Crystal Rutherford, left, watches her mother, Mary Lou Benton, monogram a customer's Easter basket at CML Southern Designz Thursday afternoon. The mother-daughter duo started the monogram gift shop in 2016, offering personalized gifts. Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff
April 15, 2019 10:33:46 AM
Mary Lou Benton and her daughter, Crystal Rutherford, sat in their monogram shop Thursday afternoon, with nearly 40 customer orders behind the counter.
Three years ago, the mother-daughter duo started CML (Crystal Mary Lou) Southern Designz, from Rutherford's home where the two live with Rutherford's two children. The Cinderella shop continued to grow, until it opened shop in New Hope in August. Selling Easter basket after Easter basket, the duo told their story of how they each came back home.
It started when Rutherford, who lived in New Hope, constantly worried about her mother, who lived in Kosciusko.
"The area in Kosciusko she lived in, they still had dial up internet," Rutherford said. "That's backwoods to me."
If Benton didn't answer her daughter's calls, a few hours later a police officer would knock on her door to make sure Benton was OK.
"We've always been close," Benton said. " I moved up here a few years ago to live with (Rutherford), because I was tired of the police coming to my door. If I wasn't sitting there right on my phone, it'd be just little bit later, here come the sheriff's deputy."
Even after Benton moved in with Rutherford in New Hope in 2011, Rutherford continued to worry about her mother. Finally she gifted her with a sewing machine and a project.
"They got me that sewing machine just so I had something to do," Benton said. "I think I was making a dinosaur quilt for (my grandson) William."
With that initial project, the mother-daughter duo started an at-home activity that flourished into CML Southern Designz on New Hope Road.
Rutherford makes vinyl t-shirts, hats and bags, while Benton works the monogram machine with thread.
"What I can't do she can," Benton said. "What she can't do, I can."
Finding herself again
Before moving in with her daughter, Benton took care of her own mother for nearly a decade until her mother's death in 2009.
For years, Benton pushed her career as a graphic designer aside and shifted full focus on helping her mother.
"When Mom died, I just kind of lost it," Benton said. "She was like superwoman to me. When she died, since I knew she was dying, I thought I was prepared, but I never was. It's like I lost my mother and my baby at the same time and I just needed to find me. It took a while."
Benton said losing her mother put her in a depression for about a year after her mother's death. It ended when she began planning a fishing trip with her father.
Then one day Benton called her dad, but he never answered the phone.
"About an hour later, the deputy sheriff came to let me know my dad was dead," Benton said. "We never did get that trip. Mom's death, even though it was expected, put me in a dark place, in a very dark depression. Dad's death actually brought me out of that depression. His death reminded me of how precious life is, and how it could be taken away with no warning."
Since moving in with her daughter, Benton said she has found herself, her happiness and her life again.
"We live together and we work together," Benton said. "It's just awesome, and having those grandbabies sure does help too."
Sometimes, Rutherford said, Southern Designz barely breaks even. They have hard months, but so far, have been able to pull ahead.
"You don't do this for the money," Rutherford said. "You do it because you love it."
The best part of working the business in New Hope, Benton said, is talking to customers and making sure each person who walks in the door looking for a gift, finds a story and a friend.
"I love living here," Benton said. "I've never met a stranger. I keep saying one day I will, but I never have."
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