Monday, October 15, 2018

My Dad's Eulogy for Grandma Skip

You never know where one of your scrapbooks might end up. I did this whole scrapbook ten years ago for my Grandma Skip's 80th Birthday. They held the party at St. Paul's Church, which is where I was this past weekend for her memorial service. My Aunt brought the book I made for Grandma to share. We miss Grandma Skip very much, but we had some great stories from my Father to enjoy. I'm sharing his words here with you today because they made me laugh and are also a snippet of time gone by. Some of the things he learned from his Mom were also things I learned from my Grandma. Certainly I too am also extremely creative. I also can iron, which was a lesson I had from her one day, as well as using a well chosen swearword to get your point across. ;-) 

Eulogy for Mom
By Bruce H. Mero

On behalf of my wife Gretchen, my sister Caryl and our collected kids and grandkids, I’d like to thank everyone gathered here today to say good-by to my mom, Joann Mero, a.k.a. Skip. I was surprised to learn that some of you had no idea of Skip’s given name, Joann. She has been known as Skip for all of her adult life. We do not know the source of “Skip”, though we suspect my Grandfather Curt Wagner hung it on her early in her life and it stuck.

She was a remarkable lady. Dementia took her away from us slowly, but she did not go easily. She fought the disease tooth and nail. Dementia stripped her of her ability to communicate and dis-inhibited her from social norms of behavior.  The last couple of years of her life were not hers. She was not the Skip we were accustomed to.

Mom was born to a mid-wife in a house in Oneida Castle in 1928. Her original birth certificate named her Joan, which Grandpa Curt quickly had amended to Joann. Grandpa and Grandma Wagner relocated to Sayles Street during Mom’s childhood and she grew up there. She graduated from Oneida High School where she caught the bug for painting which was a prominent theme in her life thereafter. I’ll talk more about that shortly. Grandpa Curt owned an airport on Lenox Ave and sold airplanes. Skip learned to fly. Both of her sisters Jeanne and Jane also took flying lessons. It was at that little airport that Mom met my Dad, a B-17 pilot recently returned from WWII.  They married in 1946.  Mom had two kids and we all lived in the Wagner family compound on Sayles Street, Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Joe and their older kids lived there also for a while. Mom worked at several jobs to support the family while Dad was getting a degree in Architecture from Syracuse University. I remember she told me that she worked at Richard’s Jewelry.  Later on she sold men’s clothes at Hodges. She also worked in a couple of photography studios, I can remember Eddie Monaco’s for one.

Dad and Mom built a house in Canastota, an Architect’s Dream House and we moved there in 1962.  Skip decorated that house with the latest in furniture and accessories. Herman Miller and Haywood-Wakefield were her favored brands. She was a fastidious housekeeper. Gretchen tells of one of her earliest visits to the house when Mom emptied and washed the ashtray each time a cigarette butt appeared.

Caryl and I were never officially granted permission to have pets, except for the occasional baby turtles and goldfish, Skip refused to have a pet’s mess in her house. During her childhood Grandpa and Grandma kept a goat, Lenna, and multiple dogs, but Skip was tough with us at her house.  We did manage to break her occasionally. She reluctantly relented when an adult long-haired cat showed up at the house in Canastota. Caryl named it Mokey, but it only lived with us for a short while. Its time with us was toast the day the cat dragged a dead rabbit onto to the top of Skip’s convertible Oldsmobile in the garage, where the cat dismembered the rabbit and ate it. The white canvas top on the Oldsmobile was a bloody mess, of course. The cat disappeared shortly thereafter. I think my Dad saw to that just to keep sanity in the house.

Against her protests, we were able to keep a pair of male white rats our Dad brought home from the office one afternoon. They were cute, she admitted but the cuteness faded a couple of weeks later when it was discovered that one of the two male rats apparently had undergone  a sex change and eight little pink babies appeared in the cardboard box they were housed in. Skip threw a fit after the rats multiplied, chewed thru the cage I’d made, escaped and infested the house…all 43 of them. The lady at the local pound hung up the phone when I called and asked permission to donate the re-captured rats to them. They went there anyways, Skip drove them there herself. We never did find three of the escapees.

The only critter I can remember that Mom ever brought home was a tiny baby gray squirrel she rescued from the street near downtown Oneida. It was tiny, no bigger than my thumb. Mom carried it home in her purse and nursed it with a toy baby bottle she borrowed from Caryl. The little guy (we assumed it was a male as none of us knew how to determine the sex of a baby gray squirrel) missed its mother, of course, and cried continually. Mom named it Crying Charlie. That squirrel lived with us for more than a year. We fed Charlie cat food left over from the previous resident. It lived mostly on the block wall in the house and exterior block walls during nice weather.  Charlie left us during a thunder storm in August his second year in residence.

Gretchen adopted a scruffy dog our fourth year at Syracuse. She named him George. Skip shared custody of George while Gretchen and I were in Venezuela for a semester. George lived with Skip at the Canastota house for four months. George was a city dog and country life was antithetical. Everything spooked him and he barked at noises and shadows continually, wearing off the paint on a window sill near the patio and keeping Mom constantly spooked. 

It was not a secret that Skippy had a lead foot on the gas petal and had multiple excessive speed “encounters” with the authorities over the years. I is little I wish to know of her interactions with city cops, local County Sheriffs or State Troopers, but I suspect they all might have been on first-name basis with my Mom.

Wintertime in the Canastota house was particularly an issue for Skippy. I do remember anxiously anticipating Mom’s return whenever she’d been out and the weather was nasty. She always drove big cars and at the time owned a huge red car- that same Oldsmobile convertible the cat had defiled. We knew she was on the way home a half-mile away when a red car turned the corner off Route 5 and sped up the Clockville Road at warp speed. Dad would warn me that she was on the way and we’d get our winter gear on. Grandpa’s old Willies Jeep sat in the driveway.  I’d meet Mom half-way up the driveway with the Jeep. Her red car was cross-ways in the driveway and she was steaming her way on foot thru the ice and snow toward the house, uttering unthinkables about the winter, the driveway and whatever else she perceived had spun her around. Dad and I would hook onto the car with a chain and with the Jeep get the car straight in the driveway and eventually tow it into the garage. She cooled off after a bit, but the scene would repeat itself numerous times until the ice melted off the driveway and she made it to the garage in one try.

She insisted that Caryl and I learn to iron our own clothes and that we keep our bedrooms spotless. Mom worked in a men’s clothing store and kept me in the latest of men’s fashions. When I was voted the best dressed boy in my high school senior class, Skip’s claimed the honor as her crowning achievement.

Skippy imparted her love of gardening to both Caryl and I and ultimately to Gretchen.
Mom’s marriage to my Dad was a rocky one. They eventually divorced in the early 1970s while Gretchen and I were in the Peace Corps and Caryl was newly married. By the time we returned to the States, the Canastota house had been sold and she’d moved to Wampsville with a friend.
The most important constant in my Mom’s life was her art. She attributed her initial interest in drawing to her High School art teacher, Janette Shortell. I took Ms. Shortell’s art class while in Jr. High in Oneida and the lady remembered my mom as her best student ever, a fact that gave me great pride. Mom was a hard act to follow.

Oil paint on canvass was Skip’s favorite media, but she also painted on leather, satin, metal, wood, burlap, motorcycle helmets, neckties and all sorts of other things not only with oils, but also watercolors, acrylics, ink, textile paints and house paints.

Skip kept a diary of the artwork she did. Every piece is chronicled in her tiny handwriting with dates, titles, media, the price charged and for whom each was painted. Her first entry in the diary was an oil painting commissioned by her mother. That was in 1948 and the sale price was 62 cents, the cost of a new canvass. One of the last entries in the diary is an oil painting of a Maine Lighthouse, sold to a friend for $400. I know there were later works, so I think that the diary I have is incomplete. It seems that she always had something she was working on, or multiple things, while oil paints were curing on something else she was doing. That being said, there are 367 items listed on the diary pages I have.There was a time when she put initials and pin striping on automobiles. Her diary lists work on 54 cars.

Mom developed severe arthritis in her hands. By the mid to late 70’s, she decided to get treatment for the condition by having the arthritic knuckles in her fingers on both hands replaced. Gretchen drove her to a specialist in Syracuse multiple times for the surgery and subsequent treatments. Often during her appointments she shared the Doctor’s waiting room with several basketball players from Syracuse University, something she found very exciting and always called me about. I can imagine 4’10” Skippy standing next to the 7’ plus big men from SU. The surgeon who replaced her knuckles recommended that she discontinue her painting, for fear that even the artificial joints would deteriorate. You can guess how far that suggestion went.

Skip was a founding member of the Mid-State Art Society and president of the group during the mid-1970s. She was a member of the Kirkland Art Society and the Penn Yan Art Society. She held several one-woman shows. Her work has been exhibited in many local businesses, banks, restaurants, the Cottage Lawn Historical Society and other venues too numerous to mention. An odd tribute to her work was the fact that a large oil painting of a tiger was stolen from an exhibit in the main hall at the Madison County Court House, in Wampsville. Someone took it off the wall and walked off with it, never to be recovered.

In addition to her exploits on canvass, Mom was also an expert house painter, exterior and interior. Her hands were small, so everything was done with a 2” or smaller brush. She called me once just after Gretchen and I moved in to our house and said that she’d purchased a gallon of house paint for us to paint the chimney my Dad and I had recently built. Since we had a thousand other things to do on that old house, I thanked her and told her that we’d get to that detail as soon as we could, possibly before winter. She was not satisfied with my response, I soon learned. I came home from work a few days later to find her on my roof, painting the chimney with her can of paint and, of course, a 2” paint brush.  

Mom eventually moved to an apartment on Cleveland Avenue, next door to Uncle Joe and Aunt Jean’s in Oneida. She worked in the Business Office at Oneida Hospital, when she retired, she volunteered in the hospital gift shop.  We recently found a pin awarded to her for 3500 volunteer hours at Oneida Hospital.

Her passion was still painting, but she was never indoors when the weather was nice. With the approval of her landlady, Barb, Skip immersed herself in her small garden there, then in Barb’s garden, then Uncle Joe’s yard and so on down the block. She got poison ivy while pulling weeds from Uncle Joe’s hedge along the sidewalk. She claimed the median in front of her apartment on Cleveland Ave as part of her garden and raked leaves and sticks, trimmed shrubs and wrote letters to the City of Oneida when she felt the median needed city attention. She was very unhappy to find dog poop there and wrote more letters to the city. (Truth-be- known, I am familiar with those letters because I was her ghost writer on multiple occasions). Then mayor of Oneida appointed her to a Tree Commission, because of her intense interest in “Green Issues” within the city, in spite of the fact she later admitted to me, couldn’t tell an Elm tree from a Maple tree. Unfortunately, the Tree Commission dissolved when the guy lost the next mayoral election. Her garden even extended to the grounds around this church. Mom spent hours weeding, trimming, planting and other garden tasks right here at St. Paul’s. I think she planted the crabapple tree to the rear of the main sign out front.

When the city repaved Cleveland Avenue, they left a dip in the blacktop at the end of her driveway which formed a large puddle whenever it rained. At times she became obsessed with that puddle. She sent more letters to the Mayor, then to the Oneida Daily Dispatch. Barb tells me that the pond at the end of the driveway is still there.

She made friends with the mailman. He was rewarded for putting her mail on the porch with cookies or a candy bar, daily. Before his expected arrival with her mail she would make sure the ice and snow were absolutely gone from the steps, using table salt from her salt shaker to finish the job. We brought her a big bag of rock salt and told her that it would be better than table salt, but it went unused. She did not want to track the rock salt onto the porch where she’d have to clean it up, so table salt was the solution.

Skip was not satisfied with just keeping her steps clear of ice and snow, she said it was so the mailman didn’t fall, but a few of her “elderly” neighbors were the recipient of her snow removal operations, as well. She would shovel the sidewalk adjacent to Uncle Joe’s place, sometimes down Seneca Street to Joe’s front steps, then in the opposite direction as far as Mr. Parker’s house, two or three doors from hers up the block. She made sure the front steps on each house were cleaned, for the mailman, of course, salt shaker in her pocket if needed. Her snow removal tool was a child’s toy shovel, plastic, about 10” x 12” with a ½” dowel for a handle. She would wear one out every winter; I know that because we found several in her cellar when we moved her from that apartment, each scraped several inches shorter than when new.  I should add that she was in her 80s when most of the shoveling occurred. More than once when we were with her at a restaurant or bank or somewhere downtown, strangers would recognize her and greet her as the “Lady who shovels Cleveland Avenue”.

I think that I have gone on long enough. I could tell stories of my Mom all morning.
We loved our Mom. She loved us. She loved and was tremendously proud of her three Grandkids and her six Great-grandkids. You guys need to know that. Grandma Skip was not herself once the disease took her. She loved and cherished all of her nieces and nephews and their kids. She just had difficulty at the end of her life expressing that love.

And to all of you here, she loved this church. She was baptized in the Lake Street St. Paul’s in February 1929. This church was an important part of her life for many, many years.
I want to thank you all again for coming here today to memorialize the life of a remarkable woman, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, aunt, great-aunt friend and parishioner… Skip Mero. I want to especially thank my Arnold sister cousins for helping out here today, especially Cousin Kimmy for her work on the photo show and my cousins Tarie, Susie and Annie for her help with the luncheon that will follow this ceremony and especially for their lovely notes of sympathy.
I will end with a phrase I learned a long time ago in Persian for this type of occasion…Joya Shoma Halee, in English ‘Mom, your place is empty.’ 


  1. Lovely eulogy - she certainly sounded a character, your Skip - really enjoyed your Dad’s stories:)

  2. Oh thanks for sharing, what a lovely and amazing lady with all her adventures.. I think art and flying have been passed down to the next generations...

  3. Hugs and love to you Mitra... she was obviously a wonderful woman and there is much of her in you I think... I never met her, but I miss her too now!..


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