Mom – Martha Wheeler
02/10/1938 – 05/10/2018
Mom was born February 10th, 1938 to Daniel & Catherine Slater. She was named Martha Lucille. Martha is derived from the Aramaic meaning – “A Lady; Ruler of the Home”. It means you are Persistent and Practical. She was very much a country girl and enjoyed spending time with both of her grandmothers, picking fruits and berries and then making them into pies. She had a younger brother, Raymond, who couldn’t quite pronounce Martha, so he just called her ‘Fa.
Her parents divorced at an early age and she moved to the city with her mother.
At the age of 16 she dropped out of high school to help her mother support the household financially. One day she stepped onto a city bus and met a bus driver who would eventually be my father. (When Dad got back to the bus terminal he told his friend Jack Michaels that “he was going to marry that girl.”) Shortly thereafter he asked Mom out, and when she said yes Dad said he would meet her at a certain place. When Mom asked why he wanted to meet her instead of picking her up, he told her that he didn’t have a car. To which Mom simply replied, “If you can’t pick me up, then I’m not interested.” Dad went out that day and bought a car and they had their first date.
They married April 14th, 1955 when she was only 17 years old. Their marriage produced 3 sons, 3 grandchildren and to-date, 3 great-grandchildren. Their marriage was in its 55th year when my father passed away in 2010.
Between her parents divorcing & having to drop out of high school, Mom learned at an early age to be self-reliant and independent. And it’s a lesson that she ingrained into each of her sons. A lesson that I think the three of us may have learned a little too well.
She loved music, especially country and early rock ‘n roll. Some of her favorite artists were Patsy Cline, Connie Francis, Elvis Presley, Chubby Checker, Tom Jones
and Engelbert Humperdinck. Her favorite dance was the Twist, and she loved to
teach us how to do it. Mom & Dad’s favorite song was “My Happiness” by Connie
Francis. Their favorite movie was “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby, as they went to see it when they were dating. Her favorite spiritual song was “On the Wings of a Dove”, followed by “How Great Thou Art”.
The first place I remember living was an apartment on W. Onondaga St. in the city
near my Great-grandma Manley. Her home was within walking distance and we would visit her often. Once, when I was about five I challenged Mom to a race to Great-Grandma’s front steps. Mom grinned and said OK, ready, set, go! And I took off as fast as I could but Mom took an early lead and beat me by a country mile. When I caught up to her I cried and complained that she didn’t let me win, and that she wasn’t being fair. She laughed and she told me that life isn’t fair, and that when I won a challenge with her it would be because I earned it, not because she let me. There was no “everyone gets a trophy” in my mother’s life view.
My mother didn’t like it if we came to her crying, and I remember her telling me more than once to “stop your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” Now as a child I found that quite confusing because obviously I already had something to cry about and certainly didn’t need anything more!
Now, I’m not saying anything here that friends & family don’t already know when I say that Mom & Dad’s arguments, what Dad referred to as “discussions”, were legendary. One such argument led Mom to have family members come over to the apartment on W. Onondaga St. and pack everything up while Dad was at work. When he got home he found that she had left him 1 plate, 1 cup, 1 glass & 1 of each eating utensil. I’m assuming she left a chair for him to sit in as well. You see, another one of Mom’s philosophies was that your actions with her had consequences, a philosophy that my brothers and I were somewhat quick to learn. Unfortunately for my father, he didn’t catch on as fast as we did.
Mom didn’t have a driver’s license when we lived in the city. We either walked to where we needed to go, took the bus, or Dad would drive us when he wasn’t working. We moved to our house in Howlett Hill in the summer of 1965. Once Mom realized that was where we would be living, she made sure that she got her driver’s license before we moved. Dad tried to give her driving lessons, and being a bus driver he thought that it would be pretty simple to teach her. Well, I think we all know how that turned out, and before we knew it a strange man would pull up in a car with “student driver” signs on it, and Mom would be off, leaving us with Dad. And when I asked Dad why Mom was getting into a car with a strange man he muttered something under his breath and I was instructed to mind my own business.
After we were living in Howlett Hill for a period of time Dad bought a car that was a standard shift instead of an automatic. Mom only knew how to drive an automatic. He may have had an ulterior motive here, but that’s just conjecture on my part. Just sayin’. So, now she was back to relying on Dad to take her places that she needed to go. Remember that self-reliant & independent thing that I mentioned earlier? One Saturday morning in the winter Mom asked Dad to take her to the grocery store. Dad was focused on something else and didn’t want to go when Mom did, and when her patience was getting short he told her that the car keys were on the table and if she wanted to go now that the car was in the driveway. I think he probably thought that Mom knowing she couldn’t drive that car would retreat and wait. Well, she proceeded to scoop up the keys and off she went, actually making it out of the driveway and to the grocery store. When she got home she came thru the door and proudly announced that we should get the groceries out of the car once our father figured out what to do with the car. As Dad is giving Mom a look of puzzlement we looked out the front window to see the car in the driveway sideways, and each bumper in a snowbank. So some shoveling by my father entailed, and Mom simply said, “That’s what you get for not taking me grocery shopping when I asked.” Are you starting to see the pattern here that I mentioned earlier about consequences to your actions with her?! I remember one of Dad’s friends telling him one time that “with Martha I think you have a tiger by the tail.” Dad’s reply was simply “you’ve got that right!”
I could go on all day with stories such as these, and I often wondered why they stayed married, and as it was they separated more than once. But in the end I found out that they truly loved one another. I’m not sure that they were happy that they loved one another, but they did. That point was driven home to me when Dad was in the hospital. Dad’s time was coming to a close and Mom and I were spending the night with him. I woke up at about 2:00 in the morning and overheard Mom having a very tender & loving conversation with Dad and I realized then that whatever they had somehow worked for them and that was all that really mattered.
She was a Christian woman who read the complete Bible twice, and used colorful language as well. One of her favorite sayings was taken from her Grandmother Manley, who used to say, “Everything is going to hell in a handbasket.” I remember to this day during an especially dark period in my life when Mom was driving me home to my apartment after having dinner with her and Dad and she was worried about my state of mind. We were driving down Munro Road and she told me that “God never gives you more than you can handle”, and I realized she meant it. What I didn’t realize at the time was that she was also living it.
My mother would always try and do the right thing, even though it wasn’t always the easy thing to do. She was instrumental in having her Grandmother Slater moved to a nursing home when Mom felt that she wasn’t getting the care that she needed at home. Needless to say, that caused some friction in the family, with some saying that her Grandmother would only last months if moved to a nursing home, but Mom didn’t back down and her Grandmother lived another two years after the move with peace & dignity. And even though Mom’s childhood was far from idyllic, she stayed with her mother at the nursing home as her life came to a close and was in the room with her when she passed. And my father, God rest his soul, was cared for by her for 32 years as he battled cancer and the ravages of its treatment. Only the last 3 years of those 32 did he have to spend in a nursing home. And yes, Mom was by his side when he passed.
She would always help us, whether it was with her time, money or effort. And she would continue to do so until she felt that either her help wasn’t appreciated or that she was enabling you. Once you crossed that threshold with her, even though she loved you, you were on your own. But as a mother, she was always concerned with our well-being. I remember one time last year when we were in the ER at 2:00 in the morning and Mom looked at me and said, “Who’s going to do this for you & Kate?” And when we moved her to the Assisted-living facility, which was quite expensive, I told her that she would have to be more careful with her spending, and her only question was would she have enough money to buy her grandchildren Christmas presents. Again, it was not about herself, but about caring & providing for her family. Apparently that is something that a mother always does, no matter what their stage in life.
Mom had a number of different jobs during her working years, from cleaning houses, waiting tables, and working in the kitchens of CGH hospital and St. Camillus. It was at St. Camillus that Mom found her true calling when Helen Stone hired her as a PT Aide, something that Mom had never done before, but Helen told her not to worry, that she would teach her. Mom never lost sight of why she was there. Not only did she work closely with her PT patients, but she also helped the other patients that didn’t have anyone to look out for them. And my mother expected other employees to do their jobs accordingly, and if you didn’t, well as one staff member told me recently that worked at St. Camillus when Mom did, that “she was a force to be reckoned with.”
Mom loved to drive fast. Whenever she went down Cpl. Welch Rd and we were in the car with her, she would speed up over the last crest in the road and it was like a roller coaster ride. One time she did it when Dad was in the car with us, and he promptly admonished her for such an unsafe & reckless action. So Mom learned a valuable lesson that day and she never did it again…….with Dad in the car.
You always knew where you stood with my mother. If she was happy or angry with you there was never any doubt. And you didn’t ever want to get caught swearing or lying to her. Her various punishments consisted of being made to sit in a chair or stand in the corner for a period of time, being spanked on your backside, and as we got older sometimes she used her wooden spoon. Or you were made to wash your mouth out with a bar of soap, which meant you had to leave mandatory teeth marks in the soap. Really??!! Sorry Mom, but where was Social Services when we needed them??!! Actually I threatened to call them one time and she handed me the phone and said, “Go ahead”. Needless to say, I didn’t make the call.
My brother Ed one time decided to make a run for it instead of getting spanked, and he ran upstairs with Mom hot on his heels. She wasn’t as fast then as when I challenged her to a race, and Ed made a successful dive under his bed where Mom couldn’t reach him. When he refused to come out Mom left but returned a short time later and we heard whack, “Ouch”, and whack again. Mom got a broom and she got him out from under the bed. And at this point I will refer you back to the Aramaic meaning of Martha- “Ruler of the Home, and being Persistent and Practical.” He never ran from her again.
And when my brother Ken did the calculation of the months between Mom & Dad’s wedding date and his birthday, he asked Mom how long does it take for a baby to be born? Mom simply said – “The first child can come anytime, the rest take 9 months.” Well, she didn’t lie!
Mom’s family was everything to her. Her family were her friends, and her friends were her family. You always knew where to find her, just follow the laughter.
And you know, Mom did make good on her promise to “give me something to cry about.” It happened this past Thursday, May 10th at approximately 7:50 in the morning as I was holding her in my arms and she took her last breath. And you know what Mom, you earned every one of those tears and more, and I thank you for each & every one of them.
Acknowledgement of Mom’s care –
First of all, I want to thank everyone who took the time to visit Mom, call her and/or send a card. It brought her comfort to know that she was not forgotten. What she especially wanted me to let everyone know is that during certain times of your life, there is always one individual who rises to the top, that goes above and beyond the call of duty. Mom had such a person, and though I tried to be that person, I paled in significance to what this individual did for Mom on an ongoing basis.
This individual monitored Mom’s meds, took her to doctor appointments, helped her with meals, getting dressed and other activities. And this person made sure Mom had fun in the process. In fact, if it wasn’t for this person, Mom probably would have been in a nursing home in 2013, when we first realized the extent of her dementia. But instead of letting that happen, this person met with Mom’s doctors, reviewed her meds with them, and worked with the medical staff to get Mom back on course. Mom never forgot that, and she would brag about this individual to any of the medical staff that would listen when I would bring her to her appointments.
Now I’m sure by now you know who this person is. She’s the love of my life, and the most caring, loving and considerate person you could ever know, my wife Kate. And my family owes her a huge debt of gratitude for the care and comfort that she gave to both of my parents. Mom told me once that it was my lucky day when I married Kate, and I replied, “It was your lucky day too”, and she just smiled.
And Mom wanted Kate’s mother, Anne Sheridan, to know how thankful she was that Anne shared her daughter with her, and what a blessing Kate was to Mom. Kate was the daughter that Mom never had.
And if there was any doubt about how Mom felt about Kate, I have one last story to share with you. Kate had to go out of town on business for two weeks, which left me to attend to Mom’s needs. Well, I tried my best, but one day in particular wasn’t going so well between Mom and I, and Mom looked at me and said, “When is Kate getting back?” And I laughed and said, “Not soon enough Mom, not soon enough.”