Memories! Memories! Memories!
Mildred Evelyn Wheaton, who turns 100 next week, has lived an adventurous life full of cherished memories growing up in Idaho during the Great Depression. But when Mildred recently stopped by the conference room at the Rosewood Health Center at The Groves in Independence to share those precious memories, they had eluded her.
Mildred's three sons – Jim, Duane and David Wheaton – were with their mother to comfort and guide her through an interview and share her memories from a 28-page storybook she wrote at age 95 entitled “My Memories Growing Up During The Depression Years.” It was written, she wrote, as a Christmas gift to “my three sons and their wives, my 14 grandchildren, my 14 great-grandchildren and my soon-to-be great-great grandchild, as well as to my two brothers Elbert and Harley.”
“I made my appearance being born on May 15, 1918 at 9:20 a.m. near Culdesac, Idaho,” Mildred's story begins, noting her dad was an elder in the RLDS Church and she was taken to church for the first time when she was two weeks old.
Sitting quietly in her wheelchair, Mildred listens as her proud sons shared memories of their mother. Jim Wheaton, the oldest, recalls his mother telling him that when he was less than a year old, “we boarded a troop train during World War II and traveled from Kansas City to Salida, Idaho, and had to sit on a suitcase along with a lot of other people because the train was so crowded. But she also said she never had to hold me all the way to Idaho because the servicemen were so thrilled to have a baby to hold that they passed me around and kept care of me all the way to Idaho.”
Jim says his mom was unique in that she never sat down when she was having a meal, he recalls, adding: “We think now as we grow older she was probably hiding behind the stove so that she did not have to eat the liver and the onions she served that Dad required us to eat.”
All three brothers agree: Mom was supportive of all their school, church and Boy Scout activities, even going on canoe trips all over Missouri with the Boy Scouts and her family.
Says Jim, “She was on the first overnight I went on as a Scout, and I remember I was trying to fulfill the requirements for a merit badge in cooking. She sent me on this overnight with my brand new cook kit and instructions on making stew. She made me peel the carrots, potatoes and made me cook it. She sent all the ingredients, and here I am sitting in the dark trying to figure out how to make this stew. Everybody else had eaten their hotdog and were outside playing games. But Mom made sure I knew how to cook,” adding: “She was there all the way. She was a good mom, and she still is.”
And what else was Mildred good at? As a camper she excelled in thwarting a bear attack in Yellowstone National Park. Duane Wheaton, the second oldest son, recalls their 1955 Chevy Station Wagon had a flat tire. Thinking this would be a good time to fix lunch, Mildred dropped the tailgate and began making sandwiches out of tuna and sardines.
Says Duane: “We are all out in the woods taking care of business, and (Mom) looks up and sees a mother bear hot-footing it down the road to where we were at. She began to holler for everybody to get back into the car, and just as she flipped the tailgate up with all the sandwiches on it, the bear's nose was on the tailgate.”
What happened next? “We basically had to roll on down the road aways because the bear was trying to get in back of the one-wheel trailer where all of our food was. We finally got away from the bear and got the tire prepared.”
David Wheaton, the third oldest son, remembers the time he and a couple of friends were sitting outside his open window practicing some “new words” not knowing the window was open.
Says David, laughingly: “I think I was blowing Lifebuoy soap bubbles for a week after she washed out my mouth. I still can taste it.”
In her storybook, Mildred recalls her family moving in 1923 from Culdesac to Sagle, Idaho, near the Canadian border and living in a tent house her father built. Then there was the time, she continues, when “the stove had a fire and the flames were shooting up the stove pipe and onto the tent roof. I remember Dad putting the fire out with his bare hands, and I remember the burns on his hands and face.”
Other Depression-and-later memories: Having to wear some clothes made from flour and feed scraps, her marriage to Lee Wheaton on April 17, 1938, at the Sage RLDS Church and her return to Independence in 1943.
Family and friends are invited to attend an open house from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Liberty Street Community of Christ, 416. N. Liberty St., Independence.
Happy Birthday, Mildred Wheaton!