Erma Bombeck Celebration Day 2011

Today is the anniversary of the death of Erma Bombeck. It’s my tradition on this blog to post something about Erma on this day in celebration of her and her writing. I guess it’s fitting that it falls on Good Friday this year, as Erma was a Roman Catholic.

For the back story on the influence Erma had on me in my younger days, see this post. Essentially, Erma was an archetype for me. You know how it is when you’re young and youthful insecurities cause you to look to the outside for inspiration and the permission you need to proceed accordingly. Erma also made me laugh a lot.

A kind reader recently brought to my attention this 30 minute PBS documentary about Erma. It also gives an interesting glimpse into what life was like during the Depression and that brief era afterwards when housewives were the norm:

Watch the full episode. See more ThinkTV Originals.

It seems appropriate to close with this excerpt from Erma’s March 10, 1987 column:

I always had a dream that when I am asked to give an accounting of my life to a higher court, it will go like this: ‘So, empty your pockets. What have you got left of your life? Any dreams that were unfulfilled? Any unused talent that we gave you when you were born that you still have left? Any unsaid compliments or bits of love that you haven’t spread around?’

And I will answer: ‘I’ve got nothing to return. I spent everything you gave me. I’m as naked as the day I was born.’

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Erma Bombeck: Treat Friends, Kids the Same

I was looking at my blog stats and noticed someone found my blog by searching for this particular column of Erma’s.

Unfortunately that person had to go away empty-handed as I didn’t have that column posted here, so I thought I should correct that.

This column literally made me LOL, which felt good, as there have been plenty of reasons as of late to not LOL (the AZ shooting in January, blizzards, the political kerfuffle here in WI, etc.). Plus with all the client writing I have on my plate right now, it’s nice to let Erma do some of the heavy lifting.

Here’s Erma:

On TV the other day, a leading child psychologist said parents should treat their children as they would treat their best friend…with courtesy, dignity and diplomacy.

“I have never treated my children any other way,” I told myself. But later that night, I thought about it. Did I really talk to my best friends like I talked to my children? Just suppose…..our good friends, Fred and Eleanor, came to dinner one night and……

“Well, it’s about time you two got here! What have you been doing? Dawdling? Leave those shoes outside, Fred. They’ve got mud on them. And shut the door. Were you born in a barn?

“So Eleanor, how have you been? I’ve been meaning to have you over for such a long time. Fred! Take it easy on the chip dip or you’ll ruin your dinner. I didn’t work over a hot stove all day long to have you nibble like some bird.”

“Heard from any of the gang lately? Got a card from the Martins. Yes, they’re in Lauderdale again. They go every year to the same spot. What’s the matter with you, Fred? You’re fidgeting. Of course you have to go. It’s down the hall, first door on the left. And I don’t want to see a towel in the middle of the floor when you’re finished.

“Did you wash your face before you came, Eleanor? I see a dark spot around your mouth. I guess it’s a shadow. How are your children? If you ask me I think summer school is great for them. Is everybody hungry? Then, why don’t we go into dinner? You all wash up and I’ll take up the food. Don’t tell me your hands are clean, Eleanor. I saw you playing with the dog.

“Fred, you sit over there and Eleanor you can sit with the half glass of milk. You know you’re all elbows with it comes to milk. There now, your host will say grace.

“Fred, I don’t see any cauliflower on your plate. Have you ever tried it? Well, try a spoonful. If you don’t like it I won’t make you finish it, but if you don’t try it, you can just forget dessert. And sit up straight or your spine will grow that way. Now, what were we talking about? Oh yes, the Gerbers. They sold their house. I mean they took a beating but….Eleanor, don’t talk with food in your mouth. I can’t understand a word you’re saying. And use your napkin.”

At that moment in my fantasy, my son walked into the room. “How nice of you to come,” I said pleasantly.

“Now what did I do?” he sighed.

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Fun Friday Potpourri

First, oh how I wish I could get my 7-year-old to agree to throw a birthday party with proper princess accessories like these:


(H/T Phil Thompson)

Next, snowmen like these would make winter less tedious:

Rose Is Rose

That’s a commendable effort by Vicki the Biker but it doesn’t top the Calvin & Hobbes snowmen:



I could go on, but it’s entirely possible your sense of humor isn’t as warped as mine, so click here if you’d like to see more strips like these (here’s a site that shows real life Calvin & Hobbes snowmen). I tried to get my kids to make Calvin & Hobbes snowmen during the snowstorm on Monday but they refused. Alas. If I want snowmen like that or princesses that carry saw blade guns, I guess I’ll have to borrow some other children. ;-)

That Vicki the Biker snowman reminds me of this “My Guitar Gently Weeps” video where, beginning at the 3:30 mark, Prince plays a guitar solo that is at least as good if not better than Eric Clapton’s version. Prince plays it with more panache.

A Facebook friend was looking for non-dictionary definitions of the word “family” so I posted Erma Bombeck’s definition (it’s always nice to have an excuse to bring on Erma):

The family. We are a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.

Finally, here’s Six Word Story #26:

Marriage. Boredom. Relocation. Overspent. Adultery. Suicide.

There. Madame Bovary in six words. :-)

Hope you have a great weekend.

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I’ve never been able to bring myself to write a Christmas letter. The late humor columnist Erma Bombeck explains why better than I ever could:

I regard the family Christmas newsletter with a mixture of nausea and jealousy—nausea because I could never abide by anyone organized enough to chronicle a year of activities: jealous because our family never does anything that I can talk about on a religious holiday.

For years I have been assaulted with Frieda and Fred’s camping adventures. Marcia and Willard’s bright children (their three–year–old has a hit record) and Ginny and Jess’s kitchen table version of “The Night Before Christmas.”

“You know something?” I announced at dinner the other night. “We’re a pretty exciting family. This year, instead of the usual traditional Christmas card, why don’t we make up a newsletter?”

“What would we say on it?” asked a son.

“What everyone else says. We could put down all the interesting things we did last year. For instance, you kids tell me anything you did in school that was memorable.” Silence. “This is no time for modesty. Just spit out any award or recognition you received throughout the school year.”

Finally, after five minutes, one son said, “I passed my eye examination.”

“See?” I said excitedly. “I knew if we just thought about it a bit — now, where have we been that’s exciting?”

“We got lost that Sunday and went by the Industrial School where you told us one of your uncles made license plates.”

“I don’t think our Christmas list wants to read about that,” I said. “Let’s see, have I been anyplace?”

“You went to that Sarah Coventry jewelry party last spring.”

“How about that?” I said excitedly. “Now, keep going. Anyone get promoted? Married? Divorced? Hospitalized? Retired? Give birth?” Silence.

“Anyone say anything clever last year? How about the year before that? Did anyone compose a song? Write a letter? Belch after dinner?” Silence.

“Anyone protest anything? Stop biting their nails? Scrape a chair in the Christian Science reading room? Get up in the morning before ten?” Silence.

“Anyone lick a stamp? Kick the dog? Wash their gym suit? Sit up straight in class? Replace a lightbulb? Breathe in and out?

They all sat there silently contemplating their year. Finally, I brought out a box of Christmas cards.

“What are you doing? We thought you were going to send out a family newsletter for Christmas?”

“No sense antagonizing the poor devils who sit around and do nothing all year.”

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The case for pink golf

Today I’d like to address this  question from Snoopy:

This comes from the series of Peanuts strips about tangerine pool tables in yesterday’s post.

A reader wrote to me and said what she’d really like to see is pink golf courses.

So that set me to thinking…and Googling, of course.

It does not appear that there are any pink golf courses. Alas. There are the expected references to breast cancer awareness and golf. This site about pink golf is kind of cool.

So I’ll make my own case for pink golf.

Although I’ve been a devotee of Flying Lady pink golf balls for many years (even before breast cancer awareness), what I mean by pink golf is more along the lines of what Erma Bombeck once said: golf is something women do with their hands while they talk.

This is why I usually only ever golfed when I’ve had another woman or group of women to golf with. Golf is kind of meaningless for me otherwise.

On any given day I’d tell you that tennis is my sport of choice because, unlike golf courses, tennis courts are free,  the fast pace and quick-thinking required in tennis supposedly helps prevent dementia, in just a half hour you get an outstanding workout (golf isn’t much of a workout) and doesn’t take up half the day the way golf does, etc., etc.

As much as I like tennis, however, I can’t say I’ve ever experienced deep conversation, side-splitting laughter… and even healing… on the tennis court like I have on the golf course.

That’s because when I play golf it has nothing to do with golf. Whereas tennis has everything to do with tennis.

I’ll share some golf stories  in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!

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This is my final Erma Bombeck post for Erma Bombeck Appreciation Week 2010.

This was written in 1969 but I see nothing has changed in 41 years of parenting.

In addition to never being able to find a pencil when you live in a home with young children, as Erma talks about, I’d like to add the following:

Nail clippers, brushes/combs, scissors, tape measures (usually pressed into service as a stuffed animal leash), cloth napkins (used for picnic blankets for doll parties), and the spray nozzle for the hose.

If the latter seems odd to you, then obviously you do not live with a young child who is obsessed with the hose and starts asking to use it in February.

And, no, Slip N Slides and sprinklers are not of greater interest to her than simply turning on the hose and spraying water about.

I should be grateful, I suppose, that she’s so easily amused, but it means I’m often left searching for the hose nozzle when it’s time to actually do something practical with it, like water flowers or wash the car. I usually  never find it until I almost mow over it.

Let’s not discuss how many hose nozzles I’ve had to purchase over the years…

Anyway, back to Erma:

No Pencil in the House by Erma Bombeck

We have 26 appliances in our home, two cars in the driveway, a few savings bonds put away, and I’m a “standing” at the beauty shop.

We do not own a pencil.

On the surface we would appear to be a family of some comfort. If Onassis knocked on the door and wanted to buy our house for a highway phone booth, I would have to sign the agreement with (a) an eyebrow pencil, (b) yellow crayon, (c) cotton swab saturated in shoe polish, (d) an eyedropper filled with cake coloring, or (e) a sharp fingernail dipped in my own blood.

Pencils are weird little devils. I discovered this quite by accident. One day I took a spanking-new pencil, sharpened it and put it by the telephone. Three days later the same pencil showed up in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator.

I put it back by the phone. It popped up in the medicine chest.

I put it on a strong and attached it to the telephone. It broke its lead. I sharpened it. It broke the string.

It was clear that lousy pencil was not an ordinary inanimate object. It possessed the human qualities of free will and intellect.

As I studied this strange creature, other things became apparent. It enjoyed no sex life whatsoever. Other household items, like coat hangers, straight pins and paper clips, propagated themselves.

Not pencils. They never begot anything but frustration. They came into this world alone, and they dropped behind the stove and out of your life.

They also had an affinity for never being where they were needed.

The other morning I had to write an admittance note for my daughter. “Get mama’s all-occasion cards,” I yelled. (We haven’t had stationery for six years.)

She gave me the box.

“Okay, what’ll it be? Happy Birthday to a Nephew Who Has Been Like a Mother to Me, Sorry You’re Sick or Thinking of You in Your Hour of Sorrow?”

“The birthday, I guess.”

“OK, now get me a pencil.”

“Where?”

“Try the desk, the sewing basket, the stove drawer, Daddy’s workbench in the garage and my black purse.”

“Not there.”

“Very well, try the glove compartment of the car, the clothes hamper, the toy box, the pocket of my blue housecoat, the sink drain, the mailbox, the guitar case and the base of the big oak tree.” (Shouting hysterically) “All right you little devils! Come out, wherever you are! You’ve had your fun. I’ll show you. You’ll go to bed without your din-din!”

And some people worry about the Russians.

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Today is the anniversary of Erma Bombeck’s death in 1996 so I thought this column of hers from 1979 would be an appropriate one to post today:

If I Had My Life to Live Over by Erma Bombeck

Someone asked me the other day if I had my life to live over would I change anything.

My answer was no, but then I thought about it and changed my mind.

If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I’d have cherished every minute of it and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.

I would have eaten popcorn in the “good” living room and worried less about the dirt when you lit the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored.

I would have sat cross-legged on the lawn with my children and never worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television … and more while watching real life.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband which I took for granted.

I would have eaten less cottage cheese and more ice cream.

I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.

I would never have bought ANYTHING just because it was practical/wouldn’t show soil/ guaranteed to last a lifetime.

When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now, go get washed up for dinner.”

There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.

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This column comes from the very end of Erma’s career. Erma said that earlier in her career she tended to focus on one-liners in her column because she was afraid that if she told a story no one would stick around for the end. This column is a nice blend of one-liners and story.

Martha Stewart by Erma Bombeck

My mom was visiting recently, and we sat stunned as we watched TV’s Martha Stewart getting ready for Christmas. In 20 minutes she made an elaborate gingerbread house that looked better than the one I am living in. She followed this with baking 300 cookies the size of whoopee cushions, which she decorated and hung from the Christmas tree.

Two grown women watching a homemaking god prepare for a holiday that is three months away is what is so incredible about the Martha Stewart phenomenon.

I find myself unable to turn off her program.

What does this mean? Are there other women out there who are returning to putting creativity back into their homemaking, to join those who never left?

That’s what those of us who had Martha Stewarts for neighbors tried to get away from. You all remember her. She was the woman who hand-painted her garbage cans with sunflowers while we didn’t attempt anything that didn’t have connect-the-dots. She maintained an elaborate garden, knew how to change fuses and made elaborate Halloween costumes for her children while the rest of us cut holes in garbage bags and shoved the kids out the door.

She entertained with theme parties (Low-Fat Fertility Foods Nite). She baked every day and ate nothing.

It’s been 20 years since I’ve thought about a windowsill garden, but the other night as I watched Martha stake her tomatoes with rings cut from her pantyhouse, I said, “I can do that.”

I have started going to flea markets looking for mismatched bargain dishes to bring interest to my table. I think I bought back most of the dishes I got rid of in 1958, but I’m not sure.

My husband can’t figure out what has happened to me. The other night I watched Martha plan a lobster bake by the seashore. He watched with me as she poured half a cup of gin into the boiling water before she dropped in the lobsters.

“Why doesn’t she just drink the gin and forget dinner?” he said.

“Shhh.”

Martha said, “The gin relaxes the lobster. If you were going to be dropped into boiling water and steamed, wouldn’t you want a drink first?”

When she was ready to take it all to the seashore she had little brushes handmade from rosemary and dill, butter with chili and limes in it, and fresh corn.

My husband said dryly, “But will it play in a carport?”

Martha is not married.

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I love the reference to gas station glasses. Ah, the good old days:

“Are We Rich?” by Erma Bombeck

The other day out of a clear blue sky Brucie asked, “Are we rich?”

I paused on my knees as I retrieved a dime from the sweeper bag, blew the dust off it and asked, “Not so you can notice. Why?”

“How can you tell?” he asked.

I straightened up and thought a bit. Being rich is a relative sort of thing. Here’s how I can always tell.

“You’re rich when you buy your gas at the same service station all the time so your glasses match.

“You’re rich when you can have eight people to dinner and don’t have to wash forks between the main course and dessert.

“You’re rich when you buy clothes for your kids that are two sizes too big for the one you buy ‘em for and four sizes too big for the one that comes after him.

“You’re rich when you own a boat – without oars.

“You can tell people have money when they record a check and don’t have to subtract it right away.

“People have money when they sit around and joke with the cashier while she’s calling in their charge to see if it’s still open.

“You’re rich when you write notes to the teacher on paper without lines.

“You’re rich when your television set has all the knobs on it.

“You’re rich when you can throw away a pair of pantyhose just because it has a large hole in it.

“You know people are loaded when they don’t have to save rubber bands from the celery and store them on a doorknob.

“You’re rich when you can have a home wedding without HAVEN FUNERAL HOME stamped on the folding chairs.

“You’re rich when the Scouts have a paper drive and you have a stack of The New York Times in your basement.

“You’re rich when your dog is wet and smells good.

“You’re rich when your own hair looks so great everyone thinks it’s a wig.”

Brucie sat quietly for a moment, then said, “I think my friend Ronny is rich.”

“How can you tell?” I asked.

“His mom buys his birthday cake at a bakery, and it isn’t even cracked on top.”

“He’s rich, all right,” I sighed.

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Remembering Erma

Yesterday while gardening I started thinking about one of my great inspirations, Erma Bombeck, who wrote syndicated humor columns in the 1960s-1990s.

I looked at her Wikipedia entry and noticed that the anniversary of her death is this week on Thursday.

She died on April 22, 1996 and even though I never met her, I sobbed when I heard about her passing on that day.

Erma Bombeck humor columns ranked right up there with orchestra class and the golf course as a refuge and source of much needed laughter during my teen years. I continued reading her columns until her death.

I exchanged a few letters with her in my early 20s when I first started writing freelance columns for local newspapers and it was such a thrill for me to receive letters from her.

As much as I might want to say that I learned the most about writing from my favorite high school and college English teachers, in reality it’s Erma Bombeck that had the greatest influence on me as a young writer. I marveled at her ability to tell funny stories about everyday life.

The library used to have an audio cassette of an interview of Erma Bombeck conducted by Writer’s Digest. I checked it out many times and listened to it over and over. I very much enjoyed listening to her talk in detail about her writing process.

I longed to write humor columns like hers. She talked about how her columns were 450 words and how hard it is to write that concisely.  It’s no surprise to me that today most of the copy I write for clients is short copy (500 words or less) and my blog posts are about that same length.

I found an interview with her from 1991 that is similar to that one. In this one she also talks a bit about converting to Catholicism in college, which was noteworthy to me, as in her columns she never touched on religion or politics (she described herself as a “flaming liberal Democrat”) much.

Here’s what she says in the interview about her writing process and how she encouraged her son as a writer:

UDQ: Tell me about your writing process.  How do you write?  Do you set aside a certain time of the day, and if so, why aren’t you writing now?

Bombeck: I am.  You just interrupted me at a page and a half.  Discipline is what I do best.  I can’t imagine any writer saying to you, ‘I just write when I feel like it.’  That’s a luxury, and that’s stupid.  The same for writer’s block.  If you’re a professional writer, you write.  You don’t sit there and wait for sweet inspiration to tap you on the shoulder and say now’s the time.  We meet deadlines.  I write for newspapers, and newspapers don’t wait for anybody.  You write whether you feel like it, you write whether you’ve got an idea, you write whether it’s Pulitzer Prize material.  You just do it, that’s it.  Discipline is what we’re all about.  If you don’t have discipline, you’re not a writer.  This is a job for me.  I come in every morning at 8 a.m. and I don’t leave until 11:30 for lunch.  I take a nap, and then I’m back at the typewriter by 1:30 and I write until 5.  This happens five, six, seven days a week.  I don’t see how I can do any less.

UDQ: A deadline is a great motivator, isn’t it?

Bombeck: It is!  You can’t fool around.  A lot of people who want to be writers sit around and say, ‘You know, when I get the kitchen cleaned up, when I get the casserole made, when I pick up the kids from school, when I get the carpet cleaned, I’m going to sit down and write.  They procrastinate all the time.  Writing has to be a priority.  I have a son who’s a writer in Los Angeles for made-for-television movies.  He had a job in an advertising agency, and I told him, ‘If you’re serious, then you have to put it on the line.’  You have to take a risk.  You have to say, ‘I am a writer,’ and quit the job.  There comes a time when you have to stop talking and start doing.  So he quit the job.  If you’re going to make your living by it, that’s exactly what you have to do.  Then go the beach.

I’m going to make this Erma Bombeck Appreciation Week on this blog. I’ll post a column of hers each day and perhaps a few more tidbits about her (click the Time magazine cover above if you’d like to see the 1984 Time cover story about her). May her memory be eternal.

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