Photo-illustration by Stacy Reece
Photo-illustration by Stacy Reece

No Tears for Granny Vance

The last time she saw her Granny alive, she was only six and looking through a hospital window. But it wasn’t the last time she saw her. Not at all.

Granny Vance, my great-grandmother (the first “Irene” in our family’s four-generation “Irene chain”) had been sick for a while. So sick that, even though kids weren’t allowed into hospitals to visit patients back then, my Aunt Patty took us great-grandkids up a tall fire escape beside the hospital (it was probably just four or five flights, but I was only six and it seemed to stretch to the heavens). From there, we could see into Granny’s room and wave at her.

As you look at our publication, I’d ask you to pay particular attention to our homepage. Each story has a label. This week, as our storytelling gets rolling, one of those labels says “Hope,” another “Humor” and still another “Family.”

To me, those labels are much more than “stickers” that identify what each story is about. To me, they represent qualities that define the American South as a region.

I’m honestly not sure how much time passed—days, a week, maybe longer—but one night soon after, the rest of the family was at the hospital while my Aunt Susan had the dubious honor of babysitting my cousin Melenia and me. The night was hot and sticky, even though it was only the end of May. When Aunt Susan declared it was bedtime, Melenia went straight to bed; she always did as she was told. But I wanted to stay in the living room with Susan until everyone came home from the hospital. I wanted to hear how Granny was.

Melenia lived out of town. She hadn’t spent every day with Granny as I had.

Granny was my buddy. She had one leg amputated from the knee down, so she didn’t venture out much; she was always home in the farmhouse she shared with Granddaddy Vance in the Baptist Valley section of Tazewell County, Virginia, where they had lived for many years. I was never scared of her prosthetic leg, because many mornings, I helped her put it on; it was normal to me. We played together in her kitchen every day, where she walked with her crooked gait, cooking on both her electric stove and on her old wood-burning cook stove (her special place for making homemade cornbread and soup beans, which Granddaddy loved and ate almost every day). We watched her “stories” every afternoon when I got off the school bus. We watched for cardinals in the backyard to blow kisses to and make wishes on together. I missed her terribly and wanted her to come home.

It registered with me that she was bad sick. And, in that moment, I cried. She looked straight at me through the window...shook her head no, and winked at me, blowing me a kiss from her trembling lips.

It was late. Susan was watching TV, waiting to make sure I was asleep. I drifted off finally, despite my best intentions, on the old brown Naugahyde couch in the living room, between the telephone and the television. Even though I was asleep, I didn’t feel like I was. I felt lost in some sort of dreamscape, knowing where I was; but feeling like I was somewhere else altogether. I was aware of being asleep on the couch, for example, but felt like I was waiting someplace covered in a fine mist for something to happen. The anticipation was palpable.

And then there she was. Granny appeared straight in front of me and smiled. Her hair hung loose around her shoulders, in a fashion she never wore unless it was freshly washed and she was getting ready to go to the doctor, the only place she ever went. But for her to come to me in this dream (and I was certain it was a dream), with her hair all long and flowing, frightened me terribly because she never kept it down for any extended period.

She spoke gently to me.

“Now Chrissie, don’t be scared. It’s me, Granny.”

I tried to reply, but I couldn’t. I remember thinking how different she looked, and it was as if she could read my mind.

“I guess I do,” she said, and smiled at me. “Now, you lay there, and I want you to listen to me. I don’t want you to be afraid, now or later.”

I was scared and looked away. I wanted to get away from her, but I couldn’t.

“You listen to what I have to say,” she told me. “I’m not going to let you wake up until you do.”

I turned back to look at her, and I finally relaxed. Her face was a little sterner, but her voice was still sweet.

“When you wake up, honey, I’ll be dead. And that’s okay. Granny is tired. Granny has fought for a long time and she’s ready to go to heaven. And when that happens, you don’t need to cry. I don’t want to see one tear run down those sweet cheeks, Chrissie, because I will be in a better place, a place with no problems, and no worries. I’m going home to be with God, not home to Baptist Valley.”

I wanted to ask her why she was telling me all of this. “I saw how sad you looked on them steps outside my window,” she whispered. “You’re not to be sad. I want you to be happy for me. I’m happy, and I want you to be happy.”

She told me I would travel all over the place, doing fun and important things. None of these were things that an average little girl in our part of Appalachia would have ever thought possible, especially not in 1978.

I reached to hug her, but she told me, “No, not yet. I have some things to tell you.” And for several minutes, she told me about my life, about things I would do–-about things I should do, but maybe wouldn’t—giving me a preview of how my life might be. For example, she told me I would go to college; I didn’t even understand what that meant back then, and only one person in our family had ever graduated from high school. She told me I would write a book one day (she even appeared to me three nights in a row when I wrote my first book and told me to include a specific story that had I planned to leave out, fearing it might be controversial in my hometown). And she told me I would travel all over the place, doing fun and important things. None of these were things that an average little girl in our part of Appalachia would have ever thought possible, especially not in 1978.

“The choices are up to you, honey,” she concluded. “Make them the right ones.”

It all seemed so big. My whole life. I looked at her, bewildered and confused.

She smiled.

“It will make more sense when they happen.” She paused, then told me more. “What I want you to remember more than anything is that I am always going to be with you. I’m not really leaving you. Anytime you need me, I will be right there beside you. I will never go away. So don’t be sad. For either one of us. It will just be a little different. I’m not going away from you. I promise.” Then she leaned in and cradled my face, moving her lips to kiss my forehead so gently that I barely felt it.

We smiled at each other. “Now, you can wake up. Remember, now, no tears.”

The phone rang, and I sat up straight, startled. It was my mother, calling from the hospital to tell us that Granny had just passed away.

For weeks to come, everyone else in the house cried constantly, but there were no tears from me. For me, she was still there. I felt her there every single day.

Now, it’s forty-five years later, and I still go to Granny Vance for advice. Sometimes I hear her answer more clearly than others. Sometimes it’s just a feeling that I’m supposed to do something a certain way or to leave well enough alone. Other times, like with the story I finally included in my first book, she’s very insistent that I not only hear what she’s advising me to do, but that I do it, for a reason. And sometimes, she just listens, because that’s what buddies do.

Author Profile

Chrissie Anderson Peters is a native of southwestern Virginia, now residing in Bristol, Tennessee, with her husband and four feline children. Her passions are anything from the ’80s and traveling. She is the author of three self-published books, and her work has been published in Still: The Journal, Women of Appalachia Project, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, and other regional publications, as well as being included in 23 Tales: Appalachian Ghost Stories, Legends, and Other Mysteries.

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