In my book, The Road to My Country, I wrote the following.
In some ways, memories are like small towns along a highway. You're in the dark until all of sudden, you round a corner onto Main Street, where the memories are waiting for you like the inviting lights in a late-night diner.
I have been fascinated by memories since I took a communications course at Harvard in the late sixties. In the class I did some experiments about photos triggering memories. I knew going in that a photo which was recognizable to someone present when it was taken would bring back distinct memories for each person. What I tried to explore was how some photos might trigger different memories in people not present when the photo was taken.
My simple paper did not reach a momentous conclusion, but a few decades of looking at photos have convinced me that photos are powerful triggers to memories and in some cases the photo becomes the memory. Sometimes it is hard to tell which has more relevance the memory or the photo which has becomes the tangible representation of a memory and sometimes even creates a memory where time has erased the first memory.
My friends might find this hard to believe but I wish that I taken more pictures over my life. I have lots of memories but some special ones have no pictures to substantiate them. Sometimes I wonder if I need to try especially hard to burn those memories into my subconscious so that they will not fade away. Often my first effort is to do that with writing. It would have been great if digital cameras had been invented a few decades earlier, but we cannot change history. Old fashioned photos and slides were expensive and often you could take a roll of film and not get the shot you wanted. Polaroid cameras were great for getting the shot you wanted but even more expensive and the photos themselves fade over time. However, digital ink is inexpensive.
Memories can be attached to dates, places, people, animals, organizations and objects that are part of our lives. Today is a cold March 20, the first day of spring. My mother died on a cold first day of spring twelve years ago. Thinking of my mother brings back lots of memories but this being a cold spring day by the water, the first memory is the time she took my friend Mike and me fishing on a snowy first spring day. We caught some fish, brought them home, cleaned them and cooked them.
The other day my wife decided to give our windmill palm a trimming. I was amazed at how much it has grown. It is an impressive palm as you can see by this picture. I searched my archive of thousands of pictures until I found one taken eight years ago when the palm was first given to me as a birthday present by daughter and her partner. The windmill palm is a living birthday present that will always have a happy place in my memory.
Last year I had to retire the kayak that I bought the first fall we moved to the coast. It was a great kayak but it developed a leak. I liked the kayak so much that I went through some heroic efforts to stop the leaks. Unfortunately it must have scratched one too many oyster rocks because the leaks continued. A picture of that blue Wilderness Pungo kayak on our bulkhead always makes me remember the first over 20 inch red drum that I caught. I even wrote up the story of the catching the drum. It was one of those kayak trips where fishing was an afterthought and I had left my net and stringer at the dock. That would be the time that I would hook the drum of my dreams, but I still managed to land the drum and get the fish safely back to the dock.
The picture at the top of this post is one of my favorites and the memories just swell up when I see it. I have been in love the beach for many years and this particular picture which I have used in another post, Enjoying the South & Our Beaches, makes me remember those specific days when my granddaughter and her mother each found the right moment to fall in love with our beaches. I hope their pictures will have as many memories attached to them as mine do.
So if you ever call and my wife says that I am playing with my pictures, you will know the truth. I am actually refreshing my memories.