Nola Albert was from here, in the best and fullest sense of the term. I could tell that the first time I met her in 2003 at Joe Baum's cider pressing family and neighborhood gathering on Howell Creek near Nola's place. Heck: she might have walked there through the woods.
She was a "been-here" with a curiosity and openness that allowed many of the "come heres" like me to be taken into the reach of her compassion, with the expectation that she just might come to learn someone or some thing she didn't know.
She was not shy, did not mince words or suffer fools and loved Floyd County. It didn't take much time around Nola to know what she thought about a vast range of topics you might not have thought a "local" elder would have much interest in or knowledge about.
But more than what she knew, it was what she cared about that came across in her words--her caring for the land, for her family, and for the future. She was a thinker and a doer, that much was apparent the first time we sipped cider together.
Nola turns the pages of the Albert and Shelor family album full of maps and photographs. Dr. Joe looks in tolerant amusement as Jonathan gets the full benefit of Nola's attention to historical details.
We ran into Nola from time to time over the following years. She showed up in the audience at meetings at the Country Store when the topic was one where the "rooted community" was hoped for but not expected--issues like water conservation or forest management or low-impact agriculture.
So in 2004 when a photographer-friend, Jonathan Kingston, wanted to get to know the "roots of the community" through its native elders, Nola's name came to the top of the list.
Sure, she'd be happy to meet a young man interested in learning more about her homeplace in the county, but she'd be more comfortable, maybe, if we met at Joe's
Wheels before the days of rubber
Jonathan--who Nola thereafter referred to as "that handsome young photographer"--wanted to see some of the places she had told us about at that first "tea party" at Joe's so we arranged to meet her at her place a few days later.
After coffee and a generous chunk of cake still warm from the baking, she regaled us with the complete walking-tour history of her house and adjacent buildings. She told about her childhood, laid out her early career in education, remembered her deceased husband and spoke with pride about the family land where she grew up.
And why didn't we just the three of us get in her car and go see some of this, she insisted, if we had the time, of course, and were the least bit interested in the stories and special places of an old country woman, as she described herself.
I'll share a few of the images that came from that day with Nola--her daddy's lumber mill near Canning Factory Road; and Shelor's Mill on a piece of land that had been the coming-back-to place for widely-scattered family that came together here every summer.