Napoleon Mark Bernier (1894 – 1959)
His mother (Margaret Elizabeth DeCoste Bernier) and his sister, Oldna, made their own clothes and many of his, as well. During the Depression, Napoleon’s family was known for remaining fashionable. That’s because they’d take apart their older clothes and rework them — with some new materials — into styles that looked like fashion plates.
In later years, all of my grandfather’s shirts were custom made, and the rest of his wardrobe probably was, as well. He was finicky about his clothes.
(I remember the shirts — always pale yellow — were made from some fabric that was difficult to get. They may have been a very light silk. I recall that he needed “breathable” clothing for his annual vacations in the islands, usually Jamaica.)
The portrait with the dark background, above, was probably taken when he was in his 40s. He was a little older when my mother, Muriel Bernier, painted his portrait, shown below on the right. (The canvas reflected the flash when I took this photo. In the painted portrait, his suit is a very even shade of brown.)
He almost always wore browns and yellows, because they accented his coloring so well. He also favored two aftershaves, Royall Bay Rhum and Florida water. Even today, when I catch a whiff of one of them, I remember great adventures with my grandfather.
Napoleon Mark Bernier was born 22 Oct 1894 in Somerville, Middlesex Co., MA, to Francois Napoleon Bernier and Margaret Elizabeth DeCoste Bernier.
He was left-handed but the nuns at his school forced him to write with his right hand. As a result, he became a rebellious student and dropped out of school around sixth grade. He was self-taught after that, and I recall him practically devouring chemistry books as well as science fiction magazines.
Of course, he grew tired of working for his dad’s plaster-and-stucco contracting business. He started inventing his own kinds of specialized stuccos, and later became a noted inventor with several patents.
He started the California Stucco Corporation, then California Paints, and then combined them into California Products. The company still thrives, and its headquarters are in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
My grandfather was one of those larger-than-life people, and his friends were equally colorful, including General George S. Patton and Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.
(I can recall playing at Gropius’ house in Lincoln when I was little. My grandfather had been involved in the building of it. My favorite parts included a banister that was great for sliding on, plus a wall of glass bricks that made the outside world look weird. My grandfather put similar glass bricks into the cottage he built for us in North Hampton, NH.)
My grandfather was tremendously successful in business and involved in building the original John Hancock Insurance building in Boston, MA, plus many other Back Bay structures. His work can still be seen throughout MIT, as well, especially in the lobby at the formal entrance (the one that faces the Charles River) where my grandfather’s invention — acoustical plaster and tiles — line the walls & ceiling and muffle loud noises.
Napoleon M. Bernier — often called “Nap” by his friends — died of a heart attack on 22 Nov 1959, at Mt. Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, MA. He and I were kind of “partners in crime,” and I still miss him.