My last visit to A & M Clothing was not February 11 for the Retirement Reception and celebration as I had planned. Sorry I missed that (Covid finally caught up with me), but my last visit with Betty and Polly Blades is still a memorable one. I try staying away from the word “last” anyway because I have found that people get hung up on that word and make themselves sad rather than relishing all of the wonderful memories that never end. A&M will replay in the minds of customers and friends every time we drive down Norton because of the special store it was and because of the special people who were there for such a long time.
Stores built on friendships, business, and visiting are really the unforgettable life stories that take place in mom and pop stores in small towns across this country. Women meet for lunch to celebrate birthdays, and men gather in burger places or small cafes for coffee and conversation. A unique example was mornings at A&M when Richard, Jimmy Clark, Roy Hassett, Therold Deason, Mack Berry, Bill Jenkins, and others gathered to discuss local politics or world problems, just visit. The Dr. Pepper Club was as unique as the store.
The Retirement Reception on Saturday, February 11, was a big success so I have been told. Both rooms of the store were teeming with family, friends, and former customers gathered to say good-by and wish Betty and family well. Both of Polly and Rich’s children spoke during the morning, and the family recognized Michael Woods for his 28 years of faithful service.
There were delicious refreshments including a yummy cake. Some good stories were shared; what a sweet community time together it was!!! Betty reminded me again to express appreciation to each of you who came or traded with A&M over the years.
Josh Blades reminded me earlier of several things about his grandparents that are worth repeating because they are not happening today in the big box stores where we are forced to shop. Josh remembered measuring for shelf making, math, making change and many of the same kinds of things his sister, Elisha, remembered; but I like the intangible things that stuck in his mind, “ So many good memories were made in that building So many practical life lessons. But the most enduring lessons were not about how to do things…they were about how to treat people. How to love your neighbors. Everyone who walked through those doors was treated with dignity and respect. My grandparents made sure of that.”
Josh recalls especially the Sumner twins, Carl and Charlie. He remembers his grandfather’s many kindnesses to them. (I almost feel guilty writing about them because Richard and Betty did their good works quietly, but their grandson, Josh, still remembers; and that, dear readers, is the best way to teach.) I am writing it because we all need to hear it, over and over again. Just be kind! Wherever you spend your day, opportunities will arise.
Josh goes on to say, “The Sumner twins were great people, but they had their fair share of challenges. Almost every week my grandparents loaned them money with no interest. They also allowed them to buy clothing on credit. Their account details were kept on a 5 x 8 index card that stayed under the store counter. They even wrote their names on their clothing with a sharpie for them. I will never forget going to their house on Christmas Day to take the Sumner twins a ham. For me, A&M exemplifies all the things that a small town business should be, a business that is rooted in the community and dedicated to serving its neighbors. These kinds of businesses are critical to the social fabric of our country.”
Josh and Emily Blades have children of their own to raise now, and Betty speaks lovingly of her great grands: Oliver(10), Caroline (8), and David (5). Elisha(Blades) and Matt Bailey have two girls: Ellen (8) and Libby (5). Since Betty will continue to be close to family (Rich and Polly Blades live across the street from her), Betty will still have plenty of love in her life and plenty of opportunities to continue to impact lives. She plans to enjoy life without the constraints of the clock, to visit with friends, extended family, and live each day to the fullest, just as she has done at A&M Clothing for 48 years; and it was not so long ago at that.