OPINION COLUMNS

Lessons from Erma

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, January 29, 2014

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Erma Bombeck.

She was funny. Even as a 10-year-old I recognized that.

And what better writing gig could there be? You live your life and then write about it.

Kristen Tribe

Kristen Tribe

What I didn’t realize is it’s hard to be funny, and it’s even harder to write funny.

Although Bombeck’s column, “Wit’s End,” had been published in newspapers for decades, I didn’t discover her until she was writing for Good Housekeeping magazine. I was an avid young reader and was devouring everything in our house, including my mom’s magazine collection and in turn, Bombeck’s columns.

I’m not sure why, as a 10-year-old in rural Texas, I identified with the writing of a 59-year-old wife and mother in Dayton, Ohio. I’d like to think I already had an appreciation for good writing or a sharp sense of humor, but more likely, I identified with her children and saw myself in the hijinks she described.

She could take the most mundane household chore or facet of child-rearing and turn it into a column that left readers feeling like they had just finished a conversation with their best friend.

She wasn’t afraid to poke fun at her own shortcomings and insecurities – a quality everyone appreciates and can relate to.

In addition to her columns, Bombeck published 15 books including one named for her column, “At Wit’s End,” as well as “Just Wait Until You Have Children of Your Own,” “I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression,” and “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank,” among others.

In college, I decided to take a stab at humor and wrote my own “book” for a writing class. This was also at the height of “Friends” popularity, so my collection of columns was somewhere between an Erma tribute and a weak sitcom pitch.

I cringe when I read them now.

As I’ve pursued various writing assignments and jobs, I came to the conclusion that even if I couldn’t be Erma, I could channel her and try to find the humor in every situation, no matter how dire or mundane.

Of course, now that I have children of my own I can relate to Bombeck’s work on an entirely different level. My family, like most, is a living example of a Bombeck column. I could never list all of my favorite Erma quotes, but here are a few that ring true:

“My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.”

“My kids always perceived the bathroom as a place where you wait it out until all the groceries are unloaded from the car.”

“One thing they never tell you about child raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child’s name and how old he or she is.”

“Housework is a treadmill from futility to oblivion with stop-offs at tedium and counter-productivity.”

And: “If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.”

I think that perfectly sums up Erma, and that’s what I really learned from her.

I can’t copy her writing style or her sense of humor. And I’ll never be funny on paper.

But I can emulate her outlook on life.

Kristen Tribe is the Messenger’s editor.

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