Next month, I will be attending the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
This is very cool for me because I have always enjoyed Erma’s writing. It is often heartwarming, always pure comic genius, and timeless. Long before I could relate my personal life experiences to her writing, I thought she was hilarious.
At the age of 50, I have a greater appreciation for her insight and her use of humor to celebrate the ups, and cope with the downs, of life. Life is short, but some days sure seem long. The ability to see the funny in everyday life is a gift.
Even Erma’s views on the subject of humor were insightful. Some of her more famous quotes about the importance of humor are:
If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.
He who laughs….last.
When humor goes, there goes civilization.
I have a sentimental attachment to her writing, because it reminds me of my Mom. When I was growing up, one of us would often ask the other, “Did you read Erma today?” Together, we laughed about her column, read her books and watched her segments on Good Morning America.
During the summer, we also tuned in at 9:00 a.m. to watch The Phil Donahue Show together. Oh, the education a teen could gain from The Phil Donahue Show back then. It was THE source for information, because he covered all the thought-provoking and juicy topics.
So, Phil and Erma are forever linked together in my mind. Not only because they are former neighbors who had a mutual admiration and affection for each other, but because they were involved in a sort of 1970’s Midwestern love triangle with my mom and me. Nothin’ weird here, this was a triangle of appreciation and adoration.
We enjoyed Phil, and we loved Erma. Erma and Phil loved and adored each other.
In light of this, it is especially cool for me that Phil Donahue will be the keynote speaker at the The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
During a visit to my hometown over the holidays, I decided to tell my Mom that I had gotten into the workshop. The former version of my Mom would have been so tickled about this. I knew the current version of my Mom, with advanced dementia, would not fully grasp what I was saying. I also knew she would have absolutely no memory of the conversation, just a minute later.
So, as silly as it may be, I still wanted to share this news with her, and just enjoy the moment.
One afternoon I sat in her room, reading the Christmas cards she had received. Some included photos or letters. (For anyone who continues to remember nursing home residents with greeting cards, may God Bless you for this kindness.) We passed the cards, photos, and notes back and forth. She was able to fondly recall at least a small detail about each friend or family member.
She was “tracking” fairly well, so I decided to share my news with her. As we chatted, she was lying on her side, atop her bed, like a teenage girl. Her elbow bent, her head propped up in her hand.
“Mom, do you remember reading Erma Bombeck?”
“Oh GAWD, yes. She’s SO funny!”
“Well, do you remember my friend, Terri?”
“Well, of course. How is she?”
I went on to explain in very simple terms, with no details, that Terri and I would both be attending the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, Ohio.
I never even got to the part about Phil Donahue.
My Mom sat up, and said, “Really? You’re kidding?”
Wow! Had I really picked the perfect lucid moment?
Then she said, “We should call Grandma! She loves Erma, too! She’ll go with us!”
Chatting with dementia, the trickster, is sort of what I imagine doing improvisational comedy is like: you never know which direction your partner will go next. You need to be on your toes, open to anything, think quickly, and just go with it.
We both smiled at the idea.
It was a lovely moment.
I went with it.
“Sure, that’s a great idea, Mom!”
As she slowly counted off on her right hand, she said “That’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 of us.”
Yep. Me, Terri, Mom, Grandma….and Erma gettin’ away for the weekend.
Of course, only three of us are actually alive, and only two of us are registered for the workshop.
Yet in some way, I feel like all five us will in fact be there.
Laughter rises out of tragedy when you need it the most, and rewards you for your courage.
– Erma Bombeck