Any Other Photo (Mary Jo and Bill)

When I hear this, in my head I hear Rachel telling it to me, over a glass of wine, eyes laughing.  Or I hear her mother, Mary Jo, telling it to me, like she tells everything, with the Irish way with a good story.  The beauty here is in the telling.  It’s funny, it’s simple, it’s all any of us want, to be comfortable with the person we’re with, to remain grounded enough for the real things to matter, to tell a story like this to our kids and our grandkids.  

Over to you, Rach:

“This is my favourite picture because it has everyone in it, and they’re all laughing.” says Mum.

It’s that simple. We were talking about my wedding and it led us to looking at her album.

“Not this one?” I ask, pausing over a lovely photo of her looking wistfully out of a window holding a net curtain between finger and thumb. She looks radiant and hopeful.

“Nah” she says with a quick shake of her head, “don’t mind the pictures o’ me, they’re dreadful.”

They’re not, but I don’t argue.

My parents got married in 1976, on a cold January Saturday in rural Ireland. Their clans converged on the cathedral in the nearest town to my grandparents’ farm.

“I remember clear as an’thin the mornin’ – getting ready in the bathroom of the farm. Jesus it was so cold.”  I remember her telling me that central heating only came to the farm in the 80s. Blimey.

“I could see me breath. I was standing in front of the sink, wearing the dress, doing my makeup in the mirror, and Uncle Martin was sitting on the side of the bath, talking to me, drinking whiskey and smoking a cigar.”

I laugh out loud at this image, whilst simultaneously admiring how brave she was to allow whiskey and a naked flame within feet of her person on the morning of her wedding.

She leans towards me and says in a low, conspiratorial whisper:

“One thing I wish though – that I’d had my hair done. Properly, you know, at the hairdressers. Sure, I hadn’t a clue what I was at.”

Her hair looks fine. In fact, she looks great. They both do.  The olds scrub up well.

“It was different in those days,” she says. “The young wans these days want to spend so much money on everything. Back then it was simple. Everyone just wanted a feed, a drink and a bit of a dance after the church.”

I am one such young wan, if I dare still count myself as young. She throws me a pointed stare and then goes back to the album. Back to the group shot.

“I love this picture because more and more of the people in it are gone, and it’s great to remember that we all had this day to be happy together.”

I smile and wait for the lump in my throat to dissolve, taking in both my grannies, both my granddads, my Uncle Jim with his crazy beard – “the women were cracked after him!” she adds with a wicked grin.

She then throws in something so weird I have to check that I haven’t misheard.

“My friends were laying bets whether I had me long johns on under me dress”.

No, I think. Just no. That cannot have been the case. I’d have heard this before, surely? I mean, I know she ‘feels the cold terrible’ but…?

There is a silence.

“And did you?” I ask.

“O’ course I did. You must be joking me, getting married in Ireland in middle of winter! You’d need em!”

Oh yes. She did it, she really did it. My mum wore long johns under her long-sleeved, high-necked, Victorian style wedding dress. While she’s always been a great, empowering example of championing comfort over fashion, even for me, this is a step too far.

“You mean, like old man grey long johns?” I ask, in total shock.

She nods enthusiastically, coming in for another conspiracy whisper:

“Nothing like ‘em for keeping out the cold.”

The mind boggles. I start to argue that, ahem, surely that’s not all they’d have kept out, but she sets me straight that she changed into her Going Away Outfit before they left that evening.

“Maroon skirt and jacket,” she nods, “with a matching pillbox hat.” Sounds lovely, I think.

“It was LINED.” She says in reverential tones. Warm. As in, KEEPING OUT THE COLD. For God’s sake.

I didn’t know where the story was going…my parents’ wedding night…? Umm…?

“Sure we were shattered after the day we’d had. Myself and your father left and went to our hotel, but we stopped for fish and chips first.”

That’s what I can see in my mind’s eye. That the self-styled hair and the long johns under the dress didn’t matter. Comfort over fashion. That they were comfortable with each other then, as they are now.

And that the fundamentals haven’t really changed since then. That the young wans just want a day much like she had, a celebration of their marriage surrounded by loving family and friends. To have photos to look at in years to come, where you can behold that snapshot moment in time, close your eyes and be back there for a second, blinking happily into that flashbulb, that future.



Categories: Any Other Photo
23 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Beth
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    I think we could all do with some long johns this morning! If UK based, at least.
    This is just lovely; and so beautifully told. Thank you.

  2. Posted January 18, 2013 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Really enjoyed reading this. I love that long johns were part of your mum’s wedding outfit, and then there’s the shoulders on the younger bridesmaid’s dress… I love how fashions change. Most bridesmaids now walk with nothing around their shoulders, let alone something built up that high! A lovely post, and how nice to have those conversations with your mum and share the memories properly, too.

  3. Rach M
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Thanks ladies for the lovely comments, glad you enjoyed it x

  4. Charlotte
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    That’s my Friday AOP teary tube ride done and dusted for another week then!!

    Thanks Rachel, I loved reading this, and am now considering a January wedding purely so that I myself can rock the long-johns like Mary Jo (although not with quite as much style I’m sure!)

  5. Zan
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Oh this is lovely! And loving the long johns ;) When we were at my soon-to-be in-laws at Christmas, my fiance’s mum was telling us that (as both her and his dad were living in London and went back to Ireland to get married) that his dad forgot the wedding rings when he travelled back and had to get one of her brothers (also in London) to go to his flat, persuade his flatmates to let him into his room and find the rings and fly back with them the day before the wedding. The story ended with a charateristic ‘Ah but it all was fine in the end’.

    I love these stories. Helps keep everything in perspective!

    • Rach M
      Posted January 18, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      Zan that has to win Best Irish Wedding Story Ever. Also I love that ‘it’ll all work out in the end’ confidence. If it were me, I’d need a tranquiliser shot! x

  6. Posted January 18, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    The. Most. Perfect. AOP!

  7. Posted January 18, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    And your mother is a woman after my own comfy heart with the long johns!

  8. Posted January 18, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Oh and one more thing… PEACH!!!

    • Rach M
      Posted January 18, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Cheers Amy! Once upon a time, peach ruled the wedding world! xx

  9. Posted January 18, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I love this. I love your Mum, Rach. I love how you write about her, you bring her alive with your words. Perfect. And I now want everyone’s Mums to do an AOP!

    K x

    • Posted January 18, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      That would be awesome! I know what my mum’s would be – makes me want a picture just like it but you can’t really aim to recreate a moment.
      This is beautiful and perfect.
      I personally don’t think we young people lose perspective, we still know that on the day everything else is unimportant! Or at least here at AOW we definitely do :)

  10. Posted January 18, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Simply wonderful. xx

  11. Rach M
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Oh girls you’ve made my day! I still can’t believe she did it! Our wedding is in October and she’s yet to shop for an outfit….you never know, the longjohns could be back in action! Xx

  12. Posted January 18, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Wonderful, Rach, really wonderful! Awww. x

    • Rach M
      Posted January 18, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Thanks lovely! xx

  13. Roz
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I adored reading this!! Fabulous AOP :) xx

    • Rach M
      Posted January 18, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Roz! Xx

  14. Sandie
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Lump in throat over here too! Lovely writing, Rach!


  15. Kate G
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    Rach absolutely beautiful evocative writing. Loved it, and love Crazy Uncle Jim in the photo too :)

  16. Kate G
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    Uh, if that’s him with the bead and extra long legs in the foreground, that is!

    • Rach M
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:39 am | Permalink

      It is Kate! He’s still larger than life and will be in MY wedding pictures. What a beard! Xx

  17. Rach M
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks everyone for all the comments, you’ve really made my week. God I love being part of the AOW community Xx

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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