Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Erma, we need you (still)!

I read an article about the timelessness of Erma Bombeck’s books and columns in which Bombeck, in case you aren’t familiar, humorously describes what her wikipedia entry refers to as “a period of intense homemaking” in the suburbs. It was as if she submitted the entry herself.

 And, therein lies the everlasting appeal of this Ohio “housewife,” who would go on to pen 15 books, most of which became bestsellers, 4,000 newspaper columns picked up by almost a thousand newspapers in addition to major magazines. Bombeck went from earning $3 a piece for her columns to $500,000 to $1 million a year in the mid-80s, all by sharing the frustrations and joys of daily life – in a funny way.

What made her so popular? I say it’s because she reminds you to laugh, not just with her, but at yourself - no matter how tired you are or how messy your house is or how much laundry you need to fold. No matter if the local wholesale food store calls and leaves a message that the frozen veggies you recently purchased (and are cooking for dinner) MAY be contaminated with listeria, and you should bring the receipt – not the vegetables – back to the store. No matter if the part of the listeria-filled vegetable message that bothers you most is the fact that the store has a list of who buys them. No matter what kind of mother or father you think you are – good, bad, somewhere in between – you have to laugh.

Speaking of mothers, I was first introduced to Bombeck at age 8 when my mom asked for a copy of her books. Now this caught my attention for two reasons. One, my mother, for all of her many talents, was not a voracious reader. Perhaps it was because her child, who was one beginning at a very early age, burned her out on it. I can recall sitting next to my mom and having her read me an Archie comic book over and over again, and her saying, in a fit of exasperation at the chronicles of Jughead, Betty and Veronica (BTW, wasn’t I too young for that?), “I’ll be so glad when you learn to read!”

Needless to say, I was delighted to look for and buy my mom these books, especially due to the second reason, their titles, for example, "The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank" and "If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?"

I can recall knowing they were funny but not exactly certain why. I remember asking questions like, “What is a septic tank? And why is it greener?” and “What does the pits mean?” If my mom had an exasperated reply then, I don’t remember it. Perhaps it was because she had Erma to share it with.

By the way, Erma had kidney disease since she was in her 20s. She was told she couldn’t have children before having two of her own (having already adopted one). She worked two jobs to pay for her college but then failed her literary classes at Ohio University and was rejected by its newspaper before running out of funds. She later enrolled at the University of Dayton, where she worked 2-3 jobs, including one at a department store where she wrote humorous material for the company newsletter before graduating with an English degree and later becoming a lifetime trustee of the institution.

Why am I telling you this? I’m not. I’m telling myself. Today, I had a hard day. One friend described it as a post-Mother’s Day hangover where you realize that you didn’t pick up any clothes because it
was your day off, yet they are still on the floor, and although it had only been one day, you’d already gotten spoiled having the kids get along so well and willingly making you dinner.

I had come home after a very long work day that included a 30-minute commute to the interstate which is ACROSS THE STREET (Sorry, no road rage here …) to tired kids and no dinner. Worst of all, we had no tuna, a fact that drove my son to his brink and me to mine. Somewhere around that time, came the listeria call.

It was then that I remembered what I had read about Erma Bombeck. Sometimes you just gotta laugh. Or write about it and let others do so – either way, the result is the same. Both of us feel better.