Mother’s Day special for Whitehead siblings
Published 10:19 am Saturday, May 12, 2012
BY STEPHEN H. COWLES/CONTRIBUTING WRITER
You might be saying now, “Eleven?”
“They just popped up.” That’s Gladys Whitehead’s succinct explanation of how she and her husband, the late Hugh Waddell Whitehead Sr., had so many kids. By the way, all were born at home with a midwife’s help.
Evidently, large families are common on her side of the family. She is the fourth of 13 children born to the late Jim and Rena Hicks of Capron, and one of five remaining; the others are William Hicks of Richmond, Margaret Jackson of New Jersey, Ruth Brown of Capron, and Amelia Lindsey of Richmond.
“We’re very close; that’s where my children got it from,” said Gladys Whitehead. “I taught them to love one another, and they do. They get along very well. Most every day I talk to all of them.”
The birth order, first to last, is: Mildred E. Wilson of Norfolk; Cassandra W. Eaddy of Chesapeake; Margaret W. McClenney of Norfolk; Gladys W. Harper of Norfolk; Sharon W. Crocker of Chesapeake; Gwendolyn W. Diop of Sterling; Hugh Waddell Whitehead Jr. of St. Louis; Edward O. Whitehead of Richmond; Eliza Aponte of Norfolk; Tonya W. Pringle of Alexandria; and Eric D. Whitehead of Lumberton, N.C. In addition, there are 28 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren.
Several of the children shared some of their earliest memories of their mom.
“My very, very earliest memory of my mother was when I was 2 years old,” said Sharon Crocker. “Do you remember those buckets of lard used to make biscuits? She would put one on the floor for me to stand on and look out the kitchen window waiting for my sisters getting off the school bus. I remember her doing that for me, and knowing that was my mother.”
Mildred W. Wilson said: “I think it was the times in the kitchen my mother cooked on a wood stove. Probably my earliest moments. And I can remember her making us flour bread (some restaurants call them tortillas). We would eat them soon after getting home from school.
“You know, we didn’t really know we were poor until we got out of high school and college. But we were never, never, never sick.
“My mother was a great listener — and still is. I learned to listen from her. Don’t judge, don’t criticize or give advice until I’ve thought it through, and that’s carried me from childhood through college to being a social worker — every day as a mentor to kids.”
Wilson emphasized this point. “I heard her say not long ago that she taught her children to love one another. We’re not like a lot of large families that have feuds. We don’t agree on everything, but we do have that respect. We’re all very close. Most every day we talk to one another.”
“I can remember my mother giving my three sisters and I baths in a foot tub on Saturday nights and then putting on new white underwear,” said Gladys Harper. “We’d also get to go barefoot in the summertime.
“I also remember crying so bad when my sisters would get to go to school, and my mother saying, ‘You can’t go yet.’”
“We grew up country country. There were chickens in the yard, which she would kill and we could have to clean. We’d say, ‘No mom, we can’t do that.’”
But they did in order to have food on the table.
Tonya W. Pringle of Alexandria recalled, “Her in the kitchen cooking, and giving me baths. Those are my earliest memories.”
Also, “Initially, I wanted to go into the Navy right after high school, but she recommended college. I also went into the ROTC, and that ended up being the best thing.
“Mom knows best.”
Edward A. Whitehead of Richmond recalled “making sure we were attending church every Sunday, and not letting us go astray.”
“She didn’t know the meaning of the term ‘time out.’ It was ‘knock out’ if we misbehaved,” he said with a laugh. “Otherwise, we probably would have ended up in jail.”
Even today, he’s active in own church in Richmond, serving as chairman of the board of trustees.
“We talk pretty much every day. Constant and consistent.”
Mother’s Day has an extra significance for the family because Eric Whitehead, the youngest, was born on that day.
“I guess the earliest memory would be when I was a little boy, 3 or 4 years old,” he said. “Maybe 2. We had a big old house. I had to live upstairs. No matter how quiet I would be coming down, she would meet me every time at the bottom of the stairs. And she would greet with a hug and kiss and make me breakfast.”
Eric continued, “We were always fed, clean and healthy. She was a super mom. Every day was a good memory, not just a few. She’s a quality woman who’s made the best of what she’s had.”
Included in the Gladys Whitehead celebration will be Glen Carrington, a cousin who lost his parents and has adopted her as a mother figure. Then there’s Lawrence “Boots” Henderson, whom Tonya described as her mother’s “boyfriend.”
Come Tuesday, she’ll be going on a cruise to the Bahamas, her second visit.
“I’m pretty healthy, to tell the truth,” she said.
Though not as active as in the past, she’s a faithful member and honorary usher at Diamond Grove Baptist Church, where Darnell Whitfield is the pastor.