It was a huge blow when Manuel’s wife, Beatrice, passed away in 2000. He loved her profoundly and the house felt so empty without her.
“My life turned upside down. All of a sudden I was on my own,” he says.
The couple, who tied the knot in 1958, lived in Fleur-de-Lys, where they brought up their four daughters with love, but Manuel is originally from Hamrun.
A few months after Manuel’s wife passed away, one of his daughters, Antoinette, who is a nun and lives in Rome, asked her father to visit her. After spending 20 days with his eldest daughter, Manuel returned home, only to find that life was as monotonous as before.
Every day his other daughters, Margaret, Diane and Jacqueline, took good care of Manuel, cooking him meals and giving him their undivided attention. Every Sunday, he was invited over for lunch and spent most of the day with them.
But loneliness crept in when he returned home.
Two years later, Manuel suffered a heart attack. Following surgery, his children, who live in Mellieha, decided to move him to the Mellieha home, run by CareMalta, where he would be able to receive constant care and attention.
“I loved my wife dearly and I missed having her around me. Faith, love, respect, humility and sincerity have been strong pillars throughout my life,” says the grandfather of five and great-grandfather of three.
“Thanks to these values, my life has been a happy one, despite its ups and downs. I do not like today’s modern way of life. Widespread disrespect and insincerity are a by-product of progress.”
One day, while looking at the façade of his house, Manuel, who inherited his father’s dexterity, decided to make a replica of it using plywood and matches. He took the measurements, drew a sketch and worked everything out proportionally. He slowly started collecting matches. After a while, his neighbour started giving him a supply of matches from time to time.
Very patiently and precisely, applying glue to every single match and then sticking it on to the plywood, Manuel painstakingly built the façade of his house – which came complete with balconies, windows, garage doors, a staircase in the middle, a main door, gates in the front garden and a lantern.
Manuel’s father, an engineer by profession, was a skilled man who ran a small business in Marsa. As a young man, Manuel helped him in his workshop every day with odd jobs. This turned Manuel into the clever mathematician and model maker he is today.
“I’ve always wanted to remain active,” says Manuel, whose room features a few of his favourite models – the chapel and façade of the residential home, Mellieha parish church, a Maltese dghajsa, a Maltese balcony and three Stations from the Way of the Cross.
He also created models of Sydney’s Opera House, the old Upper Barrakka lift, the Tower of London, the ferry from Sliema to Marsamxett, which in 1950 crossed from Valletta to Senglea and Vittoriosa, and the façade of the Mellieha band club.
An avid reader of Maltese novels, Manuel has also developed a keen interest in the history and daily life of Mellieha and the story of the Knights in Malta. At the age of 75, he packed up and left for Peru with the Mission Fund to do voluntary work.
But his favourite work of art is a silver filigree brooch he created himself from scratch, his very first present to his dear wife in 1965.
“She loved it, as it was the first gift I crafted especially for her. She wore it many times,” he reminisces.
Manuel wears a locket with a picture of Beatrice round his neck. She will always be part of his life.
“Life is what you make it. My strong faith and a passion for my hobby make me a happier man. Mellieha has become my home.”