[Author Menu] [Date Menu] [Genre Menu] [Home Page] [Links] [Sponsors]

Erma Bombeck reflects a certain time and place, now gone.

August 6, 2023
Elisabeth Sherwin -- ensherwin@gmail dot com

Erma Bombeck wrote a humor column for 31 years, from 1965 to 1996, which appeared in hundreds of newspapers across the country. For most of those later years I worked at a daily newspaper. I was familiar with her column but I didn't read it too often. I wasn't married and I didn't have children. Our areas of frustration didn't overlap.

But I was excited when I learned that Susan Marie Frontczak of Boulder would give a living history interpretation of Bombeck at the Longmont, Colo., Senior Center this spring. By the time I called, her presentation, which was free, was full and no more reservations were being accepted.

So I was even more excited when the Allenspark Area Club booked Frontczak as Bombeck for its June meeting.

She did not disappoint.

Bombeck was born in Ohio, married in 1948 after her husband returned from the conflict in Korea, and had three children. Her daughter was adopted. Two boys followed. She worked at local newspapers as a copy girl and obit writer. She began her career at age 37 and was paid $3 a week.

"I was ordinary," she said. "That would be my turf."

She wrote about losing weight, stalking garage sales, and family vacations. In the '90s she wrote about crock pots, shoulder pads and answering machines.

"It was an outlet for my own survival," she said. "Motherhood is the hardest job in the whole wide world."

Later her column, "At Wit's End," was syndicated and appeared in hundreds of newspapers across the country.

"I never ran out of things to gripe about," she said. "I did not have to go anywhere for my material."

Bombeck was a disciplined writer who sat down at her electric typewriter every morning at 8 o'clock and wrote three columns a week. She became a wealthy woman who also found time to appear on television regularly and campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment.

For the last 25 years of her life, Bombeck and her husband Bill lived in Paradise Valley, Arizona. She battled kidney disease for many years and died at age 69.

I was eager to find a collection of her columns, but the Estes Park library did not have any. I checked all the thrift shops I regularly visit and found no copies there either. But the Longmont Public Library came through with a great collection of four books in one volume, "Four of a Kind."

I sat down to read America's best-loved humorist.

Bombeck, like every writer who must write consistently on deadline, relied on several techniques including exaggeration, wry self-deprecation and shots at her husband. She also liked to remark on passing fads, particularly self-improvement, and de-construct their impact on her life. For instance, she said that she and Bill would never join the sexual revolution. They were too tired.

But may I just say, gently, that while Bombeck was terrific during her active years, her time was drawing to a close. By 1990, two-thirds of American women were working outside the home. Housewife humor was becoming an endangered species.

I admire her but today her work is dated. I wish some of her work had been more serious. Sometimes it was, as this short quote demonstrates:

"Look carefully, really see, live, don’t give up. Stop complaining about the little things. Those who were not like me, those who had more than me, and who did what was none of my business. Instead, I would try to strengthen my relationships. Be grateful for everything you have spiritually, physically and emotionally. You have only one life and it ends one day. I hope you enjoy every day."

It is extraordinary to hear Bombeck say "stop complaining about the little things" when she made a career of doing just that, but that of course was her print persona, not her real personality. As she neared the end of her life, she knew she was dying and her observations came from her heart.

Thank you, Erma, for all that you did.

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at ensherwin@gmail.com

For More Information, Visit These Links:
No Links have been submitted for this column.

[Author Menu] [Date Menu] [Genre Menu] [Home Page] [Links] [Sponsors]
The Davis Virtual Market||  Davis Community Network