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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Photos turn back the clock

June Lemen

My dear friend Annie sent me a Facebook message asking about some old shower and wedding photographs that she had discovered while she was weeding out her collection.

She told me that most of them were pretty bad (as in, wouldn’t win awards for their photographic composition) and she was going to chuck them out, but would I like her to send them to me instead?

“Send them,” I replied.

They arrived, and I opened them eagerly. Seeing them, I had the odd sensation of looking through a reverse telescope.

I stared at those photographs and thought, “My God, is that really me? I was so young.”

My hair was long and very brunette. I was slender, and my arms were Michelle Obama-worthy (I worked in the college library and was constantly shelving heavy reference books, so I had well-defined biceps).

I could tell, because I was wearing my favorite dress – a sleeveless, lemon-yellow affair – that I adored and wore to every occasion requiring a dress.

Picturing that dress today, a little over 30 years later, I smile.

My Aunt Edie – my Great-Aunt Edie, to be technical about it – is in the first picture. I’m not quite sure how she was related to me, actually – whether it was her husband, Uncle Charlie, who was my grandfather’s brother, or whether she was my grandfather’s sister.

This isn’t quite as careless as it sounds: my Grandfather Johnson came from a family of more than 20 children. His father’s first wife died after 11 or 12 children, and then he remarried and had 11 or 12 more. So, it’s kind of difficult to keep track.

Aunt Edie was a charmer. She lived in West Boylston, Mass., where the police kept an eye out for her when she drove. Fortunately, she came to my wedding with Uncle Phil, who wasn’t a superb driver, either, but who didn’t inspire the terror my aunt did.

Uncle Phil was my grandfather’s brother-in-law. Half-brother-in-law, actually. Aunt Edie and Uncle Phil combined forces on the wedding and shower gifts they gave me: a set of sheets. Twin-size.

My mother and her friends are in the shower pictures, as well. The triumvirate: Peachy Racicot, Pat Sibley and Mary Roach. When I look at them now, I think, “God, they were real lookers.”

Peachy, Mary and my mother were brunettes, and Pat was a blonde. They all had (and the ones who are still with us still have) fabulous smiles and great wit. They gave me shower gifts that I used until they fell apart. I had the spice rack Mary gave me for more than 20 years.

Then there’s my ex-mother-in-law, Annette, smiling from the sidelines at the shower, and some women I don’t remember, who I know worked with my mother. Unfortunately, since she was the photographer, there are no pictures of Annie, but there are in the wedding and pre-wedding pictures.

The pre-wedding snaps were the best: my father trying not to show emotion as I pinned on his boutonniere. My mother straightening my veil. My bridesmaids trying to do something with my always-prone-to-tangle hair, as it was a breezy day.

It was a day in June more than 30 years ago – the day I thought was going to be the most important of my life. It didn’t turn out that way.

My daughter, Lucy, of course, wanted to know all about the pictures.

“Mama, I have two questions.”

I was holding my breath at this point, expecting questions about divorce and remarriage and if I was sure that Daddy and I would stay married.

“Number one: Mama, can I have a veil when I get married?”

“Sure, honey. You can wear whatever you want when you get married.”

“Good. I’m going to have a veil, because I think that looks really, really cool. And I bet it was fun to look through, wasn’t it?

“Number two: Why did the boys wear such ugly suits? And why were they brown? You don’t like brown. Didn’t that man know you didn’t like brown?”

That kind of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

June Lemen is a freelance writer from Nashua. E-mail her at Her column runs the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month.