Thursday, December 03, 2009

"My Real-Life Movie Christmas"

A few years ago, after I completed my assignment as one of the producers of Bravo's hit five-part series, "The 100 Greatest TV Characters," as well as consulting work on Nora Ephron's "Bewitched" feature film, I returned to Rochester to care for my Mom.

It was not easy to leave L.A. (again). I wanted very much to remain in LA, and give full-time to writing "family-oriented" scripts. But it was even harder to be so far away from my Mom. So, my choice was clear. The "family-oriented" scripts of Hollywood would have to wait. I needed to BE "family-oriented" and return to Rochester. Yet, one of my fondest memories of this particular Rochester trip, transpired some months later, in December...at it appeared as though a "script" would still be in the making. A Christmas script.

It's always nice to be home for Christmas, even with the snow, and sometimes because of the snow. But that specific Christmas, in December 2005, turned out to be something extra special.

By then I had moved into a beautiful North Village apartment in the same complex as my Mom's South Village apartment. And that year, I had decided that I would host Christmas Eve - mostly because I had noticed that there were a lot of lonely people in the neighborhood who had nowhere to go that year. So, I took it upon myself to bring them all together at "my house." "My house," I had decided, would become "the house" for the Holidays that year.

It was a nice feeling.

And I did not plan to cook an elaborate dinner. Cheese-and-spinache ravioli, peas, salad, ginger ale...very basic and very quaint. I was more concerned with making sure some lonely people would be a little less lonely that year.

Now, then - growing up on Erie Street, we always had wonderful family dinners, courtesy of my Mom and her sister, my Aunt Anna. My Mom made out-of-this-world sauce, and Aunt Anna's various delicacies were optimum. I certainly wasn't going to attempt to compete with any of that. But what I did set out to do was recreate the same kind of Holiday warmth that pervaded our house on Erie Street for so many years.

So, who would be invited to join me and my Mom at "my house" this particular Christmas 2005?

There was my neighbor, "Joan," who lived behind me on the first floor. She was 59-years-old and in a wheel chair. But it wasn't always that way. She was once married to a millionaire, whom she later divorced because he cheated on her. She received $750,000 in the divorce settlement, but she had squaundered it all away. She later became sick, and her own daughter had abandoned her.

There was "Mark," one of my former acting students, and his mom, "Louise," both of whom had been abandoned by Louise's husband and Mark's father, who was verbally and physically abusive to both of them.

There was "Tony," a sprite elderly man in his late '80s, who didn't miss a trick. He was sharp as a whip - and knew exactly how much his "slippery" brother-in-law had hijacked his savings and investments. But he refused to let that ruin his life.

There was "Naomi," another senior, who's thirtysomething daughter had recently passed away.

There was "Salena," yet another senior, who was the neighborhood "gossip," and who no one really cared to be around. But I cared that she would be alone at Christmas - and I wanted to change that.

No one should be alone at Christmas. And that certainly was not the case with "Joan," "Mark," "Louise," "Tony," "Naomi," and "Salena." They were all thrilled to spend that Christmas with me and my Mom.

To our delight and theirs, it ended up being one of the sweetest, most heart-warming and happiest of Christmases any of us had ever experienced.

Not because there was an exchange of elaborate gifts...and certainly not because there was an elaborate meal. But specifically because people who would not have otherwise known each other were brought together.

Clearly, my "family-oriented" Christmas script had been written.

And now, I can't wait to see the movie...

Again.

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