|Millie Ifill (right) receiving one of her many awards.|
Mildred "Millie" Ifill is no ordinary 95-year-old. She is testament to hard work, faith, longevity and determination.
Millie is the oldest fish vendor in Barbados and as the island celebrates Fisherman’s Week, she can feel proud of her contribution to the local industry.
Her small size belies her indomitable spirit and large heart. Raised by her grandmother who passed away when Millie was very young, she received no formal schooling but that didn’t stop her earning a living.
"When I saw people’s children going to school, my aunt asked me if she sent me to school, who was going to work for me," she said.
Millie became a "Jill of all trades", trying her hand at several jobs until she settled on selling fish. "I did servant work first and I wasn’t getting any money, so then I had to go and tie sugar cane. After nothing was stirring with that, I went back and sold fish."
The first time she worked it was for four cents a day. Millie learned all the skills of the fish vending trade on the job. "What I have learned is from being out and about and from selling [fish] to people and talking and communicating with different people. What I got is through talking with them."
She also recalled the long hours she spent vending, leaving the market many times at one ???o’ clock in the morning and walking home because the buses had finished running.
The spritely 95-year-old said the local industry has come a long way, as she remembers a time when fish was not the precious commodity it is now.
"I know people who used to bring their donkey cart, come to the beach and take fish and carry them and throw them in the ground for dung…You wouldn’t believe it," she mused.
Millie has received several awards and accolades for her sterling service and is a stalwart of the Weston, St. James community.
She has worked at markets in around Barbados and up to two years ago Millie was doing some work.
She still has some of the tools of her trade and fishing is very much still in her blood. "I still have my pans and my board, I haven’t given away [all of] them but I gave way one of the pans. I like to work, working makes you independent," Millie proudly proclaimed.
She remains fiercely independent, still cooking and looking after herself daily.
Millie also remembers days when times were hard in Barbados and life was rough. "My aunt would send me and her family to get a pint of rice. It would have been better if you rationed it ???cause you couldn’t get it [anyhow]. That pint of rice would have to serve eight or nine people in a house. I know them days.
"It different from now because when I was a girl people would cook and my grandmother would …put in sufficient rice that [others] could get a share but you don’t find that now. I know many days I ate at people," she recounted.
Millie also admits to having a bit of a sweet tooth. "I did like flour. All who bake good bread you got me. When the rest had theirs wrap up in paper, I had mine wrap up in my apron and tie around me… That must be what help keep me up," she said with a chuckle and smile.
Originally from St. Lucy, Millie, who will turn 96 on November 29, thanks God for reaching such a milestone. "I’m grateful and content. God is good, real good… Every day I live, I realise how good God is," she attested.
The devout Christian and great grandmother who is no longer able to travel to church due to some pains in her leg and back, listens to services on the radio.
She firmly believes in practicing what you preach and in the Christian adage that doing good to others will bring personal blessings.
"I like to give with the understanding that someday, someone may give to me as well. Some people are not like that. They like to take yours and hold theirs, but not me. I would give you my last and feel good. Yes, I’m that type [of person]."
As Millie looked back on a long career and life, she is pleased with many things, saying "I’ve seen good times and spent good days…I’ve had my good times and I enjoyed living. It has not always been sun shining or darkness but there was always Jesus… I’m contented and grateful," she quipped.
So, as Barbados again pays tribute to those loyal sons and daughters who have made significant contributions to the fishing industry, there is none more deserving of praise than Mildred "Millie" Ifill, a true Barbadian icon.