“Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.”
– Erma Bombeck
Erma Bombeck is very much a name from my childhood. Â My mom used to read her books (I can still picture the cover of Â If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?). Â Â Her humorous newspaper columns about family life were loved by most of the women in my family. Â She even wrote the foreword to the Family Circus Treasury , a book that my sister and I pored over until the spine fell out.
This summer, I’ve been reading her columns (compiled in the book Â Forever, Erma), and all I can say is that there is a reason she was so darn popular. Â Her newspaper columns — about taking kids to the hospital in the middle of the night, about husbands who don’t ask for directions, about never being able to find a pencil when you need one, about Â the charm of hanging clothes out on a clothesline — are hysterically funny, and often deliciously sarcastic, but they are never mean. Â Back in the sixties (through to the nineties), she wrote about the drudgery of being a housewife and a mother in a way that was hilarious and real. Â But she wrote about the joy, too. Â Reading her work, you can tell that she loves her kids and her husband and her life; the complaining, such as it is, never overpowers the warmth.
When it comes to “domestic humor,” she really is the pioneer. Â I think every mommy-blogger today owes her a certain debt. Â She showed that there is a huge audience for stories about motherhood, especially if it is done with pithy humor and with real heart. Â What I’ve learned from her columns is that there is a real power when a writer’s voice has both, in equal amounts.
I can probably illustrate this best with a few quotations. Â I love her for writing this:
“One thing they never tell you about child-raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child’s name and how old he or she is. “
But I also love her for writing this:
“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.'”