(Editor’s Note: Rick Broussard’s late mother wrote a rhymed essay titled “The Built-in-Fingernail” as an homage to Erma Bombeck. It was never published or shared with Erma and “sadly all traces of (my mother’s) opus vanished with her death about 25 years ago.” This piece is Rick’s “effort to close the loop on (his) mother’s dream in some small way.”
My mother always believed she could write
And her poetic musings took over at night.
With family in bed and the house still chaotic
She’d spin the mundane into something exotic.
She’d write an homage to Erma Bombeck:
An author best known for describing the wreck
That comes when a maid turns into wife and mom,
She turned foibles to fables with pen and aplomb.
While now we bow down to our domestic divas
Bombeck’s works were odes to a domestic Shiva.
Her observations were funny and frank.
(And grass still grows greener o’re the septic tank.)
My mother and thousands of others found hope
To know that it really was common to cope
With clutter and chaos and lackluster kids
And husbands accustomed to life on the skids.
Now our house would get cleaned for special occasions
And all would be ordered to our battle stations
When Grandmother came to survey the domain.
We’d shuffle the clutter and cover the stains.
And during one flurry of hectic housekeeping
Came the inspiration that Mom had been seeking.
“I wonder,” thought Mom, “why no mop, sponge or broom
Can finish the cleaning required of a room?
“Why no soap solution can lessen the toil
Of cleaning the final small, dark clumps of soil.
A vacuum can suck up the bulk of debris,
Dead bugs and dust bunnies that long to run free.
“But to whack that last lonely sticky detail
The weapon of choice is a good fingernail.”
“Aha,” said my Mom, “Here’s a message to share.
With housewives and cleaning girls everywhere.
“You’ve heard the commercials that tell you what’s new
To make your house perfect. Well, tell them, ‘Scrub you.’
You’re more than the sum of your cleaning supplies
And the greatest tool lies right before your eyes.
“Someday an inventor will set us all free,
We’ll never more grovel upon bended knee
The greatest companion to woman and pail
Will be a Mop with a Built-in Fingernail!”
As epiphanies go, this wasn’t as hot
As a bathtub “Eureka,” or Einstein’s big thought
But Mom warmed her muse and she sat down to write
And writing continued late into the night.
I never did see the poem that resulted
But friends that she showed and the family consulted
Agreed that the poem was a quite worthy text
That rivaled the writings of Erma Bombeck.
“Submit it’” they’d urge. “It deserves to be seen
In Reader’s Digest or Redbook Magazine.”
But it’s one thing to open your heart to your peers,
Another to welcome professional jeers.
As far as I know now the poem is still bound
In some yellow pad, nowhere to be found.
But in garret or attic it bears her initial
And glows like a light, hidden under a bushel.
Now Mom has passed on and left so much unspoken
That I collect each of her words as a token.
I cherish the wisdom she freely imparted
Much more near the finish than when I first started.
For life takes a turn when you get near the end,
And looking both ways as you head ‘round the bend.
Beginning and end shine with bright clarity
Revealing how simple life’s answers can be.
How time washes off all the grime of the past
Exposing the memories destined to last.
How things that seemed small in the daily debris
Can glow like the stars in God’s eternity.
So now it is my chance to say what I see
To my son and daughters who come behind me.
And something as handy as Mom’s cleaning tip
Is precious, indeed, to provide for the trip.
So here is Mom’s motto for my kids to keep
Even when their dreams wind up in a heap:
Life may be a mess, but don’t sweat the details.
As long as you’ve got your built-in fingernail.
— Rick Broussard
Rick Broussard has served as editor of New Hampshire Magazine for 25 years.