Erma Bombeck made an appearance of sorts near her hometown of Dayton recently, and will be in other Ohio cities soon. The “of sorts” refers to the fact that the celebrated humor columnist has been deceased for more than two decades.
So, how did the famous writer who elevated the American housewife from invisible fixture to celebrity come back to life? Through the expertise of Chautauqua performer, Susan Marie Frontczak.
Frontczak was at the Troy Hayner Cultural Center on June 7, for her Hooked on Humor presentation. However, it was her captivating June 5 Chautauqua living history performance as Erma Bombeck at the Hance Pavilion in Piqua’s Fountain Park that initially hooked me.
After all, if you are an “older” female journalist like me, you can’t help but be impressed by Bombeck’s successful and pioneering career. Born in Dayton in 1927, by 1942 Erma became a copygirl at the Dayton Herald during her high school years, and eventually graduated from the University of Dayton in 1949.
It wasn’t smooth sailing for the famous writer, who went on to have her syndicated column, “At Wit’s End” appear in 900 newspapers nationwide and write more than a dozen books, many bestsellers. Ironically, during her first year of college at Ohio University, she was told she should give up her dream of being a writer. Thankfully, a University of Dayton professor later countered this when he encouraged her with three profound words, “You can write.”
Referring to her successful column writing formula, Bombeck instructed, “Hook ‘em with a lead. Hold ‘em with laughter, Exit with a quip they won’t forget.” Yes, Erma was a wordsmith extraordinaire who put a face on the then-suburban wife’s devalued plight of running a household and mothering children, and who made people laugh while doing it.
Personally, though, it wasn’t her humor that inspired me most, but a poignant poem she penned titled, “If I had my life to live over.” For many years, I carried a newspaper clipping of the poem in my billfold until the paper turned yellow, and became so brittle from handling that I finally had to throw it away.
Seeing Erma come to life again through Frontzcak’s Chautauqua performance reminded me of the poem, now memorialized in the book, “Eat More Cottage Cheese and Less Ice Cream: Thoughts on Life from Erma Bombeck.” I’m sharing it with permission of the Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency:
Someone asked me the other day if I had my life to live over would I change anything.
My answer was no, but then I thought about it and changed my mind.
If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.
Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I’d have cherished every minute of it and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.
I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.
I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.
I would have eaten popcorn in the “good” living room and worried less about the dirt when you lit the fireplace.
I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.
I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored.
I would have sat cross-legged on the lawn with my children and never worried about grass stains.
I would have cried and laughed less while watching television … and more while watching real life.
I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband which I took for granted.
I would have eaten less cottage cheese and more ice cream.
I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.
I would never have bought ANYTHING just because it was practical/wouldn’t show soil/ guaranteed to last a lifetime.
When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now, go get washed up for dinner.”
There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.
Erma Bombeck may have left us in 1996, but her wit and wisdom live on in many of our hearts.
For more information about upcoming Ohio Chautauqua events, visit www.ohiohumanities.org/ohio-chautauqua/
Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.