Introducing My Uncle Walter
Walter Was Our Musical Genius
This is a true story about a dear uncle of mine by the name of Walter Goodson of Hamilton, Alabama, Little Rock, Arkansas, Adrian, Michigan and other parts of the United States. Walter was a true rambling man. And loved every mile of it.
I first met Walter in 1975 the year that I married my wife, Pam, who is Walter's neice. I call Walter my uncle because it fits. To me, with someone like Walter, there was no 'uncle-by-marriage' lingo. He was simply 'my' uncle and I loved him dearly. Still do.
Walter, in a word, was unique. Unique in the fact that he had served his duly-appointed time in the United States Army only to be discharged with a bad stomach. Walter didn't see a healthy day after his discharge. He took to simply rambling from state to state spending time with what relatives he could find and after a week's stay, Walter would decide to move on down the road. He was a single man. Never married. Walter figured out early that one can live cheaper than two. And I admire Walter for applying his homemade economics principle to his own life.
Now let me explain why there is artwork of an electric guitar in the top right corner. Walter Goodson was probably the finest guitarist in our town and in our family for that matter. He put me in mind of "Clayton Delaney" a guitarist made famous by legendary Country Music singer and songwriter, Tom T. Hall. Walter fit the description in every way--from his scrawny little body, to his quick wit to sing a country song for anyone who would listen, Walter was our "Clayton Delaney." And man, was he ever talented. Self-taught to be exact. Name the song and Walter would play it without missing a lick. He was just that good.
I admired Walter for his amazing ability to play the guitar, probably envied is the better word, but I also admired Walter for another reason: Walter NEVER had any enemies. At all. Na da. Walter had such a natural, charismatic personality that you had to work hard to not like him. And there were not any folks willing to work that hard so they chose to like Walter and were better people for doing that too. It was like a magic cloud come down over Walter when he was with people and suddenly, everyone Walter was near, felt good about life and themselves. I called it a gift from God. I admit that not everyone I've ever been near in my life has made me feel good, but Walter sure did.
Walter had two favorite beverages: Maxwell House instant coffee and whiskey. That was it. I never saw Walter drink a soda or even water. When he would stay with relatives, he had his ritual of sitting at their kitchen table--drink several cups of coffee and smoke several cigarettes (of any brand), and hit the sack around 9 p.m. Walter, in his older years, was not a night owl, but when daylight came, Walter was the first one up--sitting quietly at the kitchen table with his Maxwell House instant coffee and cigarettes. Walter loved the taste of whiskey--homemade or from the liquor store. Where it came from or who made the whiskey didn't matter to Walter. He loved to, as people in my town loved to say, "pull a good drunk," that lasted about three to four days and then he would stay sober for about two weeks--traveling the interstates afoot with his guitar on his back seeking more relatives or friends to stay with and start his ritual all over again. That was my uncle Walter. Never varying from his course. Always sticking to his plan.
Walter had another trait that I simply loved. Walter had the ability to get along with anyone at anytime. Never did Walter engage in arguing, cursing, fighting or other regions of violence. No one ever knew why Walter always shyed away from trouble--even standing his own ground at times, just to avoid trouble. I really appreciated that in Walter. When he would stay with my mother-in-law, Geraldine Winsett and her husband, Orville, I would make it my business to come to their house just to talk with Walter who knew more about life than most sociologists or even some preachers. Walter had "that" special sense about him and always shared his thinking with people who were willing to listen. I asked Walter in one of our many philosophical talks, why he could get along with anyone. He took a drag of his unfiltered cigarette, looked at me with his little beady eyes and said, "Ken, I always try to find one thing about a person that is good and something that they say that I can agree with. That way, I stay free of problems and trouble." To me, that made a world of sense to someone like me (at that time in my life) who would rather face death than concede defeat in an argument. Not Walter. He loved peace and to have peaceful relationships no matter who or what the person was like.
I wish I could tell you of all the places that Walter had visited in is various and lengthy travels, but I cannot. He never took the time to really reveal where all he had stayed or whom he had seen or who all were his friends that ranged all over the Mid-South of the United States. I always thought that the story of uncle Walter Goodson's life would make a best-selling book easily comparable to the Life of Woody Guthrie. Actually, Walter did remind me of Woody in lots of ways--always quiet, never boisterious. And always kept his opinions to himself unless someone asked him for one and even then, Walter was methodical in how he chose every word and phrase as to not offend the person who was asking.
Walter, at his time of death, never had a big funeral. Oh, now don't misunderstand, there were lots of his friends and what few relatives he had who attended his wake, and I can probably speculate in good faith that whomever the minister was who conducted the service had a virtual 'walk in the park' of how easy his eulogy was to share. Walter didn't have a criminal record. Never spent one night in any jail. Walter did as Jesus commanded us "Christians," to do: Love your neighbor as yourself and Walter surely excelled at that.
It's my personal belief, that although Walter was never active in any organized church to speak of, and he never really dotted all of his "I's" and crossed all his "T's", that somewhere in our God's spanless wisdom and mercy, there was a special place reserved at his life's end for Walter and no one else.
Why do I believe this? I read in the Bible of The God that created all things and all people. Even Walter, who I am sure at some time or other played the role of the Samaritan in the Book of Luke who helped save the life of a stranger who had been robbed, beaten and left half-dead. And this God that we serve even in our fragile and flawed attempts, certainly remembered Walter at his time of departure from this world. If I were God, I would have surely remembered someone as unique and colorful as my uncle Walter Goodson.
And if my thinking is true, then Walter, Geraldine and Orville, Walter's relatives and friends who have also departed this life are having more more great time in that mysterious place that lies beyond reality and the very universe itself.
Is Walter playing his guitar? I really cannot answer that, but if The Psalmist, David is allowed to play his harp, certainly God can appreciate Walter's gift of guitar-playing and singing.
And who are we to say what God can or cannot do anyway?
What Can I Say About My Uncle Walter
that hasn't been said before? He was many things. But not to many people. Shy when sober. And funny when he drank. He had a love for the guitar and just entertaining anyone who would listen.
I am thankful to God for giving me the priviledge to meet and get to know my uncle Walter Goodson. Hope he is now playing his guitar (to his heart's content) for the angels in heaven.
If anyone deserves that special place, it's Walter.