My Friend Larry

By Don Watson

Print Share

    I found a friend—and he found the gospel again.

    My wife, Jean, and I had prayed that October morning in 1986 that we would be led to someone we could influence for good or to whom we could teach the gospel. When I received the message at my office that afternoon to visit a man with an insurance problem, I made no connection between the assignment and our prayer. But that is how I met Larry.

    Early in our visit I learned that Larry, too, had knelt that day, asking Heavenly Father to send someone to help him. Larry had recently been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and had lost his driving privileges until he took a driving course. These humiliating, embarrassing events brought him to his knees at the end of his living room couch.

    A special relationship developed almost immediately between us. I discovered some interesting facts about Larry in those first minutes. He was eighty-two and a member of the Church, but he hadn’t been active for sixty years. His nonmember wife had died three years earlier. He lived in my ward, but apparently no one knew he was a member. The ward had no record of his membership.

    I lost no time in asking him if he would like to go to church with me and my wife the next Sunday. He agreed. I explained that since he had lost his driving privileges, he had no need for insurance at the moment. I offered to drive him other places when there was a need.

    When we picked him up the following Sunday, Jean took an instant liking to him, as I had. Larry, who walked with a cane, had a noticeable limp, so he rose with difficulty when I introduced him in priesthood meeting, inviting the brethren to become acquainted with him. Larry surprised me by speaking up and telling them how grateful he was to be there. As we drove him home later, he commented that he had enjoyed the meetings and the people. He said he would like to go to church next week.

    Each time I visited him at his home, I learned more about his life. He was born in Ephraim, Utah, and could remember being baptized as a boy. He had been ordained a deacon by an uncle. I reported this information to the bishop and asked that Larry’s Church records be requested from Salt Lake City. In the meantime, Jean and I received permission to teach Larry gospel lessons in his home.

    He finished the Book of Mormon we gave him in what seemed like record time. So I suggested that he read it again because it would mean more the second time. We also gave him a Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price to aid his study.

    We continued the lessons and took him to church with us for several weeks. Then one Sunday morning the bishop stopped Larry and me on our way to priesthood class and said, “Larry, we can’t find your records.” I made a light remark about his possibly needing to be rebaptized.

    Something about the situation offended Larry. As we came out of the high priests group meeting, he looked me in the eye and said, “Don, I will never set foot in this church again. And when I make a promise like this, I keep it.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “The bishop doesn’t want me here and says I don’t belong here, and I won’t be back,” he added.

    He wanted me to take him home. During the drive, I tried to explain that he must have misunderstood what the bishop meant. When Larry got out of the car, I asked if we could still give him a lesson that week; he said no. I was sick inside for several days.

    Wanting to do something, I decided to call the general Church offices to check on Larry’s records. The record of his ordination as a deacon was located immediately, but the woman who helped me could not find the baptismal record. She told me to call back in two days. By then, she had also located the baptismal record and told me she would have a membership record sent to our ward.

    I was elated! Now I had a reason to go back to see Larry. He was thrilled, too, to receive the dates of his baptism and ordination, and to renew our friendship. My hopes of helping him back into activity were rekindled.

    About this time, Larry found that he needed surgery to have his hip replaced. The surgery was scheduled two days later. I inquired whether he would like a blessing beforehand.

    “What’s a blessing?” he asked.

    I explained, and Larry said he would like to have one, so I called the bishop to ask him to help. He pronounced the blessing. Larry has remarked many times since about the warm sensation that passed through his body and about the calm, peaceful feeling that remained with him through his operation and recovery.

    He was walking a day after surgery, and his wound healed quickly. He had far less pain than before the surgery. Larry talked often of how the blessing had helped.

    When he was released from the hospital, he convalesced at home, with daily visits from a home health-care nurse. I visited him daily to help him, as did others. Relief Society sisters from our ward brought in meals for a week.

    As the home health-care nurse’s visits tapered off, one of the responsibilities that fell to me was to help Larry spend part of his day without elastic support stockings. Each evening, I would help him remove the stockings. We would sit and talk for an hour, then I would help him put the stockings back on. During the three or four weeks this went on, we had ample opportunity to come to know each other better. Many times he expressed gratitude for the help given him. I learned that his love for the Church, for the bishop, and for the other members who had visited him was strong.

    I could see that it was time to help Larry come back to church meetings again. He responded to my wife’s invitation and began attending. The test of his resolve csame one weekend when Jean and I had to attend a stake conference out of town. I asked Larry if I could get someone to take him to church, and he replied, “No, I believe I’ll stay home this Sunday.” That was a disappointment! As soon as we returned, we visited him and learned that a neighbor had asked if he could take Larry to church that day. Larry had gone with him. Once again, the Spirit had intervened to help.

    Our whole experience with Larry strengthened our testimonies as we saw the hand of God move in his life. This once-forgotten man was led out of darkness into light. He has said many times that ever since we met, he has never had a desire to have an alcoholic drink, even though drinking had been a long-standing habit for him.

    Because Larry’s record had remained clean during the period without his driver’s license, his driving privilege was restored without further action. After his license came in the mail, he told me, “You won’t have to pick me up for church. I’ll meet you there.”

    It was a time of many changes in Larry’s life. Not long afterward, he was ordained a high priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood. It seemed the right time to bring up the idea of going to the temple.

    The temple, of course, had come up in the lessons we had taught in his home. One day I had taken Larry to the cemetery to retrieve some wreaths from the grave of his wife, Billie. I was surprised to see, on the dual headstone he had purchased after her death, an engraving of the Salt Lake Temple. He had not been active in the Church at the time of her death, but, he explained, it had seemed to him then that the engraving of the temple “ought to be there.”

    So when I raised the subject of taking him to the temple for his own endowment, it was gratifying but not surprising to hear him say, “Yes, I want to go.” Did he want me to approach the bishop about preparing him to go? “No, Don,” he replied. “I believe I should start standing on my own, so I’ll talk to the bishop Sunday.”

    It was a beautiful summer morning when Jean and I picked Larry up for the drive to the Salt Lake Temple. We later learned that he had lived in Salt Lake City as a young man, had seen the temple many times, and had wished someday to go there. Once inside it, he was awestruck by the ever-increasing beauty of each room. The kindness and love of the temple workers warmed him. “If heaven is like this,” he said later, “that is where I want to go.”

    It was a wonderful experience for all of us. Larry has been an inspiration to me. He moves me to be better. He is kind and caring and has a knack for complimenting people. He is a young man for his years, with a positive outlook on life and for the future. It has been a privilege to know him.

    There are many Larrys in the Church. I have learned that God has not forgotten them, nor have they entirely forgotten God. I believe there is a golden thread that ties them to their past knowledge and experiences with the gospel. Heavenly Father wants them to come back to Christ, and he intervenes in their lives and prepares them to come back if they so desire.

    Illustrated by Wilson Ong

    Show References

    • Don Watson serves as regional representative for the Weiser Idaho and Nampa Idaho regions. He is a member of the Twin Falls (Idaho) Sixth Ward.