June 28th, 2012

You can set your watch by it.  If my sister and I are together and we aren’t having a good time she will look at me and say, “This place is a tomb.  I’m going to the nut shop where it’s fun.”

It’s from “You’ve Got Mail, ” and if you recognize that line then you might have watched it as many times as we have.  It’s one of many movie lines that comprise a sort of shorthand that we’ve been using for years.  And as the internet blossomed yesterday with touching responses to the news of Nora Ephron’s death, my response was different from most of what I read.

It’s worth noting, of course, that there were several lovely descriptions of the many ways in which her contributions to modern culture were important, particularly for women.  Lisa Belkin of The Huffington Post published two pieces about Ephron, (here and here), both of which I really appreciated.  Just as many people wrote, she truly did validate the female experience in ways that no other filmmaker before her had.  But her impact on my life was  more personal.

It was sometime around my senior year of high school that my sister and I became really close.  We’d gotten along just fine throughout most of our childhood, not counting a few rough patches during the middle school years.  But after we emerged from seventh, eighth, and ninth grades without killing each other, it took us a little while to settle into the groove of best-friendship that would carry us through college and into early adulthood.  That settling-in process, however, was in reality not nearly as charming as Nora Ephron might have imagined it.  Thankfully for us we were able to lean on her (and a few other screenwriters) as we stumbled our way through.

I suppose it is not surprising that our transition from childhood sisters into adult friends would be forged at the movies.  We share the same sense of humor.  And we each have an uncanny memory for shared pop culture touchstones.  When more meaningful topics of conversation didn’t interest us, quoting pithy movie lines back and forth to each other communicated something deeper without having to state it explicitly.  It said, “We have this thing in common.  It was a shared experience and it mattered to me.  And this relationship with you?  It matters to me too.  I’m glad that you’re my sister, but I’m also glad that you’re my friend.”  I realize that’s a lot to extrapolate out of one college girl saying to another, “Don’t you just love New York in the fall?”  But somewhere between the lines, that’s exactly what it meant.

No one can ask Nora Ephron now what her career meant to her.  I know that she cared a great deal about forging new paths and upending the status quo.  I admire her for that.  But I most appreciate her for writing movies that my sister and I wanted to watch over and over until we’d committed them to memory.  I appreciate her for giving us a shorthand; a quirky way to tell each other that the relationship between us is like no other in our lives.

5 Responses to “Shorthand”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Gale, you have a way of warming my heart. Thank you! Love, Dad

  2. anne Says:

    Well, I’m now sobbing. I sort of remind myself of Rita Wilson in Sleepless in Seattle when she’s talking about “An Affair to Remember”. That’s what I look like right now.

    I love you big sis…and wholeheartedly agree with all you said. I’ll just add, that if I could, I’d send you bouquets of newly sharpened pencils.


  3. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Losing Nora Ephron feels personal, somehow, doesn’t it?

    A woman who touched many lives.

    I don’t have any sisters, but I spent time on the phone with a close friend when we found out she’d passed away, and we both have so much recognition of the female experience in what she wrote and put on the screen. I’m grateful for friends who are like sisters to me.

  4. Rebecca Hanover Says:

    What a sweet post. I love the fact that Nora Ephron’s work just IS a part of the fabric of our culture – so much so that I know I hardly ever even stopped to consider HER as a person. Her films just are. Which, I think, is a high compliment. :)

  5. Gale Says:

    Anne – Back atcha.