Erma Bombeck’s true gift

The Kansas City Star – April 26, 2012

Stacey Hatton Commentary

It was another classic April day in 2010.

The cherry trees were blossoming. I was searching in Lady Google Land for the next writing topic to suction to my eyeballs while my children were quietly demolishing art projects. My youngest was creating her “new family” with her medium of choice — ball point pen — on the freshly painted hallway walls, while my eldest was applying various shades of lipstick to the protuberances of her face and our white bathroom surfaces. Just another day…

Until my life took a dramatic turn when I discovered on a humor writers’ website that there’s a small conference in Dayton, Ohio, that only a few hundred people are allowed to attend: The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

“Well, smack my head with a window pane and call me Dorothy! I’ve got to be a part of that,” I yelped to my children, who were ignoring me as much as I was ignoring them.

I quickly scrolled through the website for the event date and — horror of all horrors — the workshop had filled up the previous week and I couldn’t attend for two more years. Who does that? Erma Bombeck’s people, that’s who, because they offer it every other year! The inhumanity of it all.

(Erma Bombeck, for my younger readers or those who grew up in a cave, wrote a syndicated column that ran in 900 newspapers and a dozen books — nine of which made the New York Times’ bestseller’s list. Not too shabby, so they gave her a conference after she sadly passed away in 1996.)

I spent those two years waiting with my head held high and carried on like she would have wanted me to. Every day I got out of bed, I fed and dressed my children, I bathed myself routinely — and sometimes even before school drop-off.

But friends, last week I attended my first Erma Bombeck conference. I’m not going to name drop, but there were some fancy schmancy folk there. A high-larious comedienne who wrote for Bill Cosby, Lily Tomlin and Jim Henson’s people, (OK, fine, her name is Adriana Trigiani and she is brilliant!) did a stand-up routine after dinner one evening and had the audience rolling with laughter. However, in mid-routine, something unexpected happened to me.

During a huge laugh, tears streamed down my face like I had been presented a Pulitzer prize. (I was actually sitting watermelon-seed-spitting distance from people who had won that award.) For 48 hours I had bathed in Erma’s words from guest speakers, listened to her children speak of their dearly missed mother and peacefully took in the lovely essence of the experience. Then during a laugh of all things, a menopausal whoosh came over me, accompanied by tears. A Technicolor flashback dropped me into my childhood, when I used to visit my grandmother’s home.

MeeMaw had a spare bedroom with one lone bookshelf that contained the Holy Bible, various paperback romance novels that I was forbidden to read and a hardcover copy of Erma’s, If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?

Every trip to MeeMaw’s house when I got bored, I sneaked away to that bookcase and grabbed Erma’s book, inhaled each joke and maked sure not to laugh so loud I would get forced to rejoin the family reunion. I knew at first read that Erma was the funniest writer I had experienced. I also knew it was the only hardcover MeeMaw had purchased, so it had to have been special to her, as well.

Sadly, while MeeMaw was alive, there never was any true bonding between us, but here I was years after her passing, with tears for the relative who first introduced me to my favorite writer. At that moment I knew MeeMaw and I shared common ground and apparently some genetic code. MeeMaw would have loved to have joined me at that workshop. Now I know, thanks to Erma Bombeck, what I have in common with my MeeMaw. The love of laughter and great writers. What a gift!

Good thing I didn’t grab for those trashy romance novels instead. I would have missed out on so much brilliant writing — and last weekend would have been the pits!

Stacey Hatton is a pediatric registered nurse, writer and public speaker. Her humor blog can be found at


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2 thoughts on “Erma Bombeck’s true gift

  1. Darlene, interesting how we shared the love of the same book and found each other at the conference! Best to you and your writing…Stacey

  2. Stacey:
    I remember asking you what was wrong…It came on you so suddenly. Laughter, then tears. I get it, though. I get it.
    And the book “If Life…?” is the only hard cover book my Mom owned; she loved Erma and I learned to love Erma from reading the same book.
    It was a terrific conference and I met some real quality people, like you!

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