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The Palimpsest Scrapbook

The Palimpsest Scrapbook

Sarah Everett taught her son to drive at 10 years old. When she caught him smoking one of her cigarettes as a young boy, she didn’t chastise him. Instead, she invited him to join her next time: he never touched a cigarette again.

Her son sees her life as composed of three parts. The first is a life of general comfort and privilege. She was a smart girl, graduating from high school at 16 and college at 20. She won golf championships and rode horses. She married young and enjoyed a life of social gaiety with her husband. “They lived high through those times,” her son recalls.

When the war came, so began Sarah's second life. Her husband fell apart and she fell into straitened circumstances that starkly contrasted with her previous life of relative opulence. Her resourcefulness allowed her to “buckle herself together” and she became a different person. She divorced, and married again and had a baby girl to care for. Her sons had been sent to boarding school or to stay with relatives. She learned to cook, among “other things that mothers should do that she had never done before.” She was no longer in the frenzy of socializing, and reneged on her previous “hands off” approach to mothering in order to provide for her new daughter.

This relative social quiet gave way to her third life, one of philosophical – Buddhist, even – comportment, of peaceful acceptance, tranquility, and dedication to her craft. A life-long sculptor, it wasn’t until Sarah’s later years that she took her art more seriously and began teaching at Queen’s college. Her son, who always called her Sarah (“well, that’s her name, isn’t it?”) never felt the antagonisms or frictions that often pervades relationships between mothers and their children. She was refreshing and relaxing to be around.

This wasn’t the case for everyone, however. Sarah had a strong ego that made those close to her prickle at times. She was fascinating, demanding, and stubborn. She was a liberal among conservatives, a Buddhist among Episcopalians, an idealist among pragmatists, a tease among the poker-faced.

Her studio smelled of damp clay and pencil shavings. You had to make your way around the floor littered with scraps of paper, watch for ink stains on table tops, and avoid knocking down unfinished ceramic busts.

In reality, I can only imagine what her studio smelled like. I never met my great grandmother. I am often told how much we would have gotten along, if not for our love of art-making and teaching, then for our stubbornness, our proclivity for challenging norms, for feeling deeply, and for getting lost in rapturous debate. As I listen to my grandparents regale stories of her extraordinary character, I can’t help but feel swindled. How is it that I never got to meet the person in my family to whom I feel most connected?

What would our relationships look like if we met each other at different stages of our lives? What would my 7-year-old self, or later, my college-self have to say to Grandma Sarah in her later years? How would a conversation unfold between my present 27-year-old self and my father at the same age? Would we see each other more clearly? What if my mother and I, both in our sophomore year of college, could gossip about fickle friends and stumble around campus together at night? What if my 24-year-old brother were to meet me as an elementary student? Would he dote on me as I did him throughout our childhood?

This is the beginning of The Palimpsest Scrapbook series, where I explore the dissolution of linear time and recreate connections and relationships between family members who perhaps knew each other at the wrong time, or didn’t know each other at the right time.

pal·imp·sest | ˈpaləm(p)ˌsest | noun
something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form

This series plays with time and space in a way so as to reconcile, or renegotiate relationships between people. It combines photomontage with digital line drawing and watercolor.

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