Posted by: ritagone | August 6, 2011

Neither do I, Nora…


Perhaps one of the funniest essays I’ve read in a long time was in Nora Ephron’s book “I Remember Nothing,” the title essay in which she bemoans the loss of memory of so many things in her past: movie titles, books, events, and, most significantly, people.

Surely the funniest section of this essay was her recollection (or lack of it) of meeting Eleanor Roosevelt.  As she tells it, her family treated Mrs. Roosevelt as an icon, with a photograph of her in her parent’s living room her entire growing up years.  So when an opportunity presented itself to actually meet her during her as a Wellesley College journalism intern, Ephron was thrilled.  Let’s let her tell it, because she’s much funnier than I could ever be:

“I idolized the woman.  I couldn’t believe I was going to be in the same room with her.  So what was it like that day in Hyde Park, you may wonder.  I HAVE NO IDEA.  I can’t remember what she said or what she wore; I can barely summon up a mental picture of the room where we met her, although I have a very vague memory of drapes.”

Who over the age of 40 (Ephron wrote this book at the age of 70) cannot relate to this kind of historic memory failure?  Perhaps you read in the archives of my blogs my husband Michael’s rant about Gene Hackman?  If you haven’t, please go back and find it.  In it, he describes the fact that the actor Gene Hackman’s name constantly eludes him, for some mysterious and unknown reason.  Every once in a while now I have to look him in the eye – quite seriously – and just say the name: Gene Hackman, Gene Hackman, Gene Hackman.  And does it work?  Not at all.  Ask him twenty minutes later who that actor who starred in “The French Connection” is, and he won’t have a clue.  He’ll see him in his mind’s eye, but if you put a gun to his head (please don’t), he wouldn’t be able to tell you his name until I whispered once again, “Gene Hackman.”

These vagaries of our memory – names, events, places, situations – eat away at our lives like tiny mice.  This book of Ephron’s is a tribute – hysterically funny at times and bittersweet elsewhere – to this fact: we are all losing it.  I don’t care how much B-12 you take, how many jumping jacks you perform at the age of 25, at some point in your life, something will elude you, slipping away and out of your mental reach.

Be prepared for it.

One of the saddest experiences of my adult life that I DO remember was an opportunity Michael, our son Matt and I had years ago to meet ex-President Ronald Reagan in his offices overlooking the ocean, where he was lovingly looked after by his staff.  In those days, in the early stages of the Alzheimer’s that would utterly kidnap his mind, he would have “good days” and “bad days,” meaning days in which he would remain lucid and speak to people who came to visit, and days in which he would not.  On our particular visit to see him, he was having a “bad day,” so that we posed for a photograph with him, walked around his office admiring the many photographs (Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, Reagan and Russian leaders), and talking to the staff person assigned to escort us about the view on such a clear day, banalities that masked the enormity of the fact that here was a former President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world at one time, unable now to articulate a sentence, to speak for himself, his mind having gone away somewhere far, far away because of a crippling disease.

Talk about a loss of memory and memories!  Reagan had had memories and experiences that far outweighed those of most people on the planet, and yet they were all gone, forgotten, stored and categorized by others, but obliterated by his own mind.  It was totally ironic and completely and devastatingly sad.

So I guess my warning, my caveat, my take-away to you reading this today is: savor the moment.  Whatever you are doing right now or will be doing an hour from now, enjoy it.  Think about it while you can.  Twenty years from now you may not remember it, and you may then have enough mental capacity to laugh about it, as Nora Ephron did.  Or your mind may be in such a state that you have no memory of anything, in which case I guess at that point nothing much may matter except to the people who love you and care for you.

So for today, remember.


  1. Thanks for this, uh, reminder, Rita. 🙂 Seriously, though: powerful truths here. Thanks for sharing!

    I enjoy reading your blog…

    Grace and peace,

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