Mattie Louise Mattered


The following eulogy was given at the lads’ maternal grandmother’s funeral on October 6, 1996. She was a grand and classy dame–the finest of the finest. The use of the first person singular in the eulogy covers both Pontificus and Poor William; they sometimes think they are the same fellow.

This will be a wholly incomplete picture of Mattie Louise Tomlinson–fondly known as Granny. I cannot do her memory justice. It would take hours of discourse drawn easily from the precious memories and experiences of the Tomlinson, Barnett, Howell, and McKee families, plus an array of friends. I will, however, tell you what I remember most.

The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippian church, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

Granny had a quiet faith, and her level of contentment was evidence of that faith. Hard as I try to remember, I can’t recall her ever complaining as I was growing up.

Granny was a “whole person,” with no apparent insecurities. She could laugh at herself with a hearty infectiousness. Her self-deprecating humor added a certain charm to her already winsome personality.

Though extremely well educated and deeply fond of knowledge, she put a higher premium on common sense.

She was not afraid of being alone; nor was she afraid of silence. I remember going out to her apartment behind our house and reading whatever was handy, or just watching PBS or the evening news. We would talk a little, and then be comfortable just sitting in silence for long periods of time.

When I think of Granny, I remember her pastoral screen porch on Catalpa Street with the green concrete floor, green and white furniture and the ubiquitous, much fought over hammock.

Speaking of “ubiquitous,” I remember that being the first large vocabulary word that I learned as a child. Momma, Granny and I were walking east down Catalpa Street when we saw a girl (who was seen often) with a very large proboscis (nose). Granny told me the girl was ubiquitous, and I incorrectly assumed it had something to do with her nose or her character. She explained otherwise.

When I think of Granny, I think of ceiling fans, reading lamps, hand lotion, emery boards, Lawrence Welk and last month’s issue of Guidepost.

I think of oysters frying in a black cast-iron skillet and her dishing me up the leftover cracklins until I was sick at my stomach. I think of rich brownies, cocoons dusted in powdered sugar, and the best Thanksgiving dressing I ever tasted.

I vividly remember the Thanksgiving when she and momma didn’t make enough dressing, at least to satisfy the hefty Tomlinson prodigy.

When I think of Granny, I remember watermelons chilling, tied on a string, hovering near the surface of a cold mountain stream.

Also, I think of wistful autumns; she loved the changing of the deciduous leaves. I was flat on my back this past week after an over-the-handlebars fall from a mountain bike high up in the Sangre de Christo Mountains above Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I was looking up at a clear blue New Mexico sky framed by the changing bright yellow leaves of an Aspen grove. I thought Granny would love this view and would have embraced the downhill tumble (head over handlebars) with reckless abandon, just to get a peak at this wonder.

Granny loved to take her shoes off and stick her feet in a lake, river, or stream. She loved the wind and spray on her face as she rode in JB’s, Buzzy’s, Lee’s, Ronnie’s or Johnny’s boat–Tomlinsons like boats.

She loved the sandbar, the levee, and the Mississippi River. She shared an affinity and a mystique with Ole Man River. She enjoyed listening to a gentle rain falling on a screen porch as much as she loved the sound of birds chattering high up in a pecan tree.

Anytime one of her grandkids caught a fish, got up on skis, or did anything well or with passion, she was pleased.

There was not adventure too high for her. This would include floating down the cold White River in Arkansas with her daughter Ann and her grandson Johnny, sitting backwards in lawn chairs in a fishing boat without a motor, obviously not looking where they were going, just happy to be floating, until they were floating in the frigid water without lawn chairs.

Picture Granny and Johnny holding on to the capsized boat in the freezing, rapidly moving river, and Ann hanging on for dear life to a willow tree. She loved it!

A few months shy of her 80th birthday, only months after having a hip replacement, she climbed 500 feet to the top of the Acropolis overlooking Athens, Greece. I remember Momma saying to herself upon looking how steep the steps to the Acropolis were, “Mother will never be able to do that,” then her realizing, “There is no way Mother will not do that.” She did that.

If she couldn’t physically go somewhere, then she traveled via the pages of many a book, accompanied by a vivid imagination. She was needless to say a prolific reader.

This is one of things I am the most grateful to her for inculcating in me. She helped facilitate a love for the written word. One of her favorite sayings attributed to Sir Francis Bacon was, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.”

She never pooh-poohed, belittled, or squelched the romantic in me. I knew whatever I shared with her was safe and that my wanderlust and romantic notions wouldn’t fall on provincial or judgmental ears. That same attitude and open acceptance was a mainstay throughout my life, and it’s extension to my wife touched her heart in a profound way.

Her freedom and large soul served as a catalyst for the expansion of my soul; and an expanded soul is but a vacant room waiting for Truth to enter.

The following is from a handwritten letter she wrote me seven or eight years ago, which was accompanied by an ancient, frayed and tattered copy of Gray’s Elegy In a Country Churchyard. The inscription was written by her mother, Mrs. L. M. Lipscomb. Her mom wrote, “This book was given me by my dear sweet mother who is now in heaven.”

The letter:


Bill Dear,

I know you love old things, like me and antique furniture, also I believe you love old books too. This copy of the beautiful “Gray’s ‘Elegy” is very dear to me, having been in my memory since early childhood–I can’t find a date in it, but my mother’s inscription indicates its antiquity. I thought you might prize it as an addition to your growing library. I do hope you love poetry. Try reading it aloud to yourself to really catch the beauty of the language.

Much love,


I have had a butler’s tray in a corner of my office for many years that braids together much of who I am and what I feel and dream. It has a picture above it that My wife painted of the Sea of Galilee, a jeweled dagger-shaped letter opener and a plate momma and Granny brought me from Greece, a wooden ship from my childhood, and two old books Granny gave me years ago. She is never far from my thoughts.

I believe Granny had an eternal perspective, but she realized the journey was as important as the destination, and in fact determines the destination. She loved life in all its splendor, and in spite of it’s hardships – of which she had many. She lost a son “Buddy” at the age of  (6), and lost her husband at an early age. I saw how deeply she could hurt when Lee Lee died.

In spite of all the heartache; she lived a joyous and simple life, never becoming bitter and always maintaining a graciousness that was humbling to behold.

The lyrics from the following song remind me of Granny. It is my Life’s song, written by my favorite singer and songwriter, Michael Card. I feel it is a fitting tribute to Mattie Louise Tomlinson — who loved and appreciated music and poetry, and who loved all things beautiful.

“Joy in the Journey”

There is a Joy in the Journey,
There’s a Light we can love on the way,
There is a wonder and wildness to life,
And freedom for those who obey.

And all those who seek it shall find it,
A pardon for all who believe.
A hope for the hopeless
and sight for the blind.

To all who have been born of the Spirit,
And who share incarnation with Him,
Who belong to eternity stranded in time,
And weary of struggling with sin.

Forget not the hope that’s before you,
And never stop counting the cost,
Remember the hopelessness
When you were lost?

There is a Joy in the Journey,
There’s a Light we can love on the way,
There is a wonder and wildness to life,
And freedom for those who obey.

As I was preparing in my heart what I would say today, I went for a jog early this morning, and decided to run by Granny’s old house on Catalpa Street. As I approached her house from the east running down Catalpa, I slowed to a walk, so I could soak in what was the same as I remembered and what had changed. I had been praying that whoever lived there would be up and maybe in the yard, though I had not seen a soul in front of any houses so far this morning.

I noticed the two large trees were still in the front yard by the street, and the house was still white with black shutters. I turned south on Cheyenne St., and was hoping to get a glimpse of where the fabled screen porch used to stand. I noticed a carport leading up to it, and rooms covering 2/3 of the space where it had been. There was, however, a small screen porch covering the last 1/3 of what was Granny’s porch.

A man waved to me from the porch, and I knew my prayers had been answered. I hurriedly walked across the yard toward the porch, all the while stammering about who I was, and why I was invading his solitude.

I had a fleeting moment of apprehension as I neared the porch; fearful that my memory of the porch floor might not be as I had thought. As I opened the screen door, I saw worn green concrete, and all was right with the world.

Jimmy Lilly invited me in for a cup of coffee. This would have pleased Granny. I told him what had been, and he showed me what now was. I got to see the same rich dark hardwood floors with the perfectly round dowels in them; I saw the black metal railings that distinguished the raised dining area from the living room. Jimmy said that Lee Lee had told him that he used to put blankets on the rails for saddles, and would ride them. There was no ceiling fan in the living room, but Jimmy had done a wonderful job with the home.

Though I missed the house the way it used to be, the changes were not at all uncomfortable. I then realized that Granny had a solid foundation, but was not static. The house with it’s solid and easily recognized foundation, resplendent with additions and modern upgrades, was but a mirrored reflection of who she was. She had a solid foundation grounded in values from the past, but she changed with the times – taking the best and adding it on to what was already good.

I thanked Jimmy for his time, and started running back home down West Second Street. I was crying more than sweating. I was trying to process an array of heavily felt emotions. When I was mid-way across the Second Street bridge, I looked to my left and saw the most beautiful graceful white crane stoically standing on the west bank of the muddy Sunflower River.

I thought what an appropriate word picture to describe my feelings for Granny. She was never too proud to tread the banks of the muddy Sunflower River; but she always maintained the gracefulness of the crane, with the ability and desire to soar above the circumstances when needed.

Thank you for allowing me to voice my remembrance of Granny. Someone who lived the “WONDER and WILDNESS” of life.



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  1. A very, very heart-warming story W.P.H. Do not know if I have ever told you this story or not. Probably so! Bear with me for a few. There were several old and large Catalpa trees at the bottom of the hill, below your Desoto street home.

    A member of our old gang (C.A.Smith) and I were collecting Catalpa worms in this bottom for later use as Brim Bait. We were probably ten years old at the time. We had a Folger’s coffee can to keep the worms in. While looking for our bait, Mrs. Tomlinson approached us from out of the blue. I recognized her from being around you some, but she had no clue as to who I was.

    After aquiring our names ( Mrs. Tomlinson did not recognize C.A. but asked me “Are you Sue Greer’s son? Whit Johnson’s nurse? and I replied ‘Yes Mamm. I Am”. Mrs. Tomlinson then said ” You boys are trying to catch these Catalapa’s the wrong way. I will be right back”.

    In about ten minutes she showed back up with a REAL Yard Rake. She would rake back the Catalpa leaves while C.A. and I collected the worms. We filled that can in about thirty minutes. I believe we may have had a dozen or so before Mrs. Tonlinson taught two boys the Right Way to collect Catalpa Worms.

    We promissed her a mess of Brim but got busy on another mission and never went Brim fishing on the Sunflower as planned.

    FYI_ Everytime I speak, hear, read of write the word “Ubiquitous”, I think of an old friend of ours that frequented the KZ house @ Ole Miss. He was a Sumner/Webb native and his initials are B.B. (Won’t you go home B.B., Won’t you go home, ect.).

  2. Well stated! Thanks for the memory of my Granny! It sounds like her! Also, I do remember BB and how often we referred to him as Ubiquitous Bob, along with Jimmy Johnson and the Pope, of course! Thanks! PW

  3. frank mckenna says:

    Thanks for sharing this with all of us . I too lost my grandmother recently , I think your Granny and mine would have been friends had they ever crossed paths.

  4. Liljohn says:

    I was not only fortunate enough to know Granny, but was also able to hear this eulogy in person – one of the finest I have witnessed. It is a perfect description of one of God’s greatest creatures. I would sell my soul today if I knew my children would grow up to be like Mrs. Tomlinson. At 80 she had the wisdom of Solomon, the youthful spirit of a teenager, the compassion of Mother Theresa and the fortitude of Job -she had every good quality imaginable; she was more comfortable in her own skin than anybody I ever knew.

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