Remembering Erma Bombeck


(Erma Bombeck, February 21, 1927 – April 22, 1996)

Hiking into the hills with my dog Buddy gives me a chance to empty my mind of worries and focus more on things like who I am and what my future may hold.

Deep thoughts, I know, but as I put one foot in front of the other, breathe harder and climb higher, I begin to feel like I can do anything I want, if I just decide to do it.

The other day, on such a walk I was thinking of the people who have inspired me as a writer, the ones who have stood as examples of success and encouragement, and who taught me that that I can “just do it” if I have the desire. Of course, the first to come to mind was my father, a writer himself who was a constant source of encouragement, loving critique and guidance. Even today, two and a half years after he died, I find daily reasons to believe his wisdom and teachings are still with me.

Then, Erma Bombeck popped into my head.

I’ve been thinking about her a bit recently since I entered a story in the annual “Erma Bombeck Writing Competition” last month. It pains me to say that a whole generation of people don’t even know who Erma was. Erma was an author, syndicated columnist, a feminist and a truly funny woman who was a great inspiration to many. Through her writing she captured ordinary life in a extraordinary, humorous and unique way.

One of the most inspiring stories for me is the one Erma tells herself of how she was encouraged to be a writer. Three words – “You can write.” – uttered by her college professor gave her the confidence to go forward with her dream of writing. She talks about it here .

Remembering Erma

I first met Erma and her husband Bill when I lived in Phoenix, Arizona. Both my father and Erma were journalists and writers, and that professional relationship led to a long social friendship as bombeck2

I also grew to know Erma and Bill through my work with the American Red Cross in Phoenix. Bill Bombeck was the volunteer Chairman of the chapter’s Disaster Services for many years, and he and Erma attended all the fundraisers and special events. I was the public relations person for the Red Cross, and thus, had the pleasure of shooting photos of all the attendees at every event and writing stories about them.

Erma Note4Over the years, I shot so many special event photos with Erma and Bill that she wrote me a note once saying, “I cannot think of any lens I would rather look into than one with Patti Murphy on the other side. She has more pictures of me than my mother, and I always have my clothes on. In my mother’s I don’t.”

Erma was one of the most naturally funny people I’ve ever met. My mom tells a story about a dinner party that Erma was hosting and my mother called her that afternoon to reconfirm what time to show up. “If you’re like me,” mom said to Erma, “you’re probably running around  doing last minute arrangements.” Without missing a beat, Erma replied, “Are you crazy? I am so insecure about entertaining that I set the table two weeks ago and wrapped it in Saran Wrap!”

. . . . .

Losing Erma

After my hike in the hills the other day, I went home and looked up Erma online and was reminded that she died on April 22, 1996 – this week 18 years ago. I remember crying when I heard on the news that day that our funny lady was gone.

Over my writing desk hangs a copy of one of Erma’s columns that she wrote probably a quarter century ago titled, “Quit dreaming of authorship and set sail for success.” I’ve schlepped it around with me all these years, and when I start to feel insecure about my writing or fearful of failure, I read it…again. In it she wrote:

  • “The desire to write is like a nagging mother. It follows you into marriage, surfaces after the birth of children, interrupts you when you’re busy and makes you feel guilty when you are having fun.”
  • “Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from aspiring writers who have questions. “What if I fail?” (What if you succeed?”)”
  • “The wannabe writer has to commit by putting all those hopes and dreams on the line. It’s time to get the book written.”
  • “A ship is safe in port – that but that’s not where a ship was meant to be. It was meant to challenge the elements, ride the high seas and risk being sunk. Desire just doesn’t cut it.”
Thanking Erma

I’d like to make this week “Erma Bombeck Gratitude Week” on this blog. I will post something each day in recognition of all she has done for so many writers and women over the decades.

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