The joke

When my sister and I were kids, we spent a lot of time at our grandparents’ house, and we spent hours of that time looking through my grandparents’ old photo albums. They had special albums for each of the most significant events in the family: the bar mitzvahs and the weddings. One, white-covered bound photo album for each bar mitzvah and wedding.

The albums usually lived in a stack on the side table next to the living room sofa (also known as the chesterfield). All were different sizes, with the largest on the bottom of the stack and the smallest on the top, pyramid style. The very smallest — just 6″ x 5.25″ — was the album that held my parents’ wedding pictures. The pre-printed cover of the album says, “A Wedding Story”.

We went over that album a hundred times. We could stare at the pictures for hours. Who were these people? Some we’d never met, but most we had, in a different guise. The pictures in the album show our parents, our aunts, our uncles, our cousins, our grandparents, and their friends as kids and young adults. They bore some resemblance to the people we knew, but in a vague, almost dream-like, fairytale way. All dressed in their best, attending probably the biggest event so far in the two families’ lives: the first wedding of any of their children.

Many of the pictures are the formal type: one side of the family posed in a line, and then the other side of the family posed in the line; each couple or attendant posed in the aisle as they walked down (or was it back up?); my great grandfather saying the prayer over the challah at the head table; my father’s parents raising their glasses to toast the newly married couple.

But there was one picture that always transfixed me. It was the one picture I couldn’t ever get enough of. When I cracked open that photo album, though, I wouldn’t rush right to the picture. I’d make myself start at the beginning each time, studying each picture as if it were the first time I’d seen it, wandering my way slowly through the wedding until I was nearly at the end of it — and then I’d come upon it again, as if it were new: my mother’s parents eating their fruit course at the reception, laughing at some private (I imagined) joke, my grandmother poised as if to elbow or smack my grandfather, and he leaning back, in mock fear.

The wedding joke

What was the joke? Was it a real joke, or a pose for the photographer? I always wondered, but I didn’t dwell too much on that. Instead, I just reveled in their smiles, their happiness, the easy way they seemed to be with each other. I knew this sense of humor first-hand. I’d seen my grandmother make a quip at my grandfather and then seen his sly eye-rolling and smile, made just for the benefit of his grandchildren. She always had the upper hand, or so he let her think.

For my entire life, this picture has been the image I think of when I think of my grandparents. I smile every time I even think of this picture. I don’t know what the joke was, or if they were as happy and carefree as they look in that photo, but in my mind, this was my grandparents, at the age I am now, in the middle of their lives, having the time of their lives.

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