Award-winning novelist and short story writer Bonnie Jo Campbell will serve as the finalist judge in the human interest writing category in the 2018 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.
Bonnie Jo Campbell is the bestselling author of Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, Once Upon a River and American Salvage, among other works. Author Tom Bouman, writing in 2009 for the national British newspaper The Guardian, places American Salvage on the Top Ten List of Rural Noir novels alongside Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Complete Stories (1946-1952) of Flannery O’Connor. Campbell was a National Book Award finalist, NBCC Award finalist and a Guggenheim Fellow, and the Boston Globe called her a “master of post-industrial landscapes.” She rides a variety of bicycles and a donkey in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“Her characters are flawed, quirky and hardscrabble. Her storylines are original, inventive, unpredictable, sometimes bleak and sometimes hopeful. The writing style is absolutely beautiful, and Bonnie can pack an entire story into one page — a requirement of our contest,” said Debe Dockins, coordinator of the competition at the Washington-Centerville Public Library.
“Erma had that capacity for evoking great emotion within the confines of a small space and Bonnie’s short stories pack a wallop. The fact that she is both an Erma Bombeck fan AND a teacher of creative writing bodes well for anyone whose essay makes it to the final round,” she said.
Campbell, an adventurous soul who has hitchhiked across the U.S. and Canada, scaled the Swiss Alps on her bicycle and traveled with the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus selling snow cones, joins humorist Dave Barry as a finalist judge. Barry will select winners in the humorous essay category.
The writing competition, held every two years in conjunction with the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, pays tribute to hometown writer Erma Bombeck, one of the greatest humorists of the 20th century. The next contest opens Dec. 4, with previously unpublished 450-word entries in humor and human interest categories accepted until Jan. 8.
Four winners will receive $500 and a free registration to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, slated for April 5-7, 2018.
In 2016, 563 writers from around the world entered essays — roughly 253,350 words. Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, and Daryn Kagan, syndicated columnist and former CNN anchor, served as the finalist judges for the humor and human interest categories, respectively. The nearly 50 preliminary judges included nationally known authors, columnists, screenwriters, stand-up comedians and a longtime writer for David Letterman.
— Teri Rizvi
Teri Rizvi is the founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, where she serves as executive director of strategic communications.
Me: Hi, Mom.
Mom: Who is this?
Me: It’s me, Cindy, your daughter.
Mom: OH, Cindy, you’ll have to speak up I can’t hear you.
Me: It sounds like you got a party going on. Do you have company?
Mom: No. it’s the television. I keep it loud so I can hear it. I have no trouble hearing the commercials which they blast. Hold on while I lower it ….ok, I’m back.
Me: That’s better. You really need to get a hearing aid. Anyway, how are you? Have you worn the perfume I sent you?
Mom: No, not yet, my knee’s been acting up so I put BenGay on it and wouldn’t have been able to smell the perfume. Last night I really stunk. I was a mix of BenGay and Vicks vapor rub when I got in bed.
Me: I just bought a brace for my ankle that’s been acting up. How’s Uncle Tony?
Mom: Uncle Tony just had emergency hip surgery.
Me: Oh, no. What happened?
Mom: He was walking to his car to go for the physical therapy he gets for his shoulder on account of the car accident when he slipped and fell on ice. Turns out he needed a new hip. Now, the therapist comes to the house. He’s so happy he no longer has to make the drive; the lucky bastard. I should give him one of my walkers.
Me: One of your walkers? How many walkers do you have?
Mom: Two. My drugstore had a sale, buy one, get one 50 percent off. You never know when you’ll need one.
Me: You never know.
Mom: He was home in a couple of days. The surgery went off without a hitch.
Me: I remember after my surgery they told me I needed to eat something before I could go home. They gave me a Saltine cracker. I was just diagnosed with high blood pressure and they give me a salted cracker. Then the sock they put on me before surgery went missing. Since I was unconscious and immobile during surgery, it’s a mystery how it happened. I wonder if everybody looked at my foot. Sure am glad I had that pedicure.
Mom: Did they give you medication?
Mom: How many you on now?
Mom: Three? Ha! That’s nothing. I’m on eight. A rare side effect of the new medicine my doctor just prescribed is death. Death! Can you believe it? The information packet advised me to contact my doctor in case of a rare side effect. I would think death’s a rare side effect, wouldn’t you?
Me: I most certainly would.
Mom: Well, how can I call my doctor if I’m dead? Death is permanent, not temporary; unless it’s a soap opera. On soap operas people come back from the dead all the time.
Me: True. There’s no coming back from death. Death is a nail in the coffin.
Mom: Coffin?! I don’t want to be buried. I hate coffins.
Me: Not many people like them.
Mom: I want to be cremated. Remember that in case I drop dead from this medicine meant to help me. Can’t believe I’m on another drug. When you’re young, they tell you “Don’t take drugs.” When you’re old, they tell you, “Take drugs.”
Me: I’ll remember — cremation, no burial.
Mom: Have you and Ralph decided to be buried or cremated?
Mom: And what does he want?
Me: He said he’ll be dead and for me to surprise him.
Mom: I gotta go, time to take my pill.
Me: Ok. Bye. Talk soon.
Mom: Maybe, maybe not, depends if I up and die from this pill before then. You know how I hate to complain.
And that concludes our medical update.
— Cindy Argiento
Cindy Argiento’s first column appeared in the Greensboro News and Record as a Personal Ads feature on April 30, 2002. Later that year, her first “As I See It” column appeared in the High Point Enterprise, where it would become a regular feature for several years. Her columns also have appeared in the Reidsville Review, Eden Daily News, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Freelance, Hopewell News and Foothills Paper. Other essays have appeared in Chicken Soup For the Soul books, Family Matters and Married Life. Three of her pieces were recognized as a finalist, semi-finalist and honorable mention in HumorPress.com “America’s Funniest Humor” writing contest. She blogs at Cindy’s World.
Those were the exact words spoken by my nine-year-old daughter after I revealed the contents of the big box on my dresser on Valentine’s Day. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t sting.
I thought I had done a good job of keeping my feelings to myself, but obviously, I failed.
Mothers know better than that. Well, the good ones do.
You probably want to know what was in the package.
Tucked carefully inside the cardboard box was a shiny new black folding mirror for my car.
You see, back in December, there was a single vehicle accident involving myself, a bag of peanut M&M’s and my garage wall.
But none of it would have happened if I hadn’t volunteered. It was the perfect storm of paint, glitter, and asshattery. As mothers under the influence of Pinterest do, I took an easy task and created a nightmare.
Impaired by a bizarre glitter injury, my body and soul needed chocolate. Over 48 hours had passed with no sleep or shower, but I would not be deterred.
With my disheveled hair covered by a baseball cap, pulled lower on my face than necessary, I double checked to make sure I was wearing a bra and set out for the store.
I was in line when I noticed the blood.
See, when you accidentally stab yourself with a screwdriver while opening a canister of glitter, it hemorrhages quite a bit. Blood was flowing from my hand down my forearm onto the crisp white tiles of the floor. The napkins at the register coupled with a Purell wipe from my purse were my only cleaning supplies. I was the Lady Macbeth of the Chevron Station on Highway 8. So much for staying low key.
By the time I got home, I just wanted to sleep.
As soon as my garage door opened, I attempted to navigate into my parking space carefully avoiding Santa’s workshop on the left and the glittered elves on the right.
The exterior shell of the mirror was destroyed and my insurance agent husband, a more Scrooge than St. Nick, was infuriated.
There would be no claim. We do not file claims.
By February the mirror was barely holding on. Every wire and cable were exposed like the robotic assassin from the Terminator. To make matters worse, one of those wires made a screeching noise akin to primeval cat shriek every time I locked the doors.
That was embarrassing.
I felt it, but I guess I was saying it too. Otherwise, my nine-year old’s reaction would’ve been more like my sixteen years old’s.
One look in the box and then over at me. “Nothing says romance like car parts, right Mom?”
Heather Burnett is a mother, writer, reluctant housemaid, overthinker and creative Genius Behind the Word to Your Mother Blog.
I was watching my brother’s kids for a week, and it was all going swimmingly. I stayed at their house in my hometown. The first day, I made breakfast and got the kids to school, the same one I had gone to. Dropping them off in the morning was no big deal, but to pick them up in the afternoon, I had to show a signed permission slip to a woman holding a clipboard at the door. She had a hard time letting go of her suspicions about me until the third day.
I got there early every afternoon and sat in the lobby with other people, waiting for the bell to ring. Once school let out and kids began streaming into the lobby, I noticed something about backpacks. Parents would reach into them immediately before they even get to their cars — sometimes before they’d even had a chance to say anything to their kids. Parents seemed a little frazzled as if there was a lot riding on the contents of those backpacks. There were questions right out of the shoot. And meaningful pointing to papers.
I pictured me in the last half of the 1950s, right here in this lobby, holding my book bag, walking down these steps with my friends. After a half-hour meander home — I’d say “hi” to my mother and eat a snack before going back outside to play. When she asked how school was I could say “Fine” without having to come up with any evidence.
There’s something transcendent about being in your old school after these many years have passed, and mostly it’s the universal school smell, which hasn’t changed one bit. Of course, everything looks smaller than you remember it, but not as disappointingly puny as the brontosaurus at the Museum of Natural History turns out to be, especially after you’ve told your kids, “You won’t believe how huge it is!”
For the first few days of picking up my niece and nephew in the afternoon, none of the other mothers said anything to me as I sat down. Mostly they stared as if I had Danger tattooed on my forehead and just spoke among themselves.
Then on the fourth day, when it seemed they were running out of things to talk about and the pauses between comments were getting longer, one of them looked up at the stately portrait hanging above us. She said, “Who was Raymond J. Lockhart anyway?” Before I could realize no one was looking in my direction, or that Dr. Lockhart had been dead for thirty years, I piped up helpfully, “He was Superintendent of Schools when I went here.”
Everything got quiet. All eyes averted from me. Luckily, the school day was over, and the bell rang, and soon backpacks were being unzipped, and papers were careening slightly through the air. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought questions would follow, questions like, “So . . . What was this school like then? What were kids like back then?” And it wouldn’t have killed any of them to tell me I looked good for my age. And I had some good stories about this school I loved. We had more in common than they would know, but I understood.
— Linda DeMers Hummel
Linda DeMers Hummel is a Baltimore-based freelancer. This piece is from her memoir, I Haven’t Got All Day. You can find more of her writing on her blog www.lindadhummel.com.
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.
As Valentine’s Day approached this year, I was at a loss regarding how to surprise my eternally patient and positive wife of 26 years with a gift that would truly show my love and appreciation to her for not smothering me in my sleep or encouraging me to overdose on chips and salsa long ago.
My daughters had presented their Valentine’s wish lists (yes, wish lists) shortly after Christmas, so I had already financed their gifts. But my wife (who never asks for anything other than that I avoid playing with that app on my phone that makes 500 different bodily noises in church) was a harder nut to crack — an ironic metaphor coming from me, I know.
Then the clouds parted when I checked the mail recently to find, addressed to me, a special offer from Victoria’s Secret. Aha! I had done a little online shopping with this establishment before, and now my creepiness was being rewarded with a coupon for free underwear. When I first heard about Victoria’s Secret, I assumed the business was named after the legendary 19th-century English monarch, but once I realized what they sold, I knew I was wrong. Based on the historic images of Queen Victoria I’ve seen, she would have more likely done her shopping for the royal unmentionables at Sears — in the hardware section. Whoever this Victoria was, I owed her one for keeping her secret between us as I did my online shopping in the semi-privacy of my own bathroom (semi-privacy because I rarely manage to get the door shut and locked without interference from at least one child or pet.)
My internal rejoicing over my coupon was suddenly interrupted, however, when I read the horrifying phrase in fine print, “In-store only.” I didn’t even think men were allowed in that place. In fact, whenever I go the mall, I risk contact with the mall kiosk salespeople selling bespangled phone cases, Turkish beauty cream and Dippin’ Dots as I veer away and avert my eyes from the Victoria’s Secret entrance, festooned with mannequins who forgot to put on their pants. This time, though, I was determined I wouldn’t let my self-respect keep me from making a romantic gesture at a discount.
As I entered the store, my mind was racing with “what if’s.” What if one of my college students sees me? What will they think, and how will it affect my instructor evaluations? “Well, Mr. Graves teaches a great lesson on Cavalier poetry, even if he is a creepy weirdo who snoops around in the clearance bras.” Worse yet, what if someone from church sees me? Would it endanger my third-grade Sunday school teaching position? Would I be relegated to boy’s bathroom monitor or parking lot duty in the senior adult area?
Pushing these thoughts aside, I pressed on to find the items pictured on my coupon. Apparently, underwear at Victoria’s Secret is categorized according to how much of it is missing. At any moment, I expected to see a table display with nothing but spools of thread. When I finally found something I could identify as human garments, I then had to find the correct size, which involved rifling though storage bins below the display table and constantly looking over my shoulder like some kind of maniac to see if anyone was watching. Sure enough, it didn’t take long for a sales associate (wearing all black-presumably for my funeral) to show up and ask, “May I help you, sir?” just loudly enough for mall security to hear. I had no choice but to be completely honest, so I told her I was looking for house slippers and socks, to which she replied at full volume, “You’re in the wrong drawer. Those are the cheekies.”
Once I had finally made my selections with the help of the panty police and was making my way to check out, I did notice a few other men in the store with their wives. One appeared to be examining a hairline seam in the wallpaper while his wife browsed through the hiphuggers, and another was counting ceiling tiles while his wife demanded that he smell the glittered body sprays with her. One man who was there with his teenage daughters glanced at me with a defeated look of solidarity in his eyes, and I could have sworn he mouthed the words, “Please, help me!”
Unfortunately, I could offer no help to these fellow sufferers as my main goal at that point was to escape without further humiliation. Those hopes were dashed, though, when I saw the enormous checkout line. Of course, I was the only male in line, and I was determined to salvage what little masculinity I had left, which isn’t easy when you’ve got a handful of lingerie. I tried to be nonchalant and held them in my fist like a baseball, and not very convincingly since my little league baseball career mainly involved chewing on my glove in the outfield. While I stood there in disgrace, a woman behind me in line actually leaned forward to say, “Your wife certainly is lucky you shop for her here. My husband would never do that.” Of course he wouldn’t, I thought, it’s called dignity. She was probably just trying to convince herself that I wasn’t preparing for elective surgery so I could use my choice of bathrooms at Target.
The experience didn’t improve when I reached the cashier. I tried to conceal my embarrassment by making jokes. “Do you have a dressing room? Do these match my eyes?” The cashier just raised her eyebrows and avoided making eye contact. She was probably reaching for a panic button under the counter. Her response to my humor was to hand me my merchandise in a ridiculously scorching-pink bag that was specifically designed to humiliate me as I walked through the mall and out to my car. This bag of shame, which was billowing with fuchsia tissue, made me look like I was on my way to a baby shower for Lady Gaga.
As I sat in my car to recover with “We are the Champions” playing on the radio, I felt a wave of satisfaction come over me. I had swallowed my pride (and a heavily-iced slice of Great American Cookie Company cookie cake), saved some money and purchased something special for my wife for Valentine’s Day. In fact, I’m already planning next year’s Valentine’s gift. I wonder what she would think of some Turkish beauty cream and a Dippin’ Dots gift card?
— Jase Graves
Jason (Jase) Graves is a married father of three daughters, a lifelong resident of Longview, Texas, and a Texas A&M Aggie. He teaches English and serves as the department chair of language development at Kilgore College. Along with his professional teaching position, he teaches children’s Sunday school. He writes about home and family issues from a humorous perspective in his blog, “What’s Wrong With Daddy?” Other than writing, his primary hobby is sleeping as late as possible.
I had pulled in my driveway on a rainy September day and spotted large and small strips of brown cardboard, pink, black and white clothing, and clear plastic bags that had been ripped open and scattered across my back lawn.
It looked like someone had tossed debris in random directions as they rode on a merry-go-round. Closer inspection revealed that about 50 golf shirts littered my yard. Clear plastic bags protected most of them, but the rest were sopping and smeared with dirt.
I quickly bundled as many shirts as I could hold in my arms, and I hurried inside and dropped them on the Ping-Pong table. When I returned to collect more, I watched my giant Leonberger puppy hop among the clutter.
He grabbed a pink shirt, growled ferociously, and shook it side to side like he was playing Tug of War. Then he threw his head up and down and tossed it in the air. When it hit the ground, he pounced on it with muddy paws. I had to laugh, but I knew that these were the Adidas-golf shirts stitched with the company logo that my husband had ordered for his customers. I had heard that the company had paid about $2,000 for them. Unfortunately, he couldn’t give his customers shirts that took a spin in my washer, and I knew that we were in trouble.
After I picked up the rest of the shirts, I called my husband from my cell phone so that he wouldn’t know that I was home.
“You didn’t leave the dog out, did you?” I asked
“Yes, I left him out,” he said.
“Oh, did you forget that anything that the UPS truck drops off on the driveway belongs to him?”
“I didn’t think about that,” he said
“If he gets into anything, my conscience is clear, how’s yours? Have a great day and see you at dinner.”
This was the second or third time that my puppy had opened a UPS box. Previously, he had torn into canine heartworm pills and had eaten a six-month supply. I knew that the pills contained arsenic, and I had made a frantic call to the vet who assured me that his 120 pounds protected him from the poison.
Though I had never eaten one, heartworm medication smells and tastes like dog treats, and my dogs love them. Unfortunately, food and fun had rewarded my puppy for puncturing packages, and it was time to stop his behavior before he consumed his next carton.
After I picked up the rest of the shirts, I placed a cardboard box in my driveway and walked away watching him from nearby. When my puppy pounced on the box, I ran to him and grabbed his little black furry cheeks in my hands and put my face about two inches from his and screamed “NO!”
I yelled at him for about 15 seconds, and it worked. He never touched a box again.
It was a win-win. My puppy’s curiosity taught my husband pet-owner responsibility by making him consider the consequences of leaving him out without supervision, and our family and friends added to their wardrobe. Thank goodness we have that dog.
— Dottie Lopez
Dottie Lopez is a blogger who loves to travel and cook. She and her husband dine out weekly and travel to places like the Caribbean, Boca Raton, New Orleans, Boston, New York, Barcelona and Paris, collecting recipes on the way. She graduated from Loyola College with an English degree, and took a course at Towson University that emphasized writing restaurant reviews. The Baltimore Post Examiner published one of her reviews.
Mind you, I don’t know half of these people. They will never join me for a cup of tea or a glass of wine. I’ll never see most of them, except on social media. It dawned on after a conversation with my husband, Scott.
Me: This is terrible! Mary still has her migraine.
Scott: Mary who?
Me: I don’t remember her last name, but she has curly brown hair and an ugly dog.
Scott: Is she a neighbor?
Me: I don’t know where she lives.
Scott: So how do you know Mary?
Me: On social media. She’s just adorable. She has the best sense of humor.
Scott: So it’s sad news that Mary, who you don’t know, who has brown curly hair and an ugly dog, and lives somewhere, has a sense of humor, and a migraine, is worrying you?
Me: I think her car broke down, too. No wait…that was Jessica.
Scott: Who’s Jessica?
Me: She has short blonde hair, two cats and a parrot with a foul mouth.
Scott: Where does she live?
Me: I think she lives near the jungle. That’s where she got the bird.
Scott: So she just has a broken-down car, two cats and foul-mouth bird.
Me: And lots of mosquito bites from the jungle.
Scott: Which jungle? Is she in Africa?
Me: I might have her mixed up with Cary who likes to wash elephants in Tibet.
Scott: Are all of your friends animal lovers?
Me: I can’t be sure. There are thousands of friends. I can’t keep them straight.
Scott: So how are your local friends doing?
Me: I’m too busy to see them. Anything could happen on social media. I don’t want to miss anything. Last week while I grocery shopped, Miriam had a huge fight with her stupid husband.
Scott: How do you know he’s stupid? Maybe it was her fault.
Me: That’s ridiculous. Everyone knows not to mess with Miriam. She’ll chew you to pieces!
Scott: Why do you have a friend who chews people up?
Me: She has interesting political views. She posts them in Russian.
Scott: You don’t speak Russian. How do you know what she’s saying?
Me: I don’t, but I don’t want to get chewed up, so I always like what she says.
Scott: You have thousands of friends you don’t really know vs. local friends, who would love to spend time with you. Even if they don’t have foul-mouth birds, ugly dogs, speak Russian or chew up their husbands, I seem to remember they are your closest friends.
Me: Hmmmmmm … My social media friends will have to do without me for a while. I’m making time for my “real life” friends. You can find us in our beach chairs at Passa-Grille. We’ll be the loud ones laughing and sipping wine, while we watch for dolphins jumping the surf.
Me: Who knew I missed my real life friends so much!
— Anne Bardsley
Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Florida, with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. Her latest book, Angel Bumps, will be published by Mill House Publishing this spring. She blogs at www.annebardsley.com.