Turning 100

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Woman looks back at early years in Bedford

By John Barnhart

Louise Noell lives in a nice comfortable home today, but her early years were rough.

    Noell was born in Appomattox on Sept. 24, 1910, a daughter of Joseph O’Brien, a Bedford native. Noell originally started school there, but had to leave school after third grade in order to help care for her siblings — four brothers and two sisters — after her mother’s death.
    O’Brien came back to Bedford while Louise was still a child and they lived in various places in and around Bedford, including South Street, and on the “Saunders farm.” near Bedford, where O’Brien did farm work. Actually they all did farm work.
    “We worked in the fields with my daddy,” Noell said.
    Eventually she got a little help when her aunt moved in to help care for the children. Noell, however, still did all the cooking. She was cooking for her father, her siblings, her aunt and her aunt’s three children.
    “I had to cook for all of them,” she recalled.
    She did her cooking on a cast iron wood stove. It had an oven with a thermometer, four iron caps on the stove top and a warming oven on top.
    “We had a big tank on the side of it to heat your water in,” she said.
    Noell’s work day started with biscuits, making them, that is.
    “I had to make biscuits every morning for breakfast,” said Noell.
    This meant that her day started early.
    “I got up and made the fire at four o’clock, made the biscuits at five,” she recalled.
    First she used light wood and sticks to get a fire going. Then, she added larger pieces of wood to build the fire so the stove would get hot. Noell said that the oven needed to be between 300 and 400 degrees for biscuits.
    This was not the sort of oven that you could set, pop stuff in, and forget until the timer goes off. You had to keep an eye on it.
    “When the wood got low, you had to put more in,” Noell recalled.
    Of course, all the fire wood wasn’t stored in the kitchen.
    “Somebody had to carry that wood in,” she said. “Something to do all the time.”
    Sometimes that somebody was one of her brothers. Sometimes she was that somebody.
    There is an old saying, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. This, no doubt, came from the days of cast iron cook stoves. They sat there, radiating lots of heat into the kitchen, even if you would have rather not had it, such as on hot summer days.
    “Oh, it was hot in there!” she said, recalling the kitchen in the summer. “You had the fire, — it was hot in there!”
    Noell said that was the way it was back then and everybody could deal with it because they were used to it. Shooing flies away from the table with a branch cut off a bush was something else they were used to.
    Water came from a well, or a spring, depending on where the family lived at the time. In some cases, there was a hand pump just off the back porch. In other cases there was a well with a pulley wheel that allowed you to lower a bucket into the well and pull it back up. There were also places where there was no well. There was a spring nearby and Noell would get water, using gourds to dip it from the spring and pour it in a bucket so she could bring it back to the house. She said that the spring didn’t freeze in the winter because the water was constantly moving.
    When the family lived on South Street, Noell attended Main Street United Methodist Church, but Epworth United Methodist was her home church, which she attended most of her years in this area.
    She went to work for Piedmont Label, now Smyth, in 1952, a job she loved. She described the place as like one big family back then.
    “If you didn’t have a way to work, they went after you,” she said. “That’s how nice they were. It was really a nice place to work.”
    Noell’s job was running a machine that cut labels. She fed sheets of labels into a large machine that cut them out.
    “You cut them by the thousands in the shape the label was going to be,” she recalled.
    Back then, Greens Drug Store, on the corner of Main and Bridge streets, had a lunch counter.
    “I’d meet a friend and we would eat lunch over there two or three times a week,” she said. “They had all kinds of sandwiches, pie and drinks — most anything you wanted.”
    They also had a little jewelry section where she liked to spend some of her money. She bought most of her clothes at a place called Raffalo, which she said was across Bridge Street from People’s Furniture.    
    “All my furniture I got at People’s,” she said. “They had good furniture.”
    Those years didn’t leave her much free time, however.
    “I worked and I kept house,” she said.
    Noell had a son and her husband worked.
    More free time came after she retired in 1968. Before she left Bedford in 1975, she was a member of the Blue Ridge Garden Club.
    “I love gardening, I love flowers,” she said.
    She said that she especially likes roses, carnations and lilacs. In fact she once had a number of lilac bushes.
    “When I lived in Bedford, I had them all the way around the yard,” she said.
    As a young woman, she married Brodis Holdren and they had a son, E. Thomas Holdren, a Bedford native. In middle age, she married William Noell.
    She finally left Bedford for the last time in 1975, moving to the house in Lynchburg where she still resides. At 100, Noell still handles all her own financial affairs and, with a little help, stays in her own house. She gets around using a walker.
    The centennial of her birthday brought family and cards. She has a basket of birthday cards on her dining room table, nearly 200 of them. Her son came up from Florida to host her birthday party. He was joined by grandchildren arriving from Texas and North Carolina as well as nieces and nephews converging from Indiana, Florida, North Carolina and Maryland.