Melbourne Carriker
At 90, Lewes man is lifelong learner and achiever

A Saltwater Portrait
By Molly Albertson
Cape Gazette staff


If all the world is a stage, Melbourne Carriker of Lewes has played more than his share of roles. A veteran of World War II, he¡¦s also a scientist, professor, husband, father, and brother. And now at the age of 90, he is trying on the role of writer.

¡§I love words,¡¨ said Carriker, ¡§especially descriptive ones.¡¨

¡§You do things one step at a time and if you¡¦re consistent, things happen,¡¨ he said about his lifelong efforts to learn new things and try new hobbies.

It takes persistence, especially when you don¡¦t feel like it, he said. Many people expect to be good at a new thing over night, but it doesn¡¦t work like that. He has put in hours each day at writing in a new form.

His most recent book, ¡§Vista Nieve,¡¨ was a five-year effort. It was published in 2000 in the United States and later translated into Spanish for bookstores in Colombia, where 1,000 copies sold out.

He wrote the entire book on an electric typewriter, before he ¡§entered the world of computers,¡¨ he said. Now armed with technology, Carriker is taking on two more books with plans for many more in the future.

The story of a life Carriker¡¦s own life reads like a script. Born on a plantation in Colombia, he moved to New York City in 1927, when he was a ¡§scrawny 12-year-old and got bullied around a lot.¡¨

The adjustment was difficult, he said, because he was not used to the winter and he lived in a drafty beach house his parents rented on the shore. Public school was a shock because in Colombia his cousin had tutored him and his siblings.

Years later he moved for college and in 1943, he completed a doctorate at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the scientific study of mollusks.
Then another great change came along and Carriker joined the Navy and got married.

He fought in World War II in the South Pacific Islands, and before he came home, his first son was born. He went on to have four sons and live all over the country.

Asked about the key to his long marriage, he said in a marriage it is important not to take things personally and to learn to give and take.

It has been a long journey for Carriker to finally slow down enough to write his books and to learn about the Internet highway.

When he first arrived in Lewes in 1973, he was one of the first professors to teach at the College of Marine Studies, just as it was forming. ¡§We had one typewriter to share between all of us,¡¨ he said of his first brushes with writing. Eventually the college got a second one for students to share. Then he turned to an electric typewriter, which was a big switch for him after years with a manual.

¡§I must say I have fallen in love with the computer, although I dreaded it,¡¨ said Carriker. With its help he is working on a book that requires a large quantity of research, which is much easier on a word processor than a typewriter, he said, because of the Internet and the ability to copy and paste within a document rather than starting over.

He has written more than 100 scientific papers on the science of mollusks and decided to try his hand at more popular genres, he said.

While his works are nonfiction, they reach a broader audience than his previous academic work, he said.

To begin his writing career, Carriker decided to give in to a nagging voice to write down his family history and his interesting background. He grew up on a coffee plantation, the setting of his first book. The book melds his recollections of the beauty of the land with his personal family history. He begins with the story of his grandparents moving to Central America on a whim, when his grandfather laid down electric lines. Then the book tells of the family settling down on a coffee plantation and their eight children.

Carriker writes the story of his parents meeting, when his father met his future in-laws at the American Embassy in Columbia and came home with them for dinner to meet his future wife. The young couple spent most of their time on birdwatching expeditions before starting their own plantation nearby.

To write the book he went through reports and correspondences, he said. ¡§My grandmother wrote voluminous letters.¡¨ Carriker also talked to his cousin, who still lives at the plantation, for more research.

He has two more books coming out soon. One is in the form of a diary and is expected to be released next month. It is about a nine-month expedition he took with his father to Bolivia for a bird-identifying trip, where they traveled by mule and camped each night.

The second book, which is more technical, looks at the industry behind the predatory snail and oyster drills. Rather than a full on academic examination, he is telling the story behind the scenes of the people¡¦s lives affected by the snails and the researcher¡¦s personal struggles.

While not at his computer, Carriker lives with his wife of more than 50 years and takes classes to stay current on new hobbies. He recently took a class on speed-reading and brushes up on his Spanish from time to time. While he said he is getting a little old to learn new tricks, it is obvious Carriker has many more roles he plans to try.