PLAINS TWP. — Marty O’Malia sat in his rocking chair Tuesday, smoking his pipe with the aroma of Carter Hall tobacco billowing out. He emitted a Santa-like image with his white hair and beard as he reflected on a life of seasons.
O’Malia, 67, of the Hilldale section of Plains Township, spent his last day on the job greeting faithful customers who filed in to make last-minute purchases and to bid farewell to the farmer friend they have relied on for decades.
O’Malia, still battling pancreatic cancer, was a quite jolly fellow on Christmas Eve as he looked back on his life and his tenure as head of a farming family with more than 100 years of growing experience.
“It’s true what they say, you know,” O’Malia said. “If you find a job you really love, you’ll never have to go to work again.”
O’Malia and his wife, Sherry, decided in October to close the business on Dec. 24. O’Malia said he knew it was time.
Because of his medical treatments, he couldn’t keep those typical farmer’s hours of daybreak to dark every day.
But O’Malia has no regrets. He said he always reaped satisfaction from putting seeds in the ground, nourishing them, watching them grow and harvesting the fruit of all his labor.
“And then we would take our products to the market and sell what we grew,” he said.
O’Malia’s grandfather, Martin, started the business and his father, Joseph, took over in 1948. O’Malia assumed command in 1976 and then moved the business to its current location at North Main Street and Saylor Avenue 28 years ago.
The O’Malia stand has been a familiar sight at the Wilkes-Barre Farmers Market on Public Square. O’Malia is a charter member and has participated every year for 33 years.
The O’Malias have two daughters: Cindy Thomas, 37, a teacher at Dan Flood Elementary School in Wilkes-Barre; and Amie O’Malia, a recreational therapist at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center.
“Family is what Christmas is all about,” O’Malia said. “That’s where we will be — together with our daughters.”
He didn’t want to talk about cancer. “That’s been talked about enough,” he said. He compared farming to life.
“Everything has its seasons,” he said. “Just like life itself. When you’re young, you are in the spring of your life; you go to school, you learn, you experience. Then your summer season comes and you are old enough to date, get married, start a family and work. And then autumn comes and you settle back a bit and you watch your children and their lives. And then before you know it, it’s winter and everything starts to wind down. So enjoy life while you’re here.”
Farewell to customers
Customer after customer came over, shook O’Malia’s hand, hugged him and thanked him.
“Semper Fidelis,” said Bill Costigan of Pittston, a former Marine and a Vietnam veteran. Semper Fidelis is the U.S. Marine Corps motto that is Latin for “Always Faithful” or “Always Loyal.” Costigan then said, “God bless you, Marty. I wish you the best.”
O’Malia said he never realized the impact he has had on so many, especially the people who once worked for him.
“They tell me I helped develop their work ethic,” he said.
O’Malia was quick to note that although he is retiring, he is not giving up.
“And I tell anyone dealing with cancer, keep fighting,” he said. “I’m just being practical.”
The last day on the job was emotional for O’Malia. Tears welled up in his eyes several times.
“I always considered myself just a farmer,” he said. “I never really thought about purpose.”
Pam Smith of Exeter walked in filled with emotion. She hugged O’Malia. Tears streamed down her face.
“I will miss you so much,” she said. “Public Square won’t be the same without you. You’re always in my prayers. I love you so much. God bless you.”
‘Fine and dandy’
O’Malia, in typical fashion, responded, “I’m fine and dandy, just like cotton candy,” bringing a smile to Smith’s face as she walked away.
A former avid skier — he’s past president of the Wyoming Valley Ski Club — O’Malia will spend retirement talking on his ham radio, taking to people around the world.
O’Malia said when spring comes, he will miss the routine.
He won’t be getting his tractor out to plow his fields along River Street for planting. He won’t be watching the trees to see if buds are forming. He won’t be monitoring weather forecasts.
“I just want everybody to have a Merry Christmas” he said. “Remember, it’s about family. It’s not about that new tie or pair of socks or a 50-inch TV. It’s family that is all important. Hug each other because you won’t remember the material gifts. You will always treasure the moments spent with family.”
O’Malia said he didn’t want to get too philosophical, and then he said this:
“You never know what’s around the corner.”