By Alex LaCasse
Posted Oct 19, 2019 at 7:33 PM
NEWMARKET — Rose Carpenter believes anything ever gifted to another person is a blessing.
It’s why Carpenter worked at her family floral shop until she was 94 where she assisted her beloved customers, prepared fresh arrangements every week for that Sunday’s service at Newmarket Community Church and knitted winter clothing items for the Christmas fair every year. Though in recent years she said she’s gotten “lazy” and primarily knits scarves now.
“Newmarket was always a special community, everybody cared for everybody, and work was always interesting because I always had someone to talk with,” Carpenter said. “I’m lucky to have lived a very special life.”
To honor her lifetime of giving, the Community Church is hosting a 100th birthday party for Carpenter Sunday evening after she recently celebrated 100 trips around the sun with her family Oct. 7.
Carpenter’s floral shop, Carpenter’s Olde English Greenhouse and Florist, which she owned with her husband John, was a fixture in town for 63 years, after opening in 1950.
“At the church we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us,” said Newmarket Community Church Pastor Patty Marsden. “Rose is a very strong woman who was before her time, she and a group of women really made the church what it is today.”
Running a business for more than six decades, being a pillar of the community, and making thousands of wedding and funeral arrangements and prom corsages with her husband over the years may seem like a full lifetime and then some, the story of how Carpenter first came to Newmarket is just as remarkable.
Carpenter was born in Birmingham, England, Oct. 7, 1919, and grew up on a farm. She said growing up, she consistently drew her father’s ire because she never wanted to learn to ride a bicycle and while she knew how to ride a horse, she didn’t like to.
“I was the only person in England who didn’t ride a bicycle,” Carpenter said laughing.
At the onset of World War II, Carpenter said she and her family would constantly hear German bombers overhead and she spent six months living in a bomb shelter with her family. She said Nazi pilots would use a monument in town as a reference point during their bombing runs.
In 1944, American forces were stationed in a nearby housing estate, which abutted her parents’ farm. Carpenter said the American soldiers were generally seen as rude and a nuisance to the wider community.
All the GIs with the exception of one that is.
His name was John Carpenter and his future wife Rose said, “he wasn’t much of a city man” so while he was walking off base one day he struck up a conversation with Rose’s father, who took an immediate liking to him and welcomed him on his farm to meet his family. From that point on, the family would regularly host John on their farm for the duration of his stay in England. Their story is captured in the book, “They Also Serve Who Stand and Wait,” which chronicles the history of the U.S. Army being stationed in Birmingham.
“Military police were stationed just outside the gate to prevent GIs from causing trouble in the community,” Rose said. “At first, I almost died when my father brought a GI to the house. (Later on), my brother would meet John by a fence and give him ‘civi’ clothes so he could sneak out and visit us.”
John Carpenter was shipped off to fight in France in days after the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, but stayed in touch with Rose’s family through letters. Whenever her family would hear from Carpenter, she said she would take the responsibility of reading his letters as a form of entertainment for all of them.
“My grandmother knew John was fixing on mom when she stopped reading his letters to the family,” Rose’s daughter Deb Grochmal said.
John returned to England on 30-day leave from the Army in March 1946 to propose to Rose. John and Rose married in Birmingham and they spent a romantic honeymoon in London trying to obtain the necessary paperwork for her to join him in the United States through the Red Cross.
John had to return to France to be transported home with the Army, so Rose was left to travel alone on a ship to New York.
“The ship was mostly full of war brides,” Rose said. “There were a lot of women who arrived in New York and there wasn’t anyone to pick them up, so they had to go back. I never thought John wouldn’t be there.”
After a whirlwind tour of New York City with John and an Army buddy, the Carpenters boarded a train for Durham and settled in Newmarket. In 1950, they opened their flower shop at their home at 220 South Main St., complete with several greenhouses. She credits their willingness to cook for one another as a secret to their successful marriage and business partnership when the other was busier.
“John looked after the plants and I ran the shop,” Rose said. “People would ask me all the time how we worked together for so long, we just liked being together. John never had time to go out with the boys.”
Grochmal said her parents’ shared economic fortunes was the bedrock for their marriage and their bond was stronger than steel until John’s death 11 years ago at age 89.
“They took every risk they could possibly take to grow their business,” Grochmal said. “It’s a testament to how much they loved each other to spend nearly every day together, 24/7, working side by side. They were always holding hands right up until the day my father died.”
Growing up, Grochmal said she and her two brothers would typically only receive necessities like warm clothes or school supplies at Christmas or for their birthdays.
Grochmal said it wasn’t until she was an adult when her mother said she and her father felt badly they weren’t able to buy more exciting gifts for their children.
“We never thought we had less,” Grochmal said. “There were always a lot of gifts at birthdays and on Christmas morning it was always full under the tree. Mom always made sure to wrap our gifts in special paper, so even if we were getting a pencil, it was really special. We didn’t think of them as just getting necessities, they were gifts from our parents and I learned quickly from her that everything is truly a gift.”