At night, when it’s just me and my six-year-old daughter lying in her bed and talking about the day, my dreamer of a girl likes to ask about her daddy and me. She asks why I fell in love with him, how he asked me to marry him, and when I knew I wanted to marry him…so many questions! I know that some of this is because I photograph weddings for a living so she wants to know every last detail of everything I’ve seen. And it’s no wonder because I definitely bring my work home with me. The wedding I photographed on June 8th was set to take place in the gardens the bride’s grandparents had built and unfortunately, it looked like it was going to rain all week. I was so nervous and my kids could sense it. When I told my little boy that all the bride wanted was to get married in a place that had sentimental meaning to her, he responded with a very solemn, “I get that.”
It was then I realized something: I watch my kids watch these brides in utter amazement, and I watch these brides find meaning in the past and cling to the parts of them that made them the person they are. I’ve started to see every reason those two things should be joined together because so many have done that so beautifully. These wedding days are days in which a couple invites everyone they love to be in one room for a special occasion. When you have a six-year-old (or two as is my case), their wedding day could seem like a lifetime away (I’m certainly in no hurry for that day to arrive; I would keep them six forever if I could). But after 15 years of photographing weddings, I’ve also learned that the most precious and sentimental parts of the day come from many years before.
In other words, why not start now tucking away things to pull out for the special day?
Take for instance another one of my brides who got married in a dress from the 1890s! Yup, that’s right! This dress was passed down from her mother’s side of the family for 120 years. It originally belonged to her great aunt for her to be presented to Queen Victoria’s court. I’m well aware that we can’t all have a dress passed down with such sentimental and historic value. In fact, when my husband and I moved from Georgia to Tennessee the very last thing I did while packing was to throw my wedding dress on top of all our belongings. And I can’t seem to find it — fail! But the thing I loved most about what this sweet bride wore all day was her string of pearls. Every year from a young age, her grandmother would give her a couple of single pearls. She started stringing them together and then saved the full strand to wear on her wedding day!
Do you want to know from where the very best toasts have come? They’ve come from old diaries, notes friends have saved, letters that a bride wrote herself about the person she would one day marry. Save those gems! I want to start having my kids write these letters, just to see how they change and how they stay the same. In some ways they can be very poignant and in some ways they are completely hilarious.
You never know what that “something old” can be. A few years ago my bride Peyton cut a piece of her baby blanket and had her seamstress sew it on the inside of her dress. She said, “I called my baby blanket ‘B’ and still sleep with it in my pillowcase every night. Every now and then, I even still get it out to hold for a while. It has so much meaning and so many memories. It was originally my sister’s then passed down to me and that thing NEVER left my side growing up. I can picture the smell and feel of it even to this day when it is not with me 24/7. I wore that thing out! Ratty, old, with holes but even more special that way.”
What stand out the most from hundreds of weddings are things with sentimental meaning. The time the bride’s dad sang a song that he sang at his own wedding 40 years before. The old Bible that the bride’s best friend used while officiating the wedding. The handkerchiefs, the jewelry, the photos framed and pinned to the bouquet.
Every now and then my husband and daughter sing a funny old song called “I won’t dance” and I think about how I hope that song is always part of them. It’s cute and sassy just like their relationship thus far. Maybe it will be a song that stays with them so that they dance to it at her wedding. Maybe it won’t, but sometimes I look around her room at the mementos I should save for her special day. It’s a thought that even now brings tears to my eyes because I can’t fathom that day, but I know it could also come in a flash if she decides it’s what she wants to do.