Nora Ephron was forever young and forever funny. And all of a sudden, she’s gone!
So many of us could relate to her writings, musings, movies and books – not to mention a failed marriage or botched film that made her really human to her fans. When I was starting my own writing career in Washington, D.C. in the early 1970s, she was writing essays for Esquire that were always pithy, self-effacing and spot on. If you never read, “A Few Words about Breasts” check it out.
Our generation of women could really relate to her and vice versa. “I was so in tune with everything she talked about,” one of my friends emailed. She got us and we got her. Maybe it’s because she took her writer-mother’s advice – “Everything is copy” – to heart and assimilated dialogue she heard or spoke into her books and movies.
From her we learned how to live, how to laugh (especially at ourselves), and, now maybe, even how to die: Still full of life.
There was no public wailing about her demise from leukemia over the past several years; no gaunt, haunting pictures of her in People magazine, no wallowing in premature tributes of appreciation and adoration that never seem to strike the right note. There was also no chance to get used to the idea she was bowing out. If you’re Nora Ephron you can’t exactly be a private person, but she managed to write her final script with personal grace, privacy and dignity.
With only the closest friends and family in the know, she just — seemingly suddenly — died. Friends have said she was optimistic she could beat the leukemia but it was the pneumonia that finally stilled her voice. The beautifully written obituary from Charles McGrath in The New York Times obit this morning ended with pieces of two lists she had included in her last book, I Remember Nothing.
Things not to miss:
Dry skin, Clarence Thomas, the sound of a vacuum cleaner
Among the things she would miss:
Nick Pileggi (her husband)
Taking a bath
Coming over the bridge to Manhattan
It struck me how much that said about Nora just to have those few words in her obit. I wondered what my list would be and then wondered what my friends’ lists would say about them if such lists were included in death notices. I sent out an email to a wide variety of mostly women, and a few men, and asked for spontaneous responses. I got back some predictable answers – yes, kids, grandkids, husbands, coffee in the morning, wine at night and chocolate will be missed – but also a wider range of Won’t Misses that are very telling (Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talking heads came up a lot). I am listing each person’s Won’t Miss and Will Miss lists together as they form a more complete picture of the person. See what you think.
Wrinkles, dust bunnies and whiners
Cilantro, poison ivy or shingles
My Jack Russell terrier, wine, my convertible, nicely ironed linens and a good roast chicken
Spanx, yearning, stock market
Coulter, Limbaugh, Rove and Hannity
Tomato sandwiches, English Bulldogs, Kissing
Yeats, Auden, Dickinson, Sedaris
Cleaning the bathroom, People magazine, fruit (overrated)
The people who make up my everyday world – at the pharmacy, dry cleaners, grocery, wine shop, bank etc.; Spanish moss, good books, The Weather Channel, the water that surrounds me in the Low Country
Music when they put you on hold for Comcast, IRS or Verizon (versions of being put on hold came up over and over); unloading the dishwasher, political events
Calls from my sister, fried chicken, new legal pads, road trips, the beach
Telephones, especially waiting for customer service, dieting, taxes
Birds, cool mornings/evenings on my deck, smiles from strangers and friends, Christmas lights, sweet iced tea, donuts and pound cake
Maintenance on anything – house, car, self; feeling regret; bad smells in the refrigerator – also good Christian women who wear lots of jewelry and drive nice cars and talk about “The Lord” blessing them
That tender yellow-green color of leaves in early spring when even old trees are new; making things; reading and thinking about it; teaching 5th grade; lines in poems ( or anywhere else) that make me gasp with understanding; vibrant colors that also make me gasp
Yoga, my thighs, cocktail parties, stocking the fridge, TV, checking accounts
Long walks, martinis in New York, chocolate, the beach, travelling anyplace at all
Cranky drivers, Fox News, using poop bags while walking my dog, spam, the Miami airport, meetings and conference calls, party clothes
Looking for cool rocks in a Montana river, wind in the trees, puppy breath, friends, fabulous books, TED talks, going to Haiti
Flabby arms, worrying about the next commission check, anxiety about children
Riding the waves at the beach, driving through the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall
smelling magnolias, roses and grass on early summer walks
Alarm clocks, boring meetings, hot flashes, bad writing, mean people
Music, garden, swimming in the NC ocean (not NY!), dog Sadie, coffee ice cream, good writing, people who make me laugh, snow storms, fires in the fireplace, fireworks
My own list includes many items listed above but I will boil it down to this and hope some of them actually make it into my obit:
People who yak on cellphones in restaurants and grocery stores, rampant obesity, taxes, old age, stupid ads on TV (yikes, sounds like old age already has a hold on me!)
Wedding cake, Cheetos, Jordon almonds, Van Morrison, Ponte Vedra Beach, martinis, anything outdoors – tennis, urban hikes, gardening – books, Icelandic poppies and gardenias;
I’ll miss those calls with my sister, too!
This exercise taught me things about some of my friends I didn’t know. Fruit overrated? Really? And I didn’t know talking heads struck such a nerve with so many of them! Some also sent back specific references to things they read or saw or loved from Nora Ephron. “Thank you for the exercise of making me think about it,” said one. “I will be more appreciative as I see things all around me that I would miss. As I saw the tributes to Nora (first name basis) yesterday I had the sense of a truly great spirit passing from us.”
And another wrote, “Ever since Heartburn I think about eating mashed potatoes in the bed when I am feeling sorry for myself! Haven’t actually done it, but I want to.” Might be a nice way to pay tribute to a woman of wit and wisdom who will be missed.