We didn't have much time to pack. I grabbed our passports, my only decent suit, my best pair of black shoes and a couple of changes of clothes. We received word that my maternal grandmother had passed away. Attending the services meant jumping in our car and heading from our home (in Maine at the time) to Logan Airport for the overnight flight to Ireland.
Separated by the Atlantic Ocean, I didn't get to spend a vast amounts of time with my grandparents as a kid. However, because of their good health and longevity (all four lived into their 90’s) I felt blessed to be able to share incredible quality experiences with them as a young adult.
In the funerals I have attended in Ireland, the procession from the church to the cemetery has occurred on foot. This allows for a collective solemnity among the mourners. It was during this walk that I recalled all the traits I admired in my grandmother. She adored my wife and she was incredibly kind to us when we would visit. She was tough, funny, caring, abundantly generous, and at times she could be very stubborn.
If I asked you to imagine the weather for an autumn funeral in Ireland I am sure you can picture it in your head. It was cool, it was dreary, and light steady rain meant that black umbrellas formed a canopy over the procession as we slowly made our way through the streets of my parent's hometown to the peaceful cemetery on the edge of town.
Because of the steady rainfall, the earth at the gravesite was now a deep red clay, unlike the soil I am accustomed to here. My black shoes became rusty brown above the soles. The weather didn’t matter. We said goodbye and honored my grandmother for a life well lived that day.
Within a year after the funeral a lot would change in our lives. I would have a new job, we would move to a new home, and we would be parents to a baby daughter (who shares the same name as my grandmother).
On my first day at my new job I took the same black shoes out of the closet. I hadn’t worn them since the funeral. I took a cloth and did my best to remove the dirt that had travelled back overseas with me. The red clay had formed a sort of plaster around the soles. I decided I would leave the small amount that had collected around the entire edge where the upper and sole of the shoes met. It would be a personal reminder for me about my roots, where I had come from and where I had been.
What I came to learn that whether I wanted to or not, the clay was not going to separate itself from my shoes. Not ever. Even when shined by a professional, that clay would hold its ground, just like my grandmother.
The shoes wore out before the clay did. They served me admirably for many years. They lie somewhere in the back of my closet with that stubborn clay still embedded in the soles. I don’t need them as a reminder of my heritage anymore. I only need to look in the sparkling eyes of my daughters.