Four sisters, brought up in Hollywood by famous screenwriter parents, all grow up to be successful writers. Sounds like a novel or movie script, doesn’t it? In fact, the youngest Ephron daughter, Amy, was named after the youngest March daughter in Little Women. In an Oprah magazine article, Hallie Ephron says:
As we got older, we grew comfortable in roles that met our parents’ expectations. Nora was the smart one. Delia, the comedian. I was the pretty, obedient one. And Amy was the adventurous mischief-maker. But in reality, we were more alike than we were different—all bossy and opinionated, witty and articulate, like our mother. At dinner, a three-course event that anchored every evening at 6:30 sharp, the competition for airtime was Darwinian.
This morning, I listened to Terry Gross interview Delia Ephron about her collection of autobiographical essays, Sister Mother Husband Dog. In the interview, Delia described the Ephron dinner table. Her father would shout, “That’s a great line — write it down!” whenever one of his daughters said anything clever or amusing. The four girls were groomed to be writers from an early age. Nora, the eldest, was an early success — “published when she was born”, according to Delia. The other three were relatively late bloomers. Delia published an essay, “How to Eat Like a Child”, in the New York Times when she was 32, and her writing career took off from there, including over a dozen books and numerous plays and screenplays. Many of the scripts were co-written with Nora. Amy began writing in her late thirties, and Hallie got started when she was close to 50.
Delia covers a lot of territory in Sister Mother Husband Dog. The first essay, “Losing Nora”, made me cry . . . and made me deeply grateful for my own sister. (And it also made me grateful that I was fortunate enough to see Nora’s last play, Lucky Guy, last year on Broadway.) My favorite essay is called “Bakeries”, and of course, it’s about bakeries — but also about “having it all”. You’ll have to read the whole essay to see how Delia gracefully segues from bakeries to the concept of “having it all”, but here’s one of my favorite passages:
To me, having it all — if one wants to define it at all — is the magical time when what you want and what you have match up . . . It might be a fleeting moment — drinking a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning when the light is especially bright. It might also be a few undisturbed hours with a novel I’m in love with, a three-hour lunch with my best friend, reading Goodnight Moon to a child, watching a Nadal-Federer match.
Delia has a wicked sense of humor — honed, she says, at that Ephron family dinner table. She says, “That’s where I learned how to tell a story and that I was funny.” Her thoughts on her wayward hair, the banks taking over her neighborhood, Twitter/modern technology, the “name-jacking” of her website, and Anthony Weiner made me laugh out loud. Weiner, she tells us, “could not have it all”.
Sister Mother Husband Dog starts with an essay about Nora’s death and ends with “Collaboration”, about the scripts Nora and Delia worked on together. I loved reading about their writing process and about the inner workings of the movie business. One of their most successful projects was the screenplay for You’ve Got Mail, one of my favorite movies. Delia says that screenplay was “an especially good collaboration”; they chose to set it in the world of books because “we both loved books, had grown up in a house were books were worshipped”. When I finished reading “Collaboration”, I wanted MORE — more of Delia Ephron’s wisdom, insight, and humor.
In the Fresh Air interview, Terry asked Delia how Nora’s premature death affected Delia’s feelings about getting older, pointing out that one of Nora’s best-known works is her collection of essays about women and aging, I Feel Bad About My Neck. Delia’s poignant response was, “I do feel that I have to do everything quickly. I don’t want to waste a day”.
Read Hallie Ephron’s thoughts on growing up with three talented sisters here: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Nora-Ephrons-Mother-Hallie-Ephron-Essay/3#ixzz2n0AJevCV