Following In The Family Footsteps

Aug 30, 2013
Originally published on August 30, 2013 8:51 am

Don Byles, 65, is a funeral director in New London, Conn. His grandfather started the family's business, Byles-MacDougall Funeral Service, in 1904. Now, Byles is getting ready to hand it over to his 25-year-old daughter Mackenzie.

"You have to teach me a lot of stuff before you can retire," Mackenzie tells her dad during a recent visit to StoryCorps. "I'm a little nervous about being on my own here. I've got big shoes to fill with you."

Click on the audio link above to hear their StoryCorps conversation.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher with Kaitlin Roberts.

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Time now for StoryCorps, the project that records people talking about their lives. This Friday before Labor Day, we'll hear about a business that's been in the same family for more than a century. Don Byles is a funeral director in New London, Conn. His grandfather started the family business in 1904.

Now, Don is getting ready to hand over the funeral home to his 25-year-old daughter, Mackenzie. They recently sat down for a conversation at StoryCorps.

DON BYLES: I think I was in junior high when I figured I was going to follow in the family footsteps. I had no clue about, like, being a carpenter, or...

MACKENZIE BYLES: You're not too good at that.

BYLES: ...I could've been a rock star, but I couldn't play anything real good. But, you know, I didn't think too much about doing anything else.

BYLES: Are you nervous for me to take it over?

BYLES: No. I'm not nervous about that. You will be the fourth generation of the family line. Now, I know I've had some reactions when I was growing up, hitting the dating pool. And when they asked what you did, some people would walk away. But how about yourself? Have you had problems?

BYLES: I mean, I'm single now, so maybe I just don't know if it's affecting my dating life. But did I tell you about the time at school when this girl came up to me and asked me what my major was? I told her, and she literally turned around and walked away and didn't say anything to me. And I got scared that my whole college experience was going to be people not wanting to be my friend, because I work at a funeral home. It's very odd.

BYLES: So what do you think the hardest part of your job is?

BYLES: People don't realize that it's a 24/7 thing. Especially kids my age, you know, when I'm out a bar or something, and we get a death call and I have to go into work. They're like, wait. Work right now? It's 11:30 at night. And in the funeral home, I find myself getting teary-eyed sometimes. I don't want people to, like, see me. I'm supposed to be there to help them, and it's like...

BYLES: Yeah, well, it's a tough thing sometimes.

BYLES: Someone my age or when they're younger than me is hard. But it's rewarding when a family, they're very pleased with how everything turned out.

BYLES: Having somebody come up and say thank you. We weren't sure what was going to happen, but you made everything easy, really makes it all worthwhile, doing it so everybody's happy or as happy - as they can be, having a funeral.

BYLES: You've got to teach me a lot of stuff before you can retire. I'm a little nervous about being on my own here. I've got big shoes to fill with you. People that come in the office and talk about you and say how great you are, and stuff.

BYLES: They will be talking about you before too much longer. You're going to do fine.


GREENE: That's Don Byles and his daughter MacKenzie at StoryCorps in New London, Connecticut. Their story will be archived at the Library of Congress, and you can get the podcast at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.