When a Dayton, Ohio newspaper editor read her work in the Kettering-Oakwood Times, he offered the new wife and mother a regular column. Erma Bombeck earned $50 a week for her articles that ran under the title, Operation Dustrag. Crafting stories on a typewriter suspended between cinder blocks in a cramped bedroom, she found humor in motherhood, housework, and marriage.
Of housework she wrote, “My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.”
Of motherhood: “In general, my children refused to eat anything that hadn’t danced on TV.”
Of romance: “The only reason I would take up jogging is to hear heavy breathing again.”
Of cooking: “Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times last twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.“
Of holidays: “There’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.”
Of travel: “Did you ever notice that the first piece of luggage on the carousel never belongs to anyone?”
Of fashion: “Sometimes I can’t figure designers out. It’s as if they flunked human anatomy.”
Of shopping: ” The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billon to one.”
Of dieting: “Seize the moment. Think of all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”
She famously stated, “Success is outliving your failures,” although one is hard-pressed to find failure at any level in her career. Nine hundred newspapers featured her column, At Wit’s End. Best-selling books like The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, All I Know About Animal Behavior I Learned In Loehmann’s Dressing Room, and I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression garnered million dollar contracts. Top women’s magazines featured her regularly and, for eleven years, Bombeck appeared twice weekly on ABC’s, Good Morning America.
A devout Catholic, she once said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything You gave me.‘ And so, she did.
In 1992, Bombeck was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 1996, a fatal kidney disorder led to a transplant. On April 22nd, she died from complications.
After learning of her impending mortality, she wrote:
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 talked 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.”
A humorist to the end, when asked what she would write on her tombstone, Bombeck did not hesitate. “I told you I was sick.