In this day of credit checks, and background checks, and people who won’t take your personal checks, young people would never believe that once there lived a place like Ned Stewart’s Grocery, would they? And yes, I used the word lived purposely because that is the way it was once upon a time in Comanche, Texas. Ned’s (as we called it) was a living, breathing part of the community, maybe even its heartbeat and its pulse as well, and I know that many of you remember exactly what I mean, don’t you?
Yes, visiting Ned’s was like visiting Mayberry, and I don’t know anyone who didn’t love the experience and who didn’t leave feeling better about life than he did when he entered the little store?
I’ve actually been thinking about Ned’s quite a lot these days, and it finally dawned on me that the story of Ned’s Grocery is one that needs to be saved so…I picked up the phone, called Wayne, and set up an interview with both him and Sibyl…and just as happened when I left the store, I left feeling just a little bit better about life once again!
Ned Stewart was the oldest son of Luke and Dolly Williford Stewart, and when he returned from the service in 1945 0r ’46, he and wife, Lorene (McNutt), bought an old service station. The couple then expanded the station so that they could add groceries. Thus was the beginning of Ned’s Grocery, the place where every kid in town (or so it seemed) was allowed to come in, grab a treat, and sign a ticket for it!
The store was open seven days a week, and by the late 1950s or early ’60s, Ned and Lorene were tired. They actually sold the store to Fred Hall, who owned it for about a year before a rested Ned bought it back. He had to buy it; the old store was just meant to be owned by a Stewart, plain and simple.
This time, Ned and Lorene kept the store until 1968 when they sold it to Buddy Hicks. Buddy owned it for a month or two and realized that it was way too confining for him, and he sold it to Wayne and Nell and Bill and Sibyl, all Stewarts, brothers and sisters-in-law, to be exact, and they like Ned before them understood the old store and its role in the community.
The only thing the foursome changed was that they decided to open six days a week instead of seven. In fact, it was Bill who said that if they couldn’t make a living in six days, they’d quit. However, they did not quit so I assume the six days must have worked just fine!
According to Wayne, at one time there were six family members working there: brothers Wayne, Bill, Paul, brother-in-law Ollie, wives Nell and Sibyl.
Sibyl continued to work at the bank, but she did her share of the work at the store as well, working weekends and closing every other night with Bill.
“I never minded it. It was our living, and it was fun! Every old woman in town came in there just to aggravate the ‘boys.’ People just enjoyed coming in.”
(When Sibyl said the “boys,” I knew exactly what she meant since I still call my brothers “the boys.”)
Wayne chimed in, “What we enjoyed most was seeing the people. We had people who came every day and some twice a day just to visit. We got the news of the whole county every day from those who stopped there. Plus, back then, we knew all of the kids in town. Today, I go to basketball games, and I realize that I don’t know the kids anymore.”
Bill and Sibyl retired from the store in 1982, but Bill continued to come everyday to take care of the car wash they had built by then. Wayne and Nell carried the torch until they also retired in 1995.
I suppose it would be almost impossible for a store like Ned’s to compete in today’s economy; however, I also know that every little town needs a Ned’s. Those of us who were fortunate enough to have had that place in our lives are much richer because of it, aren’t we?
I have so many memories of Ned’s Grocery that it is impossible for me to list them in any order. I hope you will list yours in the comment boxes below.
1. The old wooden floors were seasoned from decades of use. I can still see them perfectly in my mind.
2. Remember the coke box where you could reach in and pick your drink? I may be wrong about calling it a coke box, but that is what I see in my mind.
3. Everyone was jolly at Ned’s. It did not matter who was working; it was always fun. Remember Paul? Laughing, laughing, Paul was always laughing as he pumped my gas or washed my windshield.
4. Of course, I remember signing a ticket. I suppose every kid around thought he was as cool as I did when I signed my own ticket!
5. After we moved to junior high, we could walk up to Ned’s at lunch time and buy a sandwich or a hot dog. That was such a nice break from school! I’m sure closed campuses are necessary, but it is such a shame that today’s kids will never know the fun of leaving school at lunch time.
6. Ollie worked in the meat market. I can remember standing in front of the old glass case and watching him slice my meat into just the right thickness.
7. At Ned’s there was a back door. Why I thought I could slip in the backdoor and shop when I didn’t look like coming in the front door, I’m not quite sure!