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Ride ’em, cowgirl

Brown, Patricia Wynn(Editor’s Note: At the 2016 EBWW emcee Patricia Wynn Brown regaled the audience with some amusing stories attendees shared about how they registered within the first six hours before the workshop sold out. For more registration sagas, click here.)

Some of you went to extreme measures to be able to get your registration in under the wire to be here.

We appreciate your zeal, valor, creativity — and the fallout within some of your families because of your single-minded determined focus to be here today.

For example:

Gianetta Palmer had no power, no Internet and no front door most of the day. She had to outsource the registration process to someone else.

Janet Sheppard Kelleher was out hunting and had to leave her tree stand for lack of Internet service in the South Carolina Low Country and high tale it to a restaurant with WiFi. Didn’t we all? (We’re sorry that Janet’s surgery prevented her from joining us.)

Jane C. Rosen’s aging dogs are still mad at her for speedwalking them in the morning so she could register West coast time.

Samara Rose traded her firstborn child for a registration.

Anne Parris scheduled having her dog fixed around her need to get in right away on the conference site to register.

Janie Emaus nearly bit her dear old mother’s head off when mother dared to call her at registration time…merely to say hello.

The best: Stacey Hatton registered for the conference while in stirrups — for her annual pap exam. I say, Ride ’em, cowgirl.

We thank all of you for your heroic efforts in being part of our magnificent group of people this weekend.

— Patricia Wynn Brown

Patricia Wynn Brown is a performer, producer and author of two books, Hair-A-Baloo: The Revealing Comedy and Tragedy on Top of Your Head and Momma Culpa: One Mother Comes Clean and Makes her Maternal Confession. She has performed her humor-memoir Hair Theater® shows across the U.S. She is a featured humorist in a PBS documentary, A Legacy of Laughter, about the life and work of Erma Bombeck. She also is a three-time winner of the James Thurber Summer Writing Contest. She served as emcee at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

Battling with grays and strays

Lynne CobbGrays and strays — just another dandy way that menopause shares its, dare I say, hair-raising, life-altering change.

About three years ago, I colored my hair for the last time. The gray was in for the win, and my scalp became irritated from the dye. My last, paid-for hair hurrah were highlights and low-lights, which camouflaged the incoming gray. Midlife was sucking the life right out of my melanin production, creating a source of natural color streaks. Albeit gray in color, the strands contrasted with my brunette beginnings, thus giving me, um, a new type of highlights.

My trusted hair stylist loved the look and told me to embrace it. Now, when you put your mane in the hands of someone you trust, it’s all good. Bless his heart, I thought, he was just trying to be kind.

So I questioned his sanity.

“Are you joking? You really just said, ‘Embrace it.’ Like, don’t color it or fight it, right?” I released an evil laugh.

He wasn’t joking.

I wasn’t convinced I could embrace the grays, but I didn’t want to erupt in hives. So, on his wise counsel, I ditched the dye.

The next bit of advice he gave me was a huge adjustment, too.

“Your hair texture is changing, so don’t shampoo every day.”

What??? He’s now a comedian? Again I asked, “Are you joking?”

Trying not to question his sanity, I had flashbacks to greasy hair during my junior high days. Back then, when the hormones were going crazy, I had more oil oozing from my scalp than a rig in the ocean. Heck, I even used grease-fighting dish washing liquid on my limp locks.

Panic-stricken, I wondered how I could not shampoo daily, especially since the hormones are again going crazy. Hot flash anyone?

Totally not on board with this, especially since gray, flat, greasy locks are not confidence boosting, I begrudgingly listened to my stylist, and every other day became “No Shampoo Day.”

Well, it took a few weeks for my scalp to adjust, and then I started to embrace this new way of life. I had to admit, my hair was healthier looking, plus I had extra time every other morning, so I was able to increase my exercise routine. Win.

The alternate scrub day also reduced the cost of shampoo and hair products, another win. And the extra time afforded me an opportunity to really inspect the lines on my face and notice other changes in my new appearance. Like more hair.

Healthy, strong hair.

Lots of hair.

Hair that isn’t on my head. Well, technically, it is on my head. Just not where I want it. Oh yippee — hair started sprouting on my face.

Glimpses of the bearded woman from the circus stared back at me in the mirror.

I had heard of women developing whiskers during “The Change,” but of course, I was immune. My body would never humiliate me that way.

Hah!

Not only do these suckers appear faster than a dandelion in April, they are just as difficult to control.

To add insult to injury, they act like weeds, too. Pluck a wiry beast from the chin, and two days later, wham, it pops up again. Under your nose. As in, a mustache.

Great.

Now I wonder if I should pluck or shave. So much for the extra time I had gained by not shampooing…

All the money saved in hair products is now spent on magnifying mirrors and wax. And trust me when I say that beauty hurts — waxing the ‘stache is a rip-roaring blast. (Note: Never wax and plan to go anywhere but home afterwards. You’ll thank me.)

As I left the salon, I told my stylist he was brutal.

“My lip! I came in to look beautiful and it looks like you punched me!” I cried. I even paid and tipped him — what is wrong with this picture?

“Awww, the redness and puffiness will go away,” he consoled, while offering me some salve to put on my sore yet baby-bottom-smooth upper lip.

“At least now you can’t run away and join the circus.” No, he didn’t say that, but I think we both thought that. Okay, I thought that.

Blinking away the sting of the tears, I booked my next torture beauty session. I will win the battle of the grays and strays because the circus is just not an option. Yet.

— Lynne Cobb

Lynne Cobb is a metro Detroit freelance writer, with articles, essays and blog posts featured in major and local dailies; national and niche magazines, and various Websites, such as Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and Midlife Boulevard. Recently, a blog post was published in the popular anthology Feisty after 45 – The Best Blogs from Midlife Women. Keep up with Lynne and her “Midlife Random Ramblings” at lynnecobb.com.

Mile-high incarceration

A long flight is like a prison sentence. The food is terrible; they won’t let you exercise much; and even if your cellmates seem nice, you just wish they would leave you alone. You want to make a run for it, but you’ve heard nobody gets very far.Hillary Ibarra

I have many flying issues, not the least of which is that when I’m traveling, it is psychologically impossible for me to use the restroom in a meaningful way. Never mind the minuscule lavatory on the plane with its creepy loiterers and a commode that sounds like it’s going to suck you into another dimension. No, even in an airport bathroom, if I think even one person knows what I am doing in that stall, I cannot do what I must.

Sure, I know it’s purely strangers coming and going, but there could be that one lady in the corner freshening makeup and communing with her cell phone. As I exit she’ll slip me a sinister note: I know what you did in the last 10 minutes. Then on a connecting flight hundreds of miles later I’ll get to my assigned seat only to find a picture of a potty taped to the snack tray.

Because of these hang-ups, I sit on the plane squirming in increasing discomfort, fully aware that if I release the gas torturing my belly and preventing me from crossing my legs, my fellow passengers will be horrified as I become airborne in a whole new way. You know the situation is bad when as the plane lurches during extreme turbulence, all you can think is: I hope I get the chance to use the restroom before I die.

On this last trip to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, I had to fly on a tiny aircraft, the kind assigned to passengers going to boring places — mostly in the Midwest. The flight attendant referred to the pilots as a captain and his first officer, and I couldn’t help but be skeptical and afraid, because neither one looked like he was quite 18 years old. I could just picture the airline executives saying to these lads, “Well, you really do need some flying experience in case you have to transport passengers somewhere other than Ohio, so here’s a plane that holds about 50 people. Now get up there, you young devils, and have some fun! But not too much…these people don’t like excitement!”

My fear of flying is always exacerbated on the descent. I can feel the plane losing altitude by degrees, and I am always suspicious. Are we supposed to be doing that now? It seems too soon. Why isn’t the captain saying anything? Does he know we’re about to nosedive? Does he want to keep us oblivious, enjoying our last few moments? I don’t see any buildings out the window. We’re going to die!

Of course, the captain does eventually come on to say we’ve started our descent into some city or other, and I breathe a sigh of relief even as I resentfully think, Well, why didn’t he say so?

For me the descent also causes nausea akin to morning sickness. I sit pale-faced and erect, trying not to look toward the ground. My queasiness simultaneously reminds me of car sickness as a child when I had to puke into my mom’s purse and the time I threw up a sausage and egg biscuit while flying during my first pregnancy. I have to chant to myself repeatedly, “Do not think about what you ate for lunch! Do not think about what you ate for lunch!” Which means, of course, that I think about what I ate for lunch down to the last limp fry and sesame seed in disgusting detail.

When we finally hit the ground, I am desperate to get that first whiff of non-recycled air as we taxi like a snail to our gate and then wait 10 feet away from it for at least a half hour before the ground crew waves us in.

I then watch my fellow prisoners being released row by row and wonder if my time will ever come. Miracle of miracles, it does, and as soon as I complete my drunken stagger down the gangway to freedom, I make a beeline for the fast food.

Brutal experience has taught me that nothing quite builds an appetite for greasy food like constipation, imprisonment and fear of death.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org and was recently published at Hahas for Hoohas. She is a mother of four who dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Words devoid of meaning

Sammy SportfaceWords have no meaning.

Take these, for example.

By reading them you’ve gained nothing.

You want value from words. You want to be enriched. You don’t want people wasting your time. If this goes on for one more paragraph, you will stop reading.

This blows.

There are words I’ve heard my whole life that have no meaning for me. They don’t resonate. They just irk.

I don’t know what they mean and don’t intend to find out. Hearing them makes me feel unerudite, which may or may not be a word and I won’t check because I don’t feel like it. These meaningless works give me inferior feelings compared with those who say them to me.

The one that vexes me most often is “vis a vis.” Perturbed by its sound, spelling and ostentatiousness, I refuse to look up what vis a vis means. It may be something benign and simple, but it may also be something important and full of richness. Probably it’s pretty meaningless.

Finding out isn’t in me.

Vis a vis sounds sort of French or Italian; definitely it’s not Russian or Portuguese. Few non-English words get used as often as vis a vis in English conversation. Often high-browed English professionals say this along with some pretentious business professionals climbing the social ladder. There are many others.

The only French word I can think of that is easy to remember, besides of course la bibliotheque (means library), is déjà vu. Understanding romance, I know the meaning of that one so it doesn’t bother me the way vis a vis does. A beautiful maroon-haired woman taught me French for three years in high school so I studied the language in order to impress her.

When someone says vis a vis, my first thought is they’re trying to sound smart. This violates my belief that in speaking and writing it’s more essential to be clear than to sound smart.

Being lucid requires more careful critical thinking than confusing people with French or Italian phrases that most people have to stop to think of what you mean, and often don’t now. Use that word and they are bound to think you’re a jerk or pretentious or both for making them feel less erudite than you.

Maybe vis a vis is Latin. Never took Latin. For that we should all be grateful and less agitated. Writers don’t need to know the ancient roots of words. Dictionary.com covers that.

Whatever vis a vis means I doth not care nor shalt thou. I’ll never use it in my writing or speaking unless intending to be obtuse, which is borderline repellant. And the next time I hear someone say vis a vis in my presence I will imagine a rainy night in a dark tunnel where I want that person to go for a while.

Maybe vis a vis should be italicized for being a foreign word. But it won’t happen here. This is about spite and retribution sprinkled with paranoia and insecurity.

Another word that lacks meaning is incredulity. So many people have used this in my presence over the years that  I have had to look it up to rise to the lofty heights I have professionally and socially. Incredulity means something like disbelieving or doubting. But anyone who uses it sounds so pompous and eager to sound intelligent that it makes me think of how life was better in third grade before people used big words.

Back then none of us knew big words nor cared about them. Things were more settled and lunch time less hectic. The word “thing” was cool to say. Deciding we needed to be more precise in our use of language, adults struck it from writing and speaking.

Things changed and got harder.

When someone uses the word incredulity, I am forced — by them — to think for a few seconds before I can understand what they meant. Dissection doesn’t spawn anything except frustration. Their point remains fuzzy even if I look it up and saw the person’s whole sentence on a piece of paper. They say something like “His incredulity is making me incredulous about him.”

This is either a double entendre — another pretentious word for which I do know the meaning (ha ha) — or word play, lazy writing or obfuscation.

This nettlesome situation makes me incredulous about anyone who says “incredulity” — more than their use of the word. I don’t credule them.

The third word that doesn’t mean anything — and comes up too often — is phantasmagoria. At least twice a day someone says this six-syllable word to me.

Whatever phantasmagoria is, or wherever it is, or whenever it is, I don’t want to find out vis a vis anyone.

— Sammy Sportface

Sammy Sportface is possibly America’s best blogger. He is only mildly interested in the truth. To read his new book, Wipe That Smile Off Sammy Sportface, go to Amazon.com.

Spare the frame, spoil the grandpa

People have said for years that I will end up in the gutter. Little did I know it would happen when I went bowling with my 3-year-old granddaughter.

Jerry ZezimaAs part of Chloe’s birthday celebration, my wife, Sue (known to Chloe as Nini), and I (Poppie) recently went to The All Star in Riverhead, New York, with our younger daughter, Lauren (Mommy), and our son-in-law Guillaume (Daddy) for an afternoon of fun and, I will readily admit, humiliation, which is inevitable when (a) you are wearing bowling shoes and (b) you are defeated by a toddler.

I must say in my own defense, pathetic though it may be under the circumstances, that I had not been bowling in years, while Chloe is a regular at the lanes.

Not only that, but she uses a special contraption that is designed to give kids an unfair advantage over incompetent grown-ups such as yours truly. Here’s how it works: An adult places a bowling ball on top of this thing. Then a child pushes the ball down a ramp and onto the lane, where it rolls, slowly and steadily, until it knocks over some or all of the pins.

Did I mention gutter guards? They are used so a child’s ball can’t go where the aforementioned people have long expected to find me.

But none of that mattered because we were there to have a good time, even if, as required in order to use the lane, we would also be keeping score.

After settling in at Lane 20, we entered our names into the overhead electronic scoreboard: Mommy, Nini, Poppie and, of course, Chloe (who was playing with the assistance of Daddy).

My first ball, I swear to God, went straight into the gutter. I recovered enough to finish the frame with a 6.

I didn’t feel so bad because Sue’s first ball went straight into the gutter, too. In fact, her average roll traveled approximately four inches before the ball plopped into the gutter, although she displayed great versatility by throwing gutter balls on both sides of the lane.

“Bowling isn’t my sport,” she acknowledged.

But it appears to be Chloe’s sport. After Guillaume placed the ball on top of her kiddie ramp, Chloe pushed it onto the lane and typically knocked over most of the pins. By frame 5, she had racked up a strike and a couple of spares and was comfortably in the lead when she pushed a button on the control device and wiped out all the information on the scoreboard. The game, essentially, was over.

“I am crediting your granddaughter with the victory,” said the nice young man at the counter, likening it to a rain-shortened baseball game. “She beat all of the adults.”

Then, sensing my humiliation, he gave us another game for free.

“Try to do better this time,” he said with a smile.

I did try. Really. So did Lauren, a streaky bowler, and Sue, who continued to throw gutter balls and even used Chloe’s kiddie device and the gutter guards in a couple of frames. They didn’t help much.

In one of the later frames, Chloe said, “I bowl with Poppie.”

She took my hand as we walked up to the line. Then she helped me throw the ball, which rolled straight down the lane and, incredibly, knocked over all the pins.

“Poppie got a strike!” I exclaimed.

“Poppie strike!” declared Chloe, who must have sensed that I needed assistance, so she gave it to me in the next frame, too. I got a spare.

That helped put me over the top. At the end of the game, my score was 114. Chloe had 99, Lauren 91 and Sue 42.

Chloe, clearly the best bowler in the family, showed a maturity beyond her three years and sacrificed herself so poor Poppie, utterly embarrassed in the first game, could claim victory. In short, she let me win.

I was bowled over. And, thanks to my granddaughter, I didn’t end up in the gutter.

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows Best, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Extra! Extra! Extra!

Paul_LanderTown Happy When Medical Marijuana Facility Catches Fire

A Medical Marijuana hot house in California caught on fire sending clouds of THC-filled smoke into the air. At a press conference, a police spokesman told reporters, “I’ve never seen the town this happy before.”

A local reporter asked: “What? People are happy to see a local business burn down?” “No,” the spokesman said, “I’ve never seen them actually this happy. Apparently, inhaling the fumes had a positive effect on everyone.” And, residents at a local senior facility reported they haven’t felt this pain free in years.

Celebrities like Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg and Woody Harrelson have already arrived to do what they can. Snoop Dogg breathing in deeply said: “Now that’s some good sh**. Uh, I mean, what a shame…” Willie Nelson did have to be reminded a few times as to why he was there. And Woody Harrelson couldn’t stop giggling and asking people to sing along to Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.”

The only down side to the Cannabis-filled smoke was an increase in appetite among some local pets who somehow got into a local supermarket and ate everything in the snack aisle.

For MTV’s Real World, There’s No Place Like Nome

MTV’s Real World announced its latest destination — Nome, Alaska. An MTV spokeswoman insisted the choice was not made because the show had already been everywhere else. In fact, the MTV spokeswoman related, “Five super hot horny hunks, five nympho-maniacal, surgical-enhanced, amoral coeds with only each other to generate heat. Trust us; the pipeline won’t be the only thing getting laid in Alaska.”

MTV believes its formula of promiscuous young people, plenty of alcohol and a place where the nights are 18 hours long should make Alaska party central. Nome cast members will call a 10,000-square-foot, totally state-of-the-art igloo home. “We believe everyone’s going to have an Arctic blast,” the MTV spokeswoman assured.

And, to the question of how to maintain MTV’s hipness factor, MTV responded that it’s all in how you look at it. For example, one person’s spear fishing is another person’s “all you can eat, live sushi bar.”

ABC Announces New Show, Pole Dancing With The Stars

To capitalize on the success of its trademarked Dancing with the Stars and the box office power of the Magic Mike movie franchise, ABC announced plans for its latest TV entry, Pole Dancing With the Stars.

A spokesperson for ABC raved, “The show has something for everyone. Both male and female viewers will get the thrust of what we’re going for.” Adding: “And, for some of our celebs, this a chance at a whole new career that doesn’t involve using the phrase, ‘Would you like fries with that?’”

The show’s producers said the format would include allowing members of the studio audience to stuff dollars into contestants’ G-strings and thongs. And celebs will be given their very own stripper aliases. The show’s producers teased that people would have to tune in to see which celebrities were anointed “Silicon Valley” and “Thunder Down Under.”

The show will have a humanitarian angle with each exotic dancer wannabe “making it rain” for their favorite charities — although contestant Shaquille O’Neal did warn, “I hope that pole ain’t holding up the building.”

— Paul Lander

Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours, Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written stand-up material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in Huff Post Comedy, McSweeney’s, The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. In 2015, he placed second in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ annual column contest in the online/blog/multimedia category for his pieces in Humor Times and was named the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop’s “Humor Writer of the Month.”

I’ve never been to Spain,
but I blog in Oklahoma!

Leslie BlanchardI was lying in my bathtub this morning when my husband came flying in with his usual sense of urgency.

“Do we own a net?”

“A net?”

“Yes! A Net!”

“No, but put it on the list and I’ll be sure and pick one up next time I’m at Walmart,” I said dismissively, with my characteristic lack of urgency (most pronounced in all matters of household maintenance, of which I’ve grown decidedly weary and largely unmotivated.)

“Get out, of the tub! I need your help! We have birds in the house!”

I wasn’t sure at first that I heard him correctly. We have had  NERDS in the house. We have, on occasion, even had TURDS  in the house, but I think he just said we have BIRDS in the house. Which, I supposed, would explain why he’s asking for a net. Sometimes, I just need a minute to process things.

And, then I Really put it all together — I realized that we had literally jinxed ourselves with a conversation we had earlier today.

My husband and I had our first two children in our early 20s.  At the time that we had these little girls, we were friends with several couples, approximately the same age as us, that also had two children. The difference being, these couples stopped reproducing themselves after two children. About six years after we had our first two, we caught what is often referred to as a “second wind” and had three more children. One more darling girl, capped off by two perfect sons. Suffice it to say, our second wind blew harder and more powerful than our first wind. The irony, however, is that many of our closest friends are now “Empty Nesters” while we are still deep in the throes of childrearing.

We see these Empty Nesters everywhere. We cannot seem to escape them. They mock us on social media with their newfound freedom. Still young and beautiful, they frolic about, flaunting their utter lack of responsibility. They travel to Europe, dine at fancy restaurants and attend wine tastings in Napa. We can’t verify this, but we are pretty convinced they probably make love whenever, wherever, right smack in the middle of the day, while they still have energy.

My hubby and I were sharing our morning coffee today, wistfully gazing at pictures of our best friends from college  prancing all over Facebook. There were pictures of them smiling merrily in a Gondola in Venice and shooting Limoncello in Rome (probably toasting their own reproductive wisdom and foresight).  Naturally, our conversation turned to wondering if we, too, might one day become actual “ENs.”

That’s when I’m pretty sure we jinxed ourselves. Instead of getting birds out of our nest, we actually let a few more in! 

Back to the bird situation: In the absence of a household net, My husband requested two towels. I was further instructed to hold one towel up vertically, “Like a bullfighter in Spain!” I made an on-the-spot decision that this might not be the ideal time to mention to my Beloved that I’ve never seen a bullfight, never been to Spain, and at the rate we are going, probably never will.

My man proceeded to impress me with his proficient use of towel #2. He tossed it over the first bird and released her tenderly into The Great Outdoors. The remaining bird, he pointed out, was the male. “This is going to be trickier,” he explained as though he were a bonafide, card-carrying member of The Audubon Society. “The male bird’s lack of direction is probably what got them into this situation to begin with!” (It seriously took my husband a full 32 years of marriage to admit this obviousness?)

We had quite a battle on our hands with that male. Eventually, my husband managed to capture him and carried him flapping like crazy to our back door. Trying to be of assistance, I said frantically, “I’ll crack open the door, you thrust him high up in the air, with some force, and then when he starts flapping, jump back in the house and we’ll slam the door quickly behind you, before he has a chance to change his mind!”

It was infinitely harder to rid our home of the male of the species, which we sincerely hoped wasn’t some kind of FORESHADOWING of our future.

That little guy dug in and resisted his own emancipation. But, no matter! We now feel confident that we have a pretty merciless exit strategy planned for when the time comes to show THE BOYS the door.

— Leslie Blanchard

Leslie Blanchard is a wife of one and mother of five, who writes the blog, A Ginger Snapped: Facing The Music of Marriage And Motherhood. After she received a journalism degree, she became the “Wind Beneath My Husband’s Wings” and didn’t write anything for 27 years, except her family’s Christmas letter. All that changed with the invention of the iPad with a waterproof cover. Now, she lays in the bathtub all day, neglecting her other responsibilities, and writes about life outside the tub. Her essays are titled after songs because, as she and her hubby puzzle through a marriage or child-rearing problem, they sing the song that particular issue reminds them of (with a pertinent lyric change here or there).

Erma made me miss my mother

Annette WickAt a recent writer’s conference, I sat enraptured by a performance of At Wit’s End, a one-woman show that brought Erma Bombeck, the famous columnist and humorist, to life on stage.

Tears arrived, not so unwelcome. The story of Erma and the arc of her life made me miss my mother.

Erma was dead and my mother was not. But the mother still alive was not the one I missed. The mother I missed was the one who raised us.

The family home was sold years ago, but the exact location of Erma’s If Life is A Bowl of Cherries, had been burnished in my mind.

Erma’s book, published in 1978, held such an esteemed position in our home that it was placed next to Pope John Paul II’ s Crossing the Threshold of Hope, published in 1995, and the brown and white collection of books with World Book Encyclopedia Edition, 1972, embossed in gold.

At least, that what I recalled before the home’s contents was dismantled.

As At Wit’s End unfolded in memory for Erma’s children seated in the audience, I built my own Greek memory palace, recalling the golden shag carpeting of the family room where a bookcase held those hardcovers and a piano was situated next to said bookcase. And then, tears rolled like my fingers used to move across piano keys.

As I mentally constructed that mnemonic device, I saw myself arguing with my mother over moving the piano from the living room, where there was privacy, to the family room. By then, I had given up piano lessons, but I still tinkered, mostly when no one was around, because I hadn’t practiced enough to play long stretches or memorize extended passages.

I had lobbied for the piano to stay in the living room. There would be no volume debate over TV vs. piano. In the living room, I could play tunes from my older sister’s piano book, songs such as A Time for Us, Memories or Moon River, and my mother could sneak in, sit on the bench or stand like she was working a crowd, and sing along.

Nowadays, when I sit in Activities with Mom, many of those same melodies waft around the room. For me, the songs of Bruce and Adele are not ear worms. Instead, I hear Someday there’ll be…. A time for us…Jean, Jean, roses are red all the leaves have gone green.

After the piano move, the instrument sat unplayed through protest and neglect. Erma’s book became the lone remaining memory I had of Mom in that corner of the family room.

My mother and Erma were born a year apart, Erma in ’27, Mom in ’28. But Erma birthed her children about 10 years before Mom. Mom married later in life, which was how my father’s mantra or moan of “10 years too late” came along.

Reading Erma’s column must have been informative for my mother, but also a bit alarming. Erma was rearing teens when Mom was raising babies. Erma’s words were foreboding.

In her humorist tones, Erma set the stage for so many homemakers. But my mother, perfectionist, child of the Depression and fabulous cook, took a more solemn approach to those homemaker duties.

My proper mother threatened to wash our mouths out with soap or swear to the truth on the Bible, or saved piles of Styrofoam meat containers to send us home with her breathtaking cakes and cookies.

She was a woman who ran her finger across the tops of our dressers to ensure we dusted on Saturday mornings.

However, she also smiled, sometimes laughed out loud, whenever I spied her reading Erma’s book or columns.

Erma’s perspective was from the nonconformist’s view. The “I’m busy writing, so I’ll slip some money under my door for the children to go to McDonald’s.” And Mom secretly found comfort in Erma’s words. Someone out there knew how to let go of the limitations of the times.

What remains is a mother who let go of those constraints, of the need to be perfect, who cares little for her appearance (mostly because she doesn’t know to), and who lets other people cook and care for her.

I see Mom now, surrendering to her dementia, and to modern times when she doesn’t have to recall her children’s names or faces or where they lived. A wife who doesn’t have to remember to iron a husband’s shirt or buy his favorite ice cream.

A woman whose only saving grace is her laughter and smiles and, occasionally, running a finger across chair rails and medicine cabinets to make sure somebody is doing his or her job, a job that no longer belongs to Erma or Mom.

— Annette Januzzi Wick

Annette Januzzi Wick is Cincinnati-based writer, teacher and blogger.  Annette attended the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop to “find my funny.” She’s still looking. Learn more at https://findyouinthesun.com or https://gettinmycityon.wordpress.com.

Reflections of Erma