I hate it when writers I've come to cherish and admire die before I've told them how I feel. It happened with May Sarton, Laurie Colwin and Carol Shields -- women who are all very different but who share an appreciation for the small things in life, for the comforts of food and home and friends. I always wanted to tell them how much joy their respective journals, essays and fiction have given me, but I never did. And now it's happened again, with the death of Nora Ephron.
Last week I listened to her reading her latest book of reflections, I Remember Nothing, and loved every single second of it. I am not exaggerating. Afterwards I thought about writing to her and telling her how there is no one else in the world I'd have rather been stuck for an hour and a half on the I-15 Freeway from San Diego to Escondido with than her. But of course I didn't. I returned the CD to the library and walked away with that empty feeling you get when you've seen a beloved friend off at the airport.
If I had written to her, I'd have definitely thanked her for telling me about her Aruba. By some wonderful fluke of timing, I read about her Aruba just as I discovered that I had one of my own. If you've read I Remember Nothing you'll know what I'm referring to and what a relief it must have been to laugh about it with her. If you haven't read it, you really should. Especially if you're like me and sometimes take yourself too seriously. (Okay, if she could do it, so can I: an Aruba is a little bald spot somewhere on your scalp. I won't go into why it's called that -- that you will have to find out for yourself.)
And I hope you listen to the book on CD. There's a wonderful unhurriedness to her delivery and you can hear in her voice that shrug of acceptance that life is what it is and sometimes that sucks and often it's funny and many times it's surprisingly tender and sweet. I don't think I've ever used the word wry before, but Nora Ephron is wry. Also all the other words that popped up for wry in my synonym toolbox: ironic, cynical, sardonic and dry. For example, here's what she has to say about being on the board of directors of Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corporation:
But what I really love about her and what I wish I'd thanked her for, is not letting all that cleverness and wit get the better of her. I so wish I'd thanked her for not allowing her hurts and betrayals to make her shriveled and bitter and mean-spirited. Which brings me to You've Got Mail. If I'd written that thank you letter, I'd have thanked her profoundly for You've Got Mail. I'd have told her that it's one of the films I turn to when I'm feeling sick and tucked up to my chin in bed. It has all the ingredients I need to help me feel better: funniness, kindness, romance and the bookstore of my dreams. On Tuesday when I turned on my computer and saw she had died I felt like thousands of other people must have felt: shocked and bereft. I had my husband drive with me to our nearest Barnes and Noble -- about 30 minutes away -- and picked up a paperback copy of I Remember Nothing. On the way home I read to him I Just Want to Say: Chicken Soup.
One day, about two years into my tenure, I was staying in Los Angeles, in a hotel, and I attended a Loews board meeting by telephone; it was so boring that I decided to put the call on hold and go get a manicure downstairs. When I got back to my room, only twenty minutes later, and picked up the receiver, everyone was screaming at one another. I didn't want to admit that I had left the room -- and, by the way, no one had even noticed - so I listened for a while and realized that while I'd been out having my nails done, the company had gone bankrupt.
The other day I felt a cold coming on. So I decided to have chicken soup to ward off the cold. Nevertheless, I got the cold. This happens all the time: you think you're getting a cold; you have chicken soup; you get the cold anyway. So is it possible that chicken soup gives you a cold?
And I read to him from The O Word:
The realization that I may have only a few good years remaining has hit me with real force, 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 figure out what I really want to do every day, I try to say to myself, If this one of the last days of my life, am I doing exactly what I want to be doing? I aim low. My idea of a perfect day is a frozen custard at Shake Shack and a walk in the park. (Followed by a Lactaid.)
Isn't that the truth? Forget the bucket lists. I'm with you, Nora: fried eggs on toast, a game of
Bananas with my family, the latest No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.
Then I read my husband the two lists she wrote at the very end of the book: What I Won't Miss and What I Will Miss.
Wherever you may be now, Nora, I have a feeling you're not having to deal with e-mail, the sound of the vacuum cleaner, small print and bras. I bet the dogwoods are in full bloom. And if they do have pie there, I hope it's every bit as good as the pie you had here.