Alma J. Yates, “Best Friends,” Friend, Feb 1985, 2
Tommy Wilson had always been my best friend, even though he wasn’t like most of the friends I ran around with at school. Actually, Tommy was old enough to be my grandpa, but that didn’t matter to me. He lived next door, and ever since I was old enough to play outside by myself, I had spent a lot of time with Tommy.
Tommy had his very own garage. It wasn’t just a place to park a car, but a repair shop. In fact, he didn’t even park his car in the garage because there were so many tools—and usually a customer’s car—in it.
Although I had to be careful and do more watching than touching, Tommy let me hang around his garage and help him by getting him tools or holding a spark plug or even undoing a bolt he’d loosened.
But Tommy didn’t work just on cars; he was a carpenter too. He could make anything. Once he even made me a bed out of big, thick boards. He sanded them smooth, then bolted them together so that the bed was extra strong. When he was finished, he stepped back and grinned. Then in his big, gruff voice he boomed, “Jared, that’s a boy’s bed! You could jump on that all day and it would never come apart.”
Sister Wilson had died a long time ago, so some days Tommy came to our house for dinner. And sometimes after supper I’d sit with Tommy on his front porch and he would tell me about the places he’d seen and the things he’d done. He had been a lumberjack in Oregon and had fished in the ocean and had driven a bulldozer in Wyoming and had even drilled for oil in Texas!
There was no doubt about it—Tommy was my best friend. That’s why one thing kept bothering me: Tommy would take me lots of places with him, but he wouldn’t ever go to church with me. He didn’t go to church with anybody, for that matter. Sometimes he came to our family home evenings, but whenever I was helping him and tried to talk about the Church, he just cleared his throat, asked for a tool, or pretended he didn’t hear me.
When I talked to Dad about it, he put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Well, Jared, I don’t have the answer to that one. Tommy might be afraid of people, or maybe he’s upset about something that happened in the past. The decision to go to church must be his choice. The Lord doesn’t force us to do anything. But you and I need to help Tommy if we can. If we just love him and continue inviting him to come to church with us, maybe he will someday.”
I already loved Tommy, and he knew that, so the next day I said to him, “How would you like to come to church with me next Sunday?”
“Can you hand me that screwdriver?”
I handed him the screwdriver and licked my lips. “I wouldn’t miss church for anything,” I said, “and that’s not just because it’s the right thing to do. I like church, and so would you. Will you come with me?”
“Do you see that wrench by your foot? Will you hand it to me?”
I didn’t say anything for a long time, long enough for Tommy to forget that I’d been asking him about church. Then I said, “Will you answer me one question, Tommy?”
“Sure, Jared. What is it?”
“Have you ever gone to church?”
He started to clear his throat, so I hurried and said, “You promised, Tommy. You promised you’d answer my question. We’re best friends, and I just want to know.”
“Yeah, I’ve been to church. When I was your age, I went all the time.”
“What happened? Why did you stop?”
“You said one question.”
“But I just want to know. Then if you don’t want to talk about it, I won’t ask.”
Tommy walked over and sat down on an upturned bucket. He picked up two spark plugs and rolled them around in his hands. “I always went to church before my dad died,” he began. “I was eleven when he died. After that we were really poor, so I didn’t have anything nice to wear. I went to church anyway, but I was worried that the kids would make fun of me. Well, they didn’t—at least not at first. Then one Sunday I had to wear my dad’s big, old dress shoes. They were all I had except my work boots, and I couldn’t wear them to church. I was worried about going to church that day, but I went. That was the last time.”
“Did they make fun of your shoes?”
Tommy nodded. “I decided then that I’d never go back. I never have.”
For a long time neither one of us said anything. I felt real bad, and I wished that I had been with Tommy when he was a boy so I could have helped him out. But I wasn’t even born then.
“People wouldn’t laugh at you now, Tommy,” I said. “I know they wouldn’t. I wouldn’t let them.”
Later I told Dad about my conversation with Tommy. We decided to stop every Sunday on our way to church and ask Tommy to come with us. But he never went with us. He just smiled and called, “No thanks. Not today.”
Then one Sunday my Primary teacher, Sister Poulsen, talked about missions and how we were all supposed to prepare for our missions. She said that when we grew up we might even get sent to Russia or Africa or India. It sounded exciting, and I was ready to go right then, even if I wasn’t nineteen yet. Then I remembered Tommy, and I thought, How can I preach to the people in Russia or China when I can’t even get my best friend to go to church?
Each Sunday Dad and I stopped by for Tommy, and I prayed for him, too, but he still didn’t come to church. I thought I was doing all that I could, but deep inside I knew I hadn’t done quite enough.
For our Primary sacrament meeting we had learned songs like “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission,” and I had to give a little talk about saving money for my mission. As we were practicing our parts before sacrament meeting the day of our program, I knew there was no way I could sing those songs and say my talk while Tommy was in his garage working.
I slipped over to my mom, who was a Primary teacher, and told her what I was going to do. Then I ran the two blocks to Tommy’s house. I was panting and puffing when I ran up Tommy’s driveway, and I could hear him pounding on something inside the garage. When I stepped inside, he stopped pounding and asked, “What are you doing here, Jared? Aren’t you supposed to be in church? I thought you were singing in a program today.”
I stared at his greasy hands and dirty pants and messy hair. I looked away from him and mumbled, “I came to get you, Tommy. I had to.”
“Aren’t we best friends, Tommy?”
“Why sure. You know that.”
“Then I need you to be there. I can’t sing those songs and say my talk unless you’re there. It just isn’t right. I thought I could do it without you, but now I know that I can’t.”
“Well, Jared, I’m not dressed, and I’m all dirty and greasy.”
“I can wait for you. If you hurry, we can make it.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been to church for years …”
I could tell he was thinking about it, so I started talking really fast. “You just have to, Tommy, because I need you there. Just this once, so you can hear my program, and then if you don’t want to ever go back, well, then … But I know you’ll like it, and you’ll want to go all the time.”
He put his tools away and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “It’s been a long time, Jared. I just don’t think—”
“You can sit with me,” I interrupted, “except when I sing. Then I have to go up front. But if you’re afraid to sit alone, I’ll stay right with you, because they don’t really need me to sing.”
Tommy smiled. “Do you really want me to go that badly?” he asked.
I could feel my eyes start to burn. I looked at the ground and nodded my head because I couldn’t say anything.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Tommy was going to church! I was so excited I wanted to yell. Then I got scared. What if somebody laughed at Tommy? What if nobody talked to him? What if he got upset and decided never to go back?
I started to shake, and my stomach got all fluffy and full of tickles. There was only one thing I could do. I found a clean old blanket and knelt down on it and prayed, “Heavenly Father, I know You want Tommy to go to church, and I want him to go too. But I need some help. I invited him, and he’s going, but somebody’s got to tell the people at church not to laugh at him or make him feel bad. I can’t do that part, but You can. Help them to love Tommy as much as I do. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
Pretty soon Tommy came back wearing a clean shirt and pants, and his hands were washed and his hair was combed. As we walked to church, I could tell that he was worried and scared because he didn’t talk much and he kept putting his hands in his pockets and taking them out again. I was scared, too—maybe more than Tommy—but I didn’t tell him that. I just took his hand when we went into the church.
Everything was quiet when we walked in. The chapel was full, and Bishop Call was just starting to welcome everyone to sacrament meeting. I saw room for us right next to Mom and Dad, so I pulled him over there as fast as I could.
I was so scared that I didn’t dare look at anyone. Then Dad reached over and shook Tommy’s hand and whispered, “It’s good to see you, Tommy.” Brother Baker leaned over my shoulder and whispered, “Brother Wilson, good to have you here.” Brother and Sister Roberts, who were sitting in front of us, turned around and smiled. After that I wasn’t scared any more, because I knew Heavenly Father had answered my prayer.
I remembered all of my talk without looking at my paper or down at Mom. And when I sang “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission,” I sang as loud as I could, because I was ready to go.
After the closing prayer, I tried to hurry back to my seat so that Tommy wouldn’t be alone, but I didn’t have to. By the time I got to Tommy, he was surrounded by people. Why, it looked like the whole ward wanted to shake his hand!
It was a long time after the meeting ended before Tommy and I started home. We didn’t say anything until we stopped in front of his house; then I asked, “Can I pick you up next Sunday? I don’t have to sing or do anything special, but I’d sure like you to come.”
Tommy’s eyes were all watery, and he rubbed them with the back of his hand. “No, Jared, I won’t let you stop for me next Sunday.”
I couldn’t believe it! I thought he had liked going to church. I didn’t know what to say.
Then Tommy said, “Next week I’ll take you to church.”
Tommy didn’t work in his garage on Sundays after that, because every Sunday he went to church. And when I’m old enough, I can go to India or Russia or any other place and feel good about preaching the gospel to all those strangers because now my best friend goes to church.
[illustrations] Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn^ Back to top