A hat. Always a hat, knitted, woven or made of felt. perched over white hair, lively eyes. A walker as her side-kick draped with parcels stuffed with manuscripts, tissues, and sunglasses, almost a shopping cart with all the accouterments. I am driving her to High Country Writers meeting at the Boone, North Carolina Library. She was the oldest member there, 98 years, at that time, but a highly respected voice during our critiques’ of members’ writing. More than once I heard a late entrant to the critique whisper, “What does Nora think about the story?”
I know her editing personally. She shaped my first book, Beats Me. Love, Poetry, Censorship from Chicago to Appalachia. She taught me to red-line text which disrupted the continuity of reading. It was Nora that so many area writers turned to when crafting their books. Her own craft was polished in New York City, where she was an editor, at one time with Random House. She never lost her touch even as she continued to live until 102 years of age.
While I was indebted to her editing skills, it was her positive spirit that I most admired. For the few years I drove Nora to the library her voice and spirit sang on only the high notes. She might be angry over political injustice, but never did these change her basic optimism.
She was a three-year-old, living in Samara, by the Volga river, at the start of the Russian Revolution. She escaped the terror, traveling at age seven with her mother to America and wrote in
Weather of the Heart: A Child’s Journey Out of Revolutionary Russia, “I have to tell, to speak for so many others who have silently endured the loss of all they valued.”
She also wrote: We take so much for granted. We see an old church, poised perfectly on a hill commanding the crossroads, its Wren steeple a lovely exclamation point in time. Do we ever think of how this spot was chosen, cleared, who it was that imagined the perfect site? So. in our lives, we take for granted what people are, without dreaming of what made them so, what worlds shaped them.”
Nora thrived in America. From an only child, she went on, with children, grand, and great-grandchildren, to became as she told me, “Now I’m a tribe.” May we never know, in America, the sorrows she experienced, in Russia as a child. May we all have her incredibly positive spirit.