Woman helps children learn their worth

Published 9:44 am Thursday, February 11, 2016

Alice Gaither remembers well the day when she and her sister walked in the front door of Dr. Long’s office in Mocksville.

The receptionist sure noticed, quickly asking them if they needed a seat. The sisters knew that black people were expected to go in through the back door.

She chuckles when telling the story. “We were in a seat. We said no, and after that, we told everybody to go in the front.”

Alice Canady Gaither still advocates for what she thinks is right – sort of a family tradition.

She came from a family of 10 children, and had 13 of her own. She’s spent her life in Mocksville, teaching Head Start children and keeping her own children and their friends on the right track.

Life growing up in Mocksville was tough – and strict.

“My mom kept us busy. We had to keep things clean and in its place,” she said. They would walk to the stream to get water, boil it, and wash the clothes, which had to be put on the line outside  in the right order  or face the wrath of mother.

All of her brothers and sisters liked to read, and Gaither completed high school at Central Davie and then went on to Winston-Salem State for a teaching degree.

She taught Head Start here for 25 years.

“That’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “I saw so many children who needed help.”

Even at home, with 13 kids, it was always a battle to keep everyone doing what they’re supposed to do, she said. More than once, she fed entire ball teams because they lived too far to go home and come back for a game. Sometimes, they spent the night. There were no buses for black children.

The routine in her home was supper at 7. Her husband, Tom Gaither, sat at the head of the table, she at the other end. Each child would have to stand and recite a Bible verse.

Her children went to church, and they went to school.

Her daughter, Debbie, was the first black student at Catawba College. But when she went to a local restaurant for a meal, they wouldn’t serve her.

Gaither always went to church, and made sure her children did, too. She still will not attend an 11 a.m. Sunday service without a hat on. And the clothes will be the nicest she can find. “It’s a feeling that I’m completely dressed.”

Not only is Gaither a reader, she is a poet. She is proud of the poem, “The Lady Cried,” one she read at a ceremony after 9/11. There’s one in her mind now, about the sunrises and sunsets she’s seen – literally and in life.

“I don’t know how to explain it, but inspiration comes to me … and I’ve got to get it out,” she said.

She also believes in promoting black history. Even going through college at black schools, there wasn’t a lot of black history being taught. They learned about Booker T. Washington and few others, she said.

“We need to be informed, especially our young people,” she said. “There’s nothing better than feeling that you are somebody. I tried to instill that in all of my kids, as well. There was no such thing as not having a book in my house … and prejudice wasn’t allowed in our house.”

At age 92, Gaither spends her time reading and writing, working puzzles, and keeping up with her family. She lives with daughter Thomasine, and their loving banter can get lively.

“She told me the other week, ‘You hang around me long enough and you’ll learn something’,” Thomasine said.

“I said, yes ma’am.”

It’s kind of like her advice for young people.

“Always try to look at things on the bright side. And you need someone in your life to talk to … and be willing to listen to advice.”