When I was a mere child of four . . . maybe five . . . (so basically, a lifetime ago) we lived in an old established neighborhood. Meaning we had old, established neighbors. There were very few, if any, other kids around my age unless we imported them from across town, so I had to learn to entertain myself. My brother was just an infant/toddler, meaning he wasn’t a whole lot of fun right then, so I created my own playmate—an imaginary friend I named Chester after Chester Goode, Marshall Matt Dillon’s assistant on the TV western “Gunsmoke”. I have no idea why I was allowed to watch that at such a tender age, but watch it I did, and Dennis Weaver’s character with his ever-present limp and his twangy voice hollerin’ “Mr. Dillion! Mr. Dillion!” absolutely fascinated me.
Fast forward that lifetime I mentioned earlier, and who should I meet but a real life Chester—Chester Stricklin. He didn’t walk with an exaggerated limp and he certainly didn’t have a twangy voice, but over the years he became more than the guy at the body shop. He became someone I trusted. He became a friend.
Chester started his over 50 years in automotive repair out of Morgan’s Body Shop in Savannah, a business easier to get into than out of given its location nestled in the fork where Highway 69 and Pinhook Road meet. He stayed with them for 20 years before branching out on his own and opening Chester’s Auto Body Shop (because, I mean, what else would he call it?) on Highway 226. And we just followed right along behind him. When you have a good person who excels at his chosen profession and treats you fairly, you don’t not call him when you need his talents.
That following part got a bit more challenging when he had to close his shop and went to work for Wilbanks Body Shop in Lutts. The convenience wasn’t there, but Chester was, and that pretty well settled that. The years had begun to catch up with him and his health was declining, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t still work and enjoy life. Antique tractors were always his thing, as was fishing—and he loved music, especially when it originated from a church singing or a Bluegrass festival. As a matter of fact, as his obituary stated, he just enjoyed life in general—and I’m not sure there’s any better way to go about it.
There were several reasons that over the years we chose to go wherever Chester went. You may find it hard to believe, but people often hear our name and raise their charges accordingly, thinking we have all the money and won’t miss it. We never had to worry about that with Chester. Because Chester was a good man. And an honest man who never took advantage of us. Could we have found others who were equally skilled in repairing our mishaps? Probably. But we trusted Chester . . . because he never gave us a reason not to.
When you find a Chester in this world, you treasure them. You respect them for their abilities and their integrity. And they become more than “the guy at the body shop”. They become your friend. I’ve been blessed with a few of those over the years . . . Doug Gray . . . Gunter Sanderson . . . Mark Bizzell. I’m sure there are others that escape me at the moment, but these men took good care of us, just like they took good care of everyone they met, and their friendships meant the world to me. That’s why it was so hard to hear their names come across the phone lines from a hospice or hospital. Why it was so hard to see them appear on a first call sheet. When Chester died we didn’t just lose someone who made our vehicles look new again. When Doug left us we didn’t just lose the man who kept our HVAC systems up and running. When Gunter went on to better things, we didn’t just lose a skilled mason, just like we lost more than a detail-oriented lawn maintenance man when Mark died. They were our friends. They were my friends. And as good as their work was, I miss those friendships more.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.