FOR DECADES, Trinidad has been the land of opportunity for many, with small islanders and mainlanders making the journey by steamship and small boat to land at ports around the island.
An unknown number settled on cocoa, coffee and sugar estates or made a life in the urban centres which had already seen impressive development during British colonial rule.
Among those making the move was Grenadian Issac Palmer in the 19th century.
He wooed and married Madeleine Jose.
They had four girls and three boys. The family prospered on an estate bought by Palmer in an area now known as Tableland.
He would go on to buy two more estates, lost one plantation to a cocoa tree-killing disease, and was unable to repay the loan he took out for the purchase.
One of Palmer's sons, John Palmer, moved to Lewis Road, near the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church, and then settled roadside the Naparima/Mayaro Road, around the corner from a town called Monkey—named after the troop of monkeys living there.
John Palmer would have 13 children, among them Agatha Hillie Palmer, born on March 25, 1912. A month later the RMS Titanic would sink in the North Atlantic Ocean.
She is still alive today, along with two sisters aged 98 and 84.
These women are a living link to the past, a time pre-dating the sugar plantations that would surround the village after World War II.
Aunt Hillie's birthday was celebrated with a special Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church, New Grant—the same church she and her siblings were baptised at.
She still lives in the house of her birth, on part of a five-acre portion of land that belongs to the family. The cocoa and coffee planted on the land would often be sold in Port of Spain after Palmer travelled to the city, having taken the train from Princes Town.
The cocoa and coffee trees are still there, no longer commercially harvested.
There is now an equal number of mahogany, cedar trees and fruits trees.
Aunty Hillie remembers a lot. Her speech is unclear, but her family understands it well.
She lived through two World Wars and celebrated this country's Independence 50 years ago.
She is not afflicted with any chronic diseases or diabetes, but has difficulty seeing and hearing.
A sister, Cecelia Bruno, will celebrate her 99th birthday in November.
She lives at Ste Madeleine.
Another sister, Catherine Barnett, is 81 and lives in San Fernando.
Barnett told the Express about her eldest sister's life.
Aunty Hillie, who never married or had any children, attended the North Trace Government School on the Naparima/Mayaro Road.
She never attended secondary school but she learnt to sew.
As a teenager, Palmer worked as a seamstress before becoming a receptionist for a doctor in San Fernando.
She worked for 35 years before returning home to New Grant because of illness, body pains, and never returned.
Barnett recalled the main issue for families during the Second World War was not safety, but obtaining food.
She said their family never had a problem because John Palmer would travel to Port of Spain and purchase food items which would then be delivered to the house by trucks.
Barnett said, at that time, cooking oil was sold in tins.
Also, because they planted many of their own crops such as ground provisions, there was no need to worry about food.
She said they had a surplus and would even give to other families.
The ration card given by the government to each family to "purchase" groceries was given away to others less fortunate.
Her mother would also purchase fish at King's Wharf in San Fernando for the family, Barnett said.
Everybody who rode on the train enjoyed the ride and Aunty Hillie was no exception.
Barnett said they would pay 24 cents to travel from San Fernando to Port of Spain.
"The ride was not that long, We had an uncle in Matura and we would visit him regularly. The main transportation was bus. Not many people had cars. We had a car and a driver would sometimes drop us to San Fernando, where we would take the train or, if it was during the day, we would travel by bus from New Grant. We would drop off at the railway station in Sangre Grande and then take a bus to Matura. The train has special stops and they would stop there only, not like today."
The Trinidad Government Railway shut down its operations in 1968.
Barnett said everyone was happy when the nation broke away from British rule.
"Things were a bit better. People were able to get better jobs and earn more money. They were able to buy cars. There was not many cars around. The change in money did not make much of a difference, everyone knew what the notes stood for."
"In the schools, children began to wear uniforms, they were more disciplined before Independence, though. Any parent could speak to any child. There was corporal punishment. It is certainly not like now."
Aunty Hillie spends her days in the company of caregiver Joan Philbert relaxing at home, taking her daily walks, picking up fallen fruits and caring for her plants.
When asked why she never got married, she said, laughingly, "I was probably not pretty enough for the men out there. I was never lucky. The men, they wanted good-looking people. People to cook and give them a good lunch. When I get old and I can't walk, nobody will want to marry me."
She said her one regret was not being married and she advised, "Marry when you are young.
"Don't wait till you cannot see or walk. When you are over 60, you are too old to get married.
"I thank God I am still alive. Some have married and they died. God has a plan for you.
"You have to be content with it. Some men, they are good, and they get married and they change."
Even though she did not have any children of her own, Aunty Hillie cared for one of her nieces.
That niece died about six years ago.
She said she was grateful for everything.
"When I wake up, I ask God to help me to go through my day. Whatsoever I get, I am pleased and thank God for everything. I can't cook any more. He (God) allow me to walk, but he won't allow me to cook. But I could still wash my clothes, but not sheets."
Aunty Hillie said she wanted to live only a few more years because, "I don't want to give anybody any trouble." Her grandmother died when she was 106.
Both her parents died at home in bed. Her father was 88 and her mother 87. They are buried at the New Grant Cemetery.
Aunty Hillie said she wanted to pass on, just like her parents.