When I was newly married and pursuing my master’s degree in Professional Writing, I decided to take a humor writing class. The professor was a kind, elderly comedian named Shelley Berman. One day, he brought in some excerpts from a female humor writer I had never heard of. Her name was Erma Bombeck.
I clearly remember sitting in his class, reading the excerpts and thinking, This sucks. Her style didn’t appeal to me at all and there was absolutely nothing funny about the themes she was writing about. I figured since Mr. Berman was kind of advanced in years, Erma’s writing must be a generational thing and didn’t translate very well to modern times.
Years later, I came across one of Erma’s books at a used book store and – I really don’t know why – decided to give it a shot. Within one day, I was a devotee.
For those of you who are not familiar with Erma Bombeck (and sadly it seems more and more people are not), she was a woman who, after spending most of her married years as a housewife and mother, embarked on a writing career as a columnist in a newspaper in the 1960s and quickly became one of America’s most beloved writers. Besides her newspaper column, she published more than 15 books and had a highly successful career which included the lecturing circuit and work in television.
What Erma is most known for is writing about every day life as a housewife and mother, and boy did she do a good job at that. Even now, decades after she wrote her columns, any housewife in America can still identify with her words.
For those of us who are stay-at-home mothers, reading an Erma Bombeck book can feel like cozying up with a warm blanket at the end of the day – familiar and comforting. On those days when the kids have been difficult, my husband is out of town, there is a pile of laundry I haven’t gotten around to and the baby keeps waking up in the middle of the night, I like to pick up one of my many well-thumbed Erma Bombeck books. I can open it to any page – any page at all – and find a simple truth and humor that translates into my life, not only making me feel better, but reestablishing in my heart the reasons why I chose to be a stay-at-home mom.
Not only is her life inspirational to me as an aspiring writer myself, but her ability to make fun of even the most frustrating aspects of motherhood lends a lightness and humor to my life that I sometimes wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. Sure, it’s tough. There are no set hours and the pay is lousy, but the rewards are infinite. And all too soon, as she never ceases to remind us, the kids will be grown and out of the house, there will be no more sloppy oatmeal kisses, and the house will echo with the silence we always longed for but soon won’t be able to stand.
The other night, as he found me reading an Erma Bombeck book before bed, Bill exclaimed, “You are reading that again? What is it about those books you like so much? Is it that you identify with the housewife’s plight?”
“We have the same life,” I answered.
Bill didn’t seem to like that answer very much, but I assure you, if you read her work, you will know what I mean.
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