The Day I Found My Great Grandfather's Great Grandfather's Obituary!

11:34 PM

My great grandfather, Noel Henry Thornley Goulé was born January 16, 1886 in Malvern Wells, England. During his adult years, he was known as Harry T. Goulé. I have no idea why he preferred the name Harry over his given name Henry and it’s still a bit of a family mystery.


What I do know, is that Harry was extremely stubborn and could at first be quite intimidating and even scary-looking especially if he’d being woken from a deep sleep and his mouth was denture-free.  Even after leaving England as a teenager, Harry still had a strong English accent throughout his life. He was proud of his English birth. He was proud of his French heritage and his Canadian/American dual citizenship.  Harry was extremely proud of his education and his Pharmacology degree.
Harry T. standing in his pharmacy in Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada.

 My grandfather had very unique eating preferences. He believed the organs (such as the heart, tripe, lungs, liver, etc.) of an animal were a delicacy. He thought it was disgusting to eat the muscle of an animal, such as the cut of a nice steak. He put MSG on everything he ate and kept it in a shaker, next to the salt and pepper on his kitchen table. He believed that one should always eat with the fork in the left hand and knife in the right, with the fork tines down. I always passed this test because I was left-handed. Thank goodness! He liked to read the dictionary and even though his hearing declined later in life, he was a pro at eavesdropping!



My great grandfather and I met when he was 95 and I was 13 years old. My family moved into my grandmother Helen's old house which came fully furnished with a great grandpa. He lived below us in a basement apartment. We spent some time living like this before grandpa got another apartment across town (I think things got a little too noisy for him after we moved in). Grandpa took pride at being so independent. He was infuriated when my grandmother insisted that he stop driving in his mid-nineties, so he went right out and purchased a large motorized tricycle. He became an icon in our small town running errands on his bike.

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He was as articulate as he was ancient and it didn’t matter how grouchy he was, I was intrigued by him and he knew it. And since he couldn’t scare me away, he asked me to read to him. I believe his eyesight was the only one of his senses that began to decline later in life. His favorite book was titled, Intra Muros – My Dream of Heaven.  We read that book more than once. He loved anything written about people who had near death experiences and had come back from the brink of death to describe what they had seen and heard. When I read to him these stories, I didn’t realize that I was also helping him prepare to die. I just thought he found the stories as interesting as I did. Grandpa enjoyed reading the dictionary with a large magnifying glass. Sometimes he would ask me to find a large or difficult word in the dictionary. Then I would read the word out loud and he would spell it for me. This was like a game to him. Sometimes I needed to give him the meaning of the word as a prompt. However, he never misspelled a word.


The only health issue that I remember my great-grandfather having was with his colon. I guess when your colon is almost 100 years old it has the right to be tired too. So, my grandfather had a portion of his colon removed and a colostomy bag attached to his belly. My grandmother and aunt, who were both nurses, helped him with this when needed. When they were out of town, the turn to help fell on another family member. I was far enough down on the list that I was never called on except one time, and when a disaster struck. It was 5:30 am and the phone rang and my very distraught great grandfather was on the other end explaining to me that the bag had fallen off in the night and was still detached and he needed me immediately. Well, this isn’t the way you want to be woken up when your 19 years old on a summer morning and I was pretty grouchy about having to be the one to go to grandpa at that time as I could only imagine what I was about to experience. When I entered his apartment and saw how emotional and upset he was about being seen in that type of situation, all the other feelings of resentment just disappeared. He had tried to clean most of it up himself and I remember feeling humbled imaging him trying to do so. As a worked on and around him, I just kept reassuring him that 
I was fine and that it wasn’t that bad. 


Now that over 20 years have passed, I cherish that experience with him as one of the most precious that we shared. It was also the hardest thing that I had ever done for someone up to that point in my life. It was raw, real, and uncomfortable. At first, I did it begrudgingly and felt obligated.  I now understand that the whole situation was much harder on my proud independent grandfather who was forced to receive help in such a personal way.  Any assistance I offered him on that summer morning was minuscule in comparison to the lessons I learned that day as a teenager: Lessons of love, service, compassion, humility and the eternal bond between generations of family.

Every time I saw my grandfather, I thought it would be the last time. He thought the same thing and so I asked for and received a few goodbye grandfather blessings before I would leave town for any extended amount of time. He would stand to pray and project his words clearly and slowly with a strong English accent. I know he used large and meaningful words because of his preoccupation with linguistics but I don’t specifically remember what he said in his blessings to me. However, I do remember how the words sounded and how I felt when he said them.  I felt safe and important and loved. I felt like I carried a bit of my grandfather with me where ever I traveled and it made it easier to leave.


One time before I was leaving to travel back east, he grabbed my arm and pulled me close to his face and said, “I ain’t got no love for you!” I was a little taken back and wriggled from his grasp just a bit and looked right back into his blue eyes and said, “Well, grandpa I love you.” He peered back even more fiercely and repeated with emphasis this time, “I AIN’T got NO love for you!” I was a little worried this second time. First, because I thought that my grandfather was beginning to lose his mind. He was an articulate Englishman and had used the slang term “ain’t”. Secondly, I began to think that I had done something to upset him and I was racking my brain trying to figure out what I had done to offend him. He repeated the phrase a third time even more loudly. I responded again voice quivering, that I loved him no matter what he said. That’s when he started chuckling and with a twinkle in his eye said, “Darling, two negatives equal a positive. Ain’t and no cancel each other out and what I am saying is, I HAVE love for you!” I started relief-laughing and hugged him.

I was always so excited to see him when I’d return home. I’d enthusiastically lean over to hug him and he’d grumble something about still being around. He seemed a little more disappointed each time we were reunited. I knew it wasn’t personal. He was just tired and tired of saying good-bye. The last time we said good-bye, my great-grandfather was 105 years old.  He passed away 2 years later and was the oldest man in Utah at the time.

Grandpa is being interviewed by the local news agency at Governor Bangerter's Centenarian Luncheon to celebrate all Utahans 100 years and older. I am on the far left.

My Grandfather loved to tell me stories. He mostly spoke of his childhood and those memories always seemed clearer to him than the last 50 years of his life. I loved the stories that he would tell of growing up in England and running through the English countryside make mischief, and living in boarding schools. I wish I would have recorded his stories, which are now faded memories that I have been trying to reconstruct through family research. 


My great grandfather spoke about how his great grandfather escaped the French Revolution by slipping away in the dead of the night and rowing across the English Channel in a boat with his uncle, a Catholic monk. That story just about blew my mind.The mystery, the intrigue!

Harry and daughter Helen (my grandmother)




 I was going through my grandmother’s papers this last summer. Harry’s daughter, Helen at 14 years wrote about her French heritage.  She mentioned the name of this great grandfather who escaped France. She said that his name was Louis Etienne Goulé. It was the first time that I had heard his name so I Googled it, of course. I searched using Google Books rather typical a web search and to my amazement up popped an instant result. I had found Louis Etienne Goulé's obituary published in a society magazine titled, The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. XXVIII. It was a small paragraph of just 29 words that immediately connected me across generations and continents, to a childhood story and a great grandfather whose memory was just a whisper in my head. My eyes just overflowed with tears. It was 2:00 am and I sat there crying and downloading and saving and printing. It felt like a little miracle and it was completely unexpected.

Harry's Family - his mother Alice Mary on the far left and Henry (Louis Etienne's grandson) on the far right.

Oh, how I wish that I could sit down with my great grandfather Harry at his small kitchen table and show him this document. He would get out his giant magnifying glass and read each word, each syllable clearly and loudly. I can hear his voice now slowly reading, “Louis Etienne Goulé, native of Rouen, France, and late of the 17th Light Dragoons”. Grandpa would explain the English Infantry of the 17th Light Dragoons and their role in the English Colonization of India. We would both marvel at the fact that it took 168 years to find this out about his great grandfather and isn’t technology amazing! I’d pick his brain about his father and his grandfather (Henry and Louis Henry) and ask him if he had any more memories of his great grandfather Louis (I’d write it down and record it this time). Then we would talk about Rouen, France and how I want to learn French and travel there now. He’d offered me a liverwurst sandwich and instead I’d eat a stale sugar cookie from his jar. Then, when it was time to leave, I’d lean down and kiss him on the forehead and say, “Grandpa, I ain’t got no love for you!”


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2 comments

  1. That's a pretty cool story. Love your writing so much.

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  2. What a stud! Also, Harry on a tricycle turning 106! I mean! REALLY. You've got awesome relatives.

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