An Old Friend

By Richard W. Kartak

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    I hadn’t seen Deuce for eighteen years. Now he was a drunken derelict in need of help.

    Walking through town one June afternoon on my way to a business meeting, I was prompted to stop and look inside a tavern’s open door. All I could see was a long bar and a row of stools. I turned and left. I had no interest in being in such a place; in fact, I did not want to be in such a place. But as I continued walking up the street, I had the strongest feeling that I should return and investigate further.

    Curious, I turned around, walked back to the tavern, and looked through the doorway. “This is rather a foolish thing to do,” I thought, especially when I saw only the bartender behind the bar. So I continued in my walk. But as I waited at the corner for the traffic light to change, I felt an even stronger prompting to go back to the tavern. I went back.

    The tavern appeared empty. Even the bartender wasn’t in the room. I walked toward the rear of the room. Then I noticed the figure of a man in the corner, seated on a stool and hunched over the glass in front of him. Something seemed familiar about the ragged, unshaven face.

    I moved closer, and the memory of someone from my past came to me. The man was about the right size, small and rather frail. Could it be Deuce? (His real name was Dwayne.) I hadn’t seen Deuce for almost eighteen years. But how could he be in this condition? “Deuce, Deuce is that you?” I asked. The man look around vaguely but didn’t respond. “Deuce, what are you doing here? I can’t believe it’s you!”

    But it was him. We had been close friends in our teenage years.

    Deuce and his twin brother, Ace, had had a good relationship with their parents but had received little guidance from them. Their father had been a hard-working barber who had cared for his lovable but alcoholic wife.

    Deuce had had polio as a child, which left him with a bad limp and impaired use of one arm. A couple of serious accidents as a teenager left him having to use a cane. But these handicaps only seemed to concentrate his ability to paint. He was a talented oil painter and took his work very seriously. His paintings were vivid and life-like; I still remember his painting of a tiger that seemed to leap from the canvas.

    I lost contact with Deuce when I went into the navy for several years. I had heard that Ace had also joined the navy and was subsequently reported missing.

    “Huh! Who’s that?” Deuce responded sluggishly.

    “It’s Richard, your old friend!”

    His eyes lit with vague recognition. He looked as if he might cry. He was obviously in bad shape physically, and it appeared that he hadn’t been eating regularly. I finally convinced him that I was real and coaxed him off the bar stool. He could barely walk, even with the walker he now used. I took him to a nearby restaurant, where I got him to eat a little food. As he began to talk more sensibly, I discovered that he had no money and was sharing a room in a cheap hotel.

    “Look, Deuce, I’m really late for an important appointment, but I want to spend some time with you,” I said, before taking him to his hotel with instructions to bathe and shave. Later, I picked up a change of clothes for him at a men’s store and returned to help him dress. We drove home, and I introduced him to my wife, Verna.

    I related the story of our reunion during dinner, and then told Verna of my earlier friendship and boyhood experiences with Deuce and his family.

    By then, he was quite clear in his thinking and was able to tell the harrowing story of how he had been driven to his present condition.

    He described the shock of losing his twin brother. Several years later, his mother had died of alcoholism, and then his father had been killed in an automobile accident. Working as a commercial artist, he had tried to forget his problems by drinking. He eventually lost his job and lived on a small disability pension. This downward trend in his life had continued for many years. He had given up all hope and had been in total despair when I found him.

    After I took him back to his hotel, Verna and I talked long into the night about his situation and possible solutions. He was obviously incapable of helping himself. “We can’t leave him where he is!” Verna said.

    “But what can we do?” I asked.

    “If nothing else, we’ll just have to bring him here,” she replied.

    The next day at work, I couldn’t get Deuce off of my mind. In the afternoon I went searching for him. He was confused by my invitation, but agreed to come and live with my family. We gathered up his few possessions and went home.

    It was a big decision for my family—not because we didn’t have room, but because having a strange man around the house was awkward at first, even if he was harmless. He was, in fact, quite pathetic. He had to use his walker to get around, and because his bedroom was in the basement, getting up and down the stairs several times a day was a tremendous challenge.

    My family soon accepted Deuce. Good food, rest, companionship, and love helped him recover. The children loved him because he was so gentle and understanding. But the effects of the years of alcoholism were hard to overcome. His physical impairments and extreme loss of normal movement made recovery difficult and total recovery impossible. For the first month, he was content to just recuperate. At times, he tried to help the children with chores or Verna with household tasks, but he was too shaky and unstable.

    Deuce often wanted alcohol, but Verna and I firmly refused him any, and there was no way he could get it himself. Frequently, he would break out in a cold sweat and shake. But with no additional alcohol to reinforce what was already in his system, he eventually gained control of himself.

    With his recovery came restlessness, and Deuce decided that he should try to again develop his former talent. I built him a special heavy-duty easel that would not only hold the canvas but also help steady him, since he was still very shaky.

    It had been years since he had painted, and he was disappointed and frustrated with his first attempts. But eventually he was able to paint a sea scene for Verna to show his gratitude. Many paintings followed, and I helped him sell a few of them. His former talent, however, never fully returned.

    He soon became very much a part of our family. And although he had never been religious, he started coming to church with us. Verna and I had joined the Church after we were married, and Deuce was impressed with the obvious changes he had seen in me. He met with the missionaries and was baptized. The doctrines of the Church excited him, especially the idea of being resurrected to a whole and fit body, and the promise of being with his family again.

    Although he found his new faith stimulating and enjoyed his new experiences, he felt concerned about being a burden on our family. He knew, however, that his limited capabilities restricted him from ever being independent again.

    About this time, a second miraculous reunion occurred. On one of my monthly business trips to Portland, Oregon, approximately four hundred kilometers from our home in Seattle, Washington, I checked into a hotel I had never used before. To my amazement, the luggage attendant that assisted me with my bags was Deuce’s long-lost twin brother, whom we had believed to be dead.

    Ace was overjoyed to see an old friend and to learn the whereabouts of his twin brother. A reunion was quickly arranged, and Ace, divorced and living alone, welcomed the opportunity to provide a home for Deuce.

    My family kept close contact with “Uncle Deuce” until his death, prematurely brought on by his frailties and years of drinking. But he had found the gospel and had made many wholesome and eternal friendships.

    Illustrated by Wilson Ong

    Although Deuce had become part of our family, we wished him well when he moved to his new home and made sure that we kept in close contact through letters and visits.

    Show References

    • Richard W. Kartak, a former bishop of the Seattle Sixteenth Ward, Seattle Washington Shoreline Stake, died on 5 August 1988.