By: Kathleen George
I’m here in Pittsburgh, and Nora Ephron was a New Yorker, but I think all women are connected. We’re like a high school gang. Nora was our leader, the fearsome popular smartest one of us. And then she died. Nora was such a force that when she left us, it didn’t seem possible that she would not be among us. In a sense, because she is unforgettable, she is still with us.
I won’t pretend I knew Nora well. We shared maybe eight or ten meals. Nora’s husband Nick and my husband Hilary were old friends. On trips to New York, we’d meet for lunch or dinner when we could. Mâitre d’s bowed and scraped and shivered a little when she surveyed a restaurant for where she wanted to sit. She exuded power, which was much because she didn’t suffer fools. And fools were plentiful. I could manage to be one of them if she needed one at the table. Back when Google was new (yes, that long ago); she was saying she had just read a wonderful nineteenth-century novel but could not remember the title for the life of her. Quickly, I leapt in to name the words that would go into a search engine to give her the instant memory we have all learned to rely upon. She said, “Or…I could just look at my purchase history.”
Once, she ordered a Pepsi at lunch, and the waiter told her he was sorry, but the machine was down. Coffee? Iced tea? he offered. I wonder if he still remembers how she looked at him. Nora got up from the table, told us she’d be right back, and exited the place. She returned moments later with two large bottles of Pepsi (possibly there was a Dwayne’s next door) and plunked them on the table. Nora beckoned the waiter and said, “Ice, please.”
Mostly you could dine out on what she said after you’d dined out with her. Once, she ordered a deluxe burger and, with a sigh, said, “Without the fries.” As the waiter walked away, Nora called him back and said, “And an order of fries.” Turning to the rest of us, she asked, “Is there such thing as a bad French fry?” Of course, there is—undercooked, soggy. But every time I give in to that almost universal craving, hoping they’ll be good fries or great fries, I remember how she captured that moment when diet gives way to longing.
Apparently, she wanted to be known for her bon mots. What a restless intelligence she had. The brain was always ticking, ticking. Nora was always figuring, judging, and evaluating. She needed to speak what those ticks were about in a memorable way. So we laughed at her witticisms and looked at our own breasts or wrinkling necks with a sense of her self-deprecating whimsy.
Nora could be wrong. At the start of the Woody Allen scandals, she said, “He’s done. He’ll never work again.” He did work again, but she was right, too. He worked, carrying the identity of someone who could not work again even as he worked.
Nora Ephron had the gift of fashion. Whatever she wore seemed like the right choice, the only choice, the inevitable choice. You’d think, “Why am I not wearing a scarf? Scarves are the thing.” Or “Black denim, of course! Casual and elegant.”
Long before anyone knew she was ill, and presumably before she knew it, she was quoted in an interview as saying, “If I had a month to live, I would eat nothing but bread.” Bread is gorgeous. Good bread is a gift. That line made me think of Breadworks bread, Pittsburgh’s finest, just up the street from me. I hope somebody brought her lots of gorgeous bread in that last month. And that she could eat it and that she enjoy it.