My grandparents door was always open to my mothers gypsy ways. And my two older brothers and I spent a lot of our childhood there. My grandpa was Italian. My grandma, Hungarian. She called their relationship the marriage of garlic and paprika. It was a loud and passionate household. And in truth, extremely vain.
My grandpa was a designer/engineer for General Motors by day, and a ham bone musician by night. There were many nights for my grandma left alone in 'her chair' watching tv. His chair was empty, shadowing the outline of his body in the cushions. It made me sad for her. I wondered if all relationships looked like this. I'd hop in his chair and keep her company. Paint her short little nails on hands that look just like my own. Help in whatever ways I could. But a child could never fill that hole, try as they may.
My grandma and I were very similar. We were both sort of not wanted and spent much time together. She even took me to my very first day of kindergarten. I remember standing there grasping her left leg, not wanting to go into the class. What if she left like everyone else and never came back. How could I live without her???
Even after all those days of she and I walking my two older brothers to the corner on their way to school, waving goodbye to them, tears streaming down my little face. Wondering and imagining what great adventures must lie ahead for them at this thing called school. I thought I could not wait for my day, for my turn.
Yet now, with it here in front of me all I could do was to cry. I did not want to go. I did not want to leave my grandma, my rock in the stormy sea of my life. I peeked around her leg and saw through my tears the dreaded destination. It was a big classroom with all different stations of seeming fun set up but it mattered not. I stood outside with her, looking in through the two large glass doors. I have for so long in my life done this. Stood outside looking at the seeming fun but dare not enter it. This was where it all started.
As the teacher approached us, used to these moments of hysterical 4 year olds, she tried to offer assistance. Bad move, it made me scream even more. Nnnooooo Grandma nnnooooooo. My grandma brushed the teacher off and she gently loosened my grip. Looked deeply into my red bloodshot eyes with her matching blue ones..... She wiped my running nose on her dress, kissed my forehead . She then reminded me that it was only a half a day. That she would be back in a few hours and would take me to Saunders for a strawberry ice cream soda. And then we would hit the JCPenney for a matching Grrranimals outfit. My favorite. Shopping appealed to me even then.
For those who don't know.... JCPenney had a line back in the day of kids clothing. They had these different colored animals [Grrranimals] and when you matched the tags, the outfits matched. So you would learn WHILE you shopped. It gave me a great sense of independence. I could pick out my own stuff. And of course at times, I would mismatch the animals for a funky look and sensibility that I still keep today. I am so NOT a fashionista. I like what I like and fuck it. There are many timeless pieces in my closet. I will not be put in a box. Except literally. hehehe
The ice cream soda and shopping softened the blow and I finally let go of grandmas now turning purple leg, her knee high was down around her ankel. So I rubbed the rest of my tears away trying to regain some dignity as I walked in, put my chin up, a few layers of cover on my heart and walked into yet another situation of my early life that I did not want to be in.
I had learned early on that so many things would occur in my life that I had no control over. And ones that I promised myself not to repeat on my own kids. I've been pretty good about it too. But this was a long way from that moment. A child's first day of school is usually traumatic. I think...well, we can only know our own experience and often mistake it for everyone elses.
I never had any conscious desire to be an actress. Or a musician as my grandfather encouraged in all of his kids and grand kids. The first time it occurred to me was around my aunt Suzi. She seemed to be so loved by the family. Always talked about. Always praised to the moon. But I hardly knew her, she was always gone and was an enigma. A complete stranger.
I personally didn't get it. I mean, her music was just okay to me. I was only a kid. I was told how successful she was in Europe. Well, who cares I thought. I was a 10 year old in America. That was all I really knew about the world. And it was not lost to me young as I was that music and a band was what took my own mother from me as a 2 year old. Broke apart my parents. So of course it would leave a bad taste in my mouth.
At a certain point all the family was ablaze with the fact that Suzi was to be on Happy Days, even I was excited . That was a great show, one of my favorites. Now she had some credibility to me!!! Now I thought she was cool. However it did not last very long.
So the episodes came and went. We all gathered in my grandparents living room. Many of us, friends, family, the neighbors, the milkman.... Frankly it was hard to hear the show over all the LOUD Italians and my grandpas roaring and praise over whatever she said and did. There was no modesty here. There never was with this crew. For me the show was a little disappointing. Again, I thought well, she was ok. Not the earth shaking response the Quatros seemed to have.Then again, it was always this response in regards to Suzi. Thank God I am a Fenn, I thought.
When later down the timeline we moved into a new neighborhood again my mother had an alarming suggestion. When I got home from yet another day of excruciating embarrassment of eating alone at lunch in a new school with no friends yet. Being the "new girl" again. My mother said in all her bizarre wisdom..."Well, did you tell them WHO your aunt is??? "
I almost died. Did she just really say that. Is she fucking crazy. Well that had already been proven, I suppose. Okay, maybe not crazy but certainly lost. I replied,"Why??? SO THEY'LL LIKE ME???" My voice dripping sarcasm for such a ludicrous idea. It was just to redunkulous!!!!! It sums up the mind set of the Quatro's . Now don't get me wrong, I love them. They are my family. But I also SEE them. And don't feel the need to make excuses. It simply is what it is. And it was NOT me. I seemed even then to be cut of a different clothe. A far more humble one.
When Suzi finally made a long anticipated trip to her home town to actually see her family it was quite an event. You'd have thought the Pope himself was coming to grace us with his presence. Every corner of the house was scrubbed, all people of interest were alerted even sickeningly enough, THE PRESS!!!! Because you see, my grandpa could use this as a way to get HIS name out there more and this might increase his music business in addition to his ego, so he could spend even more time leaving grandma at home in her chair lonely and sad.
It is not a wonder that she died later of cancer. In her stomach. The size of a football was removed. She used to joke it was her alien. But it was filled with sadness and resentment, I feel. When she went in for surgery I was in the midst of my Twin Peaks fame. As we said goodbye to her as she was rolled into the operation, even she felt it was important to share a piece of vital information. Drugged and cotton mouthed she told the nurse, "Dats my gwandaughter, Sherri. Ow mightwrecognize ur, shes on Pin Tweaks." It seems she had the bug too.
Before my appendix was removed a few years ago, I cried to the doctor who was putting me under... You have to be careful and take care of me. I have to wake up. I am a MOTHER!!! I have a son who needs me. Hmmmmm. Just cut from a different clothe.
So with all the pomp and pageantry of Suzi arriving I floated around in the shadows. I never seemed less important. But Suzi's husband Lenny was kind and good to me. He seemed to be unimpressed by it all and could actually SEE the kids. My brothers and my cousins and I. He played with us and said really funny things. My aunt just seemed to only talk about herself and was perfectly happy with everyone talking about her too.
Another really odd thing was that Suzi now spoke with an English accent? Huh?!!! She had not even been in London that long and it seemed to me so weird and affected. She was able to drop it for her Happy Days episode but here with her birth family, it flourished. Most people when they go to their hometown fall back to talking like them. But not Suzi. She seemed to be desperate to be different than us, better than, so sophisticated and English. Some might have bought it but I did not.
One day I walked into the bedroom she was staying in and my breathe was taken away. She had the prettiest clothes I had ever seen. Thick, lush corduroys in every color imaginable that looked and felt like velvet. Size zero it looked like. And all kinds of snakeskin boots. and beautiful leather jackets. Gorgeous jewelry. None the likes had I ever seen in Michigan. Grrranimals fell out of grace in my eyes in that moment. I did not want to be a grown woman someday shopping at JCPenney, I thought.
These clothes became the representation of Europe for me. Now I wanted to go there and buy some. And hey, maybe this fame thing was cool because look at all the pretty things you can buy and wear. And look how everyone seems to listen to her, even when she is arrogant and speaking a lot of nonsense. There always was a rapt audience around her. I had never experienced that in my entire life. I thought naively that maybe that was what love looked like.
I believe that event with those various factors planted a seed to become "famous." Even as I first started acting, my 17 year old head would just think ....it'd be fun to be famous. It was not until much later that I would discover the gift of acting from my beloved Roy London.
One thing I knew was that I never wanted to be on stage, live, dancing and singing. That takes a kind of vanity the likes of which I have never possessed. To this day I get nervous when there are too many people on the set. And almost NEVER see my own work. YUCK. Who can watch themselves, esp on film and see your face as big as your body actually is, your voice blasting through speakers. It is a form of torture, for me. I am too subjective. When I was forced to go to premiers, I would sneak out as quick as I could.
So I suppose you can take the girl out of Michigan but you cannot take Michigan out of the girl. At least not this girl. I am what I am. And I like what I am. I have changed very little over the years. But I have gotten wiser. I learn everyday more and more of who I am and it is often from the reflection of others and me being clear about who I am NOT.
Never forget your little self . It is your truth. It is your gold. Love it and it will love you back.
To Thine Own Self Be True. Fuck the masks.....