The wrinkles on Iretha Roach’s hands and face appear adorable, but they betray the signs of aging. Roach, 99, was 50 years old when Barbados attained independence from Britain in 1966.
To the nonagenarian, independence means a lot. Her memory might not be as good as it was on that rainy night at the Garrison Savannah, but who can forget such a momentous occasion? In any event, here’s a woman who was independent long before this country’s flag was raised for the first time.
“I had to be independent. I work hard in the fields in St Lucy to feed the children,” Roach told Barbados TODAY in an interview from her Greenidges, St Lucy home on Tuesday afternoon, perched in a wheelchair.
“The memory ain’t as good as it used to be, but I will tell yuh what I could remember,” the elderly woman said. To discuss Roach’s life story is to take a thrilling journey into history. Tapping into her not-so-good-anymore memory she revealed an extraordinary life which included countless hours in the cane fields, toiling in the sun, as she struggled to raise nine of 13 children.
Roach was born and bred in the northernmost parish and indicated that she did not leave when she was young and her legs were willing, and she did not plan on leaving now, although she lived overseas for a while.
Her memory bank revealed that she grew with her many siblings, running around the fields and exploring the beauty of the parish, the only one named after a female patron. Childhood days were peaceful days. “It didn’t use to be no combat, no fighting and no quarrelling with no person. We come up as children with no noise, no nothing. We went to church with my mother and when she didn’t go, we had to go to church and to Sunday school,” she recalled.
There were also the days when she laboured in the scorching and unforgiving sun, alongside the other women at Crab Hill and Spring Hall plantations tying the cane cut by the much stronger men.
“St Lucy windy so we use to get the wind, but that was not no easy work.
All them places so we work tying cane, moving up and down the ladder, weed and everything that we could manage.
We work hard enough and when we go to work, you work from seven o’clock in the morning until after three o’clock. “When you had to work far, them carry you out on the trucks. The whole load had to go. We work hard for 18 cents a day. Whatever work they put you to do, you had to do it to help the children,” she said. The soft spoken and gentle woman, who is still very popular in the community, gave birth to 13 children, four of whom died at very young ages.
Dressed in a colourful frock, her short grey hair combed in single plaits, Roach said nurturing and caring for her offspring as a single parent was not at all an easy road to travel. “I ain’t had no husband. I still had to work hard. When them go one way and them see somebody else them could throw out them money there and leave the children here on your hand.
You had to try with them [children] because you is the mother.” At age 99, Roach has seen it all, including changes to the parish’s landscape, with many more modern houses. However, while some things changed, the cooling breeze remains the same. St Lucy is also the only parish where there are animals in a cave. The Animal Flower Cave, which got its name from the sea anemones found in the pools of the cave, is possibly the parish’s most popular attraction. Mitch Ward, whose father Manuel Ward owns the cave, told Barbados TODAY that since the private-owned facilities have been renovated, many more locals have been visiting to enjoy the sights, scenes and cuisine.
“One of the big things that we want to continue with is our idea of sustainability because our main attraction is natural beauty. When we did the renovations, we tried very hard to make sure things that aren’t being used, be used in some way to make sure the island remains as beautiful as it is,” he said. Ward said a deliberate decision was taken not to carry out any adjustments to the cave, although requests had been made for it to become accessible for disabled individuals. “To do that we would have to interrupt the natural state of the cave which is something we don’t want to do.
“We understand and respect it as a natural piece of Barbados history, a natural part of the island. We don’t want to overstep in anyway. We want to leave it in its pristine form as it is,” Ward stressed. The Barbados TODAY team also stopped in Moon Town, a small community that is rich in history and emerging nightlife. The quaint and historic village comes alive on weekends with people from all over the island visiting the location whether to consume a cold beer, grab a bite or relax after a long week at work. It was relatively quiet when Barbados TODAY visited Moon Town in the middle of the day. However, relaxing in the fish market, waiting for a fresh catch to arrive was a fisherman who declared that Moon Town was the best place in the world.
“And it would never change. I don’t need to say anything more about this community. I live out here for all of my life. Whether Barbados is 50 or 70, Moon Town will be Moon Town,” the fisherman who requested anonymity said.
The residents of St Lucy have something extra special to be proud about this Independence. Their 2015 parish ambassadors Donica Cumberbatch and Donniko Griffith took the title for Most Outstanding Parish Ambassadors at last Saturday night’s Spirit of the Nation Show held at the Sir Garfield Sobers Gymnasium. firstname.lastname@example.org.