Many writers were born in the month of May: Transcendentalists Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet and novelist May Sarton, biologist and environmentalist Rachael Carson, essayist and novelist Jamaica Kincaid, poet Walt Whitman, and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle.
Nora Ephron was also born in May, and it is to her that my thoughts turn on this last day of the month. Why to her and not to the inspiration of ground-breaking Rachael Carson or to Conan Doyle, who provided me with life-long entertainment?
I’m not entirely sure. Ephron was a journalist first, and probably last, and in between she was many things, including a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, film director, feminist, wit and terrific cook, judging by her recipes. I enjoyed her I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being A Woman and Heartburn and its recipes (and in a Noraesque turn, I’ll get to one recipe in the last paragraph), but I felt her loss very much when she died.
Nora Ephron had suffered from acute myeloid leukemia for six years when she died in 2012, but only her immediate family knew about it. Apparently, her closest friends didn’t know and must have been even more shocked than I was when her death was announced. I don’t go in for creepy fan imaginings, so it wasn’t that I thought I’d lost a friend. We’d all lost a woman who was brilliant and funny and could be relied upon to entertain and inform us with her writing. She was relatively young when she died, but far from young, and she’d had what is cloyingly referred to as a full life. So why did I feel bad, terrible, when I first heard of her death?
Looking back, I find her exit a class act: no appearing on talk shows discussing her illness, no raising millions for acute myeloid leukemia research in public, no last words for total strangers. Why she didn’t include her close friends in her last, closest circle I can’t say, and it certainly must have hurt them, since she let them know how close they were exactly.
Besides the work she left us, she left us some great recipes. If you haven’t read Heartburn, do. It’s an autobiographical novel that’s painful, hilarious and successful in seeking revenge. It also contains Nora’s “instructions” on how to make the perfect peach pie. As we swing into summer and an abundance of delicious peaches, plan to make it. I urge you to read her steps to the perfection of the pie in Heartburn, but if not, this link will take you there: http://www.food.com/recipe/nora-ephrons-peach-pie-440852.
I think that the passing of Nora Ephron felt like a loss for me because of the sum of her parts: the peach pie, her exquisite humor and gimlet eye, and this quote: “Above all, be the heroine of your own life, not the victim.”