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The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop will be March 31-April 2, 2016, on the campus of the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. Please check back for registration and program details.

Ghost of behavior past

Throughout the late ’70s and into the early ’80s, while my marriage was new and my children were young, I worked for a large Southeastern construction company.Daniel Hylton

I was good at my job and I made a lot of money. A lot of money — especially for those years. There were times when I would have $2,000 or $3,000 worth of uncashed checks in my wallet.

By 1984, however, I had apparently tired of being successful and making prodigious sums of money. I wanted something less.

I decided to leave my high-paying job constructing transcontinental power lines and try my hand at — of all things — songwriting. So, I moved to rural Tennessee, about an hour west of Nashville. Now, because one needs free time to pursue songwriting, it is very difficult to maintain steady employment. As a consequence of this fact, I odd-jobbed, taking temporary work where I could find it, gradually descending into poverty, dragging my young wife and children with me. (Why Karen did not leave me for a man with a job and a fully functioning brain, taking the children with her, I will never fully understand.)

Desperate to combine my inexplicable need to be creative with my obviously explicable need for cash, I began to enter the various songwriting contests hosted by the nightspots around Nashville.

And I won a few, sometimes winning $10 or $20, enough for milk, bread and maybe a pair of shoes for one of the little ones. Usually, though, the prize was something insubstantial, such as getting your name written on the wall in magic marker, or a free bottle of beer.

Then I heard about this contest on Music Row itself, at a more upscale joint called The Dive.

The winner would get $100.

$100!

Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much now, but back then a hundred bucks paid for most of a month’s rent or bought groceries for the family for a whole week. And the contest, at the time, was being held weekly, so there would be a continuing chance to win.

On the appointed night, I put on my best pair of dark blue Levis, my crispest white shirt, tuned up my guitar, and headed into town to The Dive.

There were a lot of really good songwriters present that night, and I heard many tunes that made me think I might be way out of my league.  I was so nervous that my bladder sent me scurrying to the men’s room again and again. Nonetheless, when they called my name, I screwed up my courage and went up on stage, which was occupied by just a stool and a mike. I sat down with my guitar on my knee and spun to face the crowd. For a moment, I thought they’d all left the building. You see, though the stage was fully lit, the patrons sat in the dimness beyond the footlights — and the lights shining on me were so bright that I could barely make out the room, let alone individuals in the crowd, which was the largest group of people that I had ever confronted when armed only with a musical instrument.

I mumbled something by way of introduction and immediately swung into my first song, briskly setting pick to guitar string.

I looked out, opened my mouth — and forgot the words to the song. A song which I wrote.

There followed then a long — way too long — awkward pause while, like the proverbial deer, I gazed into the headlights of oncoming disaster and frantically searched the dark recesses of my skull for phrases that I recognized and might possibly utter in tune-like fashion while strumming a guitar.

And then, as the disapproving silence thickened, the words finally came.

“Alrighty, folks,” I stated brightly, affecting what I hoped would be a magnificent recovery, and once again put pick to string. “Here we go….”

One strum, and — Boing! — the pick slipped from my fingers, ricocheted underneath the strings, and disappeared through the sound hole into the dark interior of my guitar.  I looked down, stunned.

And my brain froze.

Forgetting in that terrible moment that there were two or three spare picks in my pocket, and sadly forgetting that there were also a couple of hundred people immediately to my front, I upended the guitar, holding it aloft, shaking it above my head while I desperately tried to dislodge the pick from the black hole whence it had gone.

Sporadic chuckles arose here and there from among the crowd as I continued to wildly agitate the instrument over my head, willing the pick to appear. Then, as my struggles continued unabated and my hope for a rescued pick remained unrealized, more chuckles, giggles and outright laughter swelled from the shadowed gathering.

That awful collection of sound caused my brain to lurch forward for one brief moment. And in that moment, I remembered the extra picks in my pants pocket. Turning a deaf ear to the scattered giggles and the occasional rude suggestion, I thought bravely, I can still salvage this.

Lowering the guitar to one side, holding it by the neck, I stood, reaching into my pocket.

And the room erupted.

Gales of laughter beat upon me like the waves of a storm-wracked ocean.

Puzzled by the reason for this obvious — and horrifying escalation — of my humiliation, I stared dumbly out at the shadowy crowd for a long moment, and then I looked down.

And the reason for the raucous shouts of laughter became immediately obvious.

Evidently, on my last trip to the men’s room, I had neglected to zip up the fly in my blue jeans.

Protruding from that most private of all clothing apertures, extending stiffly outward for five or six inches, was the crisply starched tail of my best white shirt.

The crowd, by that time, had decided that I was not in fact a contestant, but rather the comedic relief.

I, in that same moment, decided that I was done, finished, my short-lived “career” over.

Turning, I fairly leapt from the stage and ran for it, pausing in the artists’ room just long enough to sling my guitar into its case, and then I bounded for the side door. I was running like a rabbit by the time I reached the parking lot.

Three-quarters of an hour later, utterly dejected, having had 45 long, miserable minutes to ponder one of the most embarrassing evenings of my life, I pulled into the driveway of our modest home. Karen met me at the door. I could do nothing but stand there, head down, guitar case in hand, my heart and my dreams squashed like insects upon the walkways of life.

“How did it go?”  She asked — and then I managed lift my head and she saw my face.  “Honey, what happened?”

The kids were in bed, so I put my guitar away while she made us a cup of cocoa; then we went into the living room and sat down on the couch, where I stared down at the carpet and glumly related to her the events of the evening.

It was about the time that I was telling of the unzipped fly and protruding shirt-tail that I heard the stifled guffaw emanating from the general direction of the love of my life.

Startled, I looked over at her.

You know how it is when you want to laugh but know that you shouldn’t? Like when you’re at a wedding, or at a funeral, or in church, or like when your beloved husband is laying out the sad details of his recent and raw humiliation, and something just strikes you as too funny?  And the eruption of good humor is abruptly way too urgent to contain or suppress?

You get a terrible case of the internal giggles, your shoulders shake, the corners of your mouth decide that they simply must turn upward despite your best efforts at maintaining decorum, and your eyes water.  Yeah, we all know what that is like. It has happened to us all.

Well, that was my gentle and genteel wife as I told my tale of woe.

Apparently, she could see the whole thing very clearly with her mind’s eye.

She tried to be sympathetic, God bless her; she really did try.

Alas, the droll aspect of the whole sordid affair was too much for her, and eventually she had to gain release. To this day, however, I am not convinced that it was absolutely necessary it devolve into her lying back against the cushions, gasping for breath as she pointed at me and giggled uncontrollably. The only consolation I have is that — though she won’t admit it — I’m pretty sure she wet herself.

Oh, well.

There is an epilogue to this sorry tale. Two, actually.

A week later, I tapped a reservoir of courage, went back to The Dive, sang my three songs — and won. And they had raised the stakes. First prize was now 150 bucks  The next day, to celebrate, we took the kids to McDonalds for Happy Meals.

The second epilogue is not quite so uplifting as the first, at least for me.  You see, every now and then — as recently as just the other day, in fact — I will find Karen leaning over a counter or sprawled over the back of a chair, fairly convulsing with good humor. Looking up at me with streaming eyes, she will tender the question between eruptions of giggles.

Remember that time you went into Nashville to sing in that contest?

Yes. Yes, I do.

And it’s still not funny.

One doesn’t require ghosts, I guess, when one is haunted by his past.

— Daniel Hylton

Daniel Hylton is the author of the recently completed Kelven’s Riddle series.

When life gives you 100 years,
make lemonade

Laurie OienThe familiar saying, of course, is…when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I must say, though, if anyone lives to 100 years and beyond, they most definitely turned their lemons into some awesome lemonade and deserve to celebrate with a nice cool glass of it, as well.

These days we’re living longer and getting the chance to enjoy it fully and positively. I was recently inspired by a story of a 100-year-old woman who teaches exercise class at her senior living community. Now there’s a lady that turned her lemons into lemonade. She expressed that her motto is, “moderation, attitude and gratitude.”

This is a great motto to live by, but additionally, if you’re blessed with good family DNA, it could avoid having your lemon picked before its time.

My family lemon tree has some genuine longevity and I’m banking on my DNA not denying me of my big glass of earned lemonade!

Not long ago, my grandmother celebrated her 96th birthday and, unbelievably, her mother lived to be a wonderful age of 104. See, good DNA! My parents are just kids compared to this, so I’m depending on them being around for a while too! They eat healthy, live a positive lifestyle and definitely turn life’s lemons into lemonade!

This positive attitude doesn’t fall far from the lemon tree, not just with me, but with my kids, as well. In fact, when my daughter was in sixth grade, her class was given a project to write their life story, which included their own obituary. Yes, really, their OWN obit! I thought this was the most unusual project for a sixth grader. If you’ve never read an obituary written in the spirit of a 12-year-old, then let me fill you in.

Her obituary read that she had her own successful designing TV show, which included designing a fabulous dream home. She had three wonderful daughters and married the man of her dreams. This all sounds about right if I were forecasting my perfect life. However, the best part of this obituary was that she held the world record for being the longest living person at 118 years old!

The sunniness doesn’t end there. Of course, not only did she live a long and dreamy 118 years, but she died peacefully in her sleep with a smile on her face! Yes, a SMILE on her face!

Well. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I’m thinking she must’ve had some pretty fantastic lemonade!

— Laurie Oien

Laurie Oien is a wife and mother living in Minnesota and determined to uncover the second half of life with zest and zeal. She has a background in marketing and accounting for the last 25 years and recently discovered that one can’t live by adding machines and numbers alone. Therefore, she created an easy meal and humor written lifestyle blog. Laurie is a food enthusiast, loves comedy and enjoys writing and creating a story with a humorous twist. Bringing a smile to others might be her true calling. Visit Laurie’s blog, A Square of Chocolate, and join in for a smile at http://www.asquareofchocolate.com/

My hip hugger

Anne BardsleyBack in my teen years I wore hip huggers. They hung perfectly on my hips. Back then I never had to suck in my stomach. Actually, I don’t suck in those old stomach muscles now with my current hip hugger. This one stays firmly in place regardless of what I do, or where I go. This hip hugger’s name is Riley.

I think she may actually be related to Suzanne Summers. It’s very possible she used that thigh buster machine in the womb. She has thighs of steel. Her chubby legs are firm as can be. She looks at me with her big hazel eyes and says sweetly, “Gigi, hug you.” Naturally, I have to pick her up. Once she swings onto my hip, she clamps down with her sturdy thighs and she cannot be removed. I can load the dishwasher, she remains. I can walk the dogs, she remains. I could very possibly take a shower and she might slide off. No guarantees of a slippery Riley.

She prefers to hang on my hip like an appendage. Every time I try to put her down I get a cry, quickly followed by an award-winning smile. She has my number. Last week at the beach she had my number once again. She refused to let her feet touch the sand. It was a very long walk to the water. By the time we got our beach chairs set up, I needed aspirin, a huge fan and an ice bucket challenge to cool me off. She stayed firm, never flinching. I was in her grips.

I attempted to sit in a chair and had to shift her. Those muscled legs went into a frenzy trying to get back around my hip. She settled in facing me with her legs around my waist and put her head on my chest. A little body heat is always a good thing in 100-degree weather at the beach. Again, she smiled at me, and all was good in my world. I think I may have even hummed, “What a Wonderful World.” What I’m really saying is I love you.

After she went home, I went to the beach with my husband. It was 90 degrees with a light breeze. The water was crystal clear and tranquil. Sailboats dotted the skyline. I had a chair all to myself. It was just not the same. I heard a voice in my head ask, “Gigi, hug you?” I put on my sunglasses to hide my tears.

I love my hip hugger!

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Fla., with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She blogs at Anz World.

Writer under deadline:
Add speed to your writing

Linda CraigIf you want to speed up your writing, then learn how to touch-type and take the time to eliminate your mis-key errors where you press a key with the wrong finger. Plan your work with as much detail as possible so that you avoid writer’s block and so that you work flows correctly and fluently.

Here are some tips geared toward Millenials, but helpful reminders to beginning writers.

Write notes

If you are struggling, then isn’t it possible you are doing it the hard way? People overlook this tip as just another piece of filler in a never-ending barrage of online content on the subject, but it is the most powerful piece of advice you will ever read if you want to speed up your writing.

It is not a technique or a trick; it is more of a mental aid. Your brain is not like a computer or a camera. It doesn’t store big chunks of detailed information; it is more like the Google search engine in that it picks up certain key elements and stores the rest for later. That is why a smell or a song can bring back long-forgotten memories from times past. What does this have to do with notes?

If you research something and write notes, even if they are bullet point notes, those notes are used by your brain as key points. When you go back to your notes and read a bullet point, your brain brings up all the information you remember about that point. It makes writing faster and it dramatically lowers your chances of getting writer’s block, which is a writer’s biggest time waster.

What drinks up most of your time?

Forget your research, layout and thinking issues for the moment and consider your actual writing technique. What is it that takes up most of your time? Some good examples are people writing with capital letters. Many people have to look at the keyboard to locate the shift key, and some people press it with the wrong finger. Practicing using the correct finger and practicing using it without looking may help you dramatically.

Another common “time vampire” is when a person has to press a number key. Most people cannot press the numbers above their keyboard without looking, and this is especially true if they have to press the shift key and use a symbol from the line of numbers. Practice writing numbers and/or symbols so you don’t have to look at the keyboard.

How good are you at typing?

Some people brag about how quick they are when they write on their computer. Some people use word counter programs and brag that they are writing at a rate of over 40 words per minutes. That is cute, but it is meaningless. Forget testing yourself with those programs.

Test yourself by thinking up something you want to write. It can be any old thing, from describing the smell of your lover to what you are planning to do tomorrow. Put your hands over your keyboard and set them in place. Now, close your eyes and write your piece. If you make a mistake, you can even try deleting with your eyes closed.

Write a short passage and open your eyes. If most of what you wrote is correct with few mistakes, then you are a fast writer when you are not distracted. Your biggest problem is not your writing speed, it is the amount of times you take your eyes off your screen, or the amount of times you stop and remove your hands from their position on the keyboard. Work on these issues and not on the issue of making yourself a faster typist.

— Linda Craig

Linda Craig is writing enthusiast and a professional editor at assignment service uk. Her passion is modern British literature and digital education tools.

Calling directory assistance

Gianetta PalmerFor someone my age, mid 40s-ish and up, calling directory assistance was something you only did in cases of extreme emergency.

For starters, making a long distance phone call was not done on an everyday or anytime occasion. At my house we had one telephone and it hung on the wall in the kitchen. It must have had at least 50 feet of cord attached to it because you could take it outside, across the porch and almost to the end of the sidewalk. That was your only chance for privacy — at the end of that long cord. Of course, calls were never uninterrupted because someone was always running in and out the door or you were being yelled at to get off the phone because there was work to be done.

When mom was going to make a long distance call, we all gathered around and tried to pick up any good tidbits of information such as who was coming to visit, where we were going on the family vacation or who had gotten sick and died. Long distance was for important and emergency calls only — plus, it was downright expensive. And you never called the operator for any reason other than to ask what time it was after a long power outage.

My, how times have changed.

Nowadays, when I need to find a number, I normally use Whitepages.com — and usually with mixed results. You have to be careful what you click on, though, because a wrong click can send you on a search for every pervert within the tri-state area or even worse — a site where all of the Republican presidential candidates are playing “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the biggest bore of all?” (Everyone’s a winner!)

Through trial and lots of error I can usually find the number that I’m looking for, but this wasn’t the case recently. I finally decided — as a last resort — that I would call directory assistance. I remembered the number — it’s 1-the area code-555-1212; in my case it was 1-706-555-1212.

The following is my conversation:

Nationwide Directory Assistance (DA): “If this is a police or fire emergency, hang up and call 911. Say your city and state, like San Francisco, California or Chicago, Illinois.”

Middle-Aged Fat Woman (MAFW): “Rome, Georgia.”

DA: “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

MAFW: “Rome, Georgia.”

DA: “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Please say your city and state like San Francisco, California or Chicago, Illinois.”

MAFW: “Rome, Georgia.”

DA: “Okay, did you say Augusta, Georgia?” (Um, no — it’s on the opposite side of the state.)

MAFW: (Yelling loudly into the phone) “NO! ROME, GEORGIA.”

DA: “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

MAFW: “Rome, Georgia.”

DA: “I’m sorry; your call cannot be completed at this time. Goodbye.”

Now, I know I’ve acquired a Southern twang these last 30 or so years that I have lived south of the sweet tea line (Kentucky/Ohio border for those that don’t know). but it doesn’t have THAT much twang. I didn’t have a cold so I didn’t sound nasally; I decided to try it again and this time I used my radio voice and e-nun-ci-a-ted ev-er-y darn syl-la-ble.

It was the exact same results: The automated voice wanted to connect me to Augusta, Georgia. I don’t know, maybe it had a Caesar complex or something.

Not one to give up, I changed tactics and decided to call the operator directly. This I did reluctantly because somewhere in the back of my mind I could still see my mom holding the phone bill and shaking her head yelling: “Who’s been making long distance calls?” and “Who called the operator?” while all of us kids scattered to the far corners of the property.

The following is my conversation with the operator:

Operator: “Hello? Operator.”

MAFW: “Hi, I’ve been trying to get a number at directory assistance and it doesn’t seem to be working.”

Operator: “I’m sorry about that. It’s fully automated.”

MAFW: “I know. I kept asking for Rome, Georgia, and it kept giving me Augusta, Georgia. Those towns are on opposite sides of the state.”

Operator: “I’m sorry you’re having trouble. Did you hang up and try again?”

MAFW: “I tried several times, so that’s why I’m calling you.”

Operator: “It’s fully automated.” (For the third time.)

MAFW: “I see. Can you connect me to the number?”

Operator: “No, ma’am. It’s fully automated. Make sure when you get your bill that you weren’t charged for the attempt.”

MAFW: “What?” (Realization finally beginning to sink in.)

Operator: “Directory Assistance is fully automated. We no longer give out numbers.”

MAFW: “Even for a fee?”

Operator: “Not even for a fee. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

MAFW: “I need a number in Rome, Georgia.”

Operator: “I’m sorry. Have you tried Whitepages.com?”

— Gianetta Palmer

Gianetta Palmer lives in the North Georgia Mountains and is the author of Reflections On A Middle-Aged Fat Woman and Scrunchie-Fried. She recently finished her first novel and blogs regularly on her popular website. Visit her at www.middleagedfatwoman.com. Or on Twitter @mafatwoman.

Helen of Troy: beautiful nudnik

Helen of Troy, possessor of “the face that launched a thousand ships,” in truth possessed the tongue that launched a thousand ships.

The reason that history has accorded her face the honor is not so much that she was beautiful (though she was admittedly that, perhaps the most beautiful nudnik in all history, even though there are those who favor Cleopatra), is that the Greeks put a higher premium on facial beauty than on nudging. (Discourse, or rhetoric, had declined in Greek esteem ever since Demosthenes had espoused marbles in the mouth as an aid to effective speaking).

First, Helen nudged Paris to take her to Troy (some say she urged one Troy to take her to Paris, but this is a canard). She was tired of the “ennui” of Sparta, and Troy had a reputation as a metropolis with plenty of glitz. It was called “the Big Olive” for the same reason that New York (centuries later) was called “the Big Apple.”

Then Helen nudged Troy to fight the Greeks instead of surrendering her. “Achilles has a weak heel,” she nudged. “He and I once engaged in a mild flirtation during which I became intimately familiar with every part of his body. Of course that was before I met you.”

Then, after the victory was apparently achieved, Helen nudged Paris to take in the wooden horse. “Wood is in this year and I am betting on that horse to make our victory garden party the talk of the whole Aegean-Mediterranean.”

In her twin set of memoirs (Recollections of a Distaff Ship-Launcher and The Last Time I Saw Paris), Helen claimed that she had actually nudged Paris to burn the horse, as it turned out on closer inspection to be decidedly non-avant garde in design and was made of olive wood and not the mahogany which was in fashion — but that he refused, saying he needed it as a knight for a giant chess set he planned to construct on the forum.

It is difficult to judge the truth of much of the above, as Homer, who used Helen’s memoirs as the basis for a large part of the Iliad, could not abide nudniks and Helen may have accordingly suffered image-wise in Homer’s tale.

— Larry Lefkowitz

Larry Lefkowitz’s literary novel (with humor): The Novel, Kunzman, the Novel! is available as an ebook and in print from Lulu.com.

Handicaps schmandicaps!

Cynthia SchulzLearning to ride a bicycle is a rite of passage, as is a parent running alongside the two-wheeler absent its training wheels.

Remember your first time? That instant you felt the sensation of flying free and pedaling “all by myself” into a whole new league with the big kids.

Noni’s younger sister was almost 5 years old, itching to learn how to ride her bike one early-summer Sunday. Off came the training wheels and out came the parents, taking turns blocking, tackling and catching her before each fall.

That’s when we saw the pout and heard the whine, “I want my training wheels off, too.”

Oh, my. Noni sees her little sister doing something she wants to do, but can’t.

We look at each other, and without a second thought my husband says, “Hey, she wants her training wheels off?  I’m not telling her no.  Are you?  Okay then, I’ll take them off for now and put them back on later.”

So off they went, and off she went, flying. All by herself.

At that moment, I thought of Erma Bombeck, the funny lady, whose 1980 Mother’s Day column about how God chooses a mother for a child with handicaps is signed and framed in my office.

Bombeck’s take on this mother: “She doesn’t realize it yet, but she is to be envied. She will never take for granted a spoken word. She will never consider a step ordinary. When her child says ‘Momma’ for the first time, she will be present at a miracle and know it!”

There I was standing in my suburban driveway witnessing a miracle, along with our neighbors who came out to see her ride. Between excitement, laughter and tears, I told my neighbor that I never thought I’d see this day. She replied, “Shame on you, Mom. Don’t ever put limits on her.”

I deserved that admonition. Me, the mom who prides herself in being progressive and raising this child to live life to the fullest. I had room to grow.

But Daddy heard and listened to her longing, even when it seemed impossible for her to ride a bike, given her motor impairments. We had been oblivious that years of joyful riding on training wheels back and forth and back and forth along the sidewalk propelled our now 8-year-old with enough practice to make it happen, against all odds.

Safe to say she stunned us.

And she was stunning on “Show Off Your Talent Day” at school. Daddy drove her bike to the school yard, where her inclusion classmates gathered, and she pedaled and beamed to their cheering and slapping of high-fives.

Afterward, a classmate approached her saying, “I wish I could ride a bike like you, Noni. I’m still learning.” Since special-needs kids rarely can perform better than typical kids, that compliment landed softly in my heart.

Admittedly, her turquoise Hampton Cruiser is not the fastest or flashiest, but it’s taken her far, from family fun to medal winning in Special Olympics.

If we let them, kids with disabilities will teach us this lesson: Prepare to be amazed.

— Cynthia Vrsansky Schulz

Cynthia Vrsansky Schulz, a highly successful communications executive for 35 years, is principal of CVS Consulting and author of the blog Baloney Macaroni. She has four young adult children, including one with special needs. Her blog, at baloneymacaroni.com, is about living a wonderful life with special needs — and not taking no for an answer.

Special gift

book jacket coverHumorist Erma Bombeck shied away from the limelight, but when a magazine writer asked if she could interview her for a biography for middle-school students, she surprisingly relented.

“She loved kids and thought it was important to inspire them to write,” said Lynn Hutner Colwell, author of the 1992 book, Erma Bombeck: Writer and Humorist. “I lucked out. She was an extremely modest person. It was all about the work. It was never about her.”

In packing for a recent move, the Seattle writer stumbled across seven cassette tapes from a full day of interviewing Bombeck at her Paradise Valley, Ariz., home. She’s donating those never-before-heard-publicly tapes, her handwritten notes, photo releases and other material to the University of Dayton archives, which is building a repository of artifacts about the late humorist, one of the school’s most famous graduates. The University also honors Bombeck’s legacy through the biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, which draws writers from throughout the nation.

Excerpts from Colwell’s book are already the basis for biographical material in the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Online Museum. The book — part of Enslow Publishing’s contemporary women’s series — is the only authorized biography of Bombeck’s life.

“It was well known that she didn’t want her life written about,” Colwell said in a telephone interview. “She told me, ‘I will do this only because it’s for kids.’”

Colwell, who’s written for Reader’s Digest, Family Circle and other national magazines, had never tackled a book before.Lynn Hutner Colwell

“When I visited her house, my knees were shaking. I was a complete wreck,” she recalled with a laugh. “But she put me completely at ease. There wasn’t a fake bone in her body. She was just an amazing person.”

When Colwell finished the 112-page book, she worried whether she had done justice to Bombeck, who achieved extraordinary fame as a newspaper columnist by chronicling the absurdities of ordinary American family life with wit. At Bombeck’s height of popularity, 900 newspapers carried her column, nine out of her 12 books landed on the New York Times’ bestseller list and she appeared regularly on “Good Morning America” as part of the original cast. A champion for women’s rights, she stumped for the Equal Rights Amendment.

“I was not worried if the book sold a single copy. I was worried about her reaction,” Colwell said. “A few days after I sent her a copy, I received a big bouquet of flowers and a card that said, ‘Please add to resume miracle worker. Love, Erma.’ You can imagine how that sent me over the moon for a day or two.”

Kirkus gave the book a strong review, noting that Colwell “makes a smooth presentation well sprinkled with anecdotes, especially from Bombeck’s early years.

“She also includes good summaries of related topics — syndication, book publishing, the changes in women’s lives and self-perception that buoyed Bombeck’s popularity,” the reviewer said. “The focus here is on the public figure and the writer; the family is offstage, and even Bombeck herself remains essentially private — though what evidence Colwell offers confirms her picture of a sensible, conscientious person who is a compulsive, dedicated writer.”

Colwell describes her interview with Bombeck as “the highlight of my life.” She found her to be unpretentious, warm, friendly — and funny.

“She was comfortable in her own skin,” Colwell said. “She was just a very good human being in my estimation. I felt so privileged to have met her and written this book.”

The donation of Colwell’s tapes comes at a time when Bombeck’s life is receiving renewed appreciation. The world premiere of a one-woman play, “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End,” is slated Oct. 9-Nov. 8 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founder and co-director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, where she also serves as executive director of strategic communications.

Reflections of Erma