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.

Erma photo

Photo from Erma Bombeck Writer’s Worshop website used with permission

Following the example of my blogging friend Roxanne Jones who writes the very funny “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!

Molly Stevens

About Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens arrived late to the writing desk but is forever grateful her second act took this direction instead of adult tricycle racing or hoarding cats. She was raised on a potato farm in northern Maine, where she wore a snowsuit over both her Halloween costume and her Easter dress.