After reading Fatherhood by Bill Cosby, I looked for another book of short pieces to keep on the bedstand. I inherited a number of Erma Bombeck titles from my mother, so I chose one of them. I wondered why Erma Bombeck doesn’t get much acclaim or even mention only a decade after her death and why I lump Bill Cosby in with Mark Twain as a great American humorist, but Erma Bombeck doesn’t percolate up to collective memory. Well, this book explained it.
It’s an amusing collection, but Erma Bombeck was a suburban housewife whose great success came writing newspaper columns in the 1970s and 1980s. Her columns in this book really tie themselves to that era and concern, so I cannot relate to them with the depth that I can to Bill Cosby or even to Andy Rooney. Sadly.
This is not my first trip through some of Bombeck’s works. I read some of them, perhaps even the same volumes, when I was in middle school and maybe early high school since my mother had them around and I didn’t have a library of several thousand volumes to read through at that time. Did I say middle school? I might have read some of them as early as elementary school, since it might have been before I moved to Missouri for the first time.
I remember one of the columns from this book, a column about a mother who died at 48 and left each of three boys a letter that said, “Don’t tell your brothers, but I loved you the best.” When I first read it, I had a mother. Now I have my mother’s book. There’s something poignant, self-consciously so, in that. One of the late of-the-cuff remarks in this book, about mothers who throw out their right arms when they step hard on the brakes, struck me. I’d teased my mother about that when she did that to me into my 30s, as though her thin arm was going to save me. But it’s an impulse many mothers who grew up in the era before mandatory seat belts and rear car seats must have had. It will be meaningless to kids these days, but I remembered it well, the karate chop to the chest in a tense automotive situation.
Will you like this book? Probably more if you’re over the age of 35 and can see your mother in it or see yourself in it if you’re over 60. Kids today and adults in the future will look at the sitatutions therein as though they were reading “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” So maybe someday she’ll be something of Mark Twain. But probably not, as humor columnists fall out of favor and are forgotten.
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