…Yes, I Am: Finally, a Finished Collage

blue soapbox  It all started when my sister Deborah gave me a birthday card of four older women in swimsuits holding hands with each other and wading out into the ocean, their backs to the camera.  “Like the four of us!” she pointed out, as if an explanation were necessary.

“Yeah, let’s hope when the Braver sisters are that old, we look that good,” I said.

Some twenty years later, I’d collected so many greeting cards picturing four women that I didn’t know what to do with them.  Four matrons playing croquet.  Four pre-Raphaelite sylphs in a forest.  Four nuns lighting up cigarettes.  Four co-eds engaged in a tug-of-war.

I’ve got braided frauleins from Germany.  I’ve got French bikini-clad babes, all with different hair colors (“Il y en a pour tous les gouts!”).  Nice, says the latter along the top—the city, not the adjective, but you understand the confusion.

This is not a hobby most people can identify with.

“Why don’t you have photos of you and your sisters instead?”  “That’s—uhh, cute.”  “You need a picture of Sex and the City!”  Such are the comments I’ve gotten over the years when, not wanting to accept that the collection doesn’t quite translate, I’ve shown it off to friends.  The truth is, I myself don’t find it entirely explicable.

What I do know is that my bond with my three sisters has only grown over time.  As children, we survived extreme unpredictability, many episodes of domestic violence, and a traumatic custody battle.  I think learning to function as a unit has given the four of us a feeling of connectedness and accomplishment, and grounding we never had as kids.

We’ve all chosen to live near each other, and while we can count on one another for holidays and emergencies, the relationships are far more immediate than that, more vital—despite our differences in temperament, circumstances and perspective.  Scarcely a day goes by when I don’t talk to a sister or two, often all three.

People sometimes ask me why I’ve been so devoted to my parents as an adult, given my childhood.  While I want to err on the side of generosity, it’s mostly about making things easier for my sisters.  If I don’t take Mom to a medical appointment, it means Erica will.  In theory, of course, we’re all free agents, but as a practical matter, we cover for one another.  It’s only in this way that we’ve been able to make it.

So it’s completely natural that it required all four of us to transform the greeting card collection into a giant collage (a set of six collages, actually).  Margo brought over her two boys, and we set to work, the other sisters cycling in and out to give opinions.  Horizontal display, or vertical?  Elmer’s, or rubber cement?  Overlapping, or spaced out?  And what about the trashy postcards—like Sun Your Buns! In California!—in, or out?  (I made an executive decision: in.)

I now have the nearly ninety cards all framed, taking up a total of 18 square feet.  Tough broads in a basketball court.  Bathing beauties atop a giant grand piano.  Sixties-era waifs paddling in a fake boat.  Thick-ankled old battle-axes with ice cream cones.  Ballerinas crossing Abbey Road.

And in a nod to Where’s Waldo?, I did stick in one photo of the four of us.

Published in the Piedmont Post, December 16, 2009

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One Response to “…Yes, I Am: Finally, a Finished Collage”

  1. Bryan Says:

    Went to SFMOMA today. One of the pieces in their excellent 75th anniversary show is a series of photographs of four sisters, “The Brown Sisters,” taken once a year for more than thirty years (the photographer is married to one of the women). Pretty cool.

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