The Happy Souls

Granville Harper (1894 – 1968) lived through all seven stages of his life in the same town, in the same house, though it had been moved once or twice.

Born at 11:07 a.m. on 10th May 1894 to Miriam and Josiah Harper, a son Granville Harper 6lb and 9oz. Mother and child are doing well. Father, however, is worse for wear.

It was a straightforward birth despite whatever Josiah may say to the contrary.

Mary Mace, the midwife arrived at 11 Grace Street, Paris, New York the night before at Josiah’s beckoning. Miriam’s waters had broken and she was starting what would be her first of two terms in labour, a labour that would be fourteen hours long.

All through the early hours Josiah was either fetching water or sheets or pacing up and down outside the bedroom to which Miriam was confined.

Josiah was already on his way to bed after a hard day in the fields when Mary’s waters broke. Not that they were not expecting it as it had been overdue since the 1st May.

None of the farmhands, when Josiah had not turned up for work that morning, were the least bit surprised. Mind you it was said that when Josiah’s parents had been born the mother would give birth in the fields and would carry on working once the baby had dropped.

Granville was a good baby, he hardly cried at all, save when his terry nappy had become soiled.

He was smiling and cooing in his seventh week and soon seemed to be sitting up. Mary and Josiah were so happy and when Mary fell pregnant again when Granville was just six months old there was only delight to be heard in the Harper household.

Eight and a half months later Mary died due to complications in an early labour. Baby Jennifer Mary Harper was born moments after her mother died but was slightly damaged by the trauma of the birth. Her twin sister did not make it.

July 4th 1895 was no day of celebration for Josiah nor would Granville ever find July 4th a cause for celebration despite it being his sister’s birthday.

Josiah bought a plot of land, had it blessed by the Vicar and had his darling wife Mary and stillborn daughter Faith Hope buried at the far corner of the plot.

In March 1896 Josiah Harper moved the house from 11 Grace Street, Paris to its final resting place of No. 1 Heaven’s Plot, Paris, New York

Josiah never remarried.

He was, however, a conscientious and caring father to two small children. Jennifer, who had suffered trauma due to her birth proved hard work as a baby. But Josiah managed to hold down the same job for the next twenty six and a half years and barely missed a days work despite having to care for two children on his own.

Six months after the house had been moved to Heavens Plot a number of new houses were developed around their home making it a prosperous community and very much a well sought after suburb of Paris.

During their childhood together Granville and Jennifer learned to play together. She would try to keep up with her bigger brother and he would constantly be aware of her special needs. Her hearing and her limp.

The hearing problem hardly affected her at all. Jennifer and Granville developed a sign language that Josiah learned too, and by the time she was six Jennifer could speak clearly enough for her father and brother and close friends to understand.

She soon learned that athletic ability was never going to be for her nor was it ever a problem because Granville would help her and would never compete with Jennifer.

They both went to the same schools for most of their childhood and Granville even stayed back a year to be in the same class as his sister after a slight disagreement between the school headmaster and Josiah was settled.

At home in Heaven’s Plot Granville and Jennifer made many friends some of whom stayed friends with them into their adolescence.

Jennifer started to go out with boys soon after her sixteenth birthday but seemed always to pick the wrong type of guy and a real relationship did not develop until she was nineteen. She then had her one true love, Ben Oakes.

She had first got know Ben at first school. He was a year ahead of her and after he had moved on to High school she “sort of missed him” as she explained to Granville.

When Granville and Jennifer too went on to High school she rarely spotted Ben and he went from her thoughts until she was thirteen. It was then she saw Ben playing baseball and he saw her watching. They waved to each other and after the game he went out of his way to find her.

He had learned how to sign.

They chatted and got on quite well but within days Ben was distracted by one of the cheer leaders. It took five years before Ben came back into Jennifer’s life.

Granville meanwhile was proving to be a shy young man. He avoided sports activities so he could spend time looking after his sister and rarely spent time worrying about girls.

He did get friendly with some of Jennifer’s friends however, and there was one girl in particular he lavished more attention on than the others.

Sarah Calder-Ross was a girl with an unusual demeanour as well as an unusual surname. A few months younger than Jennifer, she was an ideal age for Granville to appreciate.

The relationship started to blossom slowly when Sarah turned fifteen but she had turned sixteen when Granville first went on a date with her.

Every year, Josiah would arrange a birthday cake for his daughter’s birthday on July 4th. Each year it became a feature and each year the day became more exciting for the Harper family.

In the early days Josiah tried making cakes himself but sadly cake making was not his strength. Some years kind neighbours made a cake on Josiah’s behalf but for Jennifer’s 21st Josiah had one made specially for her by the Baker on the Main High Street in Paris, on the same block as the American Bank.

Each year the cakes got more and more interesting and Josiah and Jennifer made it part of her birthday treat each year to go into Paris and collect the latest confection.

Josiah and Jennifer went into town on Jennifer’s twenty seventh birthday, July 4th 1922. For the seventh time they went towards the favourite baker to collect her cake.

The shots rang out from the premises of the American Bank and Jennifer managed to get in the way of a bullet meant for a robber who ran out of the bank at just that moment. She fell to the ground instantly. Josiah had a heart attack and collapsed on his fallen daughter. She had not heard the shot but had seen the man getting away.

Josiah and Jennifer were buried next to Mary and Faith in the sanctified ground at what was now Granville’s house.

Granville was in deep mourning for the next fifteen months and spent much of his time when not working as a Librarian in the Paris Library with his dear family in that special part of the garden.

I n the autumn of 1923, Granville who was now 29 years old, struck up a relationship with the daughter of a neighbour. The Marshall family had moved into a newly built house on Heaven’s Plot twenty years before. The daughter, Thelma, was just three years old when they moved in and Granville had not really noticed her other than being too young to play with him and his sister.

But as she had become older, Thelma developed a teenage crush on Granville, and was jealous of all the attention he lavished on his sister.

But now she was twenty three her crush was definitely love, and Granville would just have to notice her.

Their gardens backed on to each other which gave her a sound reason for being in the garden when he was there tending to the plot. She was quiet about it but within weeks they were saying hello to each other and as the weeks went by the conversations deepened.

He too noticed her and liked what he saw, but he never plucked up the courage to ask her on a date. Fortunately she found the courage.

Thelma asked Granville to join her and her parents for a meal at their house.

Granville had a nice evening, he enjoyed the company and was glad of an opportunity to discuss his family without having to dwell on the sad events that had lost him both his parents and both his sisters.

The Marshalls kindly offered any support Granville may need.

At the end of the evening a happier than he had been for some while Granville plucked up the courage to ask Thelma out on a proper date. He also gave Thelma a kiss goodbye and she went all bubbly inside. That night she glided up to her bedroom and slept all night with a smile on her face.

That night too Granville went to bed with a smile on his face too. Maybe, just maybe, life was really worth living.

Their first date was a walk into Paris where they had a simple meal together. That date was followed by many more and over the following months as their relationship developed into a deep romance.

The following Spring Mr and Mrs Jack Marshall were proud to announce the wedding of their daughter, Thelma Marshall to Granville Harper at Midday on Saturday 10th May 1924 at the Parish Church, Heaven’s Plot, Paris, New York.

And it was a marriage made in heaven.

Thelma and Granville built the No. 1 Heavens Plot home up together adding three wonderful new children to the population of Paris, New York.

All three of them were born with fair hair which changed to three different colours as they got older and blue eyes became hazel.

The firstborn was Amy-Louise Harper born July 24th 1925. Her brother Nathan Josiah was born the following year, December 1st 1926. Miriam Faith was born February 29th 1928 which meant for life she was teased each year her birthday did not happen.

The Harper family were popular in the neighbourhood. Granville stayed his entire working life working at the Paris Library and when he retired on May 9th 1959 he had reached the status of Chief Librarian. Thelma had left her job at the Hardware store in 1955 after all the children had grown up and Nathan had at last left home.

All three children did well with their education and went on to study their chosen subjects at University though Nathan surprised everybody when he dropped out of college, went into business with a young lady he was dating, married her, went bankrupt, divorced her and came home to live. All this between 1947 and 1949.

Nathan lived at home for five more years until he finally moved out to live with his new lady friend Kathy.

The girls both got through college successfully and Amy Louise became a successful Chicago doctor and Miriam Faith ended up as a New York Lawyer.

Both the girls married lawyers called Mike and both produced a boy and girl each.

Nathan and Kathy never produced grandchildren for Granville and Thelma, though they are still together today.

On Miriam Faith’s “10th” birthday, February 29th 1968 the family arranged a big get-together and family meal. The four grandchildren were all under ten and played well together. They were seated on a small table of their own.

Thelma and Granville sat at each head of the oval table with Granville facing the window onto the back garden.

The other six sat along the side of the table with their partners opposite.

Thelma said grace as usual and they started out with a warming soup.

The next course was Miriam favourite birthday meal, roast beef.

As they were finishing the meal Granville suddenly stopped eating and rushed to the window.

He had seen something by the sanctuary where his parents and sisters lay.

He rushed outside and ran to the graves where he collapsed and died.

It was, of course, a major shock to each and every member of the family not least Thelma and a horrible end to Miriam’s 40th birthday.

Of course the assembled family had no idea what had happened though they guessed.

And it was true.

Miriam, Faith, Jennifer and Josiah had indeed beckoned Granville to come to them at the sanctuary.

And now the two generations of Harpers were together for the very first time.

They were now the happiest of souls.



Copyright © Stuart Danton 2007



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