Still “mending soles” at 100
A talented shoemaker and saxophone player who has shared his love of music and his craft with Cayman residents for a very long time turned 100 on Wednesday.
For Wellesley Howell, smiling and getting together with family and friends is the joy of his life.
“When I got up this morning, I felt just as good as I did yesterday. My mind is good – the action might not be here right now, but I know lots of it coming later,” said Mr. Howell, bursting with laughter as he related details of celebrations to come.
“I put myself together well today because I know there is going to be lots of beautiful girls and plenty company passing by the shop today,” he noted.
From the small shoe repair store tucked away in a corner of Shedden Road, where Mr. Howell was at work on Wednesday, he shared with longtime customers, visitors and anyone who happened to drop by, the secrets of living a long a successful life filled with joy.
“Do not worry, [smile]; that is part of building your life. When you smile, it does not disturb your life, but when you [vex] it puts pressure on the body. So smile and keep joy in your heart at all times,” he said.
“I never put it on my brain that I am depressed; when it arrives, it does not stay very long. I always find something else to overcome it.”
Mr. Howell’s favorite place is home, and his love is music, “Music is the most enjoyable thing in my life. I love the saxophone, and I always put my whole thoughts and heart into my music.”
For Mr. Howell, the shoemaking is a gift, just like his music, and his love for both is magnified by watching other shoemakers and musicians on the island. His business has been in operation for more than 30 years, and he says he will continue to work to please his customers as long as he can.
Mr. Howell says his eyesight is still very good, and he still enjoys working. “I have glasses, but my eyesight is much better without them. I have no trouble with my eyes, and definitely none with my hearing; they are all in good working order,” he said.
Mr. Howell wanted to be a shoemaker since he was young. According to a story in the Cayman Compass on the occasion of his 99th birthday, Mr. Howell spent his teenage years watching other cobblers in his district in Jamaica until he opened his own shoe shop in Kingston.
Mr. Howell came to Cayman in 1958 at the invitation of Caymanian band leader S.E. Nembhard, who wanted his services as a saxophone player. After staying on the island for six months, he went back to Jamaica to get married but returned to rejoin Nembhard’s band, and later to take up the shoemaking business. He married his wife in 1959 and they had three children. She passed away in 2012.
His grandson Marlon Howell, who lives in Canada and didn’t meet his grandfather until the age of 50, said he will never forget the day at the shoe shop when his grandfather told him his search was over. He told the younger Howell: “Everything is complete; the blessings of my father and fathers before me I pass on to you.”
“That is a blessing from God that I will never forget and take everywhere I go and pass on to my grandchildren,” said Marlon Howell.