Erma Bombeck: Her legacy lives on

Erma Bombeck made an appearance of sorts near her hometown of Dayton this summer. The “of sorts” refers to the fact that the celebrated humor columnist has been deceased for more than two decades.

So, how did the famous writer who elevated the American housewife from invisible fixture to celebrity come back to life? Through the expertise of Chautauqua performer, Susan Marie Frontczak. Frontczak’s captivating June 2018, Chautauqua living history performance as Erma Bombeck at the Hance Pavilion in Piqua’s Fountain Park initially hooked me.

After all, if you are an “older” female journalist like me, you can’t help but be impressed by Bombeck’s successful and pioneering career. Born in Dayton in 1927, by 1942 Erma became a copygirl at the Dayton Herald during her high school years, and eventually graduated from the University of Dayton in 1949.

It wasn’t smooth sailing for the famous writer who went on to have her syndicated column, “At Wit’s End” appear in 900 newspapers nationwide and write more than a dozen books, many bestsellers. Ironically, during her first year of college at Ohio University, she was told she should give up her dream of being a writer. Thankfully, a University of Dayton professor later countered this when he encouraged her with three profound words, “You can write.”

Referring to her successful column writing formula, Bombeck instructed, “Hook ‘em with a lead. Hold ‘em with laughter, Exit with a quip they won’t forget.” Yes, Erma was a wordsmith extraordinaire who put a face on the then suburban wife’s devalued plight of running a household and mothering children, and who made people laugh while doing it.

Personally though, it wasn’t her humor that inspired me most, but a poignant poem she penned titled, “If I had my life to live over.” For many years, I carried a newspaper clipping of the poem in my billfold until the paper turned yellow, and became so brittle from handling that I finally had to throw it away.

 

Seeing Erma come to life again through Frontzcak’s Chautauqua performance reminded me of the poem, now memorialized in the book, Eat Less Cottage Cheese and More Ice Cream: Thoughts on Life from Erma Bombeck. I’m sharing it with permission of the Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency:

 

 

“If I had my life to live over”

“Someone asked me the other day if I had my life to live over would I change anything.

My answer was no, but then I thought about it and changed my mind.   

If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I’d have cherished every minute of it and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.

I would have eaten popcorn in the “good” living room and worried less about the dirt when you lit the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored.

I would have sat cross-legged on the lawn with my children and never worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television … and more while watching real life.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband which I took for granted.

I would have eaten less cottage cheese and more ice cream.

I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.

I would never have bought ANYTHING just because it was practical/wouldn’t show soil/ guaranteed to last a lifetime.

When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now, go get washed up for dinner.”

There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.”

Erma Bombeck may have left us in 1996, but her wit and wisdom live on in many of our hearts. For more information about Ohio Chautauqua visit http://www.ohiohumanities.org/ohio-chautauqua/

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy/Ohio AP award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife will be released fall 2018. 

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Why laughter is good for you

 

Paper Towel Holder for blogDid you ever have one of those days when nothing seems to go right? I’m not talking about huge problems here, just a string of trivial irritations that add up. Then with a lot on your mind, when a normally minor annoyance occurs it’s easy to get out of sorts. In my little world, the last straw for me on a particularly stressful day was the paper towel machine in the ladies restroom of a public building that refused to cooperate. Concerned about being late for an important appointment, I stood there frantically waving my wet hands in front of the designated detector with no success.

I thought this was going to turn into be one of those humiliating moments when a couple teens were about to mock an uptight baby boomer. You see, two attractive teenage girls were looking on in amusement at my plight, when one sympathetically said, “Don’t you hate when that happens?”

And then I laughed. It was the kind of belly laugh that comes from deep inside when pent up emotion is finally released. The teens chimed in laughing with their girlish giggles sounding like a rippling melody. It’s that simple, I laughed, and suddenly the whole world seemed brighter. Decades were spanned in that moment of laughter too, and camaraderie forged between the generations.

In that instant, I was reminded that sometimes the young are just as afraid of not being accepted by us mature adults, as we are of them. I also realized that it had been awhile since I had heard the sound of unrestrained laughter. Instead, lately I have noticed the stoic faces of human beings everywhere, assuming the continually charged political climate, back to school blues, or unusual summer weather might have been taking a toll.

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Still, people need to laugh. There have been many studies that provide documentation for the medical benefits of laughter. For example, on the website www.moodwatchers.com we find that, “Research has shown health benefits of laughter ranging from strengthening the immune system to reducing food cravings to increasing one’s threshold for pain. There’s even an emerging therapeutic field known as humor therapy to help people heal more quickly… ”

An April 2016 post on the Mayo Clinic website www.mayoclinic.org, “Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke,” reports that laughter can, “Stimulate many organs…Activate and relieve your stress response… [and] soothe tension.  Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.” We have known that laughter is healthy for us dating back to Biblical times. To quote the famous proverb, “A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones,” which remains a common saying in our everyday language.

Many of us could use some relief from stress, but we won’t all find the ability to laugh through the same method. Recounting humorous events, telling funny jokes, reading the comic section, watching slapstick TV, or viewing a comedic movie might result in a few chuckles. If all else fails, you could try tickling a loved one. I wouldn’t tickle a co-worker though, because you will probably find yourself unemployed.

Speaking of employee etiquette, I used to have to endure colleagues who relished telling dumb blonde jobs before the advent of political correctness or lawsuits for workplace discrimination. I never enjoyed being the brunt of the joke having had blonde hair all my life. I was deeply touched once when a co-worker asked for my forgiveness for telling a rather harmless dumb blonde story sensing my discomfort. That’s why a word of caution is necessary, because humor can be based on cruelty. That’s why a word of caution is necessary, because humor can be based on cruelty.  Hopefully, most folks mature into understanding that it’s never appropriate to make fun of other people, unless you are a presidential candidate of any party. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But it is good to laugh at ourselves when we are taking life too seriously.

Baby Singing

For me, on blue days watching a couple YouTube videos of babies laughing or pets doing funny things usually lifts my spirits. Click on this cute baby’s photo and I’ll bet you that you won’t be able to not smile. Yet it is those spontaneous happenings when someone in a conversation or group does or says something that is so hilarious that you can’t help but bust out laughing, no matter what else is going on, that’s best.  Think about it. When was the last time, you had a good belly laugh? So good that you wiped the tears from your eyes and ran for the nearest restroom? When you get there watch out for the paper towel machine.

Christina aloneChristina Ryan Claypool is an Amy award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.  

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