The Shoes Make the Man, Even in Death

I spent the majority of last weekend at a hospice facility sitting by the bedside of my beloved 90-year-old grandfather. His doctor says he only has days to live after suffering a stroke. And as I sat with him, I spent time thinking about his shoes. These weren’t just any shoes, mind you. These were shoes that defined the heretofore strong man whose hand intermittently gripped mine from his hospital bed and occasionally opened his eyes in a momentarily flash of recognition as if to say, “I’m glad you’re here. And please tell me what the hell happened to me?” To understand the story of my Pop’s shoes, you have to understand something about the man who slipped them on with the ease of an alligator sliding into the water after sunning itself on the banks of a canal. My grandfather didn’t care a lick about appearances. He couldn’t have if he continued to adorn his feet with those shoes. In the words of my grandmother, his wife of nearly 68 years, “He should have thrown those shoes away years ago.” Yeah, like around the first Reagan Administration. But that wasn’t his style. This is a man raised during the Great Depression. He learned not to waste anything — food, clothes, materials, fun. His dedication to those shoes began in his childhood, long before the maker made them. I don’t know how long he owned those shoes but I do know this — as a kid, I knew they were old. They were dark blue work shoes. They had holes in them — on the top, where his toes could get some sunlight. The inside lining was largely gone, which must have made his feet feel like they were being gently stabbed with each step he took or movement he made. They were so beaten up that I never wanted to inspect them very closely because I assumed that they stunk. Now, as my grandfather’s time on earth is measured in hours and minutes, I cling to those shoes as a symbol of who and what my grandfather was, what he taught me and each member of my family and how he will love on in our lives long after his inevitable passing. Those shoes are the shoes of a worker. Pop toiled for years for the electric company in the city where I grew up. He worked no matter the weather, no matter the hour, no matter how exhausted he was. He worked because he had six mouths to feed. His work ethic, strength of character and dedication to his job inspire me daily. The shoes reflect his loyalty. You’d have to be loyal to continue subjecting your feet to those shoes. But in many ways, those shoes reflect his values. You don’t get rid of something just because it might be a bit scuffed up or dirty. You stick together, grow together and someday emerge stronger and more connected because of your commitment. My grandparents remained married for nearly 7 decades. 7 decades! In our throwaway, please-me-now society, some people barely stay married for 7 years. I’m not in any way comparing my grandmother to a pair of shoes (Good Lord, I hope she doesn’t read this!) but I am saying that once Pop made a choice or a commitment, he saw it through. He didn’t discard anything or anyone when the shine wore away. Finally, those shoes scream loud and proud about his lack of pretension. Pop never cared for many material things, possibly as a result of spending his formative years during the Depression. Those beat-up shoes along with his belt made from a simple strand of rope and his pants with holes in them reveal much about the man: he did not care what anyone thought of him. He knew who he was — a man of quiet strength, a man who cherished his faith and his family above all, a man who valued a good cigar and nice glass of wine, a man who never stopped learning and pushing himself, a man who knew the importance of volunteering and making the lives of others just a tiny bit better. And he was comfortable with who he was whether wearing a brand new suit or clothes that would belong on a beggar. My grandfather is about to walk into the afterlife. He will stride beside his loved ones and close friends who went before him. And he’ll stand by them in the shoes that defined him.


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About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I'm one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.


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