What is more enjoyable than good writing? Funny, good writing, as laughter has a special place in our lives. And with Erma Bombeck, funny and insightful good writing. No nasty jibes, but humor full of compassion and empathy. Early in life, Erma liked to write, and she kept on writing, up to 4,000 newspaper columns, chronicling the lives and loves of suburban housewives. As a voice for ordinary women, Erma became an everyday heroine for the sisterhood.
The titles of her 15 books instantly showcase her humor, just to name a few; The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank (1976), If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? A Marriage Made in Heaven…or Too Tired for an Affair.
Here are just a few quotes from Erma. ‘Guilt, the gift that keeps giving.’ ‘All of us have moments that test our courage. Taking children into a house with white carpet is one of them.’ ‘Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.’ ‘If you can’t make it better, laugh at it.’ ‘Never have more children than you have car windows.’ ‘Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.’ And many more. Her take on ‘When God created mothers‘, a Mother’s Day poem, is really worth reading.
Erma Fiste was born in 1927 in Ohio to working-class parents. At an early age, she enjoyed reading and took up the pen herself at junior high school. She wrote a humorous column for the school paper, then later in senior high and before long began work as a copygirl for the Dayton Herald. Here she interviewed America’s sweetheart, Shirley Temple who was the same age as her, just sixteen.
Erma began university studies, and after a few setbacks and epic fails, she graduated in English and wrote for the university publication. She was a determined young woman not to be deterred by female stereotyping in an age when few women pursued a career, because of societal limitations. Erma was a pioneer.
Marriage and Motherhood
At university Erma met Bill Bombeck, a Korean veteran and fellow student. They married and adopted a daughter but then later had their own child, a son, and later another son. This was despite Erma’s health issues. Doctors diagnosed her with polycystic kidney disease when she was just 20 years old, an incurable disease requiring dialysis.
From 1954 to 1964, Erma lived the life of an ordinary housewife, rearing her children in a suburban housing estate. Later she would write of these soul-destroying days of the Black Dog in ‘I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression.’ Erma became a practicing Catholic, a faith that sustained her throughout her life.
At Wit’s End in Suburbia
Erma wrote for the local Kettering-Oakwood Times from a small bedroom at home in suburbia. Her humorous style was noticed by another news outlet, and she began writing for the Dayton Journal Herald as well.
These 450-word columns again achieved notice and through the Newsday Newspaper Syndicate spread her work to 36 major newspapers. The columns titled ‘At Wit’s End’ achieved national popularity and Doubleday publisher compiled them into a book. Erma was also a regular radio guest on Arthur Godfrey’s radio show in the late 1960s.
Erma’s Voice is Heard Far and Wide
By 1969, Erma ‘s columns featured in 500 newspapers. How’s that for good coverage! She also wrote for Good Housekeeping, Reader’s Digest, Family Circle, Mc Calls and other magazines. Erma Bombeck was famous. By 1985, she featured in 900 newspapers and her articles became the substance for her best-selling books. She regularly appeared on Good Morning America and had her own sitcom.
In 1978, Erma used her voice for good to influence the Equal Rights Amendment in Congress. Despite her efforts and popularity, only three fewer states than needed, ratified the amendment. But it was a beginning of recognition for women in the constitution.
The world remembers Erma Bombeck as a woman of great humor, fortitude and grace. She kept her kidney disease and a mastectomy for breast cancer secret from the public, suffering silently under the band-aid of humor. Erma died after a kidney transplant in 1996 at 69 years of age. But this wonderful woman lives on in her legacies of writing workshops at the University of Dayton, her books and she features in the Ohio and Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame.
Erma show us we can all reach for the stars.
photo source; Erma Bombeck Books
Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The last Hotel. She co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.