18 years & Counting

June 05, 2011  •  Leave a Comment

Today is mine and Natalie’s 18th Wedding Anniversary. Like any other couple we’ve experienced our ups and downs, and our magical moments, and those moments that weren’t so magical.

She and I have done a lot of soul searching recently on the magic of a marriage and how it disappears over time. If you think about it, magic is usually a poof of smoke or abracadabra that comes and goes quickly. Magic wasn’t meant to be sustained over a period of time. Magic is a fleeting moment, just like a photograph. It comes and goes. John Lennon said it best in the lyrics of the song Beautiful Boy, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Really, if you think about, life itself is what makes a marriage and its also what can destroy a marriage.

Over the last 18 years, really 20 years if you count the time that we dated, there has been lots of magic, and lots of moments. Many times, we didn’t recognize those moments as being magical at the time. It happens that way when you’re in the moment. Magical moments are like good vacations, you need to step away from them a few months later to see how good they really were.

One of my greatest treasures in life are the rocks in our flower garden. We decided from the beginning that rocks were great and cheap souvenirs from our travels. Each time I pull in the driveway, regardless of where I’ve been, regardless if I made money that day or lost my ass on a blown assignment and all the mileage that went with it. I can pull into my driveway and get a glimpse of the rocks that surround my mailbox and my house, and it reminds me that it’s not about a single moment, or a single day, but rather life is about the long haul. Just like mine and Natalie’s marriage.

There are rocks from Tennessee that we collected when she was 8 months pregnant with Nolan. There are lava rocks from when her parents sent us to Hawaii to reward her for graduation with her Masters. There are memories embedded in those rocks of snorkeling Molokini, climbing up to Haleakala, and our unplanned 5-hour-drive, zig zag adventure, around the road to Hana (we were lucky to even make our flight after that trip). There are rocks that we packed out of the Grand Canyon, when we hiked there in the 1990s. And of course there are rocks there from our epic RV trip last year across America.

There are two rocks in particular from that trip that represent our marriage. One is a deep red rock from Arizona and the other is the big rock that she and kids worked on digging out of the snow illegally in the Rocky Mountain National Park, while I was in the car with elevation sickness. These two rocks represent a marriage because of  these reasons: the red rock from Arizona wasn’t meant to be in a rainy climate that Kentucky has had this year, and it’s disintegrating and breaking apart. So I had to move it closer to the house to protect it. It’s not strong enough to stay out in the open. And the Rocky Mountain Rock is tough! It was designed to survive any type of weather.

Mine and Natalie’s lives are like those rocks. There are moments with our kids, that are like the Rocky Mountain Rock, that could survive any weather, under any conditions, 365/24/7. We’d kill for our kids. We relish in our kids, like when Cameron hit a triple to the fence last week in Little League. And when Laura comes up with some bright idea on how to make money with her own business selling brownie cakes, and when Nolan gives us a dissertation on something he learned off the History Channel and then applies it to his real life. And then there are moments like the Arizona rock, that are more tender, and needs more care, like when we put so much time and effort into our kids, and into our careers, that we forget about those moments of infatuation, like when I first met Natalie at the Powell County High School lunch room during her honors banquet in the spring of 1991. We often tend to lose sight of what got us here to begin with. And the weather starts chipping away at us, every time it rains, until eventually we disintegrate! We have learned, although painfully at times, the parts of our marriage that needs protection from the house itself and the parts that can withstand the test of time.

I’ll always be a creative brain. Natalie will always be a math brain, (whose check book is never off by even a penny). I feel good myself as a person if I make through the month without the bank telling me I’m overdrawn…yet again. I ran into yesterday, perhaps the greatest teacher I ever had in college or high school, and although I struggled with every high school algebra class I ever had with Diane Davis, she and I agreed that the world needs people who made straight A’s as well as those people who made D’s.  I’ll always be a photographer who is obsessed with his work, and with high blood pressure, and Natalie will always be the greatest mother in the world. God made her, and designed her to be a mother, from the moment her little brother Brent Douglas was born. God designed her to be a caretaker, to be compassionate, to be understanding, and above all else to be patient in ways that I will never understand or be capable. To me that’s what a marriage is about. It took me many years understand that. Marriage is about love, but it’s also about a partnership between two people who bring both their strengths and weaknesses to the table, and commit to that partnership. God may have designed me to see and help save the world through the lens of a camera, but he also brought me together, as a team with four other people in this world. And without US, or without that TEAM, I’m nobody.

Happy 18th Anniversary, and on June 30th, Happy 20 years together! Rock On.


I went to the 1991 PCHS Honors Banquet to award a scholarship from the Clay City Times,
and met my future wife in her pretty white dress.

This is a photo of Natalie and I while we were dating. Very few people have ever carried my camera bag, but I let her pack it
while we were visiting my Papaw Tojo, a true Eastern Kentucky man, in the Spring of 1992. A fellow photographer, Rob Carr, saw this print later and
said it looked like Natalie was standing in Honduras. After several years of hard work, my parents have turned this farm on Garvin Ridge into
a weekend get-away.

I proposed to Natalie with a half-carrot diamond slid onto half of a carrot. I couldn’t pass the opportunity to insert
a little humor into the moment.

My Graduation from Eastern in 1992.

Natalie’s Graduation from Morehead in 1995.

Our Wedding Day, June 5, 1991, Stanton First Presbyterian Church (look at all that black hair in my head…geez where did all of it go to?)

The same three kids that stole all of my black hair tried to tell me how to drive to the pawn shop this weekend that used to be Gales Market
back in the day. I said, “we used to live there, I know how to get there!!!”

The birth of Nolan Gale, September 23, 1997

The birth of Cameron Wayne, April 3, 2001

The birth of Laura Kathryn, August 6, 2003

Making babies sure was fun! But maintaining babies wasn’t any fun at all.

Natalie and I have vowed to go back to Hawaii as skinny people and retake this photo.

This was my third trip hiking the Grand Canyon when Natalie got to go with me in 1999. I’ve hiked over 100 miles
in the canyon between 1996 & 1999, and went Rim to Rim in 1999.

Niagra Falls 1995

I’m going to trade in my Guy Club card here with this photo. God gives us these beautiful women as our wives. And then we tend not to appreciate their bodies after they give us our children. Stretch marks are signs of character and sacrifice for the children that go on to ultimately continue our families.

A 2-foot snow storm at our trailer park in Richmond, 1996.

Vegas 2007

An elevator in the Downtown Boston Marriott, February 2006

Kelly Wells’ Wedding, sometime 1991…I think…maybe 1992.

Happy Anniversary Nattie!!!!


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