The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

By Betty Williamson
Local columnist 

Memorial sends me down memory lane


Last updated 12/14/2021 at 3:13pm

A memorial reception for a lifelong banker friend last weekend set my mind to wandering, as events like that are wont to do.

The Saturday afternoon gathering was in honor of Bob Wood, who was president of the First National Bank of Portales when I was a kid.

I hadn’t really considered it before, but we are — mostly by choice and because it’s so darned convenient — quite removed from banks and bankers these days.

It’s possible to go through a lifetime now rarely setting foot in a bank, what with ATMs (those beloved automated teller machines), drive-up windows, and online services.

None of those “conveniences” were part of our banking experiences when I was a kid. I put the word “conveniences” in quotation marks for a reason. I’ll come back to that.

Bob Wood’s bank (which is what we called it) has been through a lot of name changes over the years. It has been the Portales branch of Wells Fargo for a good while now.

As I visited my way around the bank’s hospitality room looking at scrapbooks and displays of items from Wood’s career and life, seeing folks who had worked with him in the bank, and overhearing stories of others who worked there in my youth, I remembered what an important part of our life that bank was as I was growing up.

We only came to town every week or two. We didn’t visit the bank on every single trip, but most of the times we were in Portales, a stop at the bank was on my mom’s handwritten shopping list.

I remember the rush of cool air conditioning in the lobby as we pushed through the glass doors in the summertime, and waiting in line for a favorite teller to get a check cashed.

Now and again, we got to sign in for access to the vault that held the safe deposit boxes, an occasion of mystery and drama to a little kid with a vivid imagination, and the closest (thank goodness) that my brothers and I ever came to being in prison.

There was always the faint aroma of coffee wafting from the hospitality room — the same one we were in on Saturday for the reception. They must have kept a pot brewing all day, critical fuel for the old-timers who gathered there daily to solve the problems of the world.

The old First National Bank was the first place I ever tasted wassail, that tangy hot Christmas beverage. It was where I opened my initial checking account, a ritual shared with my brothers as we learned to sign our names in cursive.

But over and above all those moments, I remember the people who worked there, starting with Bob Wood, who became president when I was 8 or 9 years old.

Looking back, I have to wonder how Bob was able to get any work done. His office was on the far end of the lobby from the doors we usually used, fronted with a wall of glass. If he spotted us and if he wasn’t with another customer, he’d invariably come out for a visit.

And obviously, it wasn’t only us — we were far from his biggest or most important customers. His love for people was part of the very fiber of his existence.

Besides him, we knew all the vice presidents and all the tellers, and they knew us. We never had to pull out identification in that building. Why would you when you’re surrounded by friends?

Which brings me back to the “conveniences” afforded by remote banking these days.

Yes, I, too, love a drive-up window, the handiness of getting cash from an ATM on a weekend, the ease of checking an account balance from a phone.

But I am equally grateful to have grown up before those “conveniences” came along, because I would have missed out on those sweet memories that came drifting back to me last weekend.

Conveniences come with a price. The older I get, the more I realize it is not always one that I am willing to pay.

There is no virtual replacement for a warm smile, a handshake, a shared cup of coffee — the things Bob Wood offered without a thought to so many of us.

He did it because that’s how it was done.

And maybe always should be.

Betty Williamson is having a warm cup of nostalgia with a dollop of sentiment. Reach her at: [email protected]


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