Ed Grisamore

Tiny is larger than life

When she was 16 years old, Tiny Smaha was runner-up in the 1933 Miss Barnesville pageant.

If she had won, she would have gone on to compete in the Miss Georgia pageant that year.

But she never entered another pageant until this year.

She is 93 years old.

“I tell people when I was 16, I wore a bathing suit,’’ she said, laughing. “Now that I’m in my senior years, I have switched to pantsuits.’’

Tiny has been a resident of Carlyle Place, a continuing care retirement community, since it opened in 2002. After some health problems last year, she moved into the Harrington House Skilled Nursing Center at Carlyle.

Even though she has recovered, she made the decision to stay in the skilled nursing unit, which made her eligible for the pageant.

When the local judges asked Tiny what she would do if she won, she told them: “I will stand at the door at Harrington House and greet people. I will tell them to smile and be happy.’’

A judge asked one of the other contestants what she would do if she won.

She said she would go home and take a nap.

The other contestant did not win.

Tiny may have missed the Miss Georgia pageant by 77 years, three children, 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, but she qualified for the Mrs. Georgia Nursing Home 2010 pageant April 17 in Stone Mountain.

There were 20 other contestants from across the state in the pageant, which is sponsored by the Georgia Health Care Association.

She wasn’t nervous. She did not have unrealistic expectations. She figured she might have a better shot at winning Mrs. Congeniality than Mrs. Longevity, especially since one of the other contestants was 104.

I don’t know if the judges were prepared to interview a quick wit like Tiny.

Judge: Have you lived in Macon all your life?

Tiny: Not yet.

Judge: How old are you?

Tiny: 93.

Judge: But you don’t have any wrinkles.

Tiny: I don’t always wear a bra.

(I’m pretty sure she was joking.)

Some of the other contestants wore evening gowns. Tiny had on a modest, powder blue dress, to match her eyes. She showed the judges a scrapbook about her childhood. She is more proud of her family than anything.

When they called her name as the winner of Mrs. Georgia Nursing Home 2010, there were so many tears of joy falling across the stage she practically had to step over the puddles.

If you haven’t figured it out already, Tiny Smaha is a hoot. A self-described “people person,’’ the lady believes in the power of laughter.

“It’s like a tranquilizer,’’ she said, “with no side effects.’’

It wouldn’t be easy to go through life with a name like Tiny and not have a great sense of humor.

People ask her about it all the time. The name has been with her from the very beginning, although she now jokes she has “outgrown it.’’

Most assume it’s her nickname, but it’s not. It even says so on her birth certificate: Tiny Mae Stocks.

She was the youngest of three daughters born to J.W. and Mary Stocks, who lived on a plantation in Lamar County.

One of her sisters weighed 12 pounds at birth. So Tiny, who checked in at only 4 pounds, was definitely the runt of the litter.

Her father took one look in her crib and said: “That’s our Tiny.’’ The name was recorded on the pages of the family Bible and followed like a shadow the rest of the way.

She married Phil Smaha, who worked in real estate after they moved to Macon. For years, they ran a dime store on Vineville Avenue called Smaha’s Variety Store, which sold everything from shoes to nails.

They raised three children — Joe, Don and Carol Cheshire. Phil Smaha died in 1980. His funeral was held on their 44th wedding anniversary.

For years at Carlyle, she answered to another name besides Tiny. Many of the residents called her the “Soup Lady.’’

Three times a week, she would make four gallons of either vegetable, chicken or broccoli soup or Brunswick stew. She would make calls from building to building to find out who was sick or needed cheering up.

Since she can no longer cook while living in the skilled nursing center, she gives away handkerchiefs. She ordered another three dozen just last week.

As part of her duties as Mrs. Georgia Nursing Home 2010, she will visit other assisted-living facilities in the state. And that’s OK with her, as long as it doesn’t interfere with going to lunch with her fellow Red Hat ladies the fourth Thursday of every month.

She was wearing her crown when I went to visit on Friday, but she told me she only put it on for the special occasion. She has no intention of showing it off.

“I’m a person who wants to be known by my deeds,’’ she said.

She may be 93 — and Tiny — but, in so many ways, she is larger than life.

Reach Gris at 744-4275 or gris@macon.com.