Pictures can be more powerful than words? As a writer, I don't often agree with that statement, but there are always exceptions, and this particular photo caught my attention over the weekend. It's our wedding portrait, of course, which already makes it special, but most of the time, I focus on Floyd and me -- how young we were, how sure of ourselves and our plans, how excited to be setting off on our Air Force adventure. I can look at this picture and know how happy I was, and the look on Floyd's face reminds me that he was saying, "Can we just get on with it so we can get out of here?"
This time, however, I looked at the family, and i saw things I didn't know -- or recognize -- way back on December 17, 1960. Take a look at Floyd's folks, first. I can now almost see their jaws clenching. They were being polite and charming, but I was not the daughter-in-law they had envisioned. They hoped for a good little Catholic girl. (That's a Methodist church we're in.) And they wanted a homebody, someone who would persuade their son that this idea of making a career out of the Air Force was a bad idea. (With a career Marine brother giving me away, I could hardly wait to see how far away the Air Force would take us.) His mother's expression, particularly, tells me that while she had accepted the inevitable, she was thinking that she didn't have to like it.
Then there's my side of the family. My mother, first. Wow! I have complicated memories of her. We didn't agree on much, and the strains of planning a wedding had not helped our relationship. But I see a whole lot now that I didn't understand then. My attention first went to noticing how thin she was that night, compared to how I usually remember her. Then it hit me. My father had died just two years earlier, so she was still a relatively new widow. (Only now, in my own new widowhood do I recognize that thinness as a symptom of grief.) And then I see how desperately sad she looked. Brave -- holding her chin up -- but about to lose her only daughter, just as she had lost her husband and her only son -- to places far away. She had promised me a beautiful wedding, and she fulfilled that promise, but it must have come at a terrible price.
And then, of course, there's Brother Jack, whose photos had brought me to this one. Here he looks absolutely haunted, and so he was. He had hitchhiked from El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in California, just to be there to walk me down the aisle. But with him he brought heavy burdens -- another horrible war experience in Korea, standing as a witness to the hydrogen bomb tests at Eniwetok (with the dangers that exposure had meant), a wife with thyroid cancer, two little girls (ages 8 and 12) who might have to be raised without a mother, and, of course, the undiagnosed PTSD that left him with nightmares and raging alcoholism.
I understood none of those things that night, and perhaps it was a good thing that I did not. But it's also a good thing that the picture serves to broaden my understanding now.