so, of course, it was a celebration, as well.

Our family knew him because he graduated from what was then Lord Baltimore High School in 1933, with my grandfather, and they stayed friends throughout life.

His son was friends with my uncle and, in turn, several of the kids in my family went to school with and were friends with his grandchildren, so it was a three generation-friendship. Until recently, he lived at home with his wife, Ruth, on Kent Avenue, about a mile from the house he was born in. It has only been in the past few years that they both resided at the Veteran’s Home in Milford.

Earlier this year, I visited with him in Milford, to talk about his early days clamming, as he was an avid waterman, just as his father was before him. I got to see a copy of Ellen Rice’s painting depicting him having the last watch as the last commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Station at the Indian River Inlet, circa 1962. And I got to again hear stories about girls my grandfather liked before my grandmother and crazy things they got into as teenagers.

I never formulated it into an article, because it had turned into more of a personal visit, so I just socked it away until a later date. I had planned to visit him again — possibly to videotape this time — with a member of a local organization, so we could record his thoughts on oysters and hear about his younger days in the water and how things have changed.

But I put it off.

Summer is busy, and things always calm down in September, so I thought that I could catch up with him again in early fall. On Sept. 4, Mr. Cooper turned 98 years old. And on Sept. 10, he died.

Age is indeed a gift.

And, too often, when you are young, it is easy to think there is always tomorrow.

While none of us is promised any amount of time on earth, when someone is advanced in age, it is especially important to get those stories, to write them down, to record them and to tell them.

There are several historical societies and town historical committees around here that are always soliciting information so they can continue to tell the area’s history with as many firsthand accounts as they can. And there are many local “legends” who want to tell their stories. Just this past March, when we started to do a special piece on the 50th anniversary of the Storm of ’62, people came to us, unsolicited, to tell their stories.

As a newspaper reporter, if I have learned one thing, it is that people want to share their stories.

So listen to them. And if you have a story, tell it. It is how history is born.

To get involved in the history of the Ocean View area, which includes Millville, Clarkesville, Bayard, Muddy Neck and Cedar Neck, visit the Ocean View Historical Society’s Web site at http://ovhistoricalsociety.org. For information on Bethany Beach history, contact the Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee in Bethany Beach, and, in South Bethany, visit their historical society online via the Town Web site at www.southbethany.org.