May 18, 2024

Whitehead shares a glimpse into her life as she prepares to turn 90

“I’ve had quite a life, I’ll tell ya.”

That is what Mamie Whitehead, former longtime waitress at Nana Greer’s Family Table had to say before giving a glimpse into her life, 47 years of which were spent at Family Table.

Early life

Whitehead was born to Frank and Amelia McBride on the family farm on May 13, 1933.

“Dear old Doctor Dean came over in a horse and buggy and delivered me,” said Whitehead.

As a child, Whitehead attended Bell Country School through the eighth grade, after which she came to Osceola for school; she graduated in 1951.

Whitehead recalled an illness she had in the fifth grade that rendered her unable to walk per doctor’s orders. When she was finally ready to get back to school, Whitehead was carted around in a wicker baby buggy by a pony, Buck, sold to her father from the coal mines in Albia.

Whitehead remembers her parents selling cream and eggs in a little building that is now home to Keith Adams’ flower garden on West Washington Street. Her father drove a truck that he could turn over to the government in the event of an emergency, and as such was not rationed on gasoline. She remembers well the green, rationing stamps that were handed out to families during World War II to purchase certain goods.

Whitehead had one brother, Donnell, a rifleman in the Americal Division; Donnell was killed in Cebu City, Philippines, on April 15, 1945.

In 1955, she married Clair Dean Whitehead, and they had three daughters - Christy, Tawny and Malane. Dean passed away in 1988.

Career

Whitehead’s first job in the restaurant business was in one owned by her parents, Coffee Cup Cafe, which they opened after moving to Osceola from the family farm. The Coffee Cup was located just west of the intersection of Highways 34 and 69, in between the large, green house and what used to be a former filling station; today that space is occupied by Verizon Wireless and 21st Century Rehab.

After graduating high school, Whitehead went to work for Nellie Allison of Allison Drug Store.

“She was my first boss; sweetest boss you could ever hope for,” said Whitehead.

Allison Drug Store was located in what is now the parking lot of American State Bank’s downtown branch.

Whitehead also worked in the Clarke County Treasurer’s Office figuring the taxes for all of the townships in Clarke County - minus Osceola Township - and for Anna Webb at the Clarke County Farm Bureau office writing insurance. Her 47-year tenure at Family Table started as a way to earn extra income that Whitehead said was needed when raising three girls.

“My husband’s sister was working there…she said, I think you would just do fine there,” said Whitehead.

Though self-described as shy, the waitressing work soon took care of that, and Whitehead came to enjoy the work, especially the customers.

“You always had your favorites…some of them actually preferred me to wait on them, made it very nice. That made it worth going to [work],” said Whitehead.

In the near half-century she worked at Family Table, Whitehead saw a number of owner and management changes. Opal Smith was her first boss, and others over the years included Dana and Gail Hembry, Galen and Angie Frey and current owner Doug Smith.

Whitehead was there through two major fires - one in the kitchen that required a complete kitchen remodel over a whole summer, and a grease fire that saw the restaurant closed while the building was cleaned of the smoke smell.

“I said, I don’t think I’ll stick around for the third one,” joked Whitehead.

When Family Table opened back up after the COVID closures, there was not enough staff for the evening dinner service, the one that Whitehead had primarily worked. As such, Whitehead did not return, though she does stop in now and again to visit and enjoy a bite to eat.

“The girls give me hugs and what have you,” said Whitehead.

Retirement

Today, Whitehead lives on the same farm where she was born and raised, and said it keeps her busy.

“You live on a farm, you have things to do…if I can get outside, I work outside. There’s always a weed that says it’s gonna make it, and I say no you are not.”

Whitehead lives simply - she doesn’t have a computer, and her TV utilizes an antenna. Her house does not have running water - Whitehead gets what she needs from a pump in the yard, but she doesn’t need much. For most of her life, the house was heated by an outside furnace, run on wood. After a slip in the middle of the night one winter, Whitehead’s son-in-law installed a wall furnace in the house, and now Whitehead is warmed by LP gas, though she said it took some getting used to.

“It’s not like wood heat,” said Whitehead.

Animals on the farm include 11 horses, some goats and a handful of farm dogs. She has a handshake agreement with a gentleman who rotates crops in the fields, and in turn bales hay for her animals.

When it comes to gardening, Whitehead said she doesn’t have much time for it, as helping out with her great-grandchildren keeps her busy. She has 26 of them, ranging in age from 26 to newborn. She looks forward to attending the wedding of one of the great-grands in July.

And when it comes to living life to the fullest, Whitehead’s advice is:

“Just enjoy everyday. Laugh every day, too; you’ve got to…We have our slumps once in a while which is good, it makes us able to stand back up on our feet again. You don’t ever let anything get you down too much. You gotta be happy and go with the flow. That’s the main thing, go with the flow.”

Card shower

As Whitehead prepares to ring in her 90th trip around the sun, her family would like to shower her with cards. Birthday wishes can be sent to Mamie at 2024 Garden Street, Osceola, Iowa, 50213.

Candra Brooks

A native of rural Union County, Candra holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from Simpson College and an Associate's Degree in Accounting from SWCC. She has been at the Osceola newspaper since October 2013, working as office manager before transitioning to the newsroom in spring 2022.