Bathroom latest project for retired carpenter, 92
Melvin Somner has made everything – from the ornate doors at St Paul’s in Paget to the woodwork in the West End Development Corporation offices in Dockyard.
With limited education, the 92-year-old felt carpentry was his only choice.
He was at work by the age of 13. His parents, Philip and Blanche, needed him to help support his five younger siblings.
“I never had the chance to go to high school or anything like that,” he said. “That is one of the unfortunate things in my life. When you were the oldest in the family you had to perform or else.”
But as it turned out, he was a great match for the trade.
“I loved making things,” he said. “I particularly like projects that really made you think.”
He had learnt a bit of woodworking from his father before he was sent off to work for Chesley Foggo.
He remembers that the carpenter had many hand tools. One was a hoe-like instrument that was used for trimming and evening out floors.
“I never did master that thing,” Mr Somner said. “But I did learn a lot from him. In later years I did a couple of jobs in St George’s. Whenever he came into St George’s he would come in to see how I was doing. He wanted to see what principles I was applying to my workmanship. He was good to me.”
A visit to his home offers proof of his skill. He made the mantel piece and many doors and shelves; a china cabinet he gave to his late wife Greta on their 25th wedding anniversary, sits in the corner.
“I bought some mahogany for the cabinet then put it under some other wood to keep it straight,” said Mr Somner who was then working for Camara’s Carpentry.
It was two years before he got around to making it. He started on the structure and then took it home to complete.
He told his wife he was working on something for a customer.
“I had it sitting out in the garage one Sunday morning,” he said. “I had a motorbike in those days and I went out ahead of her. She got in the car to go to church and reversed it into the cabinet. There is a mark on there somewhere.”
She confessed to the accident later that day. Even then, Mr Somner didn’t say what he was actually working on.
“She was really pleased when I finally finished it and gave it to her,” he said.
Her treasured knick-knacks still fill it, and the mark from her bumper is still on it.
“She was the best girl there ever was,” Mr Somner said.
He does not remember how they met but thinks they were introduced by relatives.
“I had been living in New York for two years and had come back to Bermuda,” he said. “I had it in mind to go back, but meeting her changed my mind.”
They were married on June 9, 1955.
Mrs Somner worked in the supply department for the Bank of Bermuda for many years. In their spare time they travelled the world.
Asked the secret to their 63-year marriage Mr Somner said: “We both had an understanding to be faithful in our marriage. That is what I can put it down to.”
Watching his wife with Alzheimer’s was one of the worst things he ever went through.
“In the morning I would find her on the floor,” he said. “She didn’t know how she got there. I kept her home for about three months and I could see myself getting slimmer and slimmer. It was stress causing that.”
Their daughter, Elizabeth Butterfield, helped him a great deal during that time.
“I thank the Lord for her,” he said. “She was here every morning to make sure my wife was cleaned, bathed and dressed.”
In February of last year, Mr Somner was at church when his sons brought the news that his wife had died. By then she was living in a nursing home.
He tries to keep the house in the same tidy condition that she had. Although he is learning to cook, he is fortunate that his sons live next door: Mark makes him a codfish and potato breakfast every Sunday morning rain, blow or shine; Philip also regularly brings meals.
“They are good boys,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for better children.”
He has attended Crawl Church all his life and is now an Elder there. It was where all the neighbourhood youngsters went for Sunday school when he was a child living on Cottage Hill in Hamilton Parish.
“Children don’t go to Sunday school any more. No one wants to get their children out for church.
“I had a little bit of a cigarette and took a drink when I was a young man but I said this is not making any headway. I gave myself to the Lord a few years before I got married, and I thank God for that.”
At 18 or 19 he helped build Kindley Air Force Base in St David’s. Through an agreement between the two governments Bermudians who worked there were only paid $1 an hour, much less than was paid to work on American bases in the Caribbean, Mr Somner said.
He then joined a local contractor for a few years before he decided to give driving a taxi a try.
Within two years he was back at carpentry where he did not have to work late hours, and the pay was better. He spent several decades with Camara’s Carpentry.
“I stayed there until I was over 65. Then I worked out of a shop in my house for about five years. I have stopped doing that now. Now I just like to do little projects fixing things around the house,” said Mr Somner, who is currently fixing up his bathroom.
Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Wednesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them