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A Few Of My Favorite Things By Heather N. Paxton 

In fourth grade, one of our assignments was to write a poem about a month. I chose June. The exact version is lost, but here’s what I remember: 

In June, girls become wives
And start all new lives

But I shall stay the same
And not change my name. 

(Yes, I was a curmudgeon even then. I never did change my name, although New York state records show that I was married once.)

Years later, I briefly taught a creative writing workshop. I sometimes showed photos to my students and then asked them to write about the people and the situation. I encouraged them to look at facial expressions, posture, clothing, and decor. What they wrote was fiction, but it was based on their interpretations of the pictures. 

A great deal of creativity went into this photo: the giant palms, the painted backdrop, the artful styling of the bride’s train, and the bridesmaid at far right, who looks wholesome enough to be an advertisement for something such as raisins, oranges, oatmeal, or soap. 

When I first saw the 17 people in the Asian-American wedding photo in an antique mall near the Kansas City International Airport, I thought of that writing exercise. The picture was by May’s, which was located at 770 Sacramento Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown. I always assumed the photo was from the 1920s, but the photography studio moved there in 1931, according to the Online Archive of California. The lanterns, the painted backdrop, and the rug add an air of festivity to this photo. The bride is at the center of the back row. Her bouquet is barely visible. Much of her gown is obscured. As for her groom, I suspect that he is the young man wearing glasses and standing next to her. He seems to be leaning slightly toward her. She is holding her flowers closer to him than to the other man by her side, who is looking directly at the camera. Both the bride and the groom have serious expressions. Perhaps they are thinking of the night ahead, when they will finally be alone. It’s difficult to guess how everyone is related, but the lady in the dark outfit is undoubtedly a grandmother, with perhaps a great-grandchild on her lap. Possibly the two ladies in light-colored dresses in the front row are newly minted mothers-in-law. One has chosen a dress with a fashionably short skirt; the other one appears quite elegant in a long dress. The man sitting with his hands on his knees looks impatient. The young woman, likely a bridesmaid, in the back row, appears to be pouting. The man on the end of that row is a head taller than the others. Is he perhaps the groom’s boss or a colleague? What about the man in the lighter-colored suit, who looks older than the others in the back row. Might he be a beloved professor? As for the man in front of the bride, is he her father or her grandfather? Or is he someone else entirely? Then, too, there are the children. The little girl at the far left appears tired, while the little boy on the right is still standing at attention. The baby is awake and taking everything in, though too young to later have memories of the event. The tiny girl with the long dress and the ribbon in her hair is being held in place; if she were turned loose, she would probably be dancing.                   

I date my interest in wedding photos to the moment I saw that picture. A few years later, it dawned on me that if I wanted to collect them, I no longer needed to wait for serendipity. I could search for them online, often at Etsy or similar websites. For a time, that was a popular late night pursuit for me.  

At the time I was collecting, I rarely saw Black wedding photos from this era. Some members of the wedding party are very serious, while others are on the verge of smiling. The different expressions make it fun to imagine what they might be thinking.  

Some may wonder: shouldn’t these photos be returned to the descendants of the couples or other relatives? In my case, most of these photos arrived at my house with little or no information. Someone might have written something on the back, but an inscription such as “Helen and George’s wedding” isn’t helpful to a stranger reading it decades later. For those who have photos they wish to reunite with family members, there are Facebook groups, (such as Lost and Found Vintage Photos), that strive to make that possible.  

My collection isn’t limited by decade or theme; I’ve simply chosen what I liked. If I can look at the photo and imagine a story, that’s reason enough for me to add it to the set.

Also featured in the Tie The Knot Signature Issue – August 8, 2020

Heather N. Paxton

Heather N. Paxton’s name first appeared in The Independent in a birth announcement back in — oh, never mind. In the mid-1990s, Heather joined the staff as a replacement for a friend who was expecting a visit from the stork. (Let’s hope Heather sent a baby present. The boy is a college graduate now.) Her 20s, 30s, 40s, and now her 50s: Heather has been a staff member for at least brief periods in all of these decades. She is most at home in the office when she is perusing the archives.

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