The Summers' 65 years

Melva and Charles Summers have been wed for 65 years. Photo: Chris Callinan.

They have lived, loved, worked and travelled together all 65 years of their marriage. They’ve hardly been out of each other’s sight.

And here they are – Charles and Melva Summers, he’s 87 and she’s 86, still sitting here holding hands and patting and stroking each other. The flames are strong even after three score and five.

The couple are this month celebrating their 65th anniversary.

It’s one of those stories of enduring love – where reality is bigger than fiction.

“I was keen,” says Charles, of the pretty dark-haired 17-year-old who walked into life 70 years ago. Keen? He was infatuated.

Because on Wednesdays he would often row right across the harbour to see his lovely. No harbour bridge then. “Took me half an hour – with the tide – a good workout.” Then he would row home in the dark. “I was bought up on the harbour so I knew all the channels.”

And he knew his heart. Because on the way he would sing: ‘Come back to Sorrento’. “Well I would try to sing it,” says the modest romantic.

“Look at this garden, and the scent of these oranges, such a fine perfume, it goes straight to your hear” – Frank Sinatra sang it, so did Elvis, Placido Domingo and Meat Loaf. And Charles Summers. The song reflected a population’s love and passion for a city.

It also reflected a young Mount Maunganui apprentice baker’s love and passion for a young woman called Melva Bunker. And some years later Charles would live out that song. He would take Melva to Sorrento, a seaside city in south-west Italy.

“We sat outside under those orange trees,” says Melva. “We had a drink and we thought about it.” All these years later, lovers are rethinking it. “And a promise was kept,” she says. It’s the stuff of movies.

It was 1946 when teenager Melva first walked into a bakery at Mount Maunganui. Christmas was in the air, it was busy and she’d been offered a job in the bakery store. Love was in the air too.

“This young fellow watched me come in and then raced away to comb his hair. I was impressed.”

What was he like? “Gosh I don’t know. I was only 17.” Was that an impertinent question? Was it improper in those days for a young woman to suss out the talent? But he was good-looking apparently. “Well I thought so,” she admits.

Charles isn’t nearly as bashful. “I was impressed straight away. Her good looks, her dark hair. Pretty? Oh yes!!”

“You know, I have never asked him what he first thought,” says Melva. Well, 70 years later she knows, via a prying reporter.

And talking of hair – Charles doesn’t have any to speak of and Melva’s perfectly coiffed. That’s not so interesting. But what is interesting is that Melva hasn’t been to a hairdresser since she got married. Charles cuts her hair and she cuts his.

They do everything with and for each other. “Means we can go for coffee twice-a-week,” she says. But then Melva couldn’t get her photograph taken today because she was having her nails done. I wonder if that’s part of Charles’ job description?

Love for Melva was also perilous because Charles would ride his bike to the Matapihi rail bridge. Melva was on the other side. To get to her he would carry his bike across. “There was no walkway and if a train came I would climb out on a pile.”

A certain wisdom comes with 65 years of marriage.

“We became good friends,” says Melva. “That’s been the basis for everything.”

And lots of understanding and tolerance. “Oh yeah,” says Charles. “And never taken an argument to bed. Never go to sleep on a disagreement.”

“Even if it keeps you up all night,” chimes in Melva.

Yes, they lived, loved and worked together – ran a succession of food businesses together. Buy one, build it up, sell up and spend.

Spend it on travel – one destination every year. South Africa, Italy, China, Norfolk Island, Fiji, Zimbabwe. “All the places you knew in your heart you wanted to see,” says Melva. “Yes, we have done everything. Some things twice.” There was also the cruise to celebrate their 62nd anniversary because it crept up on them.

And last Saturday was a “oncer”. It was their sky blue anniversary, their blue sapphire anniversary. And more than 100 people were turning up at the Mount Maunganui RSA to celebrate and share stories about 65 years of marriage.

The three Summer kids were there – the ones who regularly tell their Mum and Dad they are grateful for being “shown the way”.

“Our advice – make wise collaborative decisions,” says one. And of course the other agrees. Twenty-eight minutes after this conversation started in their Mount Maunganui apartment Charles and Melva are still holding hands, still petting and patting, reminiscing and being grateful.

This delightful couple is forever.