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Coffee with Erma

During the Jurassic era when I was attending Stephens College with all the other dinosaurs, our commencement speaker at graduation was the well-known humorist Erma Bombeck. I remember wondering who she was and thinking that she was incredibly funny. Little did I know how fortunate I was to witness this icon of humor deliver the most entertaining graduation speech I would ever hear.

Fast forward to 2011 when I decided to dust off my diploma and put my writing skills to use in the form of a blog. I thought of Erma immediately and devoured every Bombeck book that I could find. She has been my muse and is the inspiration behind every blog post I write. When a friend asked me what famous writer I wished I could meet, it took less than a nanosecond to decide. Erma’s famous quotes have stuck with me over the years, so I pulled some of my favorites from the archives for a coffee conversation with Erma Bombeck.

Me: “Erma, I’ve admired your work for so long. Every blogger out there wants to emulate your writing style. I was terrified of hitting that ‘publish’ button when I wrote my first post. Were you nervous when you sent out your first article?”

Erma: “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.”

Me: “That’s right. For the first few months, I felt like I was swimming alone in the murky waters of blogging until I started meeting other writers.”

Erma: “Dreams have only one owner at a time. That’s why dreamers are lonely.”

Me: “It’s hard on my family, too. They understand I need time alone in my room to write. But it sure would be nice if they tossed a sandwich and a bag of chips at me every now and then so that I wouldn’t starve to death while sitting at the computer all day. Maybe that’s their new diet plan for me. Seriously, though, when I look around my messy home, I feel bad about neglecting all the chores that need to be done. It’s a problem when the dog has eaten all the wooden legs off the sofa because no one remembered to feed him.”

Erma: “Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving!”

Me: “That’s just it; the guilt is killing me.”

Erma: “Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.”

Me: “My mother was an incredible housewife. She cooked from scratch, scoured the house until it shined and ironed everything, including the bedsheets! Mine resembled failed origami projects shoved into the abyss known as our linen closet.”

Erma: “Ironed sheets are a health hazard.”

Me: “The only time I don’t feel guilty about letting the housework go is during football season. I figure if my husband can’t be bothered with mowing the lawn for a few weeks, I can skip vacuuming the carpets for awhile…”

Erma: “If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead.”

Me: “He already spends too much time on the couch. I’m afraid one of these days I’ll come home and all that will be left of him will be a chalk outline on the sofa and a remote control. He really needs to get out and jog.”

Erma: “The only reason I would take up jogging is so that I can hear heavy breathing again!”

Me: “Tell me something, Erma. You faced quite a bit of adversity in your life with polycystic kidney disease and breast cancer. How were you able to write such powerful humor during those years?”

Erma: “Laughter rises out of tragedy when you need it most, and rewards you for your courage. …If you can laugh at it, you can live it.”

Me: “My laughter and pain are often intertwined. I’m either slipping into insanity or suffering from the raging hormones of menopause.”

Erma: “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

Me: “You certainly found a way to bring laughter into this world. It amazes me that you started off by writing weekly newspaper columns from your small bedroom in Ohio, then quickly rose to be a popular humorist nationwide. Fourteen years later, 900 newspapers were publishing your column. That’s an incredible accomplishment!”

Erma: “I didn’t fight my way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian.”

Me: “A lot of bloggers can relate to that statement. I think we’re all searching for that little slice of fame through our blogs.”

Erma: “Don’t confuse fame with success. Madonna is one. Helen Keller is the other.”

Me: “I love that you were able to find humor in your everyday experiences as a wife and mother. Some of my favorite stories are the ones about your children and how they drove you crazy!”

Erma: “Insanity is hereditary. You can catch it from your kids.”

Me: “You had three of them — you should know!”

Erma: “Never have more children than you have car windows.”

Me: “Especially if your fourth one is a belligerent 17-year-old who likes to make potato bombs and burn plastic milk jugs in the house to set off the fire alarm at an ungodly hour.”

Erma: “A child needs your love more when he deserves it the least.”

Me: “It’s hard to control my temper around him. I’m trying to be patient and understanding but sometimes I just want to sell him to a traveling circus…or duct tape him to a chair until he turns 21.”

Erma: “It’s not until you’re a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding.”

Me: “I’m still waiting for that concept to kick in. If you could start all over again as a young mother, Erma, what changes would you make?”

Erma: “Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment, realizing that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle. …I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains. …I would have talked less and listened more. …and when my kids kissed me impetuously, I would have never said, ‘Later. Now get washed up for dinner.'”

Me: “And if you had your whole life to live over again?”

Erma: “There would have been more I love you’s and more I’m sorry’s. …I would have cried and laughed less while watching television, and more while watching life. …but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute. …look at it and really see it. …and never give it back.”

We sipped our coffee in silence after that, then shared a few more family stories before it was time for her to leave. As I thanked her again for spending the afternoon with me, she popped open a flowered umbrella and headed out into the rain. I watched her disappear behind the silvery mist of water falling from a bruised sky and knew that I would never forget this remarkable, enchanting woman of humor.

— Marcia Kester Doyle

Marcia Kester Doyle is the author of the humorous blog “Menopausal Mother,” where she muses on the good, the bad and the ugly side of menopausal mayhem. Give her some wine and a jar of Nutella and she’ll be your best friend. Marcia’s work has appeared on Scary Mommy, Mamapedia, Bloggy Moms, Messy Mom’s Radio, The Woven Press, the Life Well Blogged series and was voted Top 25 in the Circle Of Mom’s Contest 2013. You can find her blog here.

Reflections of Erma