My Grandmother, Steve Martin, and I Walk into a Bar

A personal post this morning. I went to visit my grandmother this past weekend. She is 90 years old, and her health is in decline. It was wonderful to see her and difficult to leave, especially knowing that it may have been our last goodbye.  “Grandmother” means something different to everyone, but for me, the word does not do her justice. She has been and continues to be a huge part of my life. Growing up, my father was often not in the picture, so our family unit was my mother, sister, and grandmother. Her relationship to me was like how things were in the old country, when three generations often lived in the same house. She was like a parent to me, and I miss her already.

I wanted to write something about her that was relevant to the topics we usually discuss in this space, but there is nothing that fits quite right. So I will just say this and know that you understand its importance: she taught me how to laugh.

When I think of the time we spent together in my childhood, two things come to mind immediately. Both have something to do with film. When I was growing up, she spent her summers in a home on a lake in Connecticut. I visited her frequently and fell in love with the area. The lake – called Green Pond or Emerald Lake, depending on whom you ask – was secluded, and when we went to its tiny beaches to swim and play in the sand, we were often the only family there. When I was too young to swim, she would hold me in her arms and dance around the shallow end of the lake. With water wings clutching my chubby little arms, she twirled me around the lake and and sang  “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady.” I would giggle uncontrollably, as if being tickled, and I began to request this song and dance routine not just in the lake, but in also in hotel pools when we traveled.

Even though I did not learn to swim until I was nine, I’m quite sure that I outgrew our dance sessions before that. Still, she continued to bring me the gift of humor by introducing me to some of the great comedians of film. I remember watching Mel Brooks’s “Silent Movie” with her and howling at Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies. But our favorite was Steve Martin. His style of comedy, in film at least, is so sweet and appealing that we both enjoyed his movies on the same level.  It is not that he was making kids movies with a few meta-jokes for adults, like “Shrek” or other kids movies today that throw in a few adult jokes for the parents in the theater. Martin’s buffoonery genuinely appeals across generational lines.  And for me, laughing at “Three Amigos” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” made me feel closer to my grandmother because I knew that we were seeing the same thing.

Here are a few of our favorite Steve Martin scenes. When I watch them now, I feel us together – me at 8 years old, she at 66, both of us howling with laughter. My childhood was not always a happy one, and my mother gave me many great gifts (comfort, creativity, and love). But it was my grandmother who gave me the gift of laughter, which in many ways is the thing that makes life most worth living.

Thank you, Susu.

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2 thoughts on “My Grandmother, Steve Martin, and I Walk into a Bar

  1. I know the lady in question (she’s my aunt) and you’ve captured her zest and exuberance perfectly! For me, though, her greatest Broadway tune was always Wunderbar, from Kiss Me Kate. The only thing she loved more than the theatre was her family.

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