My parents were married 72 years ago, on July 12, 1947. All that survives of that day are a few black and white snapshots – my mother standing awkwardly in her ill-fitting wool suit (I know it was blue only because she told me so); a blurry photo of the couple cutting the wedding cake, in the dining room of her father’s farm; a snapshot of them together. I cannot look at these without thinking:
Weren’t they roasting? I know she bought the suit out of practicality, so she could wear it later, but … wool in July? (The high temperature that day was 79 degrees, according to the weather station at Quonset Point.)
Is it true my father hated the floral hat she wears? And if so, why does it turn up in her honeymoon pictures?
What happened on July 13? and July 14? and the next day, and the next?
I know they honeymooned in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a journey they took in my father’s new truck. (The high the next day was 84 degrees.) A few photos of this occasion survive, too: My mother in front of a tourist cabin; my father in front of the same cabin; his truck parked beneath a majestic sweep of mountain. When we were young, my sisters and I loved to point out the primacy of that big logging truck of which he was so enamored.
Their tourist cabin was typical of the time period. It had a front porch with a few simple pillars and an apron wall. I have scrutinized postcards of the time period but cannot place it. The cabin is so like, yet not like, all the postcards I found: The Green Granite Cabins of North Conway, the Chester Lodge and Cabins in Jefferson, Rowin’s Cabins and Guest House in Franconia. It could be any of these, but in each one some detail is off or the picture too obscured for a positive identification.
I don’t know how long they stayed, but I’m guessing only a few days. Whenever they journeyed north, even for their 30th anniversary, they only stayed a day or two. The times I accompanied them on these trips were interminable – long stretches of highway, my father making time, and me growing bored and antsy in the back seat.
The truth is my parents’ wedding and honeymoon belonged to them, and them only, and anything that can be known about that time faded away with their deaths. I can admire my mother’s traveling outfit, a white blouse and jaunty Mexican skirt; I can take a magnifying glass to my father’s face, searching out the inscrutable expression beneath his gangster-like fedora. But I can never know what they knew, or feel what they felt.
This, of course, is why we write. Not to tell about the days well remembered – the anniversaries, for example, or the births or holidays – but the ones that came afterward. To answer the questions: What happened then? What happened after that? How did it all turn out?
And for that task our imaginations are all we have.