I’m getting married in 10 days. I keep trying to clean upstairs, but every time I come across an old shoebox of pictures, or in most cases, a huge plastic bin, I can’t help myself from peeking in. And by peeking in I mean going through every single picture! I promise, I believe in the past three days I’ve looked at every single photograph taken of myself, Travis and Jordan.
Even though I have graduated from college—twice, landed a big girl job, and bought a home, I feel like I’m still a kid. It might seem odd, but I feel like getting married is what separates my childhood from my years as an adult. Maybe it’s because, until now, I’ve been a part of my parents’ family, their daughter, an Aldridge. When Shane and I marry we are starting our own family; I know I will still be a part of my birth family, but maybe this establishment of our own is what makes this event more than just our “wedding,” it is our transition into adulthood. That’s one reason why I’m writing this; I feel nostalgic. The next phase of my life is 10 days away, and it has been heart-warming to reflect back on my life, captured in frames ranging from 3×5 to 11×14. (I’m also procrastinating from finishing cleaning—if you’ve visited my parents home and been upstairs you completely understand—but mostly it’s the nostalgia.)
I am seriously considering contacting the Guinness World Book of Records. I don’t think it’s humanly possible for anyone to have had their picture taken more than I have. I think the combination of First Baby Syndrome and years of pageants and dance competitions, in addition to the traditional school/birthday party/every sport imaginable pictures, really puts me in the running for Most Photographed Non-Celebrity Ever. And although I joke about the entire closet I have full of pictures (yes, I filled up an entire attic closet full!) I am extremely grateful that I can relive occasions and memories one snapshot at a time. Looking through pictures (and interesting artifacts, refer to Travis’ Kindergarten journals below) I laughed, cried, and even winced a time or two. I was an extremely ugly baby. Pictures of me as a newborn look gruesome. My tongue was always hanging out and I looked like a red, scratched up alien. I’m sure my parents thought I was beautiful. Now, I have to admit, I was stinking adorable as a toddler and little girl, but, to any adult (or boy, for that matter) who told me how pretty/cute I was from about 6th-10th grade, you’re a Big Fat Liar. Woof. Thanks for trying, but I have documented evidence that those were some awkward years. You will not be seeing pictures from that time frame displayed anywhere at my wedding!
I must have already trashed most of my pictures from my tween years, because there really weren’t many of them—thank goodness. So the majority of pictures truly made me smile, either with joy or bittersweet sorrow through tears. I found one picture of Jordan, grinning from ear to ear, as happy as could be, with a huge piece of cake!
It immediately made me cry and laugh simultaneously, which I didn’t think was possible. As a little girl, Jordan loved to eat sweets, to the point she would hide them in her room, and I swear, you could just feel the joy on her face while she was eating that sundae. I’m smiling and crying as I write this. I know the tears are a given, but I’m so glad that I can smile, too. Plus Ultra.
The funniest “things” I found were Travis’ kindergarten journals. He drew a picture of a house and a tree 4 days out of the week. I think by the end of the year he learned to draw a person, typically standing in front of a house and a tree! His teacher would write his captions for him, and on 3 different occasions Travis (in Kindergarten, mind you) chose to write about Daddy breaking the lawn mower and not knowing how to fix it. This made me burst out in laughter, and when I showed it to Mama, she did the same. (If you know my Daddy and how many lawn mowers he has broken over the years, I’m sure you are already laughing too!) Mama has always given Daddy a hard time about this, which Daddy denies, but with Travis’ innocent little journals, he can’t deny it any longer.
I also found Travis’ “Rules” book, where he informed others to stay in line, keep your eyes on the teacher, listen and don’t talk without raising your hand, don’t scratch others on the back of the neck, and don’t punch people in the nose. Wonder what Travis did his first week of school?
It’s incredible to look back on mine, Travis’, and Jordan’s childhood. It’s like a dream; you wake up and can barely remember any details, but one scene leads to another and pretty soon you can remember the plot. Looking at pictures sparked so many memories otherwise forgotten. And some pictures, because I was so young, are like watching a movie you’ve never seen, except you’re the star. It’s like reverse deja-vu.
I found pictures of my mom and dad from high school, their wedding, and when they were my age. I look incredibly like my mother, which is a wonderful thing (except for the nose—and that’s not mean to say, because she feels the same way about her nose. She’s actually apologized to me before that I got her nose!). Travis looks a lot like my dad (when he was younger and skinnier) and, to me, so does Jordan, but I seem to be in the minority because everyone else has always said Jordan looks like mama, too. I think Jordan and I were the only people who ever thought she and I looked completely different; except for our eyes and eyebrows. Different colored eyes, but the same shape, and same thin eyebrows like Mama. Travis has them too. Funny that something as insignificant as eyebrows can tie you to a person. I only pulled out pictures that had me in them (since I’m getting them for the wedding) but I did pull out one picture of my Mama and Daddy. He’s smiling and she is looking up at him, the same way I look at Shane now. I love it. It’s dark and not the best quality, but you can still see the love.
I found my mom’s valedictory speech; I wish I had found that when I was writing mine. I would have used her closing statement. “Behind every success is an endeavor; behind every endeavor, ability; behind all ability, knowledge; behind knowledge, a seeker. May you find all that you seek, and may all that you find bring you happiness.” How cool would it have been to end both of our valedictory addresses the same. Maybe my child will carry on the tradition, and she’ll/he’ll be able to use it then.
I found pictures of me with Aunt Rita, Grandma Skinner, Grandma Kelso, and even one of me and Granddaddy Arthur (which is amazing because he never let you take a picture). Two years ago I would have loved any picture with Aunt Rita; but now I cherish them. She loved me so good, and loved Shane just as much. She even stopped him in the grocery store one day when we were broken up, and basically told him how she wished we’d get back together. She and Grandma Skinner were the first people we talked to when we became engaged. One of the last things she said to me, was that if she wasn’t able to come to my wedding, for me to get married and be happy. I promise I will, Aunt Rita.
Both of my Grandma’s have now passed, as well. Looking at these photos makes me cry, but, I’m so happy I had such fond memories to share of each! Grandma Skinner always lived “right across the street” and was always there for me when I needed someone to listen. She was the very best friend I could have ever asked for! Grandma Kelso was my “cool” grandparent–she played video games and had long, long hair for much of my childhood. She lived in Florida and visiting her was always fun–trips to theme parks and week long stays at the beach. (With a legit sunken pirate ship off the coast! You could see the mast sticking out of the water!) I was raised by an incredible village!
I found all of my team basketball pictures with Mr. Hunter, but not just sports pictures—he had a picture made every year with all of “his girls” at prom. Which is fitting–he didn’t just love us while coaching or on the court. He loved us as young women, and he was proud of us in everything that we did.
He bought us biscuits when we had early morning practices, camps or games, and I don’t think I ever saw him without giving him a hug. I’ve known Mr. Hunter literally all of my life, through my dad’s coaching job, and also because my mom is a guidance counselor, like his wife, Mrs. Judy. The day after my sister’s accident was a blur–I don’t remember much and so many people came over to the house to visit–but I do remember seeing Mr. Hunter that day. He walked up the front walk way, ran up the front steps, and hugged and cried with me. For a good five minutes! That man loved me, and all of his girls, and we loved him so.
I found pictures of Ms. Sherri and Burns, two others who died way too young and who shaped my life in the short amount of time that I knew them. Maybe not coincidentally, both of them are “pageant” people. Ms. Sherri was my mom’s best friend in Whiteville, her son, Ryan (who is also about to get married) was my “little boyfriend.” She didn’t have a daughter so she loved me and treated me like one. I probably spent as many nights with her when I lived in Whiteville as I did with my parents. She would drop Ryan off at school, then let me play hooky and take me shopping to Myrtle Beach. She even pierced my ears (without telling Mama). She put me in my first pageant and fixed my hair and makeup for every dance competition from age five to eight. I think being on stage came natural to me, but she’s the one who saw it, and who convinced Mama to put me up there.
Pageants eventually led me to Burns, and if Sherri was my “pageant mom,” Burns was my “pageant dad.” I spent so much time talking with Burns, and he is without a doubt responsible for fine tuning my ability to speak with confidence in front of a crowd. I’ve only worked for 2 years but have been complimented numerous times on my “speaking ability.” I tell everyone it’s from pageants. And no, not Toddlers and Tiaras pageants, real pageants that actually do help shape young women. The dresses might be expensive and it does suck to cut out carbs for swimsuit, but I wouldn’t trade my years as “Little Miss Duplin County” all the way to “Spot” and “Rhodo” for anything.
Which is the other major point I realized from looking down memory lane; I was given the absolute best childhood imaginable. In addition to pageants, I took dance, gymnastics, piano lessons; I played t-ball, softball, soccer, volleyball, basketball. I was exposed to art, influenced to read, allowed to play in the dirt, enjoyed weekends and entire weeks at the beach.
I’ve been to Disney World (3 or 4 times, I don’t even remember), Universal, Six Flags, Dollywood, you name it, and I’ve been there. I’ve traveled all the way to Chicago to their zoo, down to Alligator Farms in St. Augustine (thanks to my paternal grandparents for living all over the country!).
I had birthday parties; I even got presents on Jordan and Travis’ birthday when I was younger. I spent every Christmas and Easter surrounded by family (and more presents). My favorite holiday as a child was New Years. Not just because we stayed up late (I don’t think we ever really had a bed time), but because we had a tradition. Daddy always made strawberry daiquiris (virgin, of course), and Mama made Velveeta/salsa dip. It was simple, but I remember these things because we did it every year I spent at home. I guess in 6th or 7th grade I started going to parties on New Years, but even as a 26 year old, my childhood New Years are my favorite. I laugh as I write this because I remember one New Years, while my family and I are counting down from 10, we get to “2” and the TV turns off. Travis had the remote and thought it was hysterical to remove the actual “moment” around which the whole night is built. I think my mom and dad yelled at him for doing it, but it actually makes the memory better.
I write all this to say, I am blessed. God gave me parents who have loved me unconditionally, and probably spoiled me in the process; a brother and sister who life turned into best friends; and family and adults who were like family who helped me get where I am today. I have the pictures to prove it, a lifetime of memories captured on film, and a heart that overflows with love and gratitude because of it.
I hope one day I have a closet full of my children’s pictures. I hope behind those pictures is a childhood of happiness. And I hope on the verge of their wedding, while rummaging through them to find their favorite memories to display, they feel the same way I do now. I pray I can give that to them—that feeling—the way my parents have given it to me today, and for the past twenty six years.