Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.



I might have mentioned my mama had six kids, five of whom were girls. When I’d gone to college and Sister Debbie was getting close, Mama must have decided she didn’t have enough to do, or maybe she was tired of sewing.

She decided to open a dress shop, and she wanted to have it open for the Easter shopping season. (Easter was a big sewing/dress shopping time in our Small Town World.)

She and Dad looked around for a place to put the shop and decided the empty front portion of the bank building where Dad had his office would be the perfect spot.

She went to market with a friend who owned a dress shop in a town not too far away and ordered stock for her store. She and Dad and my sibs old enough to help got busy turning a bank into a dress shop.

She called me one night at school at college, and wanted to talk about naming the store. Since it had been The First National Bank, she thought about naming it The First Place. I loved that idea (a few years later we heard of several stores that took the name) but it wasn’t the one she ultimately chose.

In the end, she named her store Four Seasons Fashions, but people in town called it Mary Sue’s.

She worried a lot about the store in the beginning, so much she could hardly eat. Dad told her it cost less to open her store than to hit one dry hole, so stop sweating it.  Still, she talked about taking several people to market with her so she could be sure get it right–Grandmother, so she’d have someone with “older” taste and opinions, someone like Sister Debbie or me with a young person’s opinion, and so on.

In the end, she learned to think about the people she wanted to sell to. She would go into a show room at market and, as she bought the merchandise, she’d think one thing looked like this woman, and wouldn’t another woman enjoy that.

I left Bible college after my second year and switched to a school in Tulsa with a fashion merchandising course. A few years later, I went to work for Mom. I loved working at Four Seasons. Loved almost every part of it.

I enjoyed doing displays, buying the merchandise and, mostly, getting to know the people in our Small Town World.

I worked in other clothing stores over the years–Tulsa, Ponca City, Bartlesville, from large department stores to a store much like Mom’s, but I never worked anyplace where the owner worried about or liked her customers so much.

Or knew them so well.

Once I started working there, Mama didn’t feel she had to be at the shop quite as much. But she loved going to market and seeing the newest clothes. We didn’t buy the most expensive designer clothes, but we sometimes had to walk down their halls going to another manufacturer nearby.

I started getting sick with tonsilitis once on our way to Dallas. By the time we got there, my throat was killing me, but I thought I could tough it out until I got home to my own doctor. We were going to a showroom near the designers’ when a woman stopped me to ask where I got the flower pin I was wearing.

While we chatted, I got started feeling really bad. Apparently it showed in my face because she nearly dragged me into the (designer!) showroom where she worked and forced me to eat a plate of melon and ham. At least the melon felt good on my throat! LOL. I remember later wishing I’d felt better so I could have taken note of how that showroom was different than the less expensive places.

Mama only missed going to market once in all the years she owned Four Seasons–when her high school aged nephew in Texas died. That was one of those times when she needed to be with her sister.

We used lots of ways to publicize our clothes–a large window in front where our prettiest clothes were on display, occasional fashion shows, and we sometimes we advertised in the local paper. But the best advertisement in the world was my mama when she went anywhere, dressed in Four Seasons’ stock.

She made those clothes look great!