This year I am especially thankful for the perspective of the older people in my life, specifically my grandmothers. One passed away recently and one is suffering health setbacks. As the holidays approach, I can’t help but think about all they have taught me.
I am proud of two very different women. The commonality between them? Big personalities and a frequent refusal to conform to expectations of being a “lady.” Even when I was too young to know it – they instead taught me about what it means to be a woman and interesting person. Their lives weren’t timed culturally to accommodate a career in the way that mine is, but I know they would have gone far.
My mother’s mother was a polyglot who self-published a multi-lingual book of poems and art called “Terse Verse and Oodles of Doodles” and who wrote a recollection of leaving Europe to escape the advent of Nazism. She passed away this November. My father’s mother is a tough-talking gardening savant who grows bonsais and roses and knows every plant name. She learned to cook her Italian husband’s favorite dishes including spaghetti bolognese and rabbit and polenta, and improvised to create unforgettable family dinners at every occasion. Both grandmothers made me laugh. Each taught me about different aspects of how to be funny. The Polyglot taught me you can actually crouch down beside your dog’s bowl and do physical comedy where you pretend to be a dog, even in your 80s. Or you can stick your tongue out at someone on the street…in your 80s. She was an OG of today’s internet attitude of “IDGAF.” The Cook taught me it’s an option to threaten to toss a fresh pie in the trash if someone isn’t thankful enough. And then to do it. So bad ass. One time I told her how some other kid’s grama had baked her cookies and she said “You want a cookie – here’s a dollar. Go buy one.” I thought it was hilarious. Her timing and delivery were impeccable.
One kook, one straight-shooter, they led me by example without even trying to. They taught me women are real human beings, not idealized one-dimensional accessories. I think about what their inventive minds would have done out of their houses and out in the world, what they would have created. But I feel lucky I got to intersect with those minds. Those hearts and souls. I wish I did it even more. I will.
Chelsea Peretti is an actress, writer and comedian who appears on the FOX comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
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