My parents’ 40th anniversary was Sunday, which my mom marked by changing her Facebook profile image to their wedding photo.

They’re beaming in the photo. They have that mixture of pure joy and unspoiled promise that the best wedding photos have. It’s an odd sensation to see your parents in a moment like that. My mom was 23. My dad was 31, four years younger than I am now.

I remember seeing their wedding photos, including the one that’s now on Facebook, in albums and on hallway walls when I was a kid. But it’s different in adulthood; the people in the photos are younger than I am. It’s easier to imagine what they were like, what they must have been thinking and feeling. When you’re a kid, you don’t think about any of that. You just think, “There’s Mom and Dad. They were old then, they’re old now. Where’s my juice box? What time does ‘DuckTales’ come on?”

But over time, you start to see your parents as actual, you know, people. That’s what happens to me, anyway, when I look at that wedding photo. I wonder what it would have been like to know them then. You know, back when they were kids starting out, before their four children came along and got spit-up on all of their nice clothes.

They look so happy. Their expression of innocent joy betrays no hint of foreknowledge. Those kids getting married back in 1973 weren’t thinking that one day they’d have teenagers who would lock themselves in their rooms and scream “I hate you” through the door. They didn’t know that one of their sons would crash the family Buick the week after getting his license, or that one of their daughters would spend a childhood Christmas in a hospital, hooked up to respiratory machines. They just knew they were in love and they wanted a life together.

Within 10 years of getting married, my parents had four children, all of whom became at least reasonably successful adults: college graduates, professionals with spouses and children (or a girlfriend and a couple of dogs, in my case). They raised us while maintaining long, fulfilling careers of their own. Dad retired from pharmacy last year. Mom is a middle school teacher. And now they have a growing army of adorable grandchildren upon whom they dote to the fullest of their doting capacity.

It’s fun watching them play with my nieces and nephews. In fact, their faces look a lot like they did in their wedding photo. That happiness, it’s not the weary happiness of a parent, which is a different, equally wonderful thing, weighted with both pride and the burden of responsibility. It’s the unfettered happiness of either a newlywed or a grandparent, the kind of happiness you can afford when you’re just starting and things aren’t hard yet, or when you’ve successfully done your job and you can just sit back and enjoy its fruits.

They traveled a long way to get back to that place. They worked hard and put their children’s needs ahead of their own. I don’t know what they thought their life would be like those 40 years ago, how it would all play out. But I think the newlyweds in that photo would be pretty pleased with the grandparents they became.

— The Indoorsman