Wanted/Needed/Loved #8: Torres’s Family Portrait

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My given name is Mackenzie Scott. Scott is my father’s name, so I’ll always carry that legacy with me. My decision to call myself Torres was about wanting to honor the maternal side, as that’s my mother’s maiden name, and also to bridge the gap between who I am and where I come from. When I made the decision, I was also looking to carry on some sort of family legacy—because I was adopted, and so was my mother.

I had a really great upbringing, and I was lacking in nothing. But no matter how loved you are, how much you love your family and how close you are to them, when you’re adopted there will always be some strange gap in the timeline, some place where the cord was cut. There are stories that I never got to hear and histories that I never got to know.

That’s true where my maternal grandfather is concerned. My grandfather’s given name was Henry Alvarez Torres. He and my grandmother lived in South Carolina. We’d visit them on holidays, and whenever else we could make it there, but it wasn’t often. I regret that he wasn’t a bigger presence in my life, especially because my grandfather had Parkinson’s, and he passed away in 2007.

He was already sick by the time I was born, and so much of the storytelling I do, and so much of the imagining I do, is trying to piece together a relationship that I never really had with him, but really wanted to.

I know that his mother was Mexican and his father was Spanish. My grandfather knew Spanish, but I never heard him speak it except for maybe a couple of lines, incoherently, at the end of his life. He kept that aspect of his past, his identity, from his family. I want to bring this aspect of my identity, my connection with him, into the light.

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I also know that my grandfather owned a Piggly Wiggly store for decades and that was how he supported his family. But after he retired and sold the store, he took up painting. It turns out he was fantastic, I mean so talented. Before my grandfather got really sick, I remember visiting a few times and he’d have his canvas set up in the living room, along with his paints. There were paintings all over the house, and I remember being stunned that he had painted them—like one of a Native American man that hung at the end of a hallway outside my grandparents’ bedroom, and another of an ocean scene that still hangs above their fireplace.

I have two of his paintings in my house now, both scenes from Pinocchio, including this one:

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When I was younger I just thought my grandfather was a great painter. But as I got older a couple of things really struck me: My grandfather drew from his eye rather than memory. He also painted for enjoyment, and as far as I know he painted as long as he possibly could, before the Parkinson’s made it impossible for him to keep his hand steady enough to hold a brush.

I came to realize there was so much more I wanted to know about my grandfather, to fill in the picture of who he really was. Because my grandfather made paintings, they are reflections of who he was, but also of the person I imagine him to be. And so I call myself Torres. To take on that name is a kind of reclamation.

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Over the last several years, it’s been so important for me to piece together a narrative, to document my family connections retrospectively. I’m constantly making up stories, and writing histories, even when I’m not putting them into songs. Often they’re attachments I’m crafting based on fragments of loss. Even in my adult life—I’m about to turn twenty-five—I’m always terrified of losing someone close to me and having only the objects they’ve left behind, the things they’ve forgotten to tell me, or the things they never had the chance to say.

As I’m attempting to fill in the gaps in my history, I’m also hoping that the music I’m making will someday become a legacy that I’ll pass along to others, that will provide answers to questions, and become the best of what I have to show for myself. I keep a notebook in my back pocket, and a disposable camera, so that I can record my experiences in the present—not just what’s happening but also what I’m thinking, and how I’m feeling.

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I keep everything essential in my desk, so that one day after I’m gone someone—maybe my future children, or grandchildren, or a lover, or a stranger—will find a fireproof bag of old photos, the journals and scraps of paper I wrote on, master copies of my records, the centuries-old German bible that an old, dear family friend passed down to me.

I know that these objects can never tell the whole story of who I am or how I got here. They’ll probably spark memories that are both real and imagined. But that doesn’t make them any less meaningful. They’re where one story ends and another begins…

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Wanted/Needed/Loved: Musicians and the Stuff They Can’t Live Without is an illustrated column where musicians share the stories behind meaningful objects. As told to Allyson McCabe and illustrated by Esme Blegvad.

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Mackenzie Scott is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who performs under the musical pseudonym Torres. Raised in Macon, Georgia, Torres released her self-titled debut in 2013, and her follow up album Sprinter (Partisan Records) in 2015. She’s gained the attention of critics including Jayson Greene of Pitchfork who has described her music as “thick, trembling sound that hangs like smoke,” and NPR’s Ann Powers who has said Torres’s “skill and ambition as a lyricist thrills, especially given her young age, 24.” Torres is currently on tour.


Allyson McCabe writes and produces stories about music for NPR, The Brooklyn Rail and others. Esme Blegvad is originally from London but is now Brooklyn-based. Her work has also appeared at Rookie and VICE. More from this author →