Happy 35th Anniversary, Mom and Dad

In 30 years of living and seven years of working as a wedding photographer, I have met a lot of happy couples. Occasionally, though, I am lucky enough to meet those couples who seem so cosmically drawn to each other that nothing can shake their bond. The sky splits apart and an absolute deluge, complete with lightning, drenches their outdoor venue minutes before the ceremony. A tear-soaked wedding is thrown together in less than a month because the father of the groom has brain cancer. Jobs are lost, children are born, tragedy and triumph come in alternating waves. And as life reveals its highs and lows these couples are only strengthened with each anniversary.

Some have been friends, others, clients. I have huge respect for all of them. My favorite couple by miles, though, introduced me to Lake Tahoe and still invite me to their home on the holidays. Factually speaking, they also gave me life. I want to share a little piece of their story.

kim & jim schmidt

Thirty-five years ago on this day my mother and father were married in a small white church in Genoa, NV. Almost everything went wrong.

It started three days before the wedding when my parents’ close friend and minister called from St. Louis to inform them he couldn’t afford to come to the wedding.

One of the church’s two organs was sent out for repairs the week of the wedding; regrettably, it was the working one. The organist was likewise missing at the wedding rehearsal. (It turns out he was a reformed alcoholic and had fallen off the wagon that day. His children found him late Friday night, passed out under some bushes in his backyard.)

The caterer, a woman who had previously made her living in a less-than-reputable (but legal in Nevada) kind of way, had been chosen over a family friend because my grandmother had insisted she was the best caterer in town. Unfortunately in the hours leading up to the wedding the freezer containing all the food for my parents’ wedding menu failed and the food spoiled.

At 10:50 on the day of the (11:00) wedding, my mom’s father (also her ride) realized he didn’t have any suitable socks, and raced into town to buy some. Upon his return he realized his car was filthy—full of bits of paper, hay from the horses, sagebrush and other Nevada detritus that had blown in the windows. They arrived at the church at 11:20, the bride atop a giant green sleeping bag laid over the backseat to protect her dress.

Fortunately the hungover organist showed up to play her down the aisle on a borrowed Pakistani folding organ, then mysteriously disappeared without saying goodbye. The minister had also made it to the wedding, with a little last-minute help from my mom and a travel agent. He was nervous to perform his first wedding and forgot to seat the guests after the bride entered, but there were many tears and no one noticed; they stood for the duration of the ceremony. My dad was overcome with so much emotion that his best man (my other grandfather) spent the ceremony holding him up at the elbow. (Dad likes to say that “until death do us part” was the bit that sent him into a paroxysm of weeping. It was then that he realized this would be a really, really long time.)

One silver lining? My grandmother had insisted the caterer make things right since she had already been paid in full. Her other freezer that hadn’t failed contained more expensive fare and she ended up feeding the entire wedding prime rib on a hamburger budget.

The official end to the wedding came when the Washoe Zephyr winds kicked up that afternoon, knocking a cymbal off the drum kit and cutting the band’s power cord. They packed up and left two hours early and the dancing was done.

Was it a good wedding? According to my mom, “Everybody had fun, no one died.”

Among the things that didn’t go wrong: my uncle, an incredible photojournalist, documented the whole day perfectly, beautifully, lovingly. I had a chance to flip through the album last year after my dad’s father died. Despite the chaos of the day everyone is beaming, glowing practically. My parents have always been surrounded by love. Today I stand in awe of all they have built together, knowing full well they have encountered bumps and bruises and occasional detours in the process.

After all these years, every night when my dad gets home from work he still gives my mom a hug and a kiss. And when he looks at her, he still has as much love in his eyes as he did the day he married her—and much more.

We should all be so lucky. Cheers to the next 35.