Don & Gail | My Grandparents’ Love Story

A 63rd Anniversary Backyard Photoshoot for my Grandparents

My grandparents have been married for 63 years. They tied the knot on April 27, 1957. My grandma, Gail, was 18 when they got married. My grandpa, Don, was 20.

They met three years before their wedding, at 15 and 17 years old. At the time, Gail was dating Don’s good friend, Gary. They all went out as a group, and Gary refused to drive Gail home in time to meet her curfew. Her father was very strict, so this was not a suitable option for her. Don offered to drive her home instead. And that was it — three years later, Don and Gail were married.

Together they have 3 children, 4 grandchildren, and 3 (soon to be 4!) great-grandchildren.

I would be lying if I told you that they are the cliché adorable old married couple. Rather, they tend to fall into another cliché: the “fighting like an old married couple” one. Regularly, when my grandpa tells a story, my grandma will interrupt to add a piece to it. My grandpa, exasperated, will yell, “It’s MY story, Gail!” and my grandma will snap back with a sharp retort. It’s humorous because it happens so often, and it’s always the same line: “It’s MY story, Gail!”

But while they may not be sweet as peaches to one another 24/7, their love is real. It’s deep and honest and enduring. I can’t imagine one without the other. They have spent their whole lives together, and I pray that continues for many more years.

I have been wanting to take photos of my grandparents for quite some time, but I never made it happen because I wasn’t sure my grandpa would be down. He’s known for not smiling at the camera. He’s not mushy. He wears track pants. The photographer in me wanted the photoshoot to be perfect: a 30 minute photoshoot at a beautiful location with my grandparents all dressed up. Maybe a bouquet involved. You know, that Pinterest-perfect vision.

Instead, I brought my camera over to our family dinner and took my grandparents out into my mom’s backyard. We probably spent 7 minutes taking photos. My grandpa left his giant phone in his shirt pocket, and I forgot to remind him to take it out until after I had already captured my favorite images. I casually mentioned that they should “dress up a little” beforehand, so naturally he wore his track pants (this is funny because when I “interviewed” them, my grandma mentioned, “He used to be a snappy dresser — trust me. Beige wool suit, one button roll, blue suede shoes, and a skinny tie when we met.”)

Their backyard photoshoot wasn’t Pinterest-perfect, but the photos are perfect. It’s them. It’s who they are. My grandpa smiled(!) and went along with all of my poses and prompts. When I look at these photos, I see their love so clearly. I’ll always be grateful that I took 7 minutes to photograph them as they are. After all, not many couples can say they have been married for 63 years. I hope to have another photoshoot like this with them again someday.

At my own wedding, our DJ set up a “reverse” anniversary dance, so the longest married couple started the dance and others joined them on the dance floor throughout the song. I vividly remember when my DJ announced, “I’m going to invite the couple who has been married the longest to start the dance,” I heard my grandpa mutter, “Oh, damn it” because he knew it was him. Of course, he got up and happily danced with my grandma anyway, but it still cracks me up. It’s so him.

When they got to the dance floor, my DJ asked them to share their best piece of advice for a long and happy marriage. My grandpa said one word: perseverance.

After our little backyard photoshoot, I asked each of my grandparents what they loved most about the other.

My grandma’s response: “I love that man because he’s faithful and he’s honest.”

My grandpa’s response: “Everything. What can I say? Because she loves me and puts up with me.”

Cheers to my grandma and grandpa on 63 years of marriage. I am blessed to call such strong, kind, and wonderful people my grandparents.

January 4, 2021

  1. Kandis Milonoff says:

    Rachel, you so perfectly captured my Mom and Dad! First in photos, and now in words! Mom is an always has been sweet, loving and giving…and strong! She set the bar high for your Mom and myself, as an example of how to be a great mother! She was the ultimate stay-at-home mom… dinner at the kitchen table every day (with dessert!), always at our school parties and field trips, Cub Scout and Girl Scout events, trips, and camping, sewing all of our Halloween costumes. Dad has always been stubborn, smart and, yes, loyal. He wasn’t as hands on as a parent. “Go ask your Mom” was his typical response whenever one of us would ask if we could go somewhere or do something. That German frugality and practicality is ever present, and his engineer’s brain so sharp and focused that it’s very difficult to make one’s point in an argument! But he has just as sharp a sense of humor, so dry many could miss it! And yes…he loves Mom, and all of us very much! It really shines through clearly when he’s watching the antics of his Great Grandchildren! Thank you, Rachel, for this truly lovely tribute to my parents! It will be something we treasure through the years! ❤❤❤

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