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Making Spirits Bright Through Movies

WELLSBURG — It sounds like the plot for a made-for-TV movie — a widow, a pandemic and Christmas right around the corner.

However, this is reality for Angela Cipriani of Wellsburg and others. She, like many of her neighbors and friends, has been self-isolating to stay safe during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed lives.

Angela can’t help but think of her late husband during the holidays.

“Tony was a gem, very much a talker,” Angela said of her spouse who died unexpectedly in 2016. They met at West Virginia University where they attended classes and enjoyed sorority and fraternity life.

Tony, also known by “Butch,” was a native of Wellsburg. Although Angela admits to being shy when Tony proposed marriage after only two weeks of dating, she said their marriage was heaven made.

Angela and her husband started careers as teachers. She taught English at Mingo High and both taught at Brooke High School for a time. They moved to her hometown of Fairmont, West Virginia, where Tony then worked as a realtor in her parents’ agency. While he honed his realtor skills in the family business, Angela worked on her master’s degree and gave birth to their son, Jay.

After their second son Michael was born, they moved back to Wellsburg where Tony continued a successful career in real estate, local government and civic endeavors.

While Angela notes with a smile she and Tony had a good life, she still finds holidays tough without him. They were married for 45 years.

“We had a life of abundances. We got through the ugly, bad times as well as the good times,” Angela recalled. “I am trying to stay hopeful through this pandemic. My grandmother survived the Spanish flu.”

Angela’s two sons are grown with kids of their own. Holiday get-togethers are out of the question at this time.

As bleak as it may sound, Angela decided to take the advice of some friends and started watching Hallmark Christmas movies on TV.

” I watched ‘Sleigh Bells Ring’ this morning,” Angela said on Tuesday. “I swear I had a feeling I never felt before in the last five years. These movies really are comforting. I just felt better. Everyone here in Wellsburg is crazy about the Hallmark Channel.”

However, Angela has a better reason than most to take an interest in these sugary sweet productions with their beautiful holiday set designs and happy endings.

Her son Jay, now living in Los Angeles, is a screenwriter for several of the movies now showing on the Hallmark Channel as well as on the ION and OWN networks. If you are a fan of these movies, you might recognize some of Jay’s work. Among the titles are “Sleigh Bells Ring,” “Christmas Wonder Land,” “A Husband for Christmas,” “Christmas Cruise” and “Christmas Together,” Carole’s Christmas,” “Christmas for Mary” and “A Golden Christmas.”

Angela said Jay was always in the forefront of directing school programs even at the very young age of 3 and 4-years-old. In the sixth grade, Jay wrote and produced a movie titled “Pizza Man.” His mother claims he enjoyed writing over acting but also loved the behind the scenes work.

In high school at Brooke High, Jay also took part in theater productions —“Fiddler on the Roof” being a favorite — all the while playing football for the Bruins.

Angela said even when he was a boy, she knew Jay was a wonderful writer and told him, “People need stories. Entertaining is OK, but I think our culture thrives on good stories. That’s what opens our hearts … that’s what we need now,” Angela added.

She said her son Michael, who lives in Wellsburg and works at Orrick in Wheeling, always brings Christmas to life in his own way with his holiday decorations. “His house looks like a scene from a Hallmark movie. It’s beautiful inside and out. He is Mr. Christmas.”

While Angela debated where to put up a Christmas tree this year, she said watching the Hallmark Christmas movies put her in a better mood and now she enjoys looking at the lighted tree in her home

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