Knowing and loving Nora meant her world — or her neighborhood — became yours. She gave you books to read and took you to cafés you’d never heard of that became legends. You discovered Krispy Kremes from a box she held out, and you learned that there is such a thing as the perfect tuna sandwich. She would give your kids small, goofy parts in movies with the caveat that they might not make the final cut but you’d get a tape of the scene. For a wrap gift, she would send you a note saying something like, “A man is going to come to your house to plant an orange tree — or apple or pomegranate or whatever — and you will eat its fruit for the rest of your days.” Rita and I chose orange, and the fruit has been lovely, sweet and abundant, just as Nora promised — a constant and perfect reminder of the woman we loved so much.
What a shock to learn of Nora Ephron’s death, at 71 years old. What a loss to laughter–among the many other gifts Nora gave us.
I met Nora when I was a secretary at Esquire magazine, not even a year out of college. My then boss, Binky Urban, (now my agent) became one of her closest friends. The two of them, careering around with such enormous élan, knowing they had as much right to be there as any of the guys surrounding them. (More in many cases.) Wow, I thought daily, this is what liberated New Women are like: brilliant, fearless, funny, tough, free with Kleenex for their sobbing younger sisters (and there was a great deal to sob about at the magazine in those days, but that’s another story)
Every time I looked at Nora I couldn’t help it: I imagined the adolescent Nora in a dressing room, bending down hopefully over a bra, waiting for her breasts to tumble out of her chest to fill in the cups…Her life was just ahead of mine, of my generation, and she was there proving that it was just fine to be outraged and noisy and hysterical so long as you carried it off with well-written finesse.
Nora was a devoted reader of House & Garden, incredibly enough to those who didn’t know her, but to her friends, she was a true hausfrau: she took great pleasure in making a beautiful home, she loved cooking and dinner parties and everything about kitchens. (Come to think of it, she was one of Frances Palmer’s earliest and most devoted customers, she loved her pottery and bought many pieces for her table over the years.) Another way in which she led the way: there is nothing diminishing about a love for home-making. When I think of having it all, I think: kids. jobs. china. Those daily banal pleasures do strengthen and heal–you see it in so many of her movies. True to form, Nora’s favorite pieces were the ones we ran about cooking equipment and utensils. I remember an email right after we ran a piece about pre-mixed cake recipes (all of which we had tested over the weeks)–“Those cake mixes! Running right out to the store. In my bathrobe. Thanks!”