You Don't Need Shoes In Heaven
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You Don't Need Shoes In Heaven

Remembering my grandfather and thanking my grandmother.

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You Don't Need Shoes In Heaven
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You Don’t Need Shoes In Heaven

Slipping off my shoes and stepping into soft grass never feels as good as it does when I am in my grandparent's backyard. People that know me well, say I am always wearing shoes. It doesn’t come as a surprise to them that I never walk barefoot, it just doesn’t happen. Growing up my friends would take off their shoes as they came into my house and I would quietly wish that I wasn’t always the odd one out. My sisters would often run with naked feet in the grass when playing outside while I smiled because I knew it wouldn’t hurt when I stepped on a rock. I even choose not to show my feet when I go to the beach… yes even at the beach. These feet of mine like to be hidden. They get embarrassed and shy when seen uncovered; but when I’m in my grandparent’s backyard, there’s no judgment, no sense of alarm. Something is different there, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to explain what it is. When I’m in that yard it's just myself, these naked, free feet and the grass.

An indescribable comfort overcomes me when I am in this yard. The city is roughly an hour away, and the place my grandparents call home is roughly the suburbs. Even though my grandfather lives in heaven, I know that this is his home. With uncles, aunts, cousins and daughters visiting everyday, my grandma doesn’t get lonely, she can’t. - Not when her backyard and her heart are full of people. I like to think that I live in her heart too, along with so many others.

Right as I step out of the house a huge brown deck greets my feet. The deck serves as the perfect place to take in the whole lawn. Tables and chairs decorate the wooden structure as a place to laugh and love. Family members come from New York and Iowa to sit in these seats and be surrounded by affection. I on the other hand, go straight for the grass. Right after taking off my shoes and kissing my grandma’s cheek, everyone knows they can find me in the forest behind the deck, the place that calms my mind and soothes my soul. We only visit Chicago once or twice a year, so I have to make the most out of the time I have in this place.

Bird baths and lawn ornaments call this land home. The horseshoe pit and pool tell you that this is a spot for having fun, but in my mind it’s not always a place for games. I like to wander through the grass and ponder over thoughts. I enjoy relaxing and reflecting, just as the shallow pond does. I take in everything, especially the textures and patterns of the dirt, tree roots and pine needles that scatter the ground. When I’m in the huge and grassy yard I sometimes forget that the suburbs are so close, or that they exist at all; for the city doesn’t feel an hour away, it feels a lifetime away. As opposed to skyscrapers in the distance, I picture mountains and the tallest trees.

Since my grandma and her four daughters enjoy the hobby of gardening, flowers inhabit the ground from the deck to the forest. The most popular flower of them all is the Hardy Geraniums. These plants begin flowering in June, which means by the time our family usually visits for the Fourth of July the sight of the deep pink blossoms are spectacular. They grow to reach six inches high and fourteen inches wide in the summer months and they flourish in full sun. Because there is so much shade in my grandma’s kingdom these plants don’t always get to prove to me how beautiful they could be. But I don’t care, I accept them anyway, just as my grandfather accepted everyone who entered his life.

The grass and Geraniums reach out to the fence and at times feel like they reach forever. This yard is the biggest one in the cul-de-sac by far. Birthday parties and communion ceremonies have been held here. I never knew I could feel so free within a fence. Oaks grow to shade the pool, and gardens and ponds inhabit the land. Animals will visit and thrive in this world for days at a time. Racoons, rabbits and birds are regulars, and I once saw a mother deer and her doe.

The huge pool is the main attraction in the yard. Cousins of all ages splash and share memories in that pool. The younger family members learn how to swim in it by taking their very first jump in the deep end. The 20 to 30 year olds fly off the diving board and cannonball into the water. Girls take naps under the sun's rays and boys chase eachother around garden gnomes squirting water guns, occasionally squirting the girls before getting scolded for the umpteenth time. Mothers watch their children while they sunbathe, fathers talk business while smoking cigars. All this is happening outside, but inside the kitchen my grandmother is creating a feast.

When my grandmother isn’t caring or gardening she is cooking. My uncle Jimmy will help her fix up meals that feed up to 30 people sometimes. There are occasions, holidays and reunions, that will call for her to cook all day. Starting early in the morning, her and my uncle slave away for the sake of making a delicious dinner. Other members of the family will always offer help, and depending on what you specialize in, you will always get assigned a job if you ask. My task usually comes down to telling people it’s time to eat and then eating myself. I’m really good at eating. Of course everyone is really good at eating. How could you not be good at eating when you have my grandmother’s lasagna sitting in front of you? After everyone has sat down and a silence sets over the table because people are too busy enjoying their food to talk, I’ll glance at the steam and aroma flowing off of the main dish. I picture the smell taking a journey all the way up to heaven, so my grandfather can take part in our meal too.

After dinner and after I promised my uncle that I will play cards with him, I’ll sneak back outside to the soft grass. The wind blows in and out of the yard as if it were breathing, and sometimes I try to breathe with it. This is when I take turns releasing my breath with the wind’s. My eyes are closed, my shoes are off and nothing can bother me. It’s in these moments where I can feel my grandfather. These times are when I know I’m his grandson.

My grandfather died in a car crash in October of 1994. That cold fall night, my mother’s side of the family lost a man who always had a smile on his face. My mother was pregnant with me at the time. Five months later I was born and given the middle name of Robert, the same name as the father my mother looked up to. He, along with my strong and caring grandma, raised seven children in the middle of Long Island, New York. He traveled on the train to downtown every single day to work hard so he could put all of his kids through school, while my grandma stayed home and helped them grow, molding them into who they all are today.

I remember reading in textbooks that the loss of a loved one or family member would result in anger, fear and shame. Supposedly I was to feel trapped, helpless and frustrated, and it always confused me why I wasn’t. This was when I was younger, when I didn’t understand that things change over time. I thought that something was wrong with me for not wanting to punch a hole in the wall over the fact that I had never met him, but I wasn’t even born when he left. Over the years I have slowly started to realize that my mom, grandma and dozens of cousins and aunts probably had all of these emotions when dealing with loss at the time of the crash. The truth is that my grandpa died two decades ago and sometimes I forget that. The way my family has learned to deal with the loss of a very lovable man is by sharing stories and memories with each other. This coping mechanism has brought my family closer together. Most times this method works so well that I can feel my grandpa laughing and caring with us.

I look around when I visit my grandma’s house and take in the dozens of cousins, nieces, and mothers that Robert Juliano influenced. Some of them didn’t even get to meet him, but all of them can feel the smile that never left his face. This reminds me of a quote I used to hear when I was little, “From death can come something beautiful.” I never really understood that idea until I reached high school and had the opportunity to hear stories about him. Stories that shook my heart and filled me with bliss.

My grandpa had a hard work ethic and never gave up doing what he did for the sake of his family. He worked at a computer company on the busy streets of downtown New York and in the mid 50’s he even went back to get has masters. When he returned from school he held the title of manager and looked over everything from operation to employee satisfaction. As soon as he walked into the home of his seven children and wonderful wife, he was always laughing from his joy of being alive. He firmly believed that to live in this world you need to be happy, and my aunts and angels remind me that he was happy every single day.

Some people might tell me that because he died before I was born, the only thing I have of his is his middle name, but that is far from true. I have so many things from my mother's father that I feel overwhelmed by his presence at times. The name that I hold does impact me a lot though. I think about it almost daily. The power of being named after someone is almost dizzying, because it’s not just my name, it’s my identity. It’s who I am. My middle name means so much to me. I love it and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

The stories that my parents tell me about him warm my heart, and one of my favorites is the first time that he met my dad. I know for a fact that my dad can say that the moment he and his father-in-law shared some 27 years ago, was one of the most memorable moments he has ever experienced. My dad had been dating my mom for quite some time by then. He was born and raised in Iowa, but ventured to America’s capital city after graduating from Drake Law School. She was a girl from New York looking for a job after getting her degree from Georgetown. During the blind date that set them up, my parents had no idea that their families would have such an impact on each other in the future.

Even though I never got to see my grandpa interact with my dad I know that they were very similar. Both were great with people. Whenever I see my dad making someone smile while deep in a conversation now, I think of my grandpa too. The night my mom finally introduced my dad to her dad was a memory that will stay in the hearts of the living and the dead forever. They shared laughter, thoughts, and alcohol on that night, and even though it was their first time meeting, both my mom and grandma claim it seemed like they had been lifelong friends. Robert Juliano welcomed my dad into a loud and loving family with open arms, just as he had done with so many other souls.

My dad and grandpa had a special relationship, one that would have blossomed even more if he wouldn’t have left for heaven so soon; but the bond he had with my mom, her siblings, and my grandma was something indescribable. Unfortunately, I never got to witness the passion he had for his family, but over the years I’ve come to realize that passion is something you feel, not see. Ever since I was born I’ve never stopped feeling his love. The wind in the backyard and the voices in my dreams tell me that his humanity was something magical.

I dream about my grandfather a lot. I used to think I dreamed about him too much. When I was younger I would wake up from a night full of his spirit in my head, and then start to feel sad when I realized that it wasn’t reality. But as I’ve shared these occurrences with friends and family I’ve learned that it’s not a curse at all, but instead a blessing. This idea of my grandfather in my dreams is not constructed from memories, but instead from stories, old photographs and the wind outside. Now when I wake from a dream that he has visited, I think about how lucky I am, and how I actually did get to meet him after all.

My feet graze the grass as I walk deeper into the woods. The sun has now set and the lanterns that surround me have turned on. I can hear the sounds of endearment behind me coming from the house. Everyone else is back eating pies and exchanging stories, but here I am in the wind and the grass and the yard. I’ll return to the deck and enter my grandparents’ house after a while, but first I hear a voice in my head advising me to look towards the sky. A shooting star catches my attention and I know it was my grandpa. Both of us are smiling at each other and not wearing any shoes at all.You don’t need shoes in heaven .

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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