Centenarian Myril Elaine Howell has seen many hard times in her lifetime. It seemed pain and suffering followed her mercilessly and she has the scars to prove it. If poverty is hell, as the Trinidadian calypsonian Shadow sang in a 1994 calypso, then Myril went through the fires of hell.
She survived a broken hip and emergency surgery. Every finger on her hands suffered some form of trauma or other. And on the rare occasions that physical pain offered some relief, worries persisted. For example, during the 1937 riots while she was home she was to worry about her husband Cecil Dacosta Howell who was running along the Bridgetown seashore to escape bullets.
Myril also carries other scars; carved permanently on her feet to tell the compelling story of a woman who laboured for years growing crops, raising animals and carrying canes to the factory to bring home some extra money.
Yet, as she celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday, Myril was proud of every blemish, every mark because she did it for her eight children, who continue to view her as a gift from God.
“She went to the university of hard knocks but she survived them to make the 100. She never allowed any incident in her life to stop her from doing her daily chores,” her eldest child Everette Howell told Barbados TODAY during a visit by Governor General Sir Elliott Belgrave.
Born during World War I on February 4, 1916, Myril lived through the tough days of the Second World War.
Her husband was a carpenter and she was a seamstress, a skill passed on by her mother. However, she was never afraid to work as hard as she could, push as far as she could to ensure that her children would have a much better life then she was having.
Howell, a retired minister in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, recalled watching his mother working hard from the time she woke up in the morning – making sure the house was tidy and the animals were looked after – right through the day and late into the night, ensuring all her children were fed before she went to bed.
And she was frugal too, instilling in her children the importance of sticking together and, “you got to know how to cut and contrive”.
“And so she would take my father’s pants that had a burst at the knee or in the back and she would cut them up and make pants for the boys.
“She was an economist in her own right. We were poor in the war years and also child mortality was high because a lot of diseases . . . To survive was a challenge and she helped us to survive,” Howell said.
Convinced that the only way out of the punishing poverty was through education, Myril and her husband pushed her children to succeed at school. And they did not let their parents down.
“They pushed us to be educated so most of us are degreed individuals; one son is a doctor, the other a pastor, [we are] teachers, nurses, one brother is an engineer. We are
“She feels good and she is glad that we are here with her,” the eldest son said.
Her grandchildren are professionals also.
“They are doctors, researchers and excelling in different areas,” he explained.
No wonder they all adore her. She celebrated her birthday today at the Almans House, Checker Hall, St Lucy residence of another son, retired surgeon Dr Halstead Howell, surrounded by seven of her eight children.
The centenarian has a strong religious background and attends the Boscobel Seventh Day Adventist Church every Saturday.
She only stopped cooking a few months ago after her children intervened because they believed it was dangerous since her hearing and her sight had deteriorated. Otherwise, Myril who never hesitates to let her caretakers know who is the boss, has no major health problems.
“Every three months we take her to her doctor and he says she is in good health and we thank God for that also,” Howell said.
Myril, who looked lovely in the biege frock that she wore today, was unable to carry out a conversation with Barbados TODAY. However, she told Sir Elliott she was happy that he had visited her.
Member of Parliament for St Lucy Denis Kellman, who was present at the celebration, indicated that Myril was the first of about five parishioners expected to celebrate their 100th birthday this year.