Science tells us – and our own observations confirm – that smell has a powerful connection to our memory. When we get a sniff of something baking, a particular perfume, or even something less pleasant, our minds can be immediately transported back to a specific place, or time or event. To this day the smell of a certain type of cigar dials up very vivid images of my first visit to a major league baseball game.
Photographs, of course, wield that same power over us. That’s why we take pictures at important moments in our lives: weddings, senior portraits, the birth of a child. Not all of these pictures are formal affairs. Buried deep in that shoebox in the corner of your closet, you may have pictures of that time that Grandma brought her sister to your house for Christmas. Or a shot of your toothless smile back in first grade. Our family albums grow more precious with time, because they are filled with our memories, and poring through them evokes bittersweet emotions of happy days and those that we miss.
A few days ago my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Charleston, South Carolina. A city worth a visit on its own merits, filled with history, beautiful architecture and, in the spring, millions of flowering plants. But for us, Charleston is even more significant because we lived there for a couple of years when our sons were very young.
Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about the past when we drove down. I was thinking about taking pictures on the waterfront at dawn, and visiting Magnolia Gardens, and enjoying some free time with my wife. The same wife that I left comfortably sleeping while I slipped out before dawn to get down to the waterfront.
The pier was closed, but it was just as well. I really wanted a picture of the iconic Pineapple Fountain at dawn. I had a few minutes alone with it before another photographer showed up, somewhat disappointed that I had already claimed “his” spot. But we were able to cooperate well together and I think that both of us got the shots we wanted.
We chatted as we worked. He is a Charleston native. I explained that we had lived there years ago. In fact, we were living there before the fountain was built. He seemed surprised by that. (Apparently I appear to be a much younger man than I am. Either that, or he thought the fountain was very, very old!)
Then we discussed specific dates and he realized that he, too, had been living there since before the fountain was built. He was three when it opened, which means he is only slightly younger than my sons. We talked about those years, and my boys playing in that very fountain.
When I posted an image on Instagram later, one of my sons immediately responded with his own memories of that place, some 30 years ago.
At the end of the day, when my wife and I stood at the foot of the Ravenel Bridge, she reminisced about the old bridges that it had replaced, and how much she hated driving over them. I suspect that every time we look at the photo I took that night of the new bridge, she will still be reminded of those years. And of those days we just spent in Charleston together.
Most of our time was spent walking through Magnolia Gardens where we both took pictures of flowers. And she attempted to get a portrait of a bee or two. We wandered the streets off the battery as we reminisced and created new memories that will be reinforced by some of the images in the gallery below.
I hope you enjoy the photographs. But more than that, I want to encourage you to pull your camera out this week. Take some shots of your kids trying to survive their school closings. Get a picture of that pile of toilet paper you have stocked in the spare bedroom (or the empty shelf at the grocery store). Hopefully, in a matter of months we will all be safely beyond this. In a year or two, it may even be cloistered back somewhere in the far reaches of our memories along with Y2K, bad hairstyle trends, and the H1N1 virus.
When that day eventually comes, it will be nice to have a couple of prints in that shoe box. Just enough to help you say, “Oh yeah! Remember when that happened?”
Click each of the photos to enlarge them. Your comments are welcomed below.