Walk into Em & Lizzie’s Backyardery and it may seem like a quaint country gift shop named after two cherub-faced young sisters. A display at the front counter alludes to a deeper story. A shirtless but proud daddy is pictured with a newborn in the display, but he will never be present physically at the shop run by his wife, Janice Harvey, and her mother.
In that shop and in the lives of her young daughters, Harvey is the emissary between local business, her children and the father who left them much too soon.
Janice Harvey is now a businesswoman and entrepreneur, but unlike others who might see business as dollars and cents, she sees her business as being about love and loss — these are her commodities, investments and directing force. The picture speaks volumes about her husband, Nathan Harvey, and his little legacies named Elizabeth and Emmaline.
The Harveys grew up in the adjoining communities of Norwood and Wilson. They led a quiet, small-town life, and both worked for the Department of Corrections. When they started a family, the changes were just as evident for the new dad as they were for the new mom.
“Elizabeth was probably 3 weeks old before I ever changed her diaper,” Janice Harvey recalls.
Before becoming a father, Nathan Harvey felt that he couldn’t “do little babies,” but a transformation came over him when he held his first daughter. He became determined to do everything but nurse — and he did as much as he could to not be left out of that, either.
The Harveys welcomed new baby Emmaline in July 2016. Every step of the journey was chronicled by Janice Harvey’s cousin and local photographer Stacey Foretich. On her father’s 40th birthday, when baby Emmaline was only a few days old, Foretich conducted a newborn photo shoot in the Harveys' Norwood home.
Foretich said Nathan Harvey was in work clothes leaving to go help his mother with yardwork when she caught him heading out of the door.
“I said, ‘Wait, I gotta get some pictures with you and the baby,’” she recalled.
He turned around and said he would go change, but Foretich wanted the trendy “skin-on-skin” pictures.
“No, just take your shirt off,” she said. “You know we love that chest hair!”
That picture would be the last ever taken of Nathan Harvey. He went directly to his mother’s home and died of a sudden heart attack.
Small-town caring immediately kicked in, and Janice Harvey had painful moments, but never alone.
“Nathan was at his mother’s house when he had a heart attack,” she said. “Before I ever got home, there were already neighbors and friends bringing food to our house within an hour of them finding out. And that was constant for days and weeks.”
The weeks and months immediately afterward were filled with pain and adjustments, but she did return briefly to her job of 15 years where both she and her husband worked at the same site.
“Aside from missing him a great deal, I wasn’t able to concentrate — I wasn’t doing well,” she said.
“I worked for corrections for 15 years; I had a lot of time invested, but it just didn’t feel right anymore,” she said. “Nathan died, and here I was pondering whether or not to stay with this job that I didn’t like anyway. I didn’t love it. I didn’t even like it.”
Janice Harvey turned in a letter of resignation on Jan. 12, which was also her birthday. Before then, she recalled not getting out much and not wanting to go anywhere.
“I ordered everything online — Amazon — anything I could get my hands on,” she said. “I ordered everything I needed and a lot of things I didn’t need online. Yes, retail therapy — I always heard people say that, but it was never something that I did. The thrill of getting packages was something everyone liked. ‘Oh, look, UPS is here’ and then we would all run to open up the packages.”
She realized she really enjoyed doing that and it was therapeutic. Nathan Harvey had a small business — Nate’s Buck Bait — before his death, so Janice Harvey opened business accounts to keep his enterprise operating. She had a booth at a vintage shop in Jackson where she had items for sale.
"I thought why not turn that into buying things that other people might want to buy,” said. “This area doesn’t have a lot of retail options, and the nice little building was owned by a former neighbor who now lives in California."
They were messaging through Facebook one day and he made the suggestion of using his building for her business. She agreed and Em and Lizzie’s found a home to match Janice Harvey’s newfound determination.
The next step was to find a partner. Janice Harvey asked her mother, Judy Brown, if she would partner with her.
“She said yes without hesitation because everyone just wants to see us happy and see joy and something really good happen because something really terrible has already happened and, hopefully, it will be the worst thing that I will ever experience,” Janice Harvey said.
The Backyardery is a cozy shop but comfortable enough for the girls to have their favorite parts of it. Elizabeth loves to move through the Melissa and Doug development toys and baby Emmaline sits on a warm rug in décor and gifts reaching for items that catch her attention and spending moments with her grandmother, who can say that spending time with the baby is a part of work.
She named the shop after the girls because they were her husband’s pride, joy and everything.
“I did that to honor him,” she said. “It’s about him and his legacy and what he would want for his girls, and he wanted the world for them.”
Nathan Harvey’s desire to leave something for his girls was the focal point of a time capsule saga that had already gained him some celebrity. On March 30, 2016, Nathan Harvey, a Department of Public Safety and Corrections maintenance manager, discovered a 1939 time capsule long rumored to have been hidden at the former home of the Louisiana School for the Deaf. The site has been renovated for use by the corrections department.
The department of correction replaced the capsule with another one reflecting its history and background. The container now also holds bittersweet mementos. Nathan Harvey's search for the 1939 time capsule became a personal passion, but he died July 19, 2016, his 40th birthday, not long after he found the box and days after the birth of Emmaline. Janice Harvey, with her two young daughters, watched the new time capsule's placement into the wall with Nathan Harvey's obituary and a letter he wrote to his oldest daughter.
"He would certainly be proud of this moment, of this event," Louisiana Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said, adding Nathan Harvey had a historian's zeal for locating and chipping away at concrete to access the capsule.
Janice recalls he chose to include a letter to Elizabeth, assuming she would read it 50 years from now when he was gone. It begins: “The hardest part about writing this letter is knowing that I will be gone when you read it … ”
Leaving something for his daughters was a driving force in Nathan Harvey’s life, and it fuels the Backyardery.
“He said he wanted for them everything he never had,” Janice Harvey said. “Those were his goals; he wanted to be a good provider for his kids.”
“He was the risk-taker, I was not,” Janice Harvey said, adding he would be shocked they took the steps to open the shop and keep Nate’s Buck Bait operating.
“I say Em and Lizzie’s is inspired by love and loss because it is,” she said. “It’s bittersweet, the grand opening was wonderful, and people have been amazing, but if Nathan were here, I wouldn’t be here.”
Janice Harvey still finds that it’s difficult to reconcile that anything good will ever come from her husband’s death. She is now an active member of the grief community, but moving on is not a part of her reality.
“I am not going to move on, I am going to move forward,” she said. “I’ll take everything that I have left of him, and it's my mission for my kids to know their dad.”
“I don’t know of any other way to honor him other than for them to know and for everyone to know what an amazing father he was. And he’s deserving for everyone to know. It’s just important to me.”