This piece appeared in the Dayton Daily News on Sunday, April 22, the anniversary of Erma Bombeck’s death.
Humor mixed with poignancy at the seventh biannual Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, as 350 aspiring writers gathered to celebrate the legacy of the beloved Dayton-born columnist.
Bombeck’s husband Bill and her children Betsy and Andy attended the conference, culminating Saturday afternoon with the dedication of a hoopsi blue spruce near the Bombeck historical marker outside St. Mary’s Hall. “The tree will be here a long time, and I hope her memory will last as long as the tree,” Andy Bombeck said.
His sister reflected, “Hundreds of years from now, the tree will be gigantic, and there will be people here who don’t know who she was.”
Countered Erma Bombeck’s cousin, Dee Dee Moore, “She will be remembered.
Everyone will know who she is, just like Mark Twain.”
“I think that’s true,” Betsy Bombeck said.
Twenty-eight humorists and authors spoke at the conference, which typically sells out in the first few days. Friday night keynote speaker Alan Zweibel, a former “Saturday Night Live” writer, spoke movingly of his friendship with Gilda Radner.
Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist Connie Schultz, whose columns are syndicated through Creators Syndicate, filled in as keynote speaker for the Friday lunch after the death of originally scheduled speaker Jeffery Zaslow — best-selling co-author of “The Last Lecture” — in a car accident in February. Schultz, the wife of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and — until recently — a columnist for The Cleveland Plain Dealer, advised the audience, “The angrier you are, the funnier you must be.”
Schultz kidded about her raspy voice, reminiscent of her husband’s: “When you marry someone they say you start looking like him. Well, apparently I am starting to sound like him.”
Schultz fielded a question from the youngest conference attendee, Bombeck’s 5-year-old grandson, Michael. “Why did the dog throw up?” he asked, referring to one of her columns.
“That’s the best question I’ve been asked in months,” Schultz enthused. “It’s all in the details.”
Like most of the speakers, Schultz lauded Bombeck’s legacy. One of her editors from Parade Magazine recently asked if she knew that Bombeck is from Ohio. “Yes,” Schultz retorted, “and I know the date of Christmas! We are very proud of her.”
Andy Bombeck opened the Friday night session by reading his mother’s famous 1979 column about him, “A Different Drummer.” After the reading, he observed, “My mother would be proud of how many aspiring writers are here who let their voices be heard, just like hers was.”
Friday night’s keynote speaker, best-selling novelist Adriana Trigiani, is a friend of the Bombeck family. “I love Bill Bombeck,” she enthused, “because he had the smarts and the brilliance to marry the funniest woman alive.”
Andy Bombeck said the three-day conference, attended by about 35 University of Dayton students, is the perfect way to honor the memory of one of its most celebrated alumni. “This is something my mom would have loved — to encourage young aspiring writers,” he said.
— Mary McCarty
Mary McCarty, a columnist and staff writer for the Dayton Daily News, has been part of the workshop faculty since 2000.
Humorist Molly D. Campbell, two-time Erma Bombeck Writing Competition winner, has published her first book, Characters in search of a novel. It’s a collection of often-humorous essays about the characters in Molly’s imaginative head. It’s cleverly illustrated by award-winning Dayton artist Randy Palmer.
Ellie Grossman‘s book, Mishegas of Motherhood: Raising Children To Leave The Nest…As Long As They Come Home For Dinner, has been selected as a finalist in the Shirley You Jest! book awards contest. Her writing combines domestic satire with Jewish wisdom that applies to all modern families. She claims her writing is guaranteed to tickle your soul — or your money back. Find her here.
Jen Tucker, author of The Day I Wore My Panties Inside-Out, has penned a new memoir: The Day I Lost My Shaker of Salt. She hails from West Lafayette, Ind., where she writes women’s fiction and children’s books. For a taste of her humor, visit her blog.
The difference between women’s humor and men’s humor is the difference between Erma Bombeck and The Three Stooges.
I’ve worshipped at the Bombeck altar since reading her three-times-per-week columns in the newspaper when I was a kid, so to be keynote speaker at the humor conference held in her honor this year is a privilege. Almost 400 people will attend. Isn’t that great?
It’s great, except that the new Three Stooges movie is playing in nearly 4,000 theaters. You’re smart; you do the math.
Even if each showing attracts only six guys, each of whom has spent whole months of his adolescence perfecting the “nyuck, nyuck” sound and therefore lacks what might be defined as a “personal life” or “women friends,” Larry, Moe and Curly still get more box office than Bombeck.
Why is it that a group that once included a character named “Shemp” still wields power over the comic imagination of America?
It’s because American men still believe women don’t really have a sense of humor. Despite the fact that if you put three women together for more than 13 seconds and we all start laughing, there are guys going around saying “Whatsamatter, honey, can’t you take a joke?” when his date doesn’t laugh at the work of Dennis Miller, The Stooges or Caligula.
Believe me when I say that women hate the Three Stooges. If you’re sitting next to a woman who’s cooing “No really, I simply adore the Three Stooges,” she’s faking it. In fact, I believe you can eliminate blood tests at the Olympics by merely showing The Stooges: You laugh, you play on the men’s team. Women do not do the eye-poking, head-banging, butt-slamming humor that the Three Stooges do so well.
Have you ever seen two women go up to each other at a conference, a wedding or networking event and, by way of greeting, say, “Pull my finger?”
Men do it all the time. In the Three Stooges paradigm, men insult each other by way of indicating affection.
“Hey Frankie, you’ve had that jacket since 1992. I’ll buy you a new suit just so I don’t have to look at those stripes!” That’s their way of saying, “Hi, how ya doing, how’s the family?” And it’s impossible to insult Frankie because he’s going, “Suit’s still good. Can’t button it, but it fits all right.” If you say to a woman, “Barbara, you’ve been wearing that suit since 1992,” Barbara will lock herself in the bathroom until she can order new clothes from a catalog. She won’t think it’s a funny joke.
Actually, men often think women don’t have a sense of humor because women rarely tell jokes.
Instead, like Erma Bombeck, women tell stories.
We have totally different ways of communicating. When a woman says, “Let me tell you something funny,” you better sit down and pour yourself a cup of coffee. You’re going to be there for quite some time.
Erma Bombeck wrote humor challenging the underlying assumptions of traditional domesticity. Although some of it can be placed in the self-effacing tradition (“After marriage, I added 30 pounds in nine months, which seemed to indicate that I was either pregnant or going a little heavy on the gravy”), her essays often contained less sympathy and more bite than the conventional “good mother” was meant to possess (“So you swallowed the plastic dinosaur out of the cereal box. What do you want me to do, call a vet?”).
When Bombeck quipped “I don’t think women outlive men … it only seems longer,” she challenged the system that would have us believe women live easy lives.
Bombeck taught women to forage for humor — to find it, to hunt for it, to gather it up in its raw state. Author of When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home, A Marriage Made in Heaven: Or Too Tired For an Affair and All I Know About Animal Behavior I Learned in Loehmann’s Dressing Room, Bombeck’s column ran in more than 900 newspapers and she became the best friend of every harried, fraught, overworked and imperfect woman in the world.
I’ll take Bombeck’s fresh laugh over Moe’s whack to the forehead any day.
– Gina Barreca
Gina Barreca, author, professor and commentator, is part of the 2012 EBWW faculty. This column appeared on the McClatchyTribune wire April 19 as 350 writers from around the country gathered for this year’s workshop.
Erma Bombeck’s family will dedicate a tree in the late humorist’s memory at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 21. Teri Rizvi, the workshop’s founder, writes about the deep meaning of memorial trees.
In February, my husband’s early Valentine’s Day gift arrived in a wheelbarrow.
I watched a red Japanese maple tree being planted in his mother’s memory a few steps away from the sturdy tree that blooms for his father near the Anderson Center on the University of Dayton’s campus.
“This is the best gift ever,” he proclaimed.
Everyone — from her five devoted sons to the family’s servants in Pakistan — called her Apa, Urdu for “sister.” Her formal schooling ended after fifth grade, but she devoured the newspaper daily and dispensed wisdom and compassion gained from a life that spanned at least 85 years by family math. Her sudden death of a heart attack in 2005 just days before a family visit broke our hearts.
When I walk over to grab a quick lunch at Kennedy Union, I take a moment to brush aside the mulch covering the plaque under the graceful branches of a Pacific sunset maple tree. My father-in-law’s legacy comes into focus: “In memory of Shahid Hussain Rizvi Who Dedicated His Life for the Betterment of His Family and Education.”
Across the world in Lahore, Pakistan, my in-laws carefully tended the mango and date trees that stretched majestically above the walls that encircled the family home. During my first trip to Lahore to get married 30 years ago, they proudly showed off the famous Shalimar Gardens, centuries-old Mughal-style terraced gardens — a peaceful oasis in an often-turbulent country.
On campus, the chapel bells remind us of the power of faith. In Lahore, the lyrical Islamic call for prayer can be heard in the streets five times a day.
Two religions. Two vastly different cultures divided by nearly 8,000 miles. Yet this couple, who never even visited America, would feel at home on a campus that values both faith and family.
The trees on the University of Dayton’s sprawling campus often hold hidden and deeply personal meaning. Some of us can’t walk under their foliage without stealing a moment to reminisce, to pray silently.
We know more than 1,545 magnolia, white ash, pine and other trees border pathways and stand like sentinels on the campus lawns and in the neighborhoods. Our scientists can calculate the reduction of the University’s carbon footprint every time a tree is planted.
Yet neither is the true measure of a single tree.
Friends of James “Gerbs” Grabowski ’89 recently donated a swamp white oak that was planted near the gazebo in view of the iconic Hail Mary statue. Gerbs, who died last summer, proposed to his wife Tracey at the gazebo in 1991. For generations to come, this mighty oak will shade other young lovers. A young friend of the family promises to “high five” the tree every time he passes it on his way to the library.
The family of humorist Erma Bombeck ’49 chose a hardy hoopsi blue spruce to plant this spring near her Ohio historical marker outside St. Mary Hall. “They planted trees and crabgrass came up,” the plaque will read. What better tribute to a delightfully funny writer whose newspaper columns chronicling suburban family life hung on the refrigerator doors of our youth?
During Reunion Weekend in June, the family of Congressman Chuck Whalen ’42 will bless a dawn redwood tree in front of Roesch Library, which houses a collection of Whalen’s Congressional and personal papers.
I know exactly how these families feel about these trees.
This spring, when the crimson leaves on the Japanese maple make their first regal appearance, their beauty will remind me what a tree’s worth.
You can’t put a price on it.
Teri Rizvi is associate vice president for University communications at the University of Dayton and founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
Award-winning humorist Barb Best offers 100 quips and one-liners about love, sex, philosophy, pain, advice, questions and aging in her new eBook, 100 Fast & Funny: Ha-Musings by Barb Best. She is the 2010 Erma Bombeck Global Humor Winner and author of the “I Feel Your Pain” humor blog.