recess radio program

09/13/05
40 Years of Erma Bombeck
    by Ramona Caponegro

Even as a bored eleven-year-old stuck in the backseat of the car, I could not resist opening the pages of Erma Bombeck's When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It's Time to Go Home. Sure, it was my mother's book, but I was desperate for the smallest scrap of entertainment. And I found more in this intriguing title than I ever expected. By the time that we returned home, I had become a fan of Erma, raiding first my mother's bookshelves and then the library's for her works. Admittedly, this made for an unusual reading list, but, over the years, many of my friends also confessed to dipping into their mothers'collections of Bombeck, and it was only later--in high school or college--that we learned that her writing was generally considered trivial and even anti-feminist. This latter charge was unfair.

Erma Bombeck's first syndicated newspaper column appeared in 1965, and it continued to run regularly until her death in 1996. In her column and in 12 books, nine of which appeared on the New York Times Best Seller List, Bombeck often wrote about children and the daily trials and tribulations of rearing them, particularly as a stay-at-home mother and housewife, but she also campaigned actively for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, trying to prevent a divide between mothers working outside of the home and those working within it. Indeed, her writings about children detail experiences that are nearly universal to any American mother or, perhaps, father, whether she is describing the frustrations of playing the game of Twenty Questions with teenagers, or tossing together elementary school projects the night before they are due, or of enduring whole afternoons or sometimes days without the conversation of adults. Yet, even as she laughs at the swinging pendulum between mayhem and tedium that is part of child rearing, she reminds readers of the wonders of those years as well, recalling the handmade holiday gifts, the rare moments of quiet companionship around a campfire, the giggles of an excited child being settled into bed.

Whether Bombeck's subject matter is profound or trivial, it is as timely today as it ever was. In fact, the women and men who are embarking on parenthood will find in her books the basic materials from which their own lives will be soon be fashioned. As long as both the minutia and the magnificence of rearing children continue undiminished, Erma Bombeck's work will deserve a prominent place on our bookshelves and refrigerator doors and perhaps in the seat pocket of a car where a kid is anticipating a long ride.

Sources:
Bombeck, Erma. Forever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing from America's Favorite Humorist. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1996.
"ErmaMuseum.org." University of Dayton. 19 June 2005. http://www.ermamuseum.org/home.asp

Copyright 2005 Ramona Caponegro

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Thursday, 01-Sep-2005 10:43:15 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."