This piece first appeared on the Senior Wire News Service. Reposted by permission.
“My kids always perceived the bathroom as a place where you wait it out until all the groceries are unloaded from the car.” — Erma Bombeck
In April, I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop 2012 at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. It is a bi-annual event that I have registered for since 2004 because I love humor writing. There are always more than 350 people in attendance and seats sell out quickly, so I have learned to sign up on the first day of registration and make hotel reservations early in December.
I first read Erma Bombeck in the late 1960s. She hooked me with At Wit’s End; Just Wait Until You Have Children of Your Own; Aunt Erma’s Cope Book; If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? and many other hilarious books. I have been an avid fan ever since.
This year, Erma’s family dedicated a Hoopsi Blue Spruce in her memory outside St. Mary’s Hall at the University of Dayton to commemorate the 16th anniversary of her death on April 22, 1996. “They planted trees and crabgrass came up,” the inscription read on the stone in front of the small evergreen. It ended with these words, “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, 1976 – Erma Bombeck ’49.” Erma’s husband, Bill Bombeck, spoke at the dedication ceremony. and WDTN-TV covered the story. Later, I managed to get a photo with him.
I noticed a new trend evolving at the workshop — many seniors had registered to start new careers in writing. I networked with as many people as possible at the workshop sessions, lunch and dinner during the three-day event. I met retired business owners, government workers, IT professionals, law enforcement officials and school teachers. Their stories were similar to mine: “I read Erma Bombeck while raising my kids,” or “I always admired her writing.” Some said, “I’d like to learn how to make money at this, so I can supplement my Social Security income.” They were not all humor writers; some were there to learn how to interject humor into more serious topics and presentations. I met folks who wrote health columns, blogs, Christian books, children’s books, greeting cards, and newbies just learning the craft of writing.
Among the sponsors, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) boasted that it has the oldest columnist in America as a member, Harriette B. Leidich of North Bennington, Vt., who turned 100 on April 19 — opening day of the workshop. Harriette is still writing columns for the daily Bennington Banner.
The concurrent educational sessions at the workshop were excellent, covering everything from basic humor writing to social networking and blogging. I was able to order a CD with the soundtrack from all of them because I had to miss a few sessions that conflicted with my schedule.
Keynote speakers during meals included feminist humor maven Gina Barreca; Ilene Beckerman, who started her writing career at age 60; Pulitzer Prize-winner Connie Schultz; television writer and book author, Adriana Trigiani; and Thurber Prize-winner and original “Saturday Night Live” writer Alan Zweibel.
Gina Barreca brought the house down when she entertained us with standup comedy for over an hour after dinner on Saturday. After that, about 27 of the attendees, including yours truly, were given five minutes each to perform standup comedy for folks energetic enough to stay awake until midnight.
Mascot EB Heron, a blue heron adopted by a small group of “Ermies” at the 2010 Workshop, was in attendance again this year. His fan club sported yellow T-shirts and tiaras. His handmade tuxedos (he owns two) got more attention at the event than Kate Middleton would wearing maternity clothes. He was named “EB” after E.B. White following a “Name the Bird” contest at the 2010 workshop. Seven ladies contributed to a Kindle biography about him titled EB and the Ladies of the Bird Table Take Flight.
This was a wonderful experience. I learned about the benefits of social networking, made many new friends and plan to attend the 2014 workshop. Actually, I can’t wait to see EB’s new tuxedo.
— Rose A. Valenta