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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An Obituary’s Message to Call your Mother

Mom, This one's for you!

Mom, This one’s for you!

Earlier this year, my local daily newspaper changed the placement of the obituaries moving them to page two. I’ve often wondered how many other newspaper readers are like me, keenly interested in the obituaries. I also question how my gradual transition from reading the comics as a teenager to devouring the death notices as a boomer occurred. Once, an elderly relative humorously confided that he read the obituaries right away to make sure he wasn’t among those listed. Of course, in case you miss one, you can simply go online and Google the person’s name and date of death. Often you can even post condolences to the family or send flowers if you like. Facebook can be another great way to be alerted to the passing of a friend or former co-worker when someone posts their obituary online. Living in a society that is in a constant state of flux geographically necessitates that we stay in touch electronically.

But what’s so important about an obituary anyway? In explanation, caring about people makes you realize what a vital part that death plays in the game of life. Commemorating those who have gone before us is an integral rite of passage, and being there for those left behind is of paramount importance. Yet, to be there, you have to be informed, thus the relevance of the obituary.

An obituary can tell you a lot about a deceased individual, even when you think you already know them. Then there are times, when you aren’t acquainted, but you are startled by the details of their death and human curiosity and compassion kick in. For instance, when someone young dies, even when they are a total stranger, most people probably lament this untimely passing in a deeper way. We sympathize, because the death of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, and your heart aches for those suffering this loss.CassieCasket

There is death by suicide, too. An obituary doesn’t usually reveal this heartbreaking detail. However, sometimes you can read between the lines to decipher that for some reason an individual could no longer bear to be part of this world. Other tragic deaths include accidents caused by alcohol consumption or those drug-related, of which there are far too many lately. As with a violent murder, the facts are frequently disclosed in a related news story. Another heart grabber is when several members of a family die together.

No one is spared the pain of burying loved ones, that’s why it’s necessary to be there for those left behind. I learned this valuable lesson in my youth, when a teenage friend committed suicide, and I failed her dear mother who was like a second mother to me. In the midst of this crisis, I disappeared. I didn’t visit the funeral home or call, because I was terrified of dealing with death. It wasn’t death itself that frightened me, rather the fear of saying or doing something wrong, or of not being strong. My misconception was that I wouldn’t be missed, but I was.

Growing up through my own funeral home tour of duty I have come to realize that you remember the faces there, and you are acutely aware of the absence of those who don’t come. It’s a defining moment like serious illness, when you realize who your true friends are. After all, the Bible says we should, “…mourn with those who mourn.” When I do pay my last respects now, I no longer feel overwhelmed by the need to have eloquent words of comfort. I simply say how very sorry I am, and offer a hug, remembering how grateful I have been for those consoling embraces in days past.

I wish I could give Robert Downey Jr., my condolences and a big hug. Sadly, the famous actor lost his 80-year-old mother on Sept. 22, 2014. A few days later, he courageously posted a beautiful obituary that he had written about her on his official Facebook page. He candidly included that his mom’s broken career dreams were caused by alcoholism, something she successfully overcame. He even credits a 2004 phone call from her as the catalyst for his own sobriety today.

Obituaries like Downey Jr.s’ are a startling reminder to the living to appreciate our tragically flawed loved ones. He closes it with the poignant words, “If anyone out there has a mother, and she is not perfect, please call her and say you love her anyway…”

Oh, how I wish I could, but the only obituary I’ve ever written was my mother’s. Still, maybe it’s not too late for you to take the actor’s wise advice and call yours.

Robert Downey Jr.s Mom

 

Click on the photo of Robert Downey Jr.s’ mother, Elsie, to read his touching obituary.

 

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