On Sisters …


Two of my top five favorite writers are Nora and Delia Ephron.[i]

Nora and Delia are sisters who (along with the younger Amy and Hallie) all grew up to become professional writers. There was never any question that they would be writers. Their parents were successful screenwriters, and it was their mother who set all four girls on the path to their careers. How lucky they were! How would my life be different if I was raised believing I had no choice but to be a successful writer? My mother had many wonderful motherly traits, but helping her children realize their dreams was not one of them. She never provided any expectation that I would do anything great. But, then again, my mother wasn’t a raging alcoholic like Phoebe Ephron, so maybe life does have balance.

Nora is the most famous of the four sisters. She started out as a journalist, then began writing essays for newspapers and magazines, and moved onto screenplays and novels. Her first successful screenplay was for the movie, “Silkwood.” Her first book was “Heartburn” a novel not so loosely based on her second marriage.  In “Heartburn,” cleverly marketed as fiction, she changed a few names, gave people different careers, but basically told the world what a lying, cheating, SOB her husband was. It was a fantastic revenge maneuver. I love that so much. Nora’s biggest success came with the screenplay for “When Harry Met Sally,” one of my favorite movies – heck one of everyone’s favorite movies.

Delia started her career writing crochet instruction books to support herself. Eventually, her book of essays, “How to Eat Like a Child” was published and her career was launched. She sometimes collaborated with Nora on movie screenplays like “You’ve Got Mail,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “This is My Life” and plays such as “Love, Live and What I Wore.” In fact, some of the most famous lines from those movies were attributed to Nora but were actually written by Delia. Now age 77, Delia continues to write novels and essays. Her newest work, a memoir, is “Left on Tenth, a Second Chance on Life.”

Nora died of a rare form of leukemia in 2012. Fiercely protective of her privacy, only a handful of her closest family and friends knew Nora was sick. The public and her adoring fans found out about her illness just days before she died. Nora didn’t want anyone to treat her differently because she was sick. She wanted to continue to work. In fact, she was still working in the hospital, collaborating with Delia on a play that would be produced and performed after her death. She was adamant that no one, aside from her family (her husband, her sisters and their families, her sons), and a very few close personal friends knew about her illness. Her son, Jacob, said she was a bit of a control freak. She could not control the disease, but she could control who knew about it.

Because Nora’s illness could be genetic, Delia got her blood tested every six months. In 2015, her husband of 30 years passed away from prostate cancer. In 2017 at the age of 73, Delia had just reconnected and fallen in madly love with a man from her past that she would soon marry. She had a new novel out. Things were going great for Delia, until the blood test revealed that her genes had caught up with her.

In May 2017, via an essay in the New York Times, titled “After 54 Years, We Fell in Love. After Five Months, I Got Leukemia,” Delia told the entire world that her husband had died, she had remarried and, by the way, was sick with cancer. Delia had trouble lying to her friends and the people managing her work. She felt terrible just saying “No” to invitations without a good explanation. It was not her way. Don’t most women have difficulty with just a simple, “No?” I know I do. Delia is the middle child of an alcoholic mother, a combination that makes her the classic people pleaser. She gathered her tribe around her and let them help her get well. Delia’s story ends differently than Nora’s. Her cancer went into remission in 2020 where it remains today.

Nora and Delia remind me so much of myself and my sister, who I call “Piglet.” Like the Ephron girls we attend the same schools, grew up in the same home and although parents are different for each child, we both were raised by Carl and Carolyn.

Like Nora, Piglet is successful in her career and a workhorse. She is very private, a bit of a control freak and a worrier. She admonishes others not to worry, like she is in charge of the world’s worrying – and she just may be. Piglet takes after our mother in many ways. When Mom was sick with the cancer that would eventually take her from us, she would say “I don’t want this posted ANYWHERE.” As long as she could speak for herself, Mom decided who got what information. She didn’t want to be any bother and she was uncomfortable as the center of attention. Piglet is a half marathon runner, and she never really talks about her running. To run 13.1 miles and not brag seems insane to me. But she keeps that part of her life private. If I don’t ask about the next race so I can attend, she will not mention it. She says she runs for herself and doesn’t need an audience. But I like to watch her run. It makes me proud to be her sister. Few people knew she broke her leg a few years ago. Nobody knew about a recent health scare which, thankfully, turned out to be nothing. It is not that she is the “accentuate the positive” type, Piglet just likes to keep her personal life tucked in close and safe. She is a mother hen. Seriously, you can almost hear her cluck.

On the other hand, I am like Delia. I am a middle child and a people pleaser. When I got the news that I had to have a heart valve transplant in the fall of 2023, I blogged about it and shared the blog link on social media. Oh, sure, first I told my kids and family personally and close friends that were told surgery was possible, even before I knew for sure. But people outside my inner circle got the news via the internet. Anyone who read my blog knew about my heart surgery. I have a hard time keeping my own secrets. I feel better talking about my troubles. My worries are easier to bear if shared. The more sharing, the lighter the burden. Plus, keeping track of who knows what is just exhausting.

I share all my good news, too. The internet makes it possible for me to share with everyone at once, such a time saver! A recognition of excellence from my college, my 4.0 GPA, the publication in which three of my essays and a short story appeared… you bet those were posted EVERYWHERE. My wedding pictures, the arrival of grandchildren, job changes, yep, all posted as well. I am an open book letting all, but the most intimate information, hang out.

As a writer, I need people to read what I write. It is hard not to take offense when someone asks me a question about my life that they would have known had they read my blog. I know that sounds self-centered, but most creative people are that way. Writers need readers, musicians need dancers, comics need laughers, and actors need audiences.

My willingness to let people into my private life is my way. I’m more like my Daddy than my mother in that respect. Daddy made friends wherever he went and sometimes, I admit, he provided too much information to people who might not have earned it. I do that, too, and I have to deal with it as a consequence of my openness. Like Daddy, I do like being the center of attention.

Like Nora and Delia, Piglet and I are similar in many ways, too. We love dogs. We get our energy from being outside. We have strong work ethics. We both enjoy cooking but neither of us are overeaters. We aren’t fans of selfies or being in pictures (it took forever for me to find one of us together for this blog post). We value physical fitness. We love our kids fiercely. But we only share one common friend, and she is like the third sister.

Often, after betrayals providing evidence that I had allowed the wrong person too much access to me, I wonder if I should be more like Piglet. But I don’t think so. We probably couldn’t stand each other if we were more alike than we are. It is her differences that make me admire her so much. I hope my differences at least provide her with some entertainment.

She is she and that is grand. I am me and that is also grand. We are sisters, we are different, and we are grand.

[i] Anne Lamott, Ann Patchett, Mary Oliver are the others.

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