Good morning. My name’s Celia Percy, eleven-year-old sister of Chester and daughter of Gladys and Fillmore Percy—who’s doing time down to the state penitentiary, caught red-handed running moonshine. That’s not much of an introduction, I’ll grant, but it’s the only one I got.
I aim to better myself, to become the world’s most famous female investigative reporter—like Nellie Bly—by the time I’m twenty-two. To that end I’ve started up a newspaper, The Permanent Press. That’s a good name. All the other newspapers I’ve started folded for one reason or another, but this one’s here to stay.
My first interview is with Granny Chree, the most ancient person I know—over a hundred and a granny woman, herb doctor, and midwife—that lives in an old cabin up the side of the mountain just a ways. I really wanted to interview the mysterious stranger dressed in dark tweed that stepped from the train without one piece of luggage in near the dead of night last March—well, at least dusk—but Mama said I’m not to pester Miz Hyacinth’s companion with personal questions. I don’t know how a person’s supposed to investigate without asking personal questions, do you?
CELIA: So I reckon I’ll start with you, Granny Chree. Is Granny your real first name? How could you be born with a name like Granny?
Granny laughed, the faint wrinkles on her brown face wreathing into a smile. “I was born Alma Tatum, but I ain’t heard that name in years. My married name is Chree.”
“I never knew you were married, Granny Chree.”
“Never did a better man walk this earth than my Shadrach, but he passed on too many years ago now. Since then I’m known as Granny Chree. Suits me fine.”
“You helped birth near every baby in No Creek, didn’t you?”
“Every colored baby, and quite a few white ones, though they might not admit it now. A woman in travail don’t much mind the color of a person’s skin long as they can get some relief.”
“Reckon not. Did you birth Miz Hyacinth? She’s near as old as you.”
“She’s old, that’s true, but not old as me. Yes, I did help God bring that baby girl into this world—prettiest baby ever born up to Belvidere Hall. I’d been a slave there in the years before the war and afterward I just kept on working in the Big House for wages, though Shadrach and I lived right here in this cabin, thanks to Miss Minnie.”
“You never knew her, child, long before your time. But you know her niece, Hyacinth—Miz Hyacinth to you—took care of her from the time she was born, every minute her mama wasn’t with her.”
“That’s why you two are such good friends?”
“Like family, but you can’t say that in your paper, Celia. It wouldn’t be safe for Hyacinth or for me.”
“That don’t seem right, not if you near raised her, if you lived every day with her.”
“Lots of things in this world not right, but they be what they be—for now.” Granny sat back in her rocker.
“I been thinking about that.”
“Mmm-hmm, here it comes. What you spinning in that brain of yours, Celia Percy?”
“Well, I’m thinkin’ about Miz Hyacinth’s library—you know, all those books the Belvidere family’s collected over the years—way more than a hundred years and more than a thousand books in those bookcases she’s had us cleaning floor to ceiling. Can you imagine?”
Granny shook her head. “I can’t comprehend it, though I’ve seen that room with my own eyes.”
“Don’t you reckon they’d make a great public library? Open to everybody who wants to read? Ever since Miz Hyacinth had her stroke and retired from schoolteaching here in No Creek and they sent us on the bus over to the big school, we’ve been without a library. I miss the books Miz Hyacinth used to bring to school, the ones she read to us and the ones she let us borrow to tote home. I was always real careful with them—never tore a page or bent a corner and always brought them back directly I finished reading. Don’t you think a public library’s a good thing?”
“Sounds like a mighty good thing, sounds like somethin’ Hyacinth might cotton to.”
That was a relief. I wanted Granny’s approval. “You know, Granny, when I said everybody, I meant it—including the folks down to Saints Delight. I believe they’d like some good books, too. The colored school only ever gets the county’s castoffs. Think what it’ll mean to them to get new books!”
“You talk about bringing coloreds and whites together in the same room, you’d best get Miz Hyacinth’s approval on that. Belvidere Hall—I mean, Garden’s Gate—is her home. It’s a good idea, but I don’t know that No Creek is ready for it. You might just be ahead of your time, Celia Percy.”
“That’s another thing, Granny. Why did Miz Hyacinth change the name from Belvidere Hall to Garden’s Gate?”
“It was after her daddy passed on, but you got to ask her that if you want to know. And you need to think about Grace when you go speculatin’ about a public library there.”
“Miz Hyacinth’s new companion? What about her?”
“She’s the one would need to do the work. Hyacinth’s too old and blind since her stroke—you know that.”
I sighed. “I don’t know about Miss Grace. I don’t know what to think about her. Did you know she stepped off the train in near the dead of night without one speck of luggage? Did you know she had a faint line on her ring finger like she maybe just took off a wedding band? Why would she do that? You reckon she was running away from something—or somebody?”
“What I reckon most is that it’s none of your business.”
“That’s what Mama said, but I do love a good mystery. Investigatin’ that would make for a great story in my newspaper.”
“The truth will out when it’s God’s good time. You don’t need to go proddin’ and pokin’ where you don’t belong. I ’spect the good Lord can handle His business in human hearts just fine.”
“Maybe so, but—”
“You might hurt Miss Grace gossipin’ so, or Hyacinth herself. Hyacinth wants her here. No newspaper story’s worth hurtin’ the people we love . . . now, is it?”
Granny Chree looked at me with her one good eye and I knew squirming would do no good. I just didn’t know how the tables on this interview had gotten so turned around. “No ma’am. I reckon not.”
“Then I believe this interview’s come to an end, child. I look forward to seein’ your story in print by and by. I like the idea of havin’ my name in the paper.”
I felt my grin spread till it near split my face. “And I like the idea of my very first byline.”
From award-winning author Cathy Gohlke, whose novels have been called “haunting” (Library Journal on Saving Amelie) and “page-turning” (Francine Rivers on Secrets She Kept), comes a historical fiction story of courage and transformation set in rural Appalachia on the eve of WWII.
About the Author
Four-time Christy and two-time Carol and INSPY Award–winning author Cathy Gohlke writes novels steeped with inspirational lessons from history. Her stories reveal how people break the chains that bind them and triumph over adversity through faith. When not traveling to historic sites for research, she and her husband, Dan, divide their time between northern Virginia and the Jersey Shore, enjoying time with their grown children and grandchildren.
Visit her website at cathygohlke.com and find her on Facebook at CathyGohlkeBooks.