If you don’t know who Erma Bombeck is, I won’t hold it against you. I, too, was young when Mrs. Bombeck was wildly popular, and she died in 1996. Born in 1927, she became a journalist in the 1940s in Ohio and became famous for a syndicated newspaper column, “A Wit’s End,” that chronicled the hilarious ironies of homemaking and parenting.
The wife and mother of three, known for her savvy, sharp humor, drew laughter from women galore in her columns, books, magazine articles, radio spots and television stints. Pushing back, perhaps, against Mrs. Cleaver and the perfectly pressed housewife, Mrs. Bombeck told it like it was — in a funny, real way.
She wrote countless things like this: “When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.” She also wrote simple yet profound sentiments like this: “Children make your life important.”
I remember watching Mrs. B on “Good Morning America” as a youngster. She offered snippets on the show — part advice, part stand-up comedy — from 1975 to 1986.
Surely I couldn’t appreciate all of her wisdom then, but I remember finding her funny and looking forward to her segment. As I, at age 40, reconsider her today — Mrs. B started her column at about the same age I started mine — I wonder if I just haven’t found some real wisdom? I’ll have to get one of her 15-plus books and see.
ERMA BOMBECK RAISED three children: one, an adopted daughter; and two boys she grew and delivered despite having received diagnoses of infertility. I wondered what her children had to say about her. Mrs. Bombeck’s daughter, Betsy, wrote this in memoriam: “Her presence was so much greater than the five-foot-two she stood. I loved to put my hand in her … hands …. From my mom I learned to laugh at myself and give much to others. Live each day to its fullest, so that when you go to bed you know you’ve done it all.”
Very nice, eh? Not too saccharine-sweet like greeting cards that just seem, to me, to be so completely inauthentic. But not negligent or angry, either, like some adult children are toward their mothers.
Remember, I’m thinking these days about different family relationships. That mother-daughter one, well, I find it tricky — mostly because, like I told you, I don’t know what a good pursuit of femininity is in the first place. And I’m passing SOMETHING on to my girls every day.