The text for the book, When I Was a Girl, came from interviews conducted by Lucky Duck Productions (Linda Ellerbee, Rolfe Tessem) for WE: Women’s Entertainment television.
Extraordinary women from the worlds of politics, sports, entertainment, literature, music, and beyond relive the early moments that shaped them: the first friendships and academic pitfalls, the consuming crushes and favorite outfits.
I was a very happy child, pretty content. There were six kids, my mom and my father. At home everything was always a game.
We were all born in New York, but when I was about four, we moved to North Carolina. All our neighbors were Southern, so it was kind of weird. We celebrated Greek holidays. Our Easter’s about a week or two after American Easter, so we were always outside having Easter egg hunts when nobody else was. It was just strange. My mom didn’t cook Southern food. We didn’t speak with a Southern accent. We were like the family on The Munsters.
My father’s mother, our grandmother, lived with us for a while. She didn’t speak any English. She was all Greek and she was freaky. She had long hair, which she wore in braids. She arrived from New York with these big containers of change from her shoe-shining store in New York. She gave us a quarter for doing something as simple as opening a door, and for that we loved her.
My mother was at home all the time, which was nice. She was there when we woke up and when we got home from school. So we always had someone to tell our stories to. She was really pretty and had this great sense of style. She was always in the kitchen, always cooking. We all cook in my family—but that came from my mom. I loved grocery shopping. I went every Friday night with my dad. He taught me: If you dig in the very back in the shelf, you can find the cans the store clerks were too lazy to put the price tags on. So if you reach in the back, you get the old prices. He taught me shifty ways to shop. But I’m not a thrifty shopper. Living in New York, I’ll go to five different stores to get what I want, but I don’t care how much it costs. Like, I don’t look for a bargain.
My mother was really, really funny, just goofy, and she was a real good storyteller. You could tell she would work the story. The first time you heard a story, it would be really funny. But, the sixth or seventh time she told it, it was edited, reworked. My brother David’s a writer. I think he got that from her.
was obsessed with shoes. Every day after school I would come home and put on my mom’s high heel shoes. Then I’d go in my bedroom and do my homework. But the only way I could do my homework was if I pretended I had my own classroom and I was the teacher. I would do my homework on this giant blackboard in my room. In my mind, I was teaching my homework to my thirty-two students. They all had names, and I gave them all report cards. I was a very mean teacher.
I always played dress-up a lot. I started collecting wigs around third grade when my mom gave me my first fall. I’d look in the mirror and do character development. There was this little girl, she was from Costa Rica, and she was my best friend. I was obsessed with her mom. She had really messy hair and was kind of unattractive and sloppy. But whenever she had to go out, she was spectacular. It was like she was two different people. I remember being obsessed with her for that reason.
People would always say, “You’re gonna be on Laugh-In.” I always did stuff to try to get a laugh. But I never thought of myself, like, Oh, I’m funny. I liked funny things. I remember rolling around on the living room floor with my mom once thinking, What am I gonna do when I grow up? We tried to figure out what I could do. My mom wanted me to be a cop. She thought I’d be a good cop.