It was during the '70s an American television series called "The Waltons" was a favorite pasttime to watch. The series was about a family in rural Virginia during the Great Depression and World War II. The show was filled with life lessons regarding hard work, honesty and high moral standards. And no matter the circumstances throughout the day, the evening always ended with each family member telling each other good night and ending with “good night, John Boy” the oldest of the siblings played by Richard Thomas.
It was not until the year 2000 that I discovered a clan in Kilgore that I can fondly call my own personal Walton family. They have a name as equally popular and loved by families in the area. I was caught in some hard times when my Pastor Buddy Duggins approached me and asked if I could use a couple of weeks of part time work in the evenings and weekends.
“They can’t use just anybody,” he said. “And it is only for a couple of weeks.” Then I was introduced to J Mitchell, his mother India and the Rader family, which at the time consisted of Chris Norris, Todd Howell, James Baker, Kyle Barton and evening visitation hostess Mary Lynn Latham.
J’s first instructions, I will never forget: “Each person that walks through our doors becomes a part of our family. This door needs to be open to welcome each one.” The comment holds true today.
Mary Lynn stayed with me the first few evenings.
“We have a system of locking up,” she said, grabbed my arm and led me around to all the lights and alarms. But, added to “the system” was a moment of prayer for the family of loved ones in state.
After a few nights that I went solo, I noticed the directors staying late or popping in because they “accidentally” forgot something. The best part each evening was about the time closing phone calls started coming through from the whole bunch, seemingly starting with J just to see if I needed anything. The calls were genuinely caring and made me smile. Unbeknownst to them, I would hang up and say, “Goodnight, John Boy.”
No matter what, they were there to warn me of things like pranks being pulled always on Halloween. I also learned they give as good as they get with each other like the time they dressed a coat rack like a man and set him in the garage as prank for a particular co-worker.
Needless to say, they became like brothers and sisters and for some reason those couple of weeks of employment has been stretched to years and a license for pre-needs has been added.
We have cried over each other’s losses, prayed for the birth of healthy babies; held our breath over each illness and appreciated a good laugh all the time knowing how precious life is.
Today, I fondly call the bunch, The Next Generation which still includes J, India and Chris Norris being the “wisest” of directors along with Stephen Wright and Chris Hatchel. Birney Westbrook tries to keep them all straight during the day. Kylar Tinklar is the youngest of the crew and adding his own touch. Now, females have been added to the directors/embalmers list like Sarah Thompson and Kristi Green. Debbie McCubbin, Mary Lynn Latham, Meleah Canon and Carolyn Faye Landry surface to help at anytime the calls come in. They are just a bunch of fun-loving all-around guys and gals who love to fish, hunt, boat, sports, cooking and crafting during the off hours.
As always, Rader maintains the best in high tech a carry-over from J’s grandfather introducing him to the ham radio. Telephone calls to each other in the evening are no longer as frequent giving way to text messages and an occasional group text when it applies to all.
Rader Funeral Home celebrated its 80th anniversary this year. The high standards and professionalism remain and moves forward embracing the New Year.
The Waltons they are not, but I am quite sure the Rader family will greet you once inside the door and will know the sentiment if you whisper “good night, John Boy” upon leaving.
Happy New Year Everyone! May His Love and Laughter Fill Your Hearts and Your Homes Throughout the Week. In the meantime, we may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 903-984-2593.