Velma "Vicki" Jean Wilburn Strickland
1929 - 2007
My Grandmere passed away this Monday after a courageous battle with brain and lung cancer. I wanted to share my remarks from the services with you few blog readers, for no reason other than why the heck else we throw anything upon these blogs: it means something to the author.
Given at Edenton (N.C.) United Methodist Church, 3/8/2007:

It is very hard to relay to you all what Grandmere means to the seven of us grandkids. But hopefully, I can share a fraction of that with you today.

I think I can say with tremendous confidence that Katie, James, Brooke, Caleb, Lauren, Zach and I sure had our work cut out for us. I bet we had to explain ourselves more than any other set of grandchildren out there:
Proudly, and as if it was everyone else who was odd, we’d reply, “You know – Grandmere, silly.”
We’d never let anyone get away with, “Oh, your grandma.” And by the end of the conversation, they would have adopted the word “Grandmere” right into their own vocabularies. “Grandmere” was like saying “Velma” or “Vicki”; it was her name.

Many of you still might be a little confused, so let me quickly explain.

Hardly a bedtime passed when she would not read to us. One night we came upon a French fairy tale of a little girl named Nanette who lived with her grandmother. She left their cottage on a journey to visit a creepy, old chateau.

“Now a chateau in France was a castle…built of gray stone and had many high round towers, and underneath there were dungeons. Happily, Nanette trudged along, watching the towers come nearer and nearer. The tall towers reached right up into the clouds. Her wooden shoes clatter-clapped, for they were going to the Chateau, too. Now Nanette began to climb the steps that led to the Chateau. There were many steps to be climbed—the Chateau was far above the stone cottage where Nanette and Grandmere lived.”
-From “Nanette Visits the Chateau” by Esther Brann Childcraft books, 1949

In French, “Grandmere” is pronounced “grahn-mare.” But in her loving, South-Western Virginia accent, she was soon to pronounce the grandmother’s name...well, in her loving, South-Western Virginia accent.

Following directions, I repeated what I had heard...and, just like that, “Grand-meer” was born.

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve told that story. One of the more memorable was to my French boss when I was working at a French restaurant in Washington, D.C. He jokingly replied, “So…what do you call your grandfather? Grandpeer?”

Just like her name, Grandmere is an intersection of the true-blue American from the mountains of South Western Virginia and a well-traveled, worldly woman with an incredibly-deep talent of cultural and historical knowledge. No matter how far away my dad’s Army career took us, Grandmere – and Grandpapa – were there. In fact, there are only a handful of memories from the eight years I lived overseas in which Grandmere isn’t a major part. On the other hand, she didn’t think twice to set up her life here in Edenton when our family needed it. And even here, she has turned this small town into an international hub: Strickland Family Central, where relatives and friends come from near and far to what she has made into our family’s home.
But this dedication to family is only a sliver of a glimpse of who Grandmere was, is, and always will be.

A strong, courageous, independent – and, oftentimes respectably-stubborn – woman, Grandmere has given me and my cousins that same life determination and resolution to do what is right and honorable. What’s more has been her remarkable gift of confidence that we can do anything. Today she leaves us so many gifts, not the least of which are her conviction and faith, and so, so many more lessons. I don’t think Grandmere considered herself a teacher, but she was a great one. Indeed, it was especially in these past few years where we grandchildren have watched as Grandmere has stood by our Grandpapa, and have learned so many valuable examples of love and loyalty.

We WILL carry these lessons – and values – through our own lifetimes, and our grandchildren will do the same. It’s this kind of impact that we can only hope to pass down to the generations that follow us as much as Grandmere has done for this generation.

There is a quote that Grandmere never let me forget. Well, there are many things she quite successfully never let me forget; sometimes at the expense of my patience.
But she always told me, “Ems, there are three things no one can ever take away from you: Your vote, your faith, and your dignity.”

To this short – but powerful – list, I would add a fourth: Grandmere herself.

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