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We miss you, Erma!

Ninety. Wow, you would’ve been 90 today. Boy, Erma, we miss you.

Times are tough now. Humor has taken a nose dive. You know, when I was a kid, my best friend’s mom used to always ask me how things were at my house. “How’s the humor?” she said with a wry smile. I never really got it, but since she grew up with my dad, I think there was some tongue-in-cheek antics going on.

Well, Erma, the humor’s not so good these days. It’s the hyena kind of humor: the creepy, screechy laughing while they rip their prey to smithereens humor. Not very funny.  We still need you, Erma. We need some of your humor.

We need you to remind us of the silver lining of humor in our daily lives before we drown in the ridiculous ridicule being passed as humor these days. It’s good for us to be reminded of the idiosyncrasies of our ordinary lives — like raising kids.

Things My Mother Taught Me

LOGIC: If you fall off your bicycle and break your neck, you can’t go to the store with me.

MEDICINE: If you don’t stop crossing your eyes, they are going to freeze that way. There is no cure, no telethon and no research program being funded at the moment for frozen eyes.

ESP: Put your sweater on. Don’t you think I know when YOU’RE cold?

FINANCE: I told you the tooth fairy is writing checks because computerized billing is easier for the IRS.

CHALLENGE: Where is your sister? And don’t talk to me with food in your mouth. Will you answer me?

HAPPINESS: You are going to have a good time on this vacation if we have to break every bone in your body.

HUMOR: When the lawn mower cuts off your toes, don’t come running to me!

Fantasizing about Paul Newman

In Erma’s book, I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression, she writes about our fantasies. “I don’t know if I can explain it or not,” I said slowly, “but Paul Newman to a tired housewife is like finding a plate of bourbon cookies at a PTA open house. It’s putting on a girdle and having it hang loose. It’s having a car that you don’t have to park on a hill for it to start. It’s matched luggage, dishes that aren’t plastic and evenings when there’s something better to do than pick off your old nail polish.

“Paul Newman, lad, is not a mere mortal. He never carries out the garbage, has a fever blister, yawns, blows his nose, has dirty laundry, wears pajama tops, carries a thermos, or dozes in his chair or listens to the ball game.

“He’s your first pair of heels, your sophomore year, your engagement party, your first baby.”

We need more humor writers like you, Erma. We need someone to bring the cynical laughter out of the cultural boxing ring, purify it and bring it home. We really need to laugh because our societal discourse right now is very painful.

In Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits, she writes about universal family life: “An interviewer once asked what the Bombeck family was “really” like. Did we seem as we are in print? A composite of the Bradys, Waltons, Osmonds and Partridges sitting around cracking one-liners? The last time my family laughed was when my oven caught fire and we had to eat out for a week.

“I did not get these varicose veins of the neck from whispering. We shout at one another. We say hateful things. We cry, slam doors, goof off, make mistakes, experience disappointments, tragedies, sickness and traumas. When I last checked, we were members in good standing in your basic screw-up family.

“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt. And how do you know laughter if there is no pain to compare it with.”

In the midst of all the pain going on, we should be laughing ourselves silly.

— Donna Fentanes

Blogger Donna Fentanes is a mother of 10 kids living in Pacifica. She mixes humor and philosophical musings with everyday life.

Reflections of Erma