The legacy of Erma Bombeck

This one is a re-run; I wrote this post in the summer of 2010.   But the more I read mommy-bloggers and “momoirists,”  the more I realize just how much we all owe to Erma Bombeck.  It seemed like a good time to thank her again.

Erma Bombeck is very much a name from my childhood.  My mom used to read her books (I can still picture the cover of  If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?).    Her humorous newspaper columns about family life were loved by most of the women in my family.  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  Forever, Erma), and all I can say is that there is a reason she was so wildly popular.  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  the charm of hanging clothes out on a clothesline — are hysterically funny, and often deliciously sarcastic, but they are never mean.  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.  But she wrote about the joy, too.  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.  I think every mommy-blogger today owes her a certain debt.   She showed that there is a huge audience for stories about motherhood, especially if it is done with pithy humor and with real heart.   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.  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.'”

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