(Lorraine Holnback Brodek lovingly dedicates her new book, A Nobody in a Somebody World: My Hollywood Life in Beverly Hills, to her dear friend, Erma Bombeck. This is an excerpt from the book’s dedication.)
Humor columnist Erma Bombeck wrote her own obituary on a hot August day in 1977 on the Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon. I was with her and her family: husband, Bill; sons, Andy and Matt, and daughter, Betsy. It was all her idea. She had presented the plans for this vacation one evening while we were gathered in their living room.
“Hey, I know the perfect trip for all of us to do together. How about the Grand Canyon!” she said excitedly.
“Hold the phone,” I said. “Is that where you see people screaming for their lives as they bounce down a torrential river and into the rapids and then realize they can’t swim?”
A month later, we drove to the Canyon. All we had to do was hike down the eight-mile Bright Angel Trail to the rafts. Erma’s outfit was electric eclectic, including her shiny new hiking boots.
As we headed down the steep, switchbacks, Erma began limping. “I knew I should have cut my toenails this morning,” she grouched, “the front of these God-forsaken boots have jammed my big toe right up to my left knee!”
The unrelenting Arizona sun was beating down. The 120-degree sand created a burned-rubber smell from our boot soles. The water canteens were with the family jocks who were probably at the rafts by now.
I was 37 and Erma was 50 and suffering from Polycystic Kidney Disease. I knew that water was critical. Not a drop to drink — anywhere!
The next thing we knew, our knees buckled and we hit the sand. Gasping for air, we rolled under a nearby crag from which a scorpion skittered. That’s when Erma mumbled her obit.
“I can see the headlines now…” She rolled her eyes with devilish intent. “Famous Humorist, Newspaper Columnist and TV Celebrity Dies on Trail with Little Unknown Person.”
Then Erma thought she heard angels treading. I said, “All I hear is a clippity-clop.”
And as if on cue, here came the mules!
“You’re the famous columnist, TV star and humorist,” I said. “Stop them!”
Erma rolled out from under the rock and, while flat on her back, yelled up at the old geezer on the lead mule, “Halt! Your money or your salt tablets!”
The crotchety cowboy looked down and grumbled, “I’s sorry ladies, these fleabags have riders waitin’ for ‘em at the river.”
What followed was not pretty. Because Erma was so short, she went eyeball to eyeball with the lead mule. “I know Mr. Ed personally! You’ve heard of the glue factory? Well, I even know Mr. Elmer! Don’t you dare move a hoof until we’re on.”
The wrinkled wrangler relented and helped Erma get her short little legs and tiny shiny boots into the stirrups. Glad to be off our feet and in the saddle, we started humming the Grand Canyon Suite as happiness pervaded the Bright Angel Trail again.
— Lorraine Holnback Brodek
Lorraine Holnback Brodek is the author of A Nobody in a Somebody World: My Hollywood Life in Beverly Hills, a humorous collection of memoir essays, and The Tale of Peeky Peeker, a whimsical Christmas children’s book.