Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I tried to focus on the spackled sheetrock walls in the bedroom my sister and I shared. Quickly, I pulled the quilt up to my neck and tried to figure out what had startled me awake. It was “Blackberry Winter,” as we call it in the South, the time of year in late spring when a cold snap hits just as the blackberries are blooming.
“Rex, have you lost your mind?” I heard Momma scream from the front of the house followed by the same sound that must have awakened me. The urgency in her voice, teamed with my curiosity, convinced me to forego the usual fight with my older sister about who would be getting in the shower first, and I scrambled out of bed. I made my way into the hallway stopping to catch a second of warmth from the wood heater before I eased toward the source of the commotion. Peeking around the living room door, I witnessed what had become an imaginary boxing arena. In one corner was Momma and Frisky, my beautiful black-and-white cat. In the other corner was Daddy, and the spawn of Satan in animal form — an albino possum.
The possum was just one of many creatures my animal-loving Daddy had dragged home. It, along with her seven babies, had been occupying a cage in the back yard that had at various junctures housed two rabbits, three raccoons and two chickens. But today, this fine specimen had garnered an honor above all honors: a visit inside the house to square up against my cat for a battle royal. “Daddy,” I wailed at deafening decibels as I instantly decoded the scene laid out before me.
My cry startled the possum and the origin of the slumber-wrecking sound was revealed as it let out a hiss as loud as a washtub full of water moccasins. This reaction, in turn, sparked a retaliatory hiss and tip-toeing, back-arching ninja move from the cat. Momma and I watched horrified as Daddy did a jig and urged the competitors on. My cat, which was accustomed to Daddy’s antics, (Daddy had even taught it to play fetch) took about a millisecond to assess the situation, hastily decide he was the “undercat” in this match up, throw in the towel and Fred Flintstone his way out of the room.
Unfortunately, Daddy urged on by amusement and Wild Turkey, had other ideas for a towel besides throwing it in. With the prizefight idea thwarted, he moved to plan B: giving the possum a bath.
Without giving one thought to his safety, Daddy scooped up the possum and carried it to the bathroom to draw a nice warm bath. When the water was at the perfect temperature, he opened my bottle of Mr. Bubble and whipped up a snowy mountain for his albino freak of nature. The possum’s fine white hair disappeared like cotton candy as Daddy lowered it into the water, and dumbfounded, Momma and I watched as it allowed him to lovingly scrub it clean. When he was done, Daddy, knowing it was chilly outside, took a hairdryer and dried him right up. When the flowy white hair had reappeared, he brushed it and added a sprinkle of baby powder for good measure. After the spectacle had come to an end, Daddy turned to me and said, “I’m done with the tub now. You can use it.” I opted for a shower instead.
Though an unlikely text for life lessons, there are many that can be gleaned from the story of my Daddy’s actions that day. First of all in life, one must be flexible. When Daddy’s original plan fell through, he didn’t give up, he simply changed his course of action. Secondly, one must be fearless. Daddy dared to bathe a possum and came out completely unscathed because he never once allowed fear to rear its ugly head. And last but not least, one must stand firm in his/her dedication to the task at hand. Daddy set forth to achieve his goal and through his perseverance and strong will claimed his prize — prettiest possum in Panola County.
— Mary Roberson Wiygul
A Mississippi native, Mary Roberson Wiygul has taught in the public school system for more than 20 years. When not teaching, traveling or spending time with her family, she loves to write personal essays, short memoir pieces and poetry. She is currently a feature writer for Southern Sass Magazine, and her work has also been featured in Southern Roots Magazine and Magnolia Quarterly.
Growing up in my parents’ home with four sound-barrier-breaking siblings, a skittish dog that barked when a leaf fell off a tree, and a TV blaring all day was as peaceful as taking a yoga class at an artillery range. I couldn’t wait to move away from this never-ending eardrum assault.
Throughout college and even after I graduated, I lived with roommates who kept their mouths and music on mute. I even sought out someone quiet to date, which at the time seemed like a good idea until it wasn’t. Relationships work better when two people communicate, resolve issues by talking with one another using words other than “uh-huh” and “whatever,” and know when silence is not so golden.
Now that I’m an empty nester, my home and life is monastery-quiet (minus the brown robes and celibacy pledge) until I visit my out-of-town boyfriend or he visits me. Quiet mornings are to him what sleeping late is to parents with toddlers.
My morning routine is simple: I exercise, take a shower and then park myself in front of my computer. My boyfriend gets out of bed, turns on the bathroom radio and then listens to a local radio show whose morning host’s booming voice sounds like he’s gargling rocks inside an active volcano. Not wanting to miss a morning with his favorite Jerk Jockey while out of town, my long-distance love figured out how to stream the show over the Internet and into my bathroom.
One morning as I was putting on make up, I decided to give the show another chance rather than turn it off right away. After a few minutes I admitted to the show’s biggest fan that I may have jumped to conclusions; the host wasn’t as stress-inducing and brain-splitting as I had previously thought. My boyfriend turned to me and said, “See…he’s not that bad” at the same time the host went on a rant like a spoiled traveler who complains about having to fly coach.
Staring into the mirror, my hands shaking harder than the backside of a backup dancer at a music awards show, all I could think about was poking my boyfriend in the eye with the eyeliner pencil that had left me looking like a band member for KISS. If I could bottle the stress that radio host was causing me, and people actually bought it, I’d be a millionaire.
Then I could buy a house with soundproof walls and two separate master bathrooms.
— Lisa Kanarek
Lisa Kanarek is a freelance writer, the author of five books about working from home, and writes the work-from-home blog Working Naked. Her work has been featured on various sites including BonBon Break, In the Powder Room, Grown and Flown, Ten to Twenty Parenting and MockMom. She is a co-author of the bestselling book Feisty After 45. She is the mother of two sons in college and has lived in Texas half her life, but may be breaking state law by not owning a pair of cowboy boots.
Call me crazy, but I like to write poetry.
Cats are a good training ground for poets. They are largely indifferent to poetry, like the overwhelming majority of people, but that still makes them a more receptive audience than my wife, who is openly hostile to the stuff.
Writing poetry for cats is low-level mental stimulation, like doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, but you make up the problem to be solved, rather than some faceless drone at a newspaper syndicate, so when you’re done you’ve created something. Albeit on a par with a gimp necklace at summer camp.
It takes very little activity, or inactivity, on the part of my cats to serve as my muse. Here’s a cat poem I thought of just last night:
I take my laser pen in hand
and shine it in a circle.
My little cat goes chasing ’round,
it drives him quite berserkle!
Then I take what I’ve written, crumple the paper up into a ball, and throw it across the room. My cat pounces on it, extending our fun, and conserving precious resources through recycling. I’m trying to reduce our humor footprint.
Just because I write poetry for my cats doesn’t mean they’re sissies. They’re both males who will stay out all night, getting into fights with all manner of beasts. They bring us sustenance; field mice, birds, chipmunks. Once Rocco, the younger of the two, horse-collared a squirrel from behind, like a member of the New England Patriots’ defense, and dragged it, dying, to our back patio. As a former high school middle linebacker in a 4-3 defensive alignment, I found this to be a most gratifying spectacle.
T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is perhaps the most famous collection of cat poems, but it has always struck me as a bit fuss-budgety, like its author, a native of St. Louis who became a British subject in 1927, thereby missing out on seven World Series titles by the St. Louis Cardinals. What a dope! That book, of course, was turned into the hugely successful Broadway show Cats.
My wife once bought us tickets to see the show for my birthday, assuming that because I liked cats, I would like the show, but she sensed my indifference to Eliot’s work at dinner. As we left the restaurant for the theatre we were approached by two show tune mavens who breathlessly asked us if we had tickets we were willing to sell. We gave each other a look that lasted as long as the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings, then sold the ducats at a premium. This is the first and only known instance of scalping by a Presbyterian woman since the church was established during the Scottish Reformation in 1560.
Lots of poets have had cats, chief among them Samuel Johnson, whose cat was named “Hodge.” I had a girlfriend whose cat was named after Johnson’s. When we had her refined friends over she’d tell the story about how, when Johnson learned of a wave of cat-napping sweeping London at the height of the popularity of cat’s meat pies, he looked down at his cat and said “They’ll not have Hodge!” Sort of NPR humor, as Harry Shearer would say — loads of muted titters. We broke up; she got the cat, and I got the hell out of there.
For my money, the greatest of all cat poems is For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey by Christopher Smart (1722-1770), from Jubilate Agno. It’s a work that all pet store owners and cat groomers should have up on a wall in their offices, in needlepoint. Surely you know its stirring opening lines:
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey.
For he is the servant of the Living God,
duly and daily serving him.
For at the First glance of the
glory of God in the East
he worships him in his way.
For is this done by wreathing
his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk,
which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
Musk is the smelly substance obtained from a small sac under the skin of the abdomen of the rodents cats kill, and to “roll upon prank” refers, in a charming 18th century way, to cats’ preferred method of applying it. Yep — that’s a real cat there, not some Broadway-bound dancer-pussy.
Oh — I neglected to mention that when Smart wrote the above, he was a resident of Bedlam, the London hospital for the mentally ill.
Call him crazy.
— Con Chapman
Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.
Best-selling author, humorist, syndicated columnist and feminist scholar Gina Barreca will emcee the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition Awards Ceremony at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 30, at the Centerville Library, 111 W. Spring Valley Rd. It’s free and open to the public.
In this year’s competition, 563 writers from 46 states and eight countries entered previously unpublished essays in humor and human interest categories — roughly 253,350 words.
Here are the winners:
Humor (Global): Mary Kay Fleming, Crescent Springs, Kentucky
Humor (Local): Kevin Tucker, Vandalia, Ohio
Human Interest (Global): Vikki Reich, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Human Interest (Local): Becky Koop, Dayton, Ohio
Here are the honorable mentions:
Humor (Global): Karen Hamilton, Toronto, Canada; Sharon Kramer, Wheaton, Illinois; Laurie O’Connor Stephans, Plano, Illinois; Nancy Roman, Litchfield, Connecticut; and Marcia Smart, Thousand Oaks, California
Humor (Local): Darlene Sunshine, Dayton, Ohio, and Timothy Walker, Dayton, Ohio
Human Interest (Global): Maia Aziz, Lasalle, Canada; Marti Benson Smith, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Andrea Darvill, Christina Lake, Canada; Janie Emaus, Winnetka, California; and Mona Shand, Brighton, Michigan
Human Interest (Local): Wendy Gilmore, Centerville, Ohio; Allison Mundy, Dayton, Ohio; and Lindsey Roth, Dayton, Ohio
The four winners receive $500 and a free registration to the sold-out March 31-April 2 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton. They will read their essays at the awards ceremony.
Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson and a Kettering, Ohio native, was the finalist judge for the humor category. Daryn Kagan, syndicated columnist and former CNN anchor, served as the finalist judge for the human interest entries. The nearly 50 preliminary judges included nationally known authors, columnists, screenwriters, stand-up comedians and a longtime writer for David Letterman.
“I’d like to give a special thanks to our outstanding panel of first-round judges. The caliber of writing for the essays that advanced to the final round was spectacular,” said Debe Dockins, coordinator of the contest for the Washington-Centerville Public Library. “Nancy and Daryn had their work cut out for them, and they did not disappoint. This contest aims to channel the spirit of Erma’s writing, the beauty and absurdity of everyday life, and I think these essays hit the mark.”
To read the winning entries, click here.
The biennial Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, which began 20 years ago, pays tribute to Erma Bombeck, one of America’s greatest humorists and coincides with the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
This spring’s University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop sold out in less than six hours, with more than 350 writers expected to make the journey to Dayton from all parts of the country, Canada and even Spain.
Still, there are plenty of opportunities to join in the fun. Three events are free and open to the public.
Humorist Roy Blount Jr. arrives in town early to introduce his newest book, Save Room for Pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations, at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 30, at Books & Co. at The Greene, 4453 Walnut St.
A master storyteller and prolific writer, he has written two dozen books and is a familiar voice on NPR’s Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! He will kick off the workshop with an opening night keynote talk at 7 p.m., Thursday, March 31, at the Dayton Marriott Hotel. No tickets are available, but his talk is open to the media.
Best-selling author, humorist, syndicated columnist and feminist scholar Gina Barreca will emcee the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition Awards Ceremony at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 30, at the Centerville Library, 111 W. Spring Valley Rd.
The contest attracted 563 humor and human interest essays from around the world. Four winners — two local and two global — will be announced in mid-March and receive cash prizes and free registrations to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, is the finalist judge for the humor category. Daryn Kagan, syndicated columnist and former CNN anchor, is serving as the finalist judge for the human interest entries. The nearly 50 preliminary judges include nationally known authors, columnists, screenwriters, stand-up comedians and a longtime writer for David Letterman.
After the awards ceremony, Barreca will sign copies of her newest book, If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse? Questions and Thoughts for Loud, Smart Women in Turbulent Times.
Thanks to a grant from Ohio Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the general public will be able to join writers at Barreca’s “Erma 101” sessions at the workshop. Barreca is a professor of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut and a popular speaker at past workshops.
Who was the great humorist Erma Bombeck, and why has her writing stood the test of time? What’s her place in literary history? What can we learn today from her approach?
Barreca will talk about Bombeck’s enduring appeal and entertain participants at two 75-minute sessions: 3:30 p.m., Friday, April 1, and 10:30 a.m., Saturday, April 2, in the Auditorium in the 1700 South Patterson Building on River Campus. A book signing will follow the Saturday talk. Visitor parking is available.
The 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is co-sponsored by the University of Dayton’s Alumni Association, College of Arts and Sciences and Bookstore; Ohio Humanities, a state affiliate for the National Endowment for the Humanities; Writer’s Digest; National Society of Newspaper Columnists; Books & Co.; Dayton Marriott Hotel; Dayton Mailing Services; 91.3 WYSO; and the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Endowment.
For more information about the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, click here.
Barb Best, who turns hassles into humor one laugh at a time, is the author of the new humor book, The Misery Manifesto: A Self-Help Parody for the Self-Absorbed with cartoons by Roz Chast, Liza Donnelly and Andrew Genn. Her comedy material has been performed by Joan Rivers and her essays, and light verse have been published in numerous print and digital publications. Barb’s books include Find Your Funny: The LOL Survival Guide for Teens with Joanne Jackal, Ph.D., Smiles to Go: Take-Out for the SMILE Hungry with Barbara Grapstein and 100 Fast & Funny: Ha-Musings. She is proud as spiked punch to be an Erma Bombeck Global Humor Winner.
Who was the great humorist Erma Bombeck, and why has her writing stood the test of time? What’s her place in literary history? What can we learn today from her approach?
Thanks to support from Ohio Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the general public will be able to join writers at “Erma 101” at the sold-out March 31-April 2 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton.
In these workshops, best-selling author, syndicated columnist, humorist and feminist scholar Gina Barreca will talk about Bombeck’s enduring appeal and entertain participants at two 75-minute sessions: 3:30 p.m., Friday, April 1, and 10:30 a.m., Saturday, April 2, in the Auditorium in the 1700 South Patterson Building on River Campus. A book signing will follow the Saturday talk. Visitor parking is available.
Barreca is a professor of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut and a popular speaker at past workshops. The author of the upcoming If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse? Questions and Thoughts for Loud, Smart Women in Turbulent Times, Barreca told Parade.com that Bombeck “captured the imagination of several generations of women, not just the generation she was writing for.”
In a Huffington Post essay, Barreca said she has “worshipped at the Bombeck altar” since she first started reading Erma’s newspaper columns as a child.
“Erma Bombeck wrote humor challenging the underlying assumptions of traditional domesticity,” she wrote. “While some of it can be placed in the self-effacing tradition (‘After marriage, I added thirty 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?’).”
The $2,000 Ohio Humanities grant will be used for programming, marketing and promotional expenses affiliated with opening the sessions up to the public, according to Teri Rizvi, founder and co-director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. The times for the workshops will be set soon.
“Erma Bombeck’s writing encompasses a variety of humanities disciplines — from literature to the social sciences. The general public, as well as contemporary writers of humor and human interest essays and books, need to understand Erma’s enduring appeal and why she continues to inspire millions of devoted readers even today,” Rizvi said.
Bombeck, a 1949 University of Dayton graduate, credited her alma mater with launching her writing career. Her syndicated column, “At Wit’s End,” appeared in more than 900 newspapers. She wrote 12 books, nine of which made The New York Times’ Bestsellers List. Bombeck also appeared regularly ABC-TV’s Good Morning America for 11 years. She was still writing her column for Universal Press Syndicate and developing a new book for HarperCollins Publishers when she died from complications of a kidney transplant on April 22, 1996. This year marks the 20thanniversary of her death.
Launched in 2000, the wildly popular workshop attracts 350 writers from around the nation and always sells out. The 2016 workshop sold out in less than six hours.
The 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is co-sponsored by the University of Dayton’s Alumni Association, College of Arts and Sciences and Bookstore; Ohio Humanities, a state affiliate for the National Endowment for the Humanities; Writer’s Digest; National Society of Newspaper Columnists; Books & Co.; Dayton Marriott Hotel; Dayton Mailing Services; 91.3 WYSO; Washington Centerville Public Library; and the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Endowment.
For more on the workshop, click here.
I have some wonderful medical news for women who are worried about the bone loss disease osteoporosis that tends to affect women as they mature. This is also very important news for men who love their spouses and want to see them stay strong and healthy.
Researchers at the University of Arkansas have discovered that doing strenuous yard work is one of the best exercises women can do to build and maintain healthy bones.
The study — done by lady researchers I might add — found that women who worked in gardens had healthier bones than women who did almost any other exercise.
This, of course, is wonderful news for women and also great news for their husbands who right now are cheering loudly and giving each other high fives.
I mentioned this new discovery to my wife, Madeline, the other day as I danced around the kitchen waving the article around like it was a freshly minted pardon from the governor.
“Let me see that,” she said grabbing the pardon, I mean the article, from my hands.
“This is just the icing on the cake,” she said after reading it. “Not only do we women have to bear the children, do the majority of the housework, hold full time jobs, but now yard work is healthy for us.”
“I thought you’d be pleased,” I said innocently.
“How come they never do studies that find doing housework is beneficial to men?”
Builds strong bones
The University of Arkansas study found that women who did “heavy and arduous work” in the garden achieved greater bone density than through any other activity. Mowing the grass, clipping hedges, spading the garden, weeding and even digging fence holes are evidently just the ticket to build strong bones as women get older.
In fact, yard work as an exercise ranked higher than dancing, aerobics, swimming or bungee jumping. It’s right up there with weight lifting for building strong bones and doesn’t produce those unsightly muscle bulges on women.
“Hon, just think about how blessed you are to be living in four season Michigan where you can not only do all the gardening and lawn care in summer, but also rake up all the leaves in the fall, clean the gutters, trim tree branches, chop firewood and shovel the snow off the roof,” I offered.
“Wait a minute,” she objected. “It doesn’t say anything about all that other stuff,” she protested. “You’re making that up.”
“Well, I’m just offering some healthy suggestions to keep your bones strong all year round,” I said. “I’m even thinking cleaning the garage and painting the house might also fall under beneficial yard work.”
She eyed me suspiciously.
“Why the sudden urge for me to do things you said were backbreaking work?” she asked.
“That’s just the point. It’s hard and arduous work. And now you can do it because it’s scientifically beneficial for you,” I said.
“By the way, what color wheel barrel and shovel should I get you?” I asked. “How about work boots? Do you want flowers on them?”
— Myron Kukla
Myron Kukla is the author of several books of humor including Guide to Surviving Life available at www.squareup.com/store/myronkuklabooks. He is a regular contributor to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop blog.