Grateful for everything after tough times
Gerry Butterfield never forgets to count her blessings.
She feels fortunate that she owns her home and is able to get income from its two apartments. It's a big contrast from 40 years ago when a fire at their Angle Street house left her and her sons, Nyal and Kenwick, homeless.
The Government put them up in a hotel for a month, then they were on their own. It was the early 80s, there was a housing shortage and landlords were reluctant to rent to single mothers.
“I asked the Government about some prefab housing they were building,” Ms Butterfield said. “They said if I could get a boyfriend to sign the lease, I could have it. I didn't have a boyfriend. I didn't want government to pay my rent — I had a job at the Bank of Bermuda working as a supervisor in the kitchen — I just needed help to find some place to live.”
She bounced between friends and relatives for as long as she could. Eventually, she left Kenwick with a friend and lived out of her car with Nyal who was about 12. Despite that, she was always involved with them both: a Scout leader while they were Boy Scouts; a member of the parent teacher association when they were in school.
Before the fire, the plan had been for Nyal to go abroad for high school and eventually study architecture. The insurance money she received from the loss of their personal items would have allowed that but her son refused to go.
“He could have stayed with a girlfriend of mine, so there wouldn't have been board to pay,” Ms Butterfield said. “He said, ‘Mama, how can I go away to school and you don't have an address?'”
At work, no one had a clue.
“I'd get in early,” the 70-year-old said. “I'd have a wash off and get dressed. Sometimes my son and I would go to a friend's house to get a shower. Sometimes I used to cry and I used to say, ‘Lord help me!' And he helped.”
Two months later their old landlord invited them to return to Angle Street.
“He'd fixed it up after the fire,” she said. “Finally, I had my family back together under one roof.”
That was particularly important to Ms Butterfield. She'd been raised from a baby by Mabel Simons after her mother, Nuaze Saunders, died.
Her father, Gerald Robinson, was unable to care for five children on his own so he put them with various relatives. Ms Butterfield was the only one placed in a foster home.
“My father paid for her to take care of me,” she said. “She was a Christian woman and made a living taking children in. If the families didn't pay, there were times we didn't eat.”
Ms Butterfield had to scrub floors in the summer to pay for her Prospect Primary School uniform. At 13 she passed the test to get into high school, but there was no money to pay the tuition.
Her father sent her out to work.
She found a full-time job washing dishes at the Copper Kettle a restaurant then on Burnaby Street across from The Spot.
At 16, and then again at 17, she became pregnant; first with Nyal. Although they remained close, her foster mother asked her to leave the house when Kenwick came along.
With few choices, she married her boyfriend, Kenneth Butterfield, but they eventually separated. Mr Butterfield later drowned.
Nyal eventually went into construction and started his own firm, Saunders Contracting. Kenwick became a carpenter and started GQ Carpentry.
One day, Nyal suggested they buy an old, dilapidated house on Friswell's Hill. She was a little doubtful at first — it was just a cottage — but Nyal convinced her.
“He said, ‘Let's see if we can buy it,'” she said.
The bank insisted on having her husband's signature when she went in for a loan.
“I said, ‘If you want my husband's signature just go around to Pembroke churchyard, you'll definitely find him around there. Then they wanted a promissory note. I said, ‘If you don't want to give it to me, don't give it to me. I'm not begging any more'.”
She went home and prayed.
“I said, ‘Lord, if this is for me you will make a way,'” she said. “I went back and told the man we'd been going to buy the house from what they'd said. I thought that was that.”
The man had a talk with the bank and she got the loan she needed.
Today her home is crammed with framed high school and college graduation photographs of her seven grandchildren. Picking up one picture after another she reels off what they're doing: one is an accountant, the other works in reinsurance; this one is a dry wall contractor, the other is a teacher. One of the youngest is in college.
Six years ago she studied for her general education diploma at the Adult Education School. She passed everything except maths.
“Algebra was my sticking point,” she said, explaining she tried several times. “I missed passing by one point.
“I was happy with myself. I did it to see if I could do it and I did well in all my other subjects.”
By then she was retired after a long career, mostly working in kitchens, at Harbourfront Restaurant, the Bank of Bermuda — where she eventually was promoted to supervisor of the mailroom — and CedarBridge Academy.
Now she stays busy with activities at the First Church of God on Angle Street where she is an usher, a deacon and works with children in the church.
She says she doesn't know if she would have survived her various hardships without God.
“Some people would be crazy after all I have been through, dwelling in their pity party,” she said. “But I've never in my life been someone to feel sorry for myself. I have to give God thanks, because when I look over my life and see how he has brought me through, I am just so grateful.”
• Lifestyle profiles the island's senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them