I’m writing this as my father John Walters, Sr., now ninety years old, lies bedridden and uncommunicative. I will not publish it until after he has died. If you’re reading it, therefore, it means that he is no longer alive on this mortal plane of existence. (He died on June 11, 2019, a few days after I wrote this piece.) His spirit has departed to wherever spirits go, and his body has gone to medical researchers. There is no sorrow in this, unless we all want to mourn the fact that we don’t live forever. Ninety years is a pretty good run. He had nine children and multiple grandchildren; he traveled and had numerous interesting experiences.
I’m not going to go through a biographical account of his life; there’s no need for that. What I’d like to do instead is focus on three instances in which he helped me personally when I was in dire need. Parents are expected to assist their children when they are still dependent upon them, but these things happened when I was already off on my own and was in the midst of profound predicaments from which I could see no way out. I might have eventually come up with something, but before I had to find another way, my father stepped up and came through.
The first incident happened on my first trip to India. I had been hitchhiking around Europe all summer – the summer of 1975, I think it would have been, or perhaps 1976. As autumn approached and the weather cooled down, I wondered what I should do next. I heard stories from budget travelers who had journeyed as far as India and beyond, and the exoticism of the experience appealed to me. I went back to the Netherlands and worked a couple of weeks in factories to earn a few hundred dollars, and then began to hitchhike eastward. I managed to hitch as far as Kandahar in Afghanistan, and then I switched to local transport such as buses and trains. I traveled through Pakistan and India, spent some time in Goa, and then wandered on down south to Sri Lanka and back up to Madras. (For more fascinating and adventurous details, see my memoir World Without Pain: The Story of a Search.)
In Madras I was faced with a dilemma. I had only enough funds remaining to make it back to Europe overland if I left right away without further detours or delays. However, I had not yet been to Nepal, which had been a very important part of my itinerary. In the heedless disregard for danger inherent in youth, I headed north to Katmandu instead of west to Europe. I visited Katmandu and Pokhara and walked alone for days in the Himalayan Mountains. And yes, in Pokhara, which is west of Katmandu, I realized that I had almost run out of money. I managed to hitchhike a bus ride to the Indian border, take a train third class to Delhi, pay for a couple of nights in a hostel for derelicts in which I shared the floor with about two dozen other hippy travelers, and then… I was broke in a city with streets full of hundreds of thousands of destitute beggars.
That’s when my dad rescued me. I called him from the American Embassy, and he wired me enough money to make my way back to Europe and use my return ticket to the States just before it expired.
The second time something like this happened I was traveling east, not west. I had come to the conclusion that my destiny was elsewhere, and I was heading back to India. I hitchhiked across the United States in the dead of winter, but while standing in a deep snowdrift beside a road in New Jersey, I realized I couldn’t take the cold anymore and headed down south to Florida. I figured I’d get a job in a warmer climate and when I’d saved enough money, I’d move on. I stayed in a cheap hotel in Miami that was otherwise occupied solely by hookers and their pimps, or at least so it seemed to me. The problem was, I couldn’t find work. I was reduced to eating the foul fare at soup kitchens.
In desperation again, I called my dad to help extricate me from that situation, and he sent me enough money to fly to New York and then to London, from where I was able to make my way onward.
The third time my father helped me I was not in physical duress. It had to do with my career as a writer. By this time I had got married, we had started a family, and we were living in Thessaloniki, Greece. I had stopped writing for years but had begun again to compose short stories. The problem, in those pre-electronic submission days, was that I didn’t know how to submit the stories to markets in the United States. Once again, my father came to the rescue. I arranged to send my manuscripts to him along with a list of possible markets, and he sent them to the markets one by one until they sold or he finished the list. We kept this up for a year or so until I finally found a few post offices in Thessaloniki that had international reply coupons, and then I began to send them out myself.
I’m sure I could come up with other stories, such as how my dad brought me, my wife, and our three kids from Greece back to the States as a surprise wedding gift for one of my brothers, or how my dad and I used to go out in our small powerboat and fish for salmon on the open ocean, but these three are the ones that came first to mind, and they’ll do for the moment. They recall a man who was family-oriented but individualistic, a man who loved his cabin on the shore of Hood Canal but also enjoyed taking off on road trips aboard his motorcycle, a man who had a thriving dental practice in a Seattle suburb but also did volunteer dental work amidst the jungles and hills of Central America. He enjoyed restoring old furniture and the hard labor of collecting firewood in forest areas that had been cleared by logging companies. He was a writer and a musician and a driftwood sculptor. Rest in peace, Dad.