Art #2

Art never did work as a social worker. Why, I don’t know. He was gifted. He would have done a lot of people a lot of good. But He moved back to his home town and eventually inherited his mother’s farmhouse on Old Swamp Road.

I may have seen Art ten times since we graduated in 1984. He called me occasionally, usually about once every year or two and usually around Christmastime, just to keep in touch and talk about the fun we’d had in college. I would sometimes think of calling Art but never seemed to be able to keep ahold of his phone number, so couldn’t. One time he told me he had been sober for about nine months and was making some improvements in his life. When he called a few months later, we talked about my kids and what he was doing. Then I asked how the not-drinking was going. “Aw, I sorta slid back into that,” he said, “It’s hard, you know.”

“Yeah, I know it’s hard,” I answered and gave him another soft sell on Jesus.

I’m not sure what Art lived on. He told me about odd jobs he did around town. For awhile, he was excited about the furniture refinishing business he had going, but I don’t think it ever flourished into much of a money-maker. He may have gotten some Social Security from his mom who died a few years ago.

Art was not a stud, but he looked OK and was a friendly, fairly smart guy. He had three or four women over the years, all of whom moved in, but they all left him, even the last one who I think had married him. The girl who called me about Art’s death called herself his stepdaughter.

Art invited us out to his place once 10 or 15 years ago, so I took Sharon and my little girls to visit. We walked up the driveway to find him relaxing on the back deck with his wife, a beer and a cigarette. I was a little surprised at how old he looked, his face drawn and his eyes lacking the light I remembered, but he greeted me the way he always did, “Heeeey, buddy, how you doin’?

As he showed us around the place, we reminisced about the usual stuff. We spent most of the time in his vegetable garden, which needed weeding, while he described the plants growing in each row and how he was making a little money selling them. We stood around in his kitchen for quite awhile talking about canning vegetables and refurnishing furniture while my girls played with his cats.

One time, I sent letters to most of the people I knew asking for prayer and financial support for a mission trip I was taking. Art was my biggest supporter in the form of a few hundred dollars. I didn’t expect that. I told him to take it easy, he didn’t need to drain his account for me. He said he had come into some money, and I was the best thing that had come along in a long time. He had had some conflict with a family member that was just making him sick, and he wanted to support something that was good in the world.

A few years later, one of his calls was a request for money to pay some bills he owed. I didn’t have it, and the money he had given me had long gone to the mission.

A couple years after that, Art called to say he had been diagnosed with diabetes and was on insulin. I asked him how he was doing with his drinking since it doesn’t mix well with diabetes. His answer was, “Oh, I’ve cut back some. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop completely. I’ve tried that.”

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