If you are a subscriber of this newspaper, you may have noticed that I haven’t published anything in a while. Yes, gentle reader, I have been — as we say — busy. And yep, this is an actual eulogy, the one I delivered at my sister Amanda’s funeral. (Ok, at the event itself I did get a little extemporaneous when I felt the need to imitate my sister’s singing voice. When you see me in town, ask me to demonstrate it.) I am sending this along because I am still in the act of sharing my sister’s life. So there.
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One of our first-grade reading books included pictures within the text so we could learn the new word on the following page. For example, a sentence may read, “See Dick ride his bicycle to the store.” Only, instead of the word “bicycle,” there was a picture of a bike. On the next page, there’d be something like, “Did you see Dick on his [picture of a bike]?” Then, “Yes! Yes! I saw Dick on his [ actual word] bicycle!”
Nowadays, on our smartphones, we can revisit this primer-picture realm. When we tap, little pictures appear at the bottom of the screen next to the words our phones are guessing we are about to tap next. We can put little tear-squirting laffy-faces to tell people we think they are funny. We can include party hats and confetti blowers to say, “congratulations.” We can flirtatiously display yellow-faced beings blowing kissy-hearts when we tell people we love them. When you tap the picture that corresponds to the word, the picture replaces the word. Like a primer book.
My sister Amanda (AKA, “Squiffy”) accessed Facebook exclusively through a smartphone. She texted with colorful gusto. One had to weed through the pictures to find the words.
Grief comes in all kinds of flavors. I was far from home when Amanda died. Yes, I said “died” rather than “passed away.” Our mother, Tootsie, was not a fan of that latter phrase, and Amanda adhered to Mom’s passionate and verbose edicts with a particular kind of maternal dogma. And now, even as I write this, it occurs to me that my sister’s dogma was born of a fierce sense of loyalty. Toots said it. Amanda believed it. That settled it.
Our elder sister, Sally, had called me with the grim news at around 6 AM. Later that day, after I got a text from Sally, I stopped to respond by tapping, “...Yes, we need to find a date for the funeral.” It was at the word “funeral” that I happened to glance down at the row of words the phone was guessing would come next, accompanied, of course, by the little pictures. And there it was, a little cartoon coffin. I mean, a little eight-sided, old fashioned, spook-house coffin.
There are three reactions folks might have to a text-guessing cartoon coffin:
“Oh, that’s in such bad taste!” (And I know some of you are judging my taste right now just for talking about it.)
Some would share my own ironic reaction — “That is hilarious!”
But right then, what hit me, what stopped me in my tracks was... I wanted Amanda right there in the most palpable way. It would be so fun to show the cartoon coffin to her. I’d put my phone to her face and say, “Look!”
And she’d say, “Ooooo, I like that!”
I know that my sister Amanda would willingly and happily employ a cartoon coffin in a funerary text. Without hesitation and without a smidgen of irony, she would think it a useful (and decorative) communication tool.
Amanda was utterly tone-deaf to kitsch.
(Parenthetically, Amanda was tone-deaf to tone, as well. So, please don’t laugh when Gina Hay Bryan sings the line, “I wish I could see the angels faces when they hear your sweet voice sing.”)
Squiffy never met a Christmas decoration that she didn’t think was beautiful.
Lest you think I am being derogatory, hear you this, please; my sister met people the same way she met any Christmas decoration.
Amanda met folks straight on. From the grocery store to the ophthalmologist’s office to El Charro, she knew folks’ names and familial comings and goings. She was flat-out nosey, but affectionate with her curiosity. She sort of collected humanity. And she was beloved. In the last few years, some younger folks had taken to calling her “mama.” Of course, Liam’s friends joined him in calling her, “Aunt Squiffy.”
We had mentioned in the obituary that Amanda enjoyed local live music. She was a huge fan of The Highway 36 Music Barn. The place was unlicensed, but so what?... the musicians were unpaid. It was sort of a teetotaling Baptist speakeasy.
I am so glad that Amanda ran into Stanley Thompson there. They had dated when Amanda was a teenager, and one particular night, they rekindled. They went to hear music. They camped on some land Stanley owned in North Georgia. They were planning to build a home there.
And they traveled. Last fall, Amanda and Stanley were thirty miles from where I was working in New Mexico.
They did not come to my gig.
Stanley was in it for the long haul. As the poet, Mary Zimmer writes, “Cleave to those who are steadfast. The best love stubborn. Cleave to those who are steadfast.” Stanley is an utterly steadfast person. I am so glad that he was around making the last years of Amanda’s life richer. And I am so proud to call him brother.
We are going to miss our sister, our aunt, our friend, our lover of life. We are going to miss you, Squiffy.
A native of Covington, Andy Offutt Irwin is a storyteller, songwriter, and professional whistler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.