Celia Percy Introduces Us to Granny Chree from Cathy Gohlke’s Night Bird Calling

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.”

“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.

Meet Lena from Amanda Tero’s A Strand of Hope

Well Lena, it’s nice to meet you at last! I just have to ask, what book is a comfort read for you? If I remember correctly you don’t have favorites. 😉 

That’s true. Books are like flowers–they’re all wonderful in their own sense. But if I were to choose a comfort read, it would be A Little Princess. It was not only the first book I read; it also accompanied me during my time grieving Aunt Melba Lynn’s death.

Oh, that’s so sad and sweet at the same time…losing loved ones is a hard thing to go through. On a happier note, as a horseback librarian, you obviously ride a horse! Do you enjoy the company of Kirby?

I love spending time with Kirby! He’s a horse I can fully trust and rely on. And, he doesn’t ask me questions.

That’s something I like about animals…they just listen and don’t judge 😉 Pastor Stuart seems like a kind, caring minister. What do you think of him? Do you enjoy his preaching?

Pastor Stuart is very kind. Sometimes with his sermons, I wonder if he really does know all about everyone in his congregation. So often it’s just what I need to hear.

Pastors do seem to know all at times! Do you ever see your fellow librarians at church?

Yes; even though I don’t always speak to them, Lilian, Ivory, and Edna Sue all attend church (we only have one church in Willow Hollow).

That’s wonderful! Do you ever bump into them at the library? I know you don’t often talk to strangers, but Who do you think you would get along with the best?

I prefer to be on my own and leave for my route before the others, but there are library meetings and such when we are all together. I probably get along best with Lilian; she’s not as reclusive and opinionated as Edna Sue yet not as bubbly and energetic as Ivory.

They all sound intriguing in their own way! Okay, now a more serious question. Do you ever wish you knew your grandparents?

I sometimes wonder… I wonder if they’re at all like Mom, or if maybe she changed after she left them. But then I think, maybe they are kind of like her. After all, they didn’t want her after she became pregnant. So, maybe it’s just better that I don’t know them and have Homer and Nora as my surrogate grandparents.

Yeah, I can understand that. Homer and Nora! They are such a sweet couple! If you could put them in one of your many favorite books, 😉 which would you put them in?

I think I would put them in North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. They seem like they’d fit well in Milton.

Oh, great choice! Now a fun question! What is one book you have heard of but never read?

There is a new publication out there: Nancy Drew. I’m very curious what her story is about.

Oh! I love Nancy Drew! I think you will enjoy them when you get the chance! Lena, thank you so much for chatting with me! I really enjoyed it and I hope you did too! Happy reading and horsebacking!

Thank you. Maybe I’ll see you along my route sometime.

About the Book

Lena Davis is the daughter her mom never wanted.

But she survived. Through stories. Because books didn’t judge. Books weren’t angry she was alive. Books never expected her to be anything but who she was.

As she grows up, her beloved library becomes her true home.

So when the library is designated part of President Roosevelt’s Packhorse Library Project, Lena is determined to get the job of bringing books to highlanders, believing she’ll finally be free of her mom forever.

But earning the trust of highlanders is harder than she imagined, and her passion for books might not be enough to free her from her chains.  
Readers can get a free short story prequel, “Finding Hope,” by signing up to Amanda’s newsletter: amandatero.com/newsletter


Amanda Tero grew up attending a one room school with her eleven siblings—and loved it! She also fell in love with reading to the point her mom withheld her books to get her to do her chores. That love of reading turned into a love of writing YA fiction. Amanda is a music teacher by day and a literary guide by night, creating stories that whisk readers off to new eras and introduce them to heroic but flawed characters that live out their faith in astonishing ways.