Who was Erma Bombeck and why does she still matter?

When I started writing my blog, I found it particularly difficult to compose my bio. I wanted to say that my writings were the love child of Erma Bombeck and Jerry Seinfeld. But I felt too presumptuous putting anything I wrote in the same league as Erma Bombeck.

Following the example of my blogging friend Roxanne Jones who writes “Boomer Haiku,” I decided to submit an essay to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. I doubted it would be accepted, but three days later I received notice that my piece was up on the website.

And I cried.

Why was this so emotional for me?

My mother was an avid Erma Bombeck fan, so when I saw my photo beside Erma’s, I longed for Mum. I wanted to call her and share the news. I wanted to see her smile when she saw two of her favorite people displayed on the same web page.

text of me on EBWW

I sent my sister a text because I knew she would understand the significance, and she did.

Mum was a housewife at seventeen, and had her first child when she was eighteen, the year Erma turned eleven years old. Who could have known that a woman from Dayton Ohio would become a voice for a mother of four in northern Maine?

But she was that voice for my mother and her generation of housewives. Erma understood the demanding life of preparing endless meals, cleaning, gardening, shopping, sewing, and mothering. Erma brought honor and hilarity into Mum’s undervalued role.

Mom and me 1

I adored Mum the moment I laid eyes on her

But Mum is gone and so is Erma.

How wonderful that Erma’s legacy is being kept alive with The University of Dayton Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop. This is a soft place for kindred writers to land, gleaning humor in both common and crucial situations.

I can’t believe I have descended on that revered page. And in so many ways it memorializes both Erma, and my late mother. Mum’s long hours working on the farm, caring for four children and a husband, precluded full exploration of her creativity. But we have intricate quilts, dainty crocheted doilies, hand-sewn clothes, and knit sox to remind us of her talents.

She was a prolific reader, and did some of her own writing, often humorous. I wish she had written more. Here is a sample of something she wrote for her 50th anniversary. She dusted it off and reused it for her 70th anniversary, which she celebrated less than 6 months before she died.

I always will remember, dear;
A day in April bright and clear.
In the year 19 & 37;
I really thought I was in heaven.

That was 70 years ago;
We tied the knot and made a bow.
We had three daughters and a son;
They really kept us on the run.

Now we’re back to just us two;
First there’s me, and then there’s you.
I loved you then and do today;
But now here’s what I have to say.

People ask me how I do it;
And I respond, there’s nothing to it.
I just stand there looking wise;
And always, always compromise.*
*Spoiler alert: she did not always compromise!

In going through my mother’s mementos, I found scads of my childhood writings. Crudely printed words evolved into cursive: fiction, non-fiction, poetry….proof that I was a writer at a young age.

Why did she save them? Because she believed in me, and was for me the voice that Erma heard when Father Tom Price said, “You can write.”

One of Erma’s most inspiring quotes is: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'”

Who has encouraged you to discover your talents? It isn’t too late. What is holding you back from unleashing your inner artist?

Note: Since drafting this post, I have had two more essays published on the Erma website, and I am registered to attend the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop in Dayton Ohio 3/31- 4/2/16. Erma and Mum’s legacies live on!

Erma

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36 thoughts on “Who was Erma Bombeck and why does she still matter?

  1. This moved me to tears. Erma definitely was the voice for a generation of women. A voice that told the truth gently and with hilarity. After reading your Mom’s poem I would say that a very special edition of Erma was writing her words and living her life in Maine. Thanks for sharing your Mom with us today.

    • Thank you Bernadette. That was a moving piece for me to write and I’m glad the emotion came through to you as you read it. Mom was a big fan of Erma and taught me to see the humor in the mundane to the tragic. She passed this on to all of us kids and we tend to view life through Groucho Marx glasses as much as possible. I even have a mustache now that I’ve grown older. LOL.

    • Thank you Stacey. I loved Erma’s work and it is such a privilege to have my posts on her site. I also entered the contest they hold every two years and made it to the final round with a humor essay. I still can’t believe that happened but I’m determined to win it in 2018!

  2. I’ve never heard of Erma Bombeck, but reading this post has made me want to go read her writings! Also, I’m sure your mother would have been very proud of you for getting a piece published on that website, I’m sure she is looking down on you from heaven and smiling 🙂

    • Erma’s writings are timeless, Jessica. There are a few outdated references to current events, but her overall message is as relevant today as it ever was. She wrote terrific humor about every day life, and some real tear jerkers when she wrote human interest pieces. She was a blogger before we had blogs as her essays are short. I think you’d love her and I hope you give her a try.

  3. Beautiful. I love her quote about using all the talent we are given. A great reminder, especially for me, as I am fresh off the heels of a “traditional” corporate job and taking the leap to instead pursue my passions. Love this.

    • That is one of her most famous quotes and I love it too, Faye. It was interesting that my daughter-in-law used that quote and did not know it was from Erma until she read my post. She is too young to know Erma, but her writing is timeless.

    • I know, Carol. The University of Dayton has done a wonderful job keeping her legacy alive. She really paved the way to make humor writing more respected. Even today humor writers are looked down upon in the literary world. For me, it is in my blood to write humor and Erma has been my prime inspiration leading me down this path.

  4. Congratulations, Molly!!
    How honored you must feel. I am sure your mum knows what’s going on. Hey, maybe they’re chatting it up together in Heaven saying, “I knew this was coming – Molly’s talent will not go unnoticed!” 🙂
    I am so happy for you.
    What a sweet poem written by your mum. Very creative, even within months of her passing.
    I can imagine you miss her more than ever. This may make you feel closer to her.

    For me, I grew up in a musical family. My mother and grandmother play(ed) the piano very well. I took lessons as a child, but I didn’t retain a whole lot. I think because I didn’t take it seriously as a kiddo. Now, I bought myself a “teach yourself” piano book. Just started teaching myself this past weekend! My mum has agreed to fill in any “blanks” — if I’m having trouble. 🙂

    Miss you lots, Molly!!
    Amanda Dugre

  5. I DO call myself the secret love child of Erma Bombeck, but with Dave Barry. I know it’s presumptuous, but it’s totally meant as homage as, like you, she is my favorite. How great that you’ve had work published at her site!

    I’ve heard about the U of Dayton workshop and have been really intrigued by the idea. Please report back on whether or not you think it’s worthwhile.

    • I think you have every right to claim your status as Erma and Dave’s secret love child, Peg, and I love your writing. I’ve been reading Erma’s books and enjoying every word, laughing out loud. I’m excited and nervous about the trip to U of Dayton and will fill you in on how it goes. I’ve been told it is ‘life changing.’

  6. Absolutely beautiful and you deserve (more than deserve) to be published on the Erma site. She would be proud of as would you mom, because all of us are so proud! What a lovely essay.

    I wish my budget allowed for my going to the Erma event – I am sad but hopeful that sometime in the future I’ll be able to go.

  7. Molly, I have just now had the time to read this beautiful tribute to two remarkable women written by a remarkable woman. I awoke this morning with the picture of you and your Mom on my mind; I had commented on the adoring look of love on your mother’s face but I had failed to comment on that bright, energetic baby who grew up and continues to bring light and brightness and humor into the world. Congratulations, I.am so proud of you!

    • Thanks so much my dearest friend. Your words warm my heart and give me encouragement to keep on writing. You have quite a knack with words, too, I might add. No one writes a more beautiful handwritten letter than you, my dear.

    • Thank you Terri. Erma’s writings are timeless and still so relatable. I have been reading her books, and laugh out loud frequently, and occasionally shed a tear when I come upon an especially tender piece. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  8. You have definitely inherited your mother’s talent and you are a great legacy. She would be so proud of you Molly, as we all are. Thank you so much for sharing this on #blogsharelearn.

    • I’ve been away from my blog all day. What a wonderful comment to come home to. I feel like you have reached out and given me a big hug on behalf of my mother, Elena. I treasure your words and your friendship. And I love #blogsharelearn!

  9. I remember reading Erma Bombeck with my mother while I was growing up. And it was my mother (and father) who continued to encourage me to write. Thanks for the fond memories.

    • Glad you took a trip down a pleasant memory lane, Jennifer. I have been reading Erma’s books and feeling so close to my mother and Erma. Except for the occasional reference to dated current events, her message is timeless and oh so funny. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  10. Can’t wait to meet you, Molly. This a beautiful piece and I think both Erma and Jerry would be comfortable sharing a cup of coffee and a few laughs with you. Sometimes I refer to myself as a wannabe cross between Amy Schumer and Grandma Moses. I don’t think Mrs. Moses would know what to do with me, but I’d like to think that Amy would find me amusing at times. 🙂

  11. Molly, this is so beautiful. What a wonderful legacy your mum left and how proud she must have been of you–and would still be. You are a jewel in her crow in heaven!

    • I have no doubt that my mother has jewels in her crown, Lee, and I believe she would think I was one of them. She did always like costume jewelry. Thank you as always for reading and leaving a heartfelt comment. Can’t wait to meet you in person very soon!

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