They met at a dance in a small Iowa town. He asked her to dance and she said yes. He knew she was the one with her bright smile and open heart. She knew he was the one with his sense of humor and his lust for life. Their love story would span over 50 years and take them on a journey they never imagined.
It’s a story of two people who loved their family unconditionally and loved the life they were given. In the end, he would take his last breath holding her hand. She would slowly deteriorate from Alzheimer’s, forgetting those who loved her fiercely. This is the story of my parents.
My siblings were left with a house full of memories of their journey through life. There were numerous photo albums, pictures of the grandchildren in every room and so many moments frozen in time in this small Iowa home nestled on 160 acres. We were now faced with the task of cleaning out our family home of 50 years of love and memories.
As we sifted through the memories, we found little gems that shed light on their relationship. An engagement book that described how my father proposed to my mother.. We found never seen before images of my father standing tall on the deck of a boat during their honeymoon to Niagra Falls. And of course, we found their wedding album showcasing the love and laughter of a young couple ready to start their lives together and remain together until their last breath.
As their daughter, a photographer and an avid believer in the power of print, part of my grieving process needed to encompass saving their story. I needed to save as much of their journey as I could and make sure my siblings and children had a copy of their love. We were all intertwined in the fabric of what made this story so exceptional.
So how did I start the process? Well, I knew I wanted to make a photo book that encompassed all of my favorite photos from the beginning of their relationship.
I started with the yellowed and torn engagement book. I took some of the information and wove into a spread with some of the images from the day. I took a photo of my mother’s handwriting in the book of the gift information and who it came from. I then used it as a background and layered photos of my young parents on top.
There is a picture of my parents that is very formal of them starting to open their engagement presents. Then, you can tell when the relatives went home and the friends stuck around. My parents changed clothing. There is a picture of my father playing the piano at the party. My mother laughing with friends outside into the night. They are the more true moments of my parents.
I then studied their wedding album. It housed a series of true black and white 5×7 photos. The prints themselves were on a thicker paper and hand trimmed. The album started with my grandmother putting on my mother’s veil as the flower girls looked on with big smiles. It ended with a photojournalistic shot of my parents coming out of our family church ducking the rice being thrown on them by well-wishers.
There are stories behind the pictures, I felt needed to be told. There is one poignant image of my mother walking herself down the aisle. This was in 1956. It was unheard of. She had come from a broken home and was on her own since she was 14 years old. She was sent to live with a wonderful and warm family who helped her through those years. She worked hard and put herself through college and nursing school. This image of my mother walking alone down the aisle is one of power. It is of a woman who no matter what life throws at her, she was determined to have a happy life, a life based on unconditional love.
I took my favorite photos from their wedding album and placed them in a simple layout. I also took elements to use as a background, like the lace that made up my mother’s bridal dress.
Lastly, I put in a few of their carefree honeymoon pictures to end it. I could have added so much more, but I wanted to keep it simple and poignant. I chose the rich and thicker silk paper to tell their story. I kept everything in black and white. I chose the grey fabric photo book to house their love story.
I made copies and gave them to my siblings. I made two for myself so I could give one to each of my children.
My mom and dad’s story is not necessarily unique, but it’s their story. It’s a story and love that needs to be told and shared. Now through my photo book, I know their story is safe and will be there for the next generation.