IT was Mammy and Daddy Dunne’s 40th wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago.
They met at the tender age of 17 when Mammy Dunne spotted Daddy Dunne on his bike outside her place of work, on the way to his own job nearby.
“Who’s yer man on the bike?” she asked her friend, the one who knew everything and everybody, linking arms and sending shy glances his way.
And so it began.
We celebrated with a family party in our house – just the happy couple, their children and grandchildren. Low key and exactly what they wanted.
Burgers and hot dogs were on the menu, accompanied by coleslaw and potato salad and an obligatory bowl of limp lettuce which, naturally, was never touched.
The grandchildren presented handmade Ruby Wedding cards and sparkly photo frames, the cake was cut and a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday rang out.
Well, they’re only children, they saw a cake, they saw candles, they assumed it was SOMEBODY’S birthday.
After the festivities we all sat down and the wedding album was brought out. Still in its presentation box, carefully wrapped in white tissue paper. A heavy, thick affair smelling faintly of Mammy Dunne’s rosewater perfume.
An envelope fell out from between the pages, filled with telegrams and cards, some from friends who weren’t able to make the big day; light, flimsy pieces of paper, yellowing slightly with age.
I plucked one at random and read it out to the group: “Congratulations on your wedding day. Wishing you every happiness, much joy and luck in your married life together. Lots of love, Lottie and family.”
Mammy and Daddy Dunne looked at each other fondly.
“Who the fuck is Lottie?” they asked one another in unison.
“I don’t know, probably one of your friends, from the hospital, there were loads of them nurses,” Daddy Dunne blustered, caught on the spot.
“I never worked with anyone called Lottie,” Mammy Dunne countered “she was probably one of your friends. Your Dublin friends.”
She said Dublin as one would say Sodom, or Gomorrah.
They looked at the telegram bewildered, each having a go at reading it, lips moving as they read over the words, hoping something would come back to them.
Nope. Nothing. Nada. They hadn’t a clue who this woman was. She was obviously somebody they knew if she was sending them a wedding card but 40 years, four children and six grandchildren had erased her.
“She was probably your fancy woman,” Mammy Dunne sniffed, folding the telegram and putting it back in its envelope, ignoring her husband’s huffed ‘chance would be a fine thing’.
We went back to flicking through the album, marvelling at how young they both looked, how long our mother’s hair was and how like her I am. There was one particular photo where my own face stared back at me – it’s official, I am becoming my mother.
The last photo was a traditional ‘group shot’ taken outside the church with the bridal party in the front row and the rest of the congregation organised according to height.
We spotted aunts and uncles straight away – slightly more hair and less girth than they’re sporting now, but themselves nonetheless. Our Granny was there, sitting proudly, if a little stiffly, beside the Bride. Friends and colleagues were pointed out, stories were told about this one and that.
But not about that one – “Who’s that?” Daddy Dunne asked, puzzled, pointing to a couple in the back row.
Mammy Dunne peered through her glasses at them, taking in their hair, their glasses, their faces.
“No idea,” she said, blowing out her cheeks. “Honestly now, no idea. Who’s that lad there, standing behind you? Is that Seán? No, hang on, Seán’s over there.”
They went over the photo and found six faces that they couldn’t place. The memory of them had been scrubbed clean, like they had never existed. Along with poor oul Lottie.
“But how could you just forget them?” I asked “they were there, at the wedding, you invited them, you knew them, how can you just NOT know them now?”
They shrugged. It was 40 years ago, they said. It’s a long time.
Being as I am in the midst of planning my own wedding, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’m not even married and already I remember every detail of my wedding. In my mind’s eye I can picture each and every guest, see every flower, remember the price of everything we’ve booked and paid for. It’s such an important day, I can’t imagine forgetting an iota of it.
But 40 years is a long time.
There’s nothing else for it, I’m going to have to channel my inner Margaret Thatcher, become scarily efficient and make a written record of everything. And more importantly everyONE – who they are, who they’re related to and how we know them.
Bridezilla, maybe. But at least it’ll avoid confusion on our 40th wedding anniversary.