It Was A Wonderful Night
I have been blessed with many happy Christmas Eves over the years, most of which transpired in my hometown of Rochester, New York, while I was growing up, either on Erie Street in the inner-city or at Greenleaf Meadows, the apartment homes and townhomes of Greece, New York, a suburb of Rochester.
But one very special Christmas Eve, in 2005, occurred in Irondequoit, New York, another suburb of Rochester.
In the late spring of 2005, I had moved back to Rochester after serving as a producer on Bravo’s five-part series, The 100 Greatest TV Characters, and following my consulting with writer/director Nora Ephron on her Bewitched feature film, among other freelance and contracted assignments.
It was a solid few years in L.A. but, as it had before (and sometimes still does), Rochester was calling me home, mostly to care for my mother: Frances Turri Pilato. Even though my sister lived close by, and there were many good friends who were keeping a close-watch on Mom, I still felt the pull to return. I knew that she did not have that many more years left (she died in 2008); and it was the experience of those like Christmas Eve of 2005 that confirmed that I done the right thing by succumbing to those tugs of my heart.
Then, like many times before and after, I had found myself in a new home at Christmas-time. By December of 2005, I had been living in my new apartment in Irondequoit, in the same complex as Mom.
So, I wanted to do something special that Christmas. Usually, Mom (and Dad, Herbie “Pompeii” Pilato, when he was alive) would go to my sister’s for Christmas Eve. But I wanted to make my own Christmas dinner in 2005 where I lived. It was a beautiful apartment complex in Irondequoit. The area was winding down, and had certainly seen better days…but again…I felt a “calling.”
There seemed to be an awful lot of lonely people that I knew that year, and I thought, “I should invite them all over for Christmas Eve dinner.”
So, I did.
There was the fiftysomething woman in a wheelchair who lived up the hall from me. She had married a multi-millionaire, who divorced her. She ended up with approximately $750,000 as a settlement which, compared to what her husband was worth, was really not a large sum of money. But then again, it wasn’t anything to sneeze at. Sad thing is, by the time this woman had moved up the hall from me, she had pilfered away that 750 grand on some poorly-made choices. Around the same time, she slipped on the ice in the front of her former home, and ultimately was left incapacitated in several ways, physically, emotionally, psychologically, and financially.
There was the sixtysomething woman who lived two buildings down; she had just lost her grown daughter to cancer in June of that year, and it would have been the first Christmas without her precious child.
There was the eigthysomething man friend of my Mom; his brother-in-law had raked him for every penny he had, and he was now living in a senior facility up the block.
There was the elderly couple that lived across the hall from me; he had the early onset of Alzheimer’s and she was too frail to drive across town to spend Christmas Eve with their daughter and her family.
There was the twentysomething former acting student of mine and his mother. His father and her husband had verbally, physically and financially abused them both in recent years; and they usually just spent Christmas Eve alone.
There was a dear friend of mine who had moved to the area from Manhattan. She had just started working at Kodak, and had not yet acclimated herself to Rochester, and had no plans for Christmas Eve.
Too many sad stories that needed, if not a happy ending, at least maybe just one happy night, with the potential for a new beginning.
So, I invited each of them over for Christmas Eve to join me and my Mom, after I called my sister and told her my plan.
I didn’t make any super kind of special Christmas dinner. I bought some frozen ravioli at Wegman’s Supermarket (the Rochester-turned-national franchise). As a sauce, I chose the Prego brand and mixed some of my own secret ingredients into that. I bought some green peas, some French bread; added some garlic and butter to the bread; tossed a salad; and got some wine, soda, and water. For dessert, a few of Wegman’s awesome cakes: Lemon, Chocolate, Apple Cinnamon
Again, nothing elaborate, but in the end, very satisfying.
Everyone loved it.
But more than the meal they loved just the company.
It was a Christmas-card-picture-perfect vision of soft-fallen snow on the outside.
We sang Christmas carols on the inside, and I passed out some gifts.
But there were no diamond watches, no cashmere sweaters, no cards with cash.
That afternoon I had gone to the Dollar Store and bought everyone one elegant Christmas ornament; and when I handed them out, you would have thought each of them received a divorce settlement for $750 grand.
Their hearts warmed, all of our eyes lit-up and was filled with tears.
Christmas Eve had meant something again…to each of us.
The sadness had melted away and was replaced with a few moments of joy that lingered onto Christmas Day and longer.
For a few of them — the woman in the wheelchair, the woman who lost her daughter, and the elderly man friend of my Mom’s, it was their last Christmas.
But, hopefully…it was also one of their best and favorite.
I know it was one of mine.
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