For many of us, there’s a neighborhood somewhere that holds our hearts and a million memories. When you picture it, you can frame your past and maybe even your family history. “This is where it all began.”
The block where my mother grew up in New York in the 1940s and 1950s is one of those places. It was and still is a combination of charming, modest and in its own way, beautiful. It’s one of those classic Brooklyn neighborhoods with solidly built narrow houses, quaint postage stamp yards and brick “stoops.” On this tucked-away street, just across from my mom’s childhood home, there’s a pretty Spanish-style Catholic church with a barrel tile roof. My parents were married there.
Maybe you’ve never been to New York’s boroughs, but there’s a chance you’ve already seen, or will see, the very block I’m describing. More on that in a moment.
I have relatives who still live on that leafy street, in the same houses I celebrated childhood Christmas seasons and spent weeklong summer sleepovers bonding with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. I don’t do it enough, but as an adult, it always feels kind of magical to pop over to visit “the rels” on this quiet street in Brooklyn. It’s like stepping into the past.
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To me, that street was magical way before Hollywood showed up.
It’s crazy to think that when I visited grandma in the ’70s, I would battle teen boredom by tuning in to the early days of “Saturday Night Live.” In that home, on that block, while the grown-ups were yakking in another room, I could have been snickering at Bill Murray improvising fake Star Wars lyrics as a campy lounge act singer.
Little did I know, decades later, that Bill Murray would be goofing around just outside grandma’s house, filming “St. Vincent” with Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts. Who knew one day my uncle would peek out “the front room” window to see Murray chatting with the next-door neighbor?
Now, the stomping ground of my mom and her five siblings, the street her family has considered home since the early 1900s, is forever trapped on celluloid in a sweet movie. In fact, it was recently Golden Globe nominated for best picture and actor. Cool. And such a relief it wasn’t a “Dumb and Dumber” sequel.
Yet like “St. Vincent,” many movies are fiction, or fiction-y. Even when based on truth, 90 minutes cannot do justice to our complicated lives. The real characters I know and love from that one block in Brooklyn — many have passed away — will always be more fascinating than any Hollywood creation. We all are. To put a twist on the saying: The truth is deeper than fiction.
Regardless, when I was in New York this month, I took my parents to watch “St. Vincent.” How could I not? They enjoyed the funny and poignant story of struggle, compassion and change that happened to be told in a very familiar place. My mother joked, “Usually you go to a movie to escape your life. This time, I couldn’t.”
Somehow I had sensed from my parents that though it was fun to see a tiny corner of the world they both knew so well — right up there on the big screen — real life is larger. The actual times they spent on “Bill Murray’s block” gave them bigger laughs, more life lessons and warmer memories than any piece of fiction could ever do.
Today, Christmas Eve, you might find yourself on a familiar street from the past, even if it’s, as famously crooned, only in your dreams. Here’s to hoping this season you find a way to love and cherish the true stars in your life. Merry Christmas.
Freelancer Denise Snodell writes on alternate weeks.