Old photos reveal much about us

Madeleine Keller Shuler holds a photo of her and her “twin” that husband Karl took for the cover of The Citadel’s literary magazine, The Shako.

Madeleine Keller Shuler recently celebrated her 92nd birthday. Until two months ago, she was living unassisted and driving her ’91 Caprice Classic with barely 50,000 miles on the odometer. She moved into Sandpiper Village recently because she was tired of cooking her own meals and figured it was time to park the vintage Chevy. She’s still proud that she never had an accident and never got a ticket in more than 70 years of driving.

These new surroundings at this retirement village still allow for some of her favorite pieces of furniture. There’s also just enough room outside for flowers, but no more worries about yard work or upkeep. She’d like you to know, though, that just a couple years ago she laid sod at the old homestead.

Her husband died 10 years ago. Karl and Madeleine married in 1946.

When her cat died a few months ago, Madeleine decided she should move because she had no one to talk to.

Most of her life she was a teacher. At the age of 20, after graduating from Winthrop College, she taught at her old high school in St. Stephen. Her students were almost as old as she was.

Her new living quarters contain a few knick-knacks. But what she treasures and features most are her pictures. She has thousands of them, mostly in albums. They all provide a story, especially one.

In 1947, her husband was a veteran-student at The Citadel. Because he had experience with a B-24 aerial photography unit in World War II, he was asked to take some pictures for the military school.

Karl loved photography. He further adored taking pictures of his lovely wife. When asked to provide a cover photo for the school’s literary magazine, The Shako, Karl asked Madeleine to go with him to Folly Beach.

The original idea was for Madeleine, while wearing a two-piece bathing suit, to run to a specific spot where an ‘X’ was drawn in the sand. Though looking beautiful in her beach attire, she missed her mark. Later, after the photo was developed, her smiling visage was clearly off-center.

Karl was not overly concerned. He was so in love with his wife and with the photo, he developed a little dark room magic and created identical twins.

The cover photo was a big hit. There was immediate interest in the school’s literary magazine.

Madeleine keeps the framed photo on display still today and loves to tell the back story.

Two-piece swimsuits were becoming popular. As Madeleine recalls, “Everybody was doing it, it was the way to go.”

A French designer, though, once described a two-piece swimsuit as “something that reveals everything about a girl except her mother’s maiden name.”

Madeleine doesn’t remember the photo being especially risque but is quick to add, “My daddy would have said something if he didn’t approve of it.”

These days, it’s just another picture on the wall, but it certainly carries with it a very memorable story. Madeleine is settled in and enjoying her opportunities to socialize with fellow Sandpiper residents. They all have their own stories and their own reasons for being there. Most have children and grandchildren. Some complain about the food, the weather and how things “used to be.”

But I’m pretty sure nobody else in the entire complex has a photo hanging in their living quarters of their younger self running down the beach in a two-piece bathing suit. Pictures are good ways to remember. Pictures with stories produce even better opportunities to communicate who we were and are.

Reach Warren Peper at peperwarren@gmail.com.