“Why Erma?” someone asked.
Erma Bombeck was the first humor writer that I ever read. As a kid, when I had exhausted the stack of books from the summer bookmobile, I would browse through the house for reading material. There on the living room bookshelf, near the Reader’s Digest Condensed versions and the set of encyclopedias, stood several Erma books in various stages of dogearedness. The paperback that stands out in my mind is “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.” I used to think the title meant something like “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”, but later, as I contemplated the uncanny ability of septic tanks to either green up a lawn in no time, or kill the grass completely, the title had great depth.
Or it is entirely possible that I over-thought that book title. I had a lot of time on my hands.
To me, the wonder of her humor is this: I was a 10 year old kid who had never lived in a suburb. Erma’s world of grown-up responsibilities and tedium and frustrations and joys — that was not my world. Yet her situations were so comically real and her descriptions so universal that somehow I understood how she felt. And I would laugh out loud.
I forgot about Erma for many years. Then, staying in a vacation house on Marco Island, I found a bookshelf filled with an eclectic mix of titles, the kind of collection that grows from people leaving a book and taking a book as they come and go. I spotted Erma there on the shelf and started to read, and I laughed out loud. I watched my own kids race around and bicker and joke and I saw my family, and I smiled.
A recent comment from the wonderful writer Darrelyn Saloom sums it up for me:
…I adore Erma Bombeck. Her column and books were a housewife’s drug before anti-depressants. I never needed ‘em. I had Erma to fire up those synapses in my brain.
As I listened to writer after writer share their stories at the conference, women and men, I heard so many experiences that mirrored my own. As children themselves, they also related to her humor. And here I thought I was the only pre-tween who found these books funny even though the setting was on another planet.
Yet, funny or not, I must admit that Erma’s world in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio served as a cautionary tale to me as a kid. I had no aspirations to be a Midwestern housewife, or a stay at home mom. In fact, I spent a long time running in the opposite direction. But, as I learned from reading Erma’s stories long ago, life is funny. The winding paths of the years can even land an unsuspecting girl in suburban southwestern Ohio, not 30 miles from where Erma’s septic tank was fertilizing the lawn as she raised a couple kids. I have found myself in an unforeseen life, one I never dreamed could make me happy.
But this life does make me happy. Thanks, Erma, for finding the funny in everyday situations, and sharing the stories. Now I can see that being a mom can be the most noble profession of all. Even in the ‘burbs. Writing about it sounds good too.