Our daughters presented us with a montage of photographs last week.
One shows a young soldier, skinny as a rail, standing next to a dark-haired beauty wearing a shocking-yellow dress. They are standing in front of a pale-green 1963 VW bug.
Only I recalled that the photo had been taken on a weekend when I came home to Tampa from Fort Benning, Ga., where I was nearing the end of the Infantry Officer Candidate School. Technically, I was AWOL, since even as "senior candidates," we weren't allowed to leave the area around Columbus, Ga., without permission.
We were engaged by then, I recall, but the thought of waiting several weeks to see you was too much to bear.
Also, I was feeling guilty that you and your parents were doing all the heavy lifting in planning our wedding, scheduled for three days after I was to receive my second lieutenant's bar. I recall a tearful phone call when you related the frustration of dealing with the diocese. The monsignor who had seen me grow up had taken a vacation to his native Ireland, and the whippersnapper cleric filling in was a stickler for canonical red tape. Thankfully, my mother, who after years of bake sales, mothers club meetings and countless projects at Christ the King Church had more clout, pulled rank on the young priest; and things soon were smoothed over.
A second photo shows that same couple standing before the church altar -- you in bridal gown and me in formal garb and sporting a classic Army haircut. I have more hair today -- barely.
Our wedding, honeymoon and harrowing trip to Baltimore, Md., for my first assignment are all pretty much of a blur these days -- in part because they took place within the same week. I do recall how the U-Haul trailer we rented to transport our few possessions had crumpled the rear bumper of our 1966 VW fastback (we had upgraded wheels by then), and that it was touch and go whether we would make it.
For many years, it was our custom to celebrate our anniversary at a nice restaurant. While waiting for the initial course, we would try to recite where we had eaten on previous anniversaries. That tradition fell by the wayside long ago. We should have kept a journal.
One anniversary I can never forget was the first. I woke up that morning on a jet, having picked up an entire day crossing the international dateline. It wasn't until the approach to Saigon airport, when I looked down on verdant rice fields that I realized it had been exactly 365 days since our wedding. It also hit me that I might not see you ever again. Thank God, I came home intact.
The third photo in that frame shows a handsome young couple, she in a strapless black cocktail number, he in a dark blazer and madras trousers. I can't recall the occasion, but the dress was de riguer for cocktail hour on Hilton Head Island, where we lived for nine years.
Missing from the montage are any shots of the four houses we have owned or the apartments we lived in along the way; any clue to the jobs we held; or the relatives, friends and neighbors who have enriched our lives.
Most noticeable by their absence are photos of the two young women that this marriage produced. Although I vividly recall their births, I draw a blank when I try to remember the days before they were in the picture of our lives.
No one would classify us as helicopter parents (Lord knows, these gals have lived much more adventurous lives and in further-flung places than their parents ever did), but neither of us could imagine a more fulfilling or satisfying experience than being their mom and dad.
The final photo neither of us likes very much. It reveals less hair, more gray and a bit more chin than we would prefer.
All in all, though, I think we still make a handsome couple; I know I wouldn't want to be in the picture with anyone else.
Happy 40th, my love.