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E.T. Phone Milky Way by Donald Garner


Donald Garner writes for The Bearded Trio, remembering the time he met Spielberg's Mom.

My grandpa, my only grandpa, is on his deathbed. He has days, likely less, to live. Memories, further chapters… it all ends here. My family knows loss all too well. We lost my mom when I was 16 and that tore the family apart. Now, this.

What would my hero, Steven Spielberg, do to cope? Probably go make a bunch of movies. Coincidentally, all day my friends have been doing anything possible to cheer me up, mostly by sharing pictures of Steven and his movies on my Facebook wall. It’s working, I feel cared about.

One such picture catches my attention more than the rest – a picture of a lovely brunette in her early 20’s, Elodie, a fellow Spielberg fan, posing for a picture with a small, older woman in suspenders. This picture isn’t going anywhere. There’s a reason, a very big reason, why this has been shared with me. I read the words that come with the picture: “Elodie visits Steven’s mom Leah at her restaurant in LA”…..

It took me a few minutes to realize exactly what this meant. I sit there, having one of the biggest lighting-has-just-struck-my-brain moments of my life!

Steven Spielberg’s MOM, the woman who GAVE BIRTH to him, who raised him… his mom… owns a restaurant in Los Angeles?? And therefore… (epic drum roll ensues) I could actually…. MEET HER?!

Armed with knowledge of arguably THE best kept secret in Los Angeles, off wifey and I went to Miss Adler’s kosher Jewish deli, The Milky Way. I was so excited I even got lost on the way!

Given who we’re talking about here, you’ll bear with me if I describe the following in screenplay form:

INT. MILKY WAY RESTAURANT – DAY
Wifey and I enter the restaurant. It’s on the dimly-lit side, and there’s a handful of people, quietly chattering as they dine. It’s no TGI Friday’s or Red Robin; but then again, we all know I am not here for the food! I approach the HOST

ME: Hello, I’m Donald Garner, I have a reservation for Leah. Is she here today?

HOST: Yes, she’s here today.

As he finishes saying this, my head cranes over to the booth section of the restaurant to the right, where I see a Jewish family dining. I also see an elderly woman with short hair sitting with the family, already getting up out of the booth and walking toward my wife and myself to greet the new diners.

And there she is.

Steven. Spielberg’s. Mom. His mom. His freaking mom.

I have officially met the woman who brought my hero, Steven Spielberg, into the world. And raised him. And hugged him, God knows how many times. Note to self: score a hug!

I’m so flustered, I desperately search for the right words. Don’t sound like an idiot, sound like a passionate fan. After all, that’s what I am. (Okay, this is embarrassing, but I don’t remember exactly what I said to her, BUT it was something like:

ME: Hi, Leah! It’s so nice to meet you! Did you get my picture?

LEAH: Um, remind me?

ME: I sent it to you a few weeks ago, of me with Steven’s wax figure?

That is true, I did do that….. it’s a very long story, not relevant to this article ;)

LEAH: You’re not made of wax.

My knees give out as I’m standing there, enjoying a hearty belly laugh. The woman is a doll, practically a friggin’ saint. Okay I’m biased, but you get my point.

ME: I love your son! Your son is my hero! Your son’s movies are the only ones that make any sense!

LEAH: Well some of them don’t even make sense to me, but don’t tell anyone.

I giggle.

LEAH: I love your shirt!

Oh yeah, I forgot – I’m proudly wearing a shirt advertising my favorite movie of all time, E.T.

LEAH: (to her hostess) Come look at this shirt!

Her hostess (whom I’ll later learn is Valerie) comes out and likes my shirt too.

ME: Thank you, it’s my favorite movie!

LEAH: It’s mine too.

LEAH: (she grabs two menus) Now, I’m going to feed you.

And voila! Miss Adler walks us to our booth.

LEAH: We have to get a picture with this shirt.

Bless her. Leah beat me to the punch. I was going to ask her for a picture, but she tap-danced her way to the punch before I could think about it.

She recommends one of the pasta dishes and moves to schmooze the other diners.

How do I describe the menu? It’s kind of like The Olive Garden, just minus all meat. No, it’s not like The Olive Garden. It’s a kosher Jewish deli. Not a crime, of course. I’m personally not Jewish – in fact, I have a ton of German in my family tree – but Leah doesn’t need to know that ;)

Our food arrives and I dine on my meal of salmon, cucumbers and onions. Honest to God, I haven’t eaten this well in a long time. Curse you, fast food! Curse you! I lean back in my booth, my wife continuously asking me if I’m happy as she smiles at me.

Happy isn’t the word. This is beyond happy. This place is NOT The Milky Way Restaurant – this is officially Donald’s New Happy Place. This almost feels like I went to Steven’s house for dinner, he’s not there, he’s out shooting, but his mom was nice enough to feed me.

I’m not one of those annoying dweebs that takes pictures of every meal I eat and throws it on Facebook for the online community to gawk at, but for the love of God! Remember where I am at! Yes, I even take a picture of myself holding the menu.

Just so that you can understand WHY I’m so passionate about Sir Steven, I can break it down into 3 reasons: his movies have entertained me and inspired me all my life (you see, I’m an aspiring screenwriter/director); he and I have very similar backgrounds – I won’t go into details here, but trust me, he and I have similar pasts, including even the same middle name! (his is Allan, mine is Alan); plain and simple…. his movies help me remember my mom. They’re an escape, you see.

Okay so, meal devoured (it was good), I head over to the eye candy – the bar. The bar is covered with framed pictures and memorabilia both from Steven’s movies and from the looks of it, stuff the fans have brought. There’s mostly t-rex’s and E.T.’s. Oh, I can live with that J On the wall, there’s even a clapper from the set of Jaws.

I take a not-so-brief stroll down the hallway, to be pleasantly met with poster after poster after poster of Steven’s movies. This experience is truly one of the best of my life. For other people, these may just be really good movies. For me, these represent memories. Memory after memory after memory. Mom and dad and I watched most of these, if not in the theater when they came out and changed the world, then at home, on video, together.

I find Leah at a table with a family and thank her profusely for everything and promise to return soon. I made a nicer exit at a later visit when I brought my dad so I’ll skip to that. We go into the front to make our exit, but not before saying goodbye to the matriarch of the Spielberg family. There are a number of new diners that have just arrived, so I make it quick and sweet:

ME: (patting her shoulder) You are awesome.

A Jewish man, beard and yamaka, is standing right there.

JEWISH MAN: (teasing) She loves me more.

I smile. I know he’s got me beat.

ME: (shaking his hand) Okay, I’ll give you that. Enjoy your meal.

And we make our exit.

Maybe he does belong there more than me, in the words of Francois Truffaut.

Maybe I will never meet Steven Spielberg himself.

But I have just met his mom. On a later visit, I do score a hug; two, in fact.

I have met Steven Spielberg’s mom. That is more than enough for me.

Donald Garner

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