Thirty Years: A Marriage in Pictures

John and I were married thirty years ago today, at 12:30 p.m. to be precise.  To celebrate our anniversary and to reflect on what all those years have meant, I am sharing one picture from each year, with commentary.

August 12, 1989, as we emerged from Immaculate Conception Church in downtown Knoxville, immediately after the ceremony.  Like any newly married couple, we were starting a journey that we couldn’t have imagined or predicted.  We were 23 and 22 when this picture was taken.

April 1990, at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.  John and I met at Georgetown University, and lived in Alexandria, Virginia just outside D.C. for most of our first year of marriage.  John, who graduated in 1988, was already working as a Federal Investigator and I found a job as Secretary of Georgetown’s Department of History.

Fall 1991.  A lot happened in a year and a half!  We learned we were expecting our first baby.  We decided to move to Knoxville to establish residency so John could attend the University of Tennessee College of Law.  We left good jobs in D.C. for no jobs in Knoxville and settled into a two-bedroom apartment,  I found a job as Secretary of the Liberal Arts Advising Center.  John worked in the UT Traffic Office by day and sold shoes at Proffitt’s (a local, now defunct department store) by night.  Emily was born in February 1991, and John started law school later that year.  We have never regretted this decision.

February 16, 1992, dressed to go out to celebrate our 5th dating anniversary.  We still celebrate that day every year.  At this point we were living on a combination of student loans and part-time jobs.  John was making fundraising phone calls for Tennessee Right to Life and I was the Foster Care Promotional Coordinator for Sertoma Learning Center.  Later that year John started working as a law clerk.  Childcare for Emily was cobbled together: my little sister watched her all summer, my grandmother helped once my sister was back in school, I brought her with me when possible, and she spent one day a week in a Parents Day Out downtown.  I hated having to leave her.

July 1993, New Orleans, where we were taking part in Katrice and Rico’s wedding.  Katrice was one of my best friends in high school.  She and Rico are godparents to our oldest son, and we celebrated their son’s college graduation with them earlier this month.  What I remember about this day is that I was hot and miserable and suffering from morning sickness.  John was getting ready to start his third year of law school and I was preparing to return to grad school and my Graduate Assistant position in the College of Liberal Arts.

May 1994, John’s graduation from law school! I love this picture.  We were very popular in law school because students with babies were rare and ours were spoiled by all our friends.  Jake was three months old when John graduated.  And he was four months old when we found out we were expecting another baby, just days before John took the bar exam.  Thankfully he passed and landed a job in Oak Ridge reviewing OSHA regulations shortly afterwards.  I was able to quit my job and have never worked outside the home since.

Easter 1995, a classic picture and one of my favorites of all time.  Teddy arrived when Jake was 12.5 months old.  He had only learned to walk about two weeks earlier.  Two babies at once were a lot to handle and most of that first year is a blur.

Christmas 1996.  We still had two babies in diapers (and two cribs!) but we also had our first house! A year in a dreadful two-and-a-half bedroom apartment after Teddy arrived spurred us onward to home ownership and we loved our sweet 1940s house in South Knoxville.

Halloween 1997.  The kids were two, three, and six.  They spent most of their time outside, and I spent a lot of time outside as well, having discovered a love of gardening.  By now John had his own solo practice, and I did (and still do) very part-time grant writing and editing for my mother’s non-profit organizing work.

February 4, 1998, John’s 32nd and Emily’s 7th birthday celebration.  Looking back now, those years of being overwhelmed by the needs of little kids seem like the golden years.  It was hard, but it was simpler.

February 1999.  The date is a guess, but this was taken at a restaurant at what was probably a birthday celebration and we have four of those at this time every year.  I make a lot of cakes for awhile!

January 2000, dressed for church.  Teddy’s hat came from a New Year’s Eve celebration John and I had attended at Club LeConte.

March 2001.  And then there were four!  The arrival of William was exciting but rough, as I had postpartum hypertension and had to remain in bed for about a month after he was born, with ten-year-old Emily taking care of her brothers when John was at work.  We were beginning to be very cramped in our 1400 square foot house and our Mercury Sable.  Both were replaced later in the year.

Christmas 2002.  When the big kids were little, every December meant a trip to the portrait studio for Christmas pictures to insert in our Christmas cards.  By this time I was taking a roll of film with my own camera and then sending triple prints.  The closest family members got the worst pictures!  Here the kids are standing in front of the house where we had lived for just over a year, a 3000 square foot Queen Anne Victorian built in 1889, in a non-gentrified but walkable neighborhood just a couple of miles from John’s office downtown.

August 2003, the big kids’ first day of school.  It was the last year they would all attend St. Joseph School together.  Jake was in third grade, Teddy in second, and Emily in sixth, but Jake and Teddy were both homeschooled for their fourth grade year.

November 2004, Lorelei’s first trip to church.  We didn’t know it then, but she would be our last baby and the last family member to get to wear John’s heirloom baby dress.

Christmas 2005 marked the end of a hard year that included periods of unemployment, financial difficulties, and John’s hospitalization.  Looking back now I can see that it was the only beginning of the most difficult period in our family’s life so far.

September 2006, celebrating my mother’s birthday.  This photo includes Ella and Zachary, my sister Anne’s children.  Ella is 17 months younger than William and Zachy is 17 months older, and they grew up playing together.

Spring 2007.  William is wearing his St. Joseph School uniform.  Kindergarten was his only year in Catholic school.  He spent the next year at the public school down the street, then was homeschooled for several years while I struggled to figure out why he wasn’t as easy to teach as Jake and Teddy had been.  We called the back stairs in our kitchen the “snack steps” because that’s where I would sit the little kids to eat something while I was cooking.  You can see evidence in this picture that our old house was starting to crumble a bit.

May 2008, Jake’s graduation from 8th grade, taken next to Holy Ghost Church.  We were all smiles, and very proud of Jake who graduated with straight A’s and won some academic awards, but I was putting on a brave face.  The day before this I was in the hospital undergoing outpatient surgery after having miscarried our last baby.

November 2009.  I’m not sure who snapped this picture of John and me the afternoon of our move into a new home.  It wasn’t a happy move, springing from financial necessity of being upside-down on the mortgage of our disintegrating but much-loved Victorian home.  But I love that the picture shows us supporting each other.

May 2010, Jake’s first prom.  I love this picture for the personality it shows, but also because it was a bright spot in an otherwise difficult stretch where John and Jake (who have a great relationship now) did not get along well at all.  Something else noteworthy about 2010 is that it is when I became John’s legal assistant, working from home to run his office.

September 6, 2011.  Our rental house had just burned down and we lost almost every material possession.  Thanks to the overwhelming kindness of our family and community, we were able to move into the home in which we still live three weeks later.

Fall 2012, Senior Night.  John and I are not athletic, and our kids showed no interest in sports until Teddy wanted to play football in 8th grade.  It was all new and exciting to us and we thoroughly enjoyed those few years as football parents.

May 2013, Emily’s college graduation.  Emily attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, graduating with a degree in Creative Writing.  We thoroughly enjoyed our many visits to Mobile, where my mother’s family has roots, especially the seafood!  Just a couple of months later, we sent another kid off to college as Teddy began his freshman year at the University of Notre Dame.

August 12, 2014, a 25th anniversary selfie.  This was taken at Club LeConte, a fancy restaurant on the 27th floor of Knoxville’s tallest building.

July 2015, in a Chicago skyscraper more deserving of the name.  We were in town to attend a wedding and to visit Teddy, who was doing a summer internship there.

March 2016, a Spring Break trip to Chattanooga.  Traveling was starting to get easier.  On our last family trip with all five kids, we had to take two cars and book three motel rooms.

May 2017, Teddy’s graduation from Notre Dame.

March 24, 2018, our first wedding.  Jake and Jessica were married at Frozen Head State Park.  Six months later, they moved to Nashville.

July 2019, our first cruise.  We sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas to Bermuda, in honor of our upcoming anniversary.  I haven’t blogged about the cruise but I plan to.  It was wonderful and we deserved it.

“[Love] is the unity that binds us all together, that makes this earth a family, and all men brothers and the sons of God.”  ~ Thomas Wolfe

A Quarter of a Century

That’s how long ago it’s been, as of today, that John and I have been a couple.  On February 16, 1987, he asked me if I would be interested in going out with him, and I bet if he could have seen the future, he would have run the other way instead.  But I guess if any of us could see the future we’d run the other way, right?
I went to college with the express intention of finding a husband.  I also said he would be a lawyer (because I thought all attorneys were rich!) and that we would have a lot of children (I wanted ten) and I would stay home with them.  I got what I planned for, although it doesn’t always look exactly the way I thought it would!  John went to college to prepare to join the Foreign Service.  He was going to live a wild bachelor existence until he was at least 30, and he wasn’t really interested in having children at all.  He also got what I wanted. 🙂  I think he’s not sorry, most days.
Our early courtship was . . . shall we say . . . complicated, because John had been dating my roommate first.  But we worked through that, and all the things that followed.  We were best friends first, and I know that helped (still does).  We also enjoyed one of those romantic, chemistry-charged beginnings–and we can usually recall those feelings when we need a boost, even if that kind of intensity cannot be sustained non-stop for 25 years.
We’ve always celebrated this date with the same fervor as our wedding anniversary–which is probably why Valentine’s Day has never been a big deal for us.  The first year we were dating, we exchanged cards on the 16th of every month!  John planned to pop the question on August 16, 1988, which would have been our 18 month anniversary, but once he had the ring he just couldn’t wait, so he asked on July 16 instead.
I have an exceptionally clear and detailed memory of my whole life up until I started having children.  Ask anybody.  And I’m glad, because I can conjure up not only the feelings of those early days (not wanting to eat, seeing John’s face floating above the Platonic dialogue I was supposed to be reading, being able to think of nothing but our next meeting . . .) but the actual details (what happened each day leading up to the 16th, where I sat and waited for John to meet me after his class, him playing “Only the Good Die Young” whenever I came over– and no, it did not work!).  This is more important than ever now.
Because normally today I would go to my dresser drawer and pull out a sheaf of love letters and cards from the first year of that courtship, still in their envelopes, many addressed not to “Leslie” but to “Pumpkin” or whatever the pet name of the week was, neatly arranged in chronological order.  It embarrassed John to hear the things he wrote back then, but I treasured them, and realizing they were reduced to ashes was the post-fire moment that brought me closest to tears.
Which brings me to a happier story that I don’t think I’ve shared yet.  When I tell people that our house burned down, the thing they all are most upset by is the loss of all our pictures (we will be the last generation that can lose pictures to fire, thanks to computers).  Now, honestly, I was more upset about a lot of things.  That’s because I made triple prints of every photo and sent one whole set to John’s family in Baltimore, so I knew that most pictures of our kids survived somewhere.  I thought, though, that our pre-kid pictures were gone for good.
One day John went over to the ruins to get our fire proof box, which had all the negatives for our pictures, including our wedding pictures.  Sadly, fireproof does not mean waterproof, and everything in the box was ruined.  But John also came home with a photo album with some salvageable pictures.  I sent him back to look again and he returned with most of our photo albums and the baby books too! Somehow, amidst the utter destruction of the room they were in, the built-in cabinet they were stored in provided some level of protection.  The albums are singed and many pictures are ruined.  But many can be saved.

I can’t do it.  Looking at the destroyed ones upsets me and so does the very strong smell of fire.  But Emily worked on it at Christmas time and will finish the job this summer.  And because of this little miracle, I do have a couple of courtship pictures to illustrate this story.

My 21st Birthday

Diplomatic Ball – Georgetown 1988