(Grandma Tipps and me, some time in the early 1970s)

The following is the eulogy I gave last Friday, Aug. 23, at the funeral for my grandmother, Sylvia Tipps.

My grandmother was a tough old bird.

Somewhere out there, I’m sure, someone is certain to take offense at that. “What a terrible thing to say,” they’re probably thinking right now.

But, see, here’s the thing. Even though I didn’t get to spend as much time with my grandmother during the final years of her life as I would have liked, I knew her well enough to know that she, at least, would not have been offended. In fact, knowing Grandma, she probably would have laughed and said, “You’d better believe I am!”

Grandma would have worn the label like a badge of honor. When you stop and think about it, she had every right to. It was that toughness that enabled her to help raise a houseful of siblings after her mother had passed away, and to play the roles of both mother and father to my mom and her little sister Barbara while Grandpa was fighting over in Europe during World War II.

That toughness helped her when the family left their Johnston County home to make a new life for themselves in Midwest City. It sustained her as she mourned the deaths of her husband, her son Billy, and two of her grandchildren: cousin Trisha and my younger brother Jimmy. 

Grandma was tough because there were times when the circumstances of her life absolutely demanded it. Those times forged her into the woman we all knew and loved so well. And if on occasion the rest of us were amused or bemused or confused or upset by some of the things she said or did - and believe me, it happened - such reactions were somehow always tempered by our knowledge of some of those experiences she had lived through. And we never stopped loving her because of it.

I don’t mean to leave the impression that such things are the only kind of memories I will carry of my grandmother, because nothing could be further from the truth. I’ll always remember, for example, all those times we travelled from Illinois for a visit, and we’d all pile into the cars and drive down to Tishomingo to camp and fish and swim at Pennington Creek. 

On one such trip when I was little, I decided to ride down with my grandparents instead of with Mom and Dad. We got an early start, and somewhere along the way Grandpa decided to stop for breakfast. I don’t remember now where the place was, but they had a kids’ menu that included “all-you-can-eat” pancakes. I had 24; I counted. 

Of course they were only silver dollar-sized – little bitty things! – but my bragging about having eaten 24 pancakes in a single sitting tickled Grandma and my mother so much that both were still telling that story long after I had kids of my own.

My visits to my grandparents were also the only time I got to have Nestle's Quik or sweet tea when I was a kid. My parents both preferred their tea unsweetened, and Dad usually bought Hershey’s Syrup to turn our milk brown. But it seemed like Grandma always made sure I had all the Quik I could drink without getting a bellyache – and always in one of those old A&W mugs she used to have.

I’ll always remember the hug Grandma gave my wife the first time I brought Melissa down from Illinois to visit, that Christmas after we were married in 1986, and the way she welcomed Melissa to the family by surprising her with the gift of one of her antique serving bowls.

And I'll forever cherish the twinkle in her eyes when she held each of my sons for the first time.

Memories like these are the ones I’ll always hold dear. They’re the kind of memories families always enjoy dusting off and retelling time and time again at family reunions and holiday gatherings. And, yes, at times such as this.

But if anybody should ask, tell them yes, my grandmother was a tough old bird. She won’t mind. And God bless her for it. I can only hope that maybe just a little bit of that toughness may have rubbed off on me along the way.

FEBRUARY 29, 1924 - AUGUST 17, 2013

(Copyright 2013 by John Allen Small)