Re- Finding Erma: The Jewel That Was Erma Bombeck


I was sitting at the Memphis hospital as my mother in law entered into a new phase of her struggle to survive when I saw the book case. Standing up and wiping  the frustrated tears from my eyes, I went to it. Romance novels I have read before, an occasional mystery, a horror – genres I enjoy looked back at me. The librarian in me wanted to ABC 123 them and then…I saw them.

Two mint conditioned copies of Erma Bombeck’s books. I gasped, grabbed both, left two of my own hardback romances I had with me as down payment, and ran back to the hospital room before anyone had seen me.  My old friend had returned. The books will not be returned; I left two in hock. I think Erma would approve.

In my life, I have found two humorists that struck me as brilliant. The first is Lewis Grizzard.  And the second great humorist – not Southern – was my darling Erma Bombeck. When I say I loved her, I more than loved her: she was one of my muses. And rediscovering her at this time in my life? EPIC. HUGE. NEEDED. Oh, so so NEEDED!

I first discovered Erma when I was ten. Mother had a copy of The Grass Is Always Greener… and I read it, hiding in my room, thinking it would be inappropriate to read. I don’t know why – maybe it was because she wrote for women – or mothers – and I was just a girl. But I laughed. I knew this was good stuff – and I wanted to be like her. I took her book to Mother and she said, “Yes, read it. She has more. And she’s good – you want to write humor? Learn Erma!” And she became my muse at….ten.

Who was Erma Bombeck? Learning about Erma was one of the treasures I did a few years ago. We had many things in common. One, we were both Catholic converts. Two, we both hold English degrees. Third, we both dreamed of writing. But she had more going on – she had three children, stayed at home, and she didn’t just define herself as a suburban house wife in the Midwest: she had ideas, humor, and things to say. And with $3.00 a week as a paycheck, she started off with a small column.

Syndication, publishing deals, and the rest are what we call literary history…of the humorous bit. But I guarantee Erma’s contributions to the women’s movement with her involvement in the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) and her success as a female writer did loads to help women – especially women like me. She paved the way for us – and she did it with wit, grace, and tenacity.

She helped me dream of writing. Mother would buy her books and slip them to me. I’d giggle and write down her sayings and witticisms and learn to quote them during my own parenting oops and womanhood trials – but she was so much more about parenting and womanhood. She was life. She was lovely. And she died…Too young. I think 69 too young; I’d like to have had Erma as long as we had George Burns. She was funnier!

Like Lewis Grizzard, I miss her existence in the world. At forty-two, I comprehend her humor and message so much better than I did at ten, twenty-three, or even thirty-five. I can only end this simple blog about Erma with my favorite quote: “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.”

Could anyone ever said anything so real and so damn funny?!

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