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Remembering Nora

Remembering Nora

Nora Ephron was not only a member of our generation; she was our voice. We will miss her.

A recent photo of Nora at her home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Nora flanked by Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, who co-starred in "You've Got Mail" (1998) and "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993).
Nora and Meryl Streep, who starred in Nora's "Julie & Julia" (2009) at the Screen Actors Guild.
Tom Hanks and Nora on the set of "You’ve Got Mail."
Nora with her third and last husband, screenwriter and journalist Nicholas Pileggi.

I was watching the CBS-News when I heard that Nora Ephron had died. I didn't really believe it so I ran to my computer and checked out The New York Times and, there it was, an obit on the front page. The news hit me hard. Nora was a contemporary and like so many women I know, I related to her; she was not only a member of our generation, she was our voice. I had met her a few times out in Sag Harbor, Long Island, where she infrequently showed up at a writer’s and artist’s ballgame as a spectator, because many of her good friends—Jackie Leo, Ken Auletta, Mort Zuckerman—were players. 

I was never a member of the inner circle of this illustrious group of fanatic baseball journalists, but it was through my occasional ability to hit a baseball with a bat that I met writers who introduced me to editors who introduced me to other editors, some of whom actually gave me assignments that miraculously showed up in print in The New York Times. And, of course, when I read Heartburn I felt as though I was reading a saga about people whom I knew, and I did (her second husband Carl Bernstein was also part of the baseball team), even though I didn’t know them very well. 

But the remarkable thing about Nora’s writing was that you didn’t have to know her or her ex-husbands to feel that you knew her, because she wrote about all of us, turning the petty traumas of everyday life and intense insecurities we all feel into high comedy so that instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, or awkward, or just not good enough, we laughed. There isn’t a woman I know who couldn’t relate to the push and pull relationship of Sally and Harry, or double-over with laughter when Sally faked an orgasm in Katz’s delicatessen and the woman at the next table (played by Rob Reiner’s mother), says, “I’ll have what she’s having.” 

The day after her death I kept thinking about her and picked up her last book I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections that was lying on my coffee table and reread the last chapter, “The O Word” (O for Old). And there it was in bold print—Nora was not idly musing about the end of life as so many of us do when we turn 60 or 70; she was  writing about her incurable illness and fears that her end might be sooner rather than later, but neither I nor most other readers took her reflections to heart since her métier is irony. “The realization that I may have only a few good years remaining has hit me with real force,” she wrote, “and I have done a lot of thinking as a result. I would like to have come up with something profound, but I haven’t. I try to say to myself, ‘If this is one of the last days of my life, am I doing exactly what I want to be doing?’ ” 

And then she goes into pure Nora; she wants to eat a frozen custard, walk in the park, attend a good play, eat dinner at Orso. But interlaced with this is her chilling realization  that sounds of the geese flying overhead on Long Island, which she used to find magical, had became to her a signal of the end she was facing—“they became a sign not just that summer would come to an end, but that so would everything else. As a result I stopped liking the geese…. Now we don’t go to Long Island in the summer and I don’t hear the geese. Sometimes, instead, we go to Los Angeles, where there are hummingbirds, and I love to watch them because they’re so busy getting the most out of life.”

And so she did. She got the most out of life and those of us who read her books and watched her films will miss her, but we will also carry with us her underlying messages that getting the most out of life is not fussing about what you don’t have and can’t have, because even if you manage to get Mr. Right too often he turns into Mr. Wrong and diamonds are not really a girl’s best friend—not nearly so important as a Netflix account or a comfortable bra. What really matters for most of us is what she lists in her own inimitable style at the end of her book as “What I Will Miss”—“My kids,” “Laughs,” “Dinner with friends,” “The view out the window,” “Pie”—well, I’m not so sure about pie; I would really miss a hot fudge sundae.

Barbara Lovenheim, founding editor of NYCitywoman.com, has written on lifestyle and the arts for The New York Times, New York, The Wall Street Journal, and many major magazines. She is the author of Survival in the Shadows: Seven Jews Hidden in Berlin and other books.