Nov. 04, 00:30 AM
By Gaye Bunderson
Erma Bombeck was the ultimate un-Martha Stewart. She created a successful writing career telling stories about being a less-than-stellar homemaker. Dust in the house didn't ruffle her feather duster, and a lopsided cake fresh from the oven didn't ruin her day. Or at least that's how she presented herself in her work.
Erma Louise Fiste was born on February 21, 1927, which would have made her a whopping 89 years old now. If she hadn't died from kidney disease in 1996, she may still be writing feisty stories about being a less-than-perfect great-granny who loved the little ones but nonetheless put them into unmade beds at night with big sloppy milk mustaches on their cherubic faces.
Like everyone else, Bombeck experienced ups and downs along her life's path, but she seemed determined to face them outwardly with humor. Some of her many quotes include:
• “Onion rings in the car cushions do not improve with time.”
• “Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.”
• “My kids always perceived the bathroom as a place where you wait it out until all the groceries are unloaded from the car.”
• “The only reason I would take up jogging is so that I could hear heavy breathing again.”
• “Never have more children than you have car windows.”
In all throughout her decades-long career, Erma Bombeck (wife of Bill Bombeck and mother of Betsy, Andrew and Matthew) published 15 books and wrote more than 4,000 newspaper columns that were read by 30 million people in North America. Her books were given catchy names like, “If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?” Her column was called, “At Wit's End.”
She wasn't everyone's cup of tea. Macho male writers were notably not interested in what a stay-at-home mom had to say about housework and child-rearing. But a lot of females took great comfort in her comedic view of so-called women's work.
Bombeck was also a friendly feminist. I use the word “friendly” because the single word “feminist” can provoke a measure of hostility in some people, who think it entails only strident and radical views, as well as tacit approval of some fairly hot-button issues such as abortion. In the '70s, Bombeck was involved with the Presidential Advisory Committee for Women. The committee sought implementation of the Equal Rights Amendment, which addressed unequal treatment of women in certain aspects of American society. The goal was to have the amendment added to the U.S. Constitution ― a very complicated process.
The ERA was challenged by the extreme conservatism of the late Phyllis Schlafly, who frightened people by saying, among other things, that the ERA would lead to having America's daughters drafted and sent off to war. She also contended that women enjoyed certain “special privileges” that would be threatened if the ERA passed. (As I remember, those special privileges included having a man hold a door for you...while you walked into an office building where you worked for lower pay.)
While there were women who agreed with Schlafly's views, many women agreed with Bombeck's, and the Homemakers' Equal Rights Association was formed. Nonetheless, Schlafly's scare tactics won the day, and the ERA is now just a scrap of history.
Bombeck took some heat and a few professional hits for her stance (her books were pulled from some bookstores), but personally I admire her for taking a stand and sticking to it.
If you google “Who is the new Erma Bombeck?”, you really don't get a definitive answer. Maybe that's because for her time, especially in the early '60s, Bombeck was one of a kind. Nowadays, with the abundance of parent bloggers who detail the rigors of homemaking and child-rearing with playful self-deprecation, there is still no one as groundbreaking as Bombeck. (And maybe many modern bloggers are simply following her style, whether they know it or not.)
A devout Catholic, Bombeck once traveled to Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa. Another of her quotes is this: “Know the difference between success and fame. Success is Mother Teresa. Fame is Madonna.”
Her writings didn't always entail quips about suburban life. She could occasionally be quite serious. For instance: “At the end of my life, I hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and I could say, 'I used everything you gave me.'”
Erma Bombeck may be an irreplaceable talent who provided us with a funny and loving view of an American wife, an American mother, and the uniquely American family.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone ― and if the turkey comes out of the oven just slightly overcooked, do an Erma and laugh at yourself and the whole crazy thing that is this amazing and wonderful life.
Idaho Family Magazine is seeking to start an ongoing feature we're calling Kidding Around. We're borrowing on Art Linkletter's “Kids Say the Darndest Things” concept. We'd love to have you send us stories on the funny things your children, grandchildren or other youngsters say. The following is an example:
A former co-worker of mine took his family, including his 5-year-old son, to church. When the family got to the church, they all scooted into a pew, with the 5-year-old going first. The little boy found himself seated next to an elderly lady, and the two of them struck up a conversation. The woman asked him, “How old are you?”, and the boy answered, “Five.” In return, he then asked the woman, “How old are you?,” and she replied, “I'm 84.”
According to my co-worker, his son then asked the woman in all seriousness, with wide eyes and an astonished look, “Starting from ONE?!”
Send your Kidding Around stories to me at
. This is going to be fun, so don't forget to participate and don't be shy.
― Gaye Bunderson, editor