FARMINGTON — Betty Houle has had a long, full life but still remembers the time she and her doll modeled Chester Greenwood earmuffs.

Houle, now 95, was nine years old at the time. Earlier this week she recalled how that came about and her experiences growing up.

Becoming an earmuff model

Betty Houle and her doll modeled Chester Greenwood’s earmuffs in 1933 at the age of nine. Submitted photo

“I had just lost my 11-year old brother,” she said. “My dad worked for Stearns Furniture Company in Farmington. The store was across from the park where there are offices now. The whole building was the furniture store.”

Houle said owner Drew Stearns’ wife, Aurora Gammon Stearns couldn’t have children.

“When my brother passed away just after Christmas, it blew my dad all to pieces,” she said. “Things were kind of tough back then. Mr. Stearns asked dad if I could live with them for a while.

“Dad asked me. At the age of eight or nine, that was fine so I did go. I lived with them for about three and a half or four years.

“They were considered the 400 of Farmington; the Stearns, the Butlers, all those people. Aurora’s dad was very involved with the bank. They were right in the middle of them.”

Houle said when she came home from school one day, Mrs. Stearns told her she had been approached about finding a young girl to model the earmuffs. She asked if Houle was interested.

“I thought that would be a lot of fun,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking that it was the middle of August, it was hot.

“Mrs. Stearns made all the plans. We went to Luce’s Studio (at that time it was over Morton’s Garage on Main Street). They decided what they needed.

“They took me to Arbo’s (Norton) Clothing Store. The two-story clothing store had everything. They outfitted me with a coat, brown stockings and mittens. Got a pink suit for my doll, then we went back to the studio.”

Houle remembers a lady in her early 50s washing and curling her hair in a room across the hall. Because Houle’s hair was naturally curly an iron was used to put waves in, calm her hair down a little bit.

“After I had that done, I went across to the studio and put all that stuff on me and my doll,” she said. “They took a couple of pictures with different poses and then that was the end of it.”

Houle said she got a cardboard folder in the mail. One side had the picture of her and the doll. The other side were all the statistics from the company.

“When I was 18, just out of high school, I came across the picture,” she said. “Not thinking, I said to myself ‘What do I want all that writing for?’ I tore off the writing and threw it away.

“That was one of the most important things, but at 18 who cares about that stuff?”

Growing up

Houle also shared the back story of how her family came to be in Farmington to begin with.

“We lived in Durham in the early 1930s,” she said. “My dad was living with his mother and dad in West Farmington. He walked back and forth to work at Stearns because he never had a car.

“Back then they had big green steel bridges. He was just coming onto the bridge and a buddy came along and offered him a ride. Because he was already wet my dad rode on the running board. Another vehicle headed towards them. When they moved over my dad was crushed between the iron posts and broken ribs, punctured lung.

“My mom was the one that drove. We moved up, lived with my grandparents while dad was in the hospital.

“I was about four years old then, number six out of 12 of us. We moved two or three different times. We ended up in a brick house on the Falls road next to the motel. We lived there three years.”

Houle told of a scary experience after they moved there.

“Stanwood Park, the zoo, was just up the road,” she said. “We had no curtains, they put all us kids in one room. I was almost the oldest one there. They never told us about the zoo, the animals.

“At 5 in the morning, we heard all this roaring, this ungodly noise. We were scared stiff. We all started screaming. We thought something was coming to get us.

“My oldest sister came and told us it was just the animals, time for them to wake up and have their breakfast. A few days later we went up to the zoo, got to see them. Then we were fine.”

Houle said she moved somewhere every time she turned around.

The family lived on Franklin Avenue in the white house behind Ron’s Market when her brother passed. They lived there for a couple of years.

When she started school, they lived in Allen’s Mills.

“It was a one-room schoolhouse,” Houle said. “When I was in the second grade, we moved back to Farmington in May. There were three or four weeks of school to go.

“Where the community building is a two-story brick grammar school was there then. I started there. My teacher, Miss Brown was an old maid. She held me back. She didn’t think I got enough schooling. We lived in the Falls then so I took the bus to school. I remember getting on the bus and saying, ‘I’m never going back to school again, to that teacher.’ When it came time to go to school in the fall, I was all excited and couldn’t wait.”

Houle said then the old Mallett School was built. Her third grade class was the first to go to school in it.

“When I graduated eighth grade from Mallett, our teacher and principal was Mr. Ingalls,” she said. “There was a group I always hung around with. After his graduation speech, Mr. Ingalls said, ‘I’ve enjoyed them immensely but I’ve got to admit I’ve never been so glad to get a class out of my school as I have to get this one out.’ We were never destructive, just always playing tricks, doing something”

Houle said when she was in the fifth grade the girl who played the bass viol graduated. She was approached and learned to play scales, all the orchestra pieces on it.

“I really could never play anything else, just what we were taught,” she said. “I played it right through high school in the orchestra.”

Houle was in Glee Club, plays and cheerleading. She didn’t play sports. When she was six she started dance lessons, doing everything but toe. She planned to do that, but her teacher got pregnant and had to stop.

“I used to do ballet,” she said. “I was a junior in high school when I stopped. I became the majorette for the Legion’s drum and bugle corps. I was very active, always have been.”

Adulthood   

Betty Houle is 95. At the age of nine, she and her doll modeled earmuffs for Chester Greenwood. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

After high school, Houle went to work at Bath Iron Works for four years. She met her first husband there.

She was married at St. Rose of Lima Church in Jay in 1946. The couple moved to Bath and lived there through 1950.

“I had six kids by then,” she said. “Two stepsons, they were mine, two daughters and two sons of my own.

“We moved to Farmington because BIW had cut back and my husband was laid off. Norridgewock Shoe needed an older person to train. They had just trained a young fellow and the Army took him.”

“We lived here until 1955, then moved to Jay. I’ve been there ever since.”

Houle’s first husband died of cancer in 1979. her second died from a stroke in 1989. She has eight daughters, four sons (one who died about six years ago), 24 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, and 5 great-great-grandchildren.

“Everyone is healthy, happy, very close,” she said. I am fortunate to still be able to motivate, get around.

A framed copy of the Lewiston Sun article from Dec. 12, 1985 adorns Betty Houle’s wall at Pinewood Terrace in Farmington. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Once her children were grown, Houle got involved in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary. She is going on 63 years of membership. President of the Jay post five times, she also served at district, department and national levels.

Houle volunteered at Togus (Veterans’ Hospital) in Augusta for 38 years donating more than 8,000 hours there. With other organizations, she racked up more than 10,000 volunteer hours.

“In 2010 I got run over by a big power wheelchair while at Togus and broke my leg,” she said. “After that I did paperwork. It got to the point I just couldn’t do it anymore. I miss not seeing my veterans, my guys.”

Houle moved to Pinewood Terrace a year and a half ago. She has a framed copy of the article written in December 1985 about Chester Greenwood and her modeling the earmuffs.

“I have everything to be thankful for,” she said. “The good Lord has been very good to me.”

 

 


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