Anniversaries and birthdays are alike in that the longer the time the shorter it seems. When one sits back and watches the internal movie of their life or a marriage, the paradox springs, "How did I cram so much into the blink of an eye?"
My parents will celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary August 29, 2009. My sisters and I wanted to throw them a party extravaganza, but they would have none of it. You see, our annual Smith Family Reunion is held every year in late July and with six grown children and 14 grandchildren spread all over the country, my mother did not think that all would return a mere month later to celebrate something as trivial as a wedding anniversary. No amount of cajoling, sweet talk, feigned anger and true disappointment would sway her. Very well, I thought, if Mama won't come to the mountain, the mountain will come to Mama.
Borrowing picture albums from my mother and two sisters, I began the painstaking task of scanning picture after picture into my computer. Then I began to build a powerpoint presentation, complete with animation and music, creating the very real fairytale of my parents fateful meeting, playful courting, loving child rearing years and finally, retirement adventures; 139 slides worth.
Through all of the work, there were many times as pictures spun onto a slide in horizontal 8 x 11, that my breath was held suspended by a memory. I cried at the captured laugh on my favorite grandmother's young face as she held my toddler father up on a picnic blanket. I stared at a picture of my father "wrestling" with my sister and I. We were probably three and two; her with her blue Keds, me with my red ones. I wondered at the look of promise on my face as my mother pinned a corsage on my dress for prom. Being the creator of the stroll down memory lane, I had the advantage of being able to stop and smell the proverbial roses of memory at my leisure.
Finally, it was done. The songs were chosen and the slides timed to transition smoothly from one period into another. At the reunion, I announced that my sisters and I had put together a "little entertainment" to honor our parents on their 50th wedding anniversary. I further confessed that, yes, we were taking advantage of a captured audience, but "the dinner and movie are free, after all, so just sit back and enjoy it."
The LCD TV sitting atop an inverted computer paper box slowly lit up up to reveal a slide with a red curtain and then the words, "A Modern Day Fairytale.....started over 50 years ago". Canon in D played by a flawless quartet oozed from speakers as pictures of my grandparents, designated king's parents and queen's parents faded into view. My parents as children grew up to Barry Manilow's "I Am Your Child" . These years flowed easily into the dating years and newlywed days accompanied by my parent's chosen song from years ago, "True Love" by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. As the slides ticked by of me on the potty chair through my sister standing in a graduation gown, Tracy Adkins sang "Then They Do". The moment lightened up a bit as my dad's promise during his marriage proposal of "Stick with me, baby, and I'll take you places" was proven true with a myriad of slides showing trips around the world while Frank Sinatra crooned, "Come Fly With Me".
Through all of that, I anxiously watched my parent's faces as they were transported quickly through those busy years where they were so tied up in doing the best they could they didn't realize they had set the bar for all of us. I glanced around quickly to scan the faces of my father's brothers and sister and all of those that had shared in those years being portrayed. I watched as my aunt's hand flew to her mouth at the picture of her standing among her four brothers and holding her fifth brother in her arms. I chased the wink by my Uncle Billy directed at my father over the picture of him as a teen saluting my dad in his VMI uniform. My mom blushed, denied and then preened as one of my cousins commented on how tiny her waist was as she stood holding a python across her shoulders as a gimmick shot in Florida.
Then magic happened in that garage in the wet heat of a late July afternoon. The music became hauntingly quiet and Josh Groban's smooth voice started to sing "When You Say You Love Me" as grandchildren were introduced on the slides. There were my two boys, infants and then bashful toddlers staring out at me and it was yesterday again. My dad's face, now frozen with the mask of Parkinson's disease, was animated again; mimicking the wide-mouthed squeal of my year old neice. My mother's ebony hair slowly took on the salt and pepper of middle age and then the silver of a grandmother's wisdom.
Picture after picture played across the screen and my parents aged before our eyes. But that was not the surprise for me. My children grew up in a matter of minutes and then I was staring at teenagers finishing high school. I breathed out the word "Oh" just loud enough to get my mother's attention and she turned slightly in her seat to smile at me and she understood. She was me all those years ago and now I was her and it was happening all too fast. With tears in her eyes, she nodded and turned back to watch as the years flew by on screen.
The screen show ended with a picture of my parents taken back in the 1970s. The photographer, probably me, caught my parents just as they were about to kiss. Their lips are about an inch apart and their eyes are almost closed. It is the most romantic picture. Across the top of the screen were the words, "Happy 50th Anniversary". Under the picture rolled the words, "From Princess Karen, Princess Valerie and Princess Carol". Everyone dried their eyes and then clapped. My mom bussed my cheek and then turned to accept the many hugs and congratulations from those in attendance. I knelt before my father who smiled in his way and said, "That was wonderful, angel." Then he joked, "I'm not sure it was always a fairytale". I hugged him, marrying our wet cheeks and said, "It is for me dad. It always has been." My husband took our picture as I knelt there by the king's chair, smiling through tears and holding him tight. Another picture to try and hold a moment in time captive. That was my weekend; a moment in time, gone in the blink of an eye.