Monday, April 21, 2014

Remembering Erma

The woman who could make us laugh until we wet our pants, died eighteen years ago on April 22nd, and life for most of us has been a little less hilarious since then.

​If you're under the age of oh, maybe forty, you might not recognize the name Erma Bombeck (and who could forget a name like that?) ​If you aren’t familiar with her writing, do yourself a favor, go pick up a copy of her book, Forever Erma.  It will make you laugh, cry, think, relate, and look at the world in a whole new way.  It is a perfect collection of her many newspaper columns spanning more than thirty years.

​I grew up with our fridge plastered with cutout articles from Erma's weekly newspaper columns.  She kept my mother somewhat sane, along with most of the other mothers in the world.  And she died way too young, at sixty-nine.

Erma was an imperfect mother—something every mother is; only Erma was brave enough to admit it to the world in her witty, relatable way. Erma was your typical “housewife” in the late 1950’s, starting a family, relinquishing her career as a journalist, and focusing all her time and energy on her three young children and husband. 

When she reentered the writing world, Erma’s weekly columns were eventually published by 900 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.  And her books were as touching (I Want to Grow Hair… a book about children with cancer), as they were humorous (The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.)

She was an inspiration to so many, for so many different reasons.  For me, reading that Erma failed most of her literary assignments and was rejected for her college newspaper, I realized if she’d have let that be the end of her writing career—the world would’ve enjoyed a lot less laughter.

I could list so many great Erma quotes, but I’ll end with one of her weekly columns that has graced my parent’s fridge for more than thirty years. 

The column is titled “The Listener” from February 26, 1977, and is about an elderly woman trying to strike up a conversation with Erma while waiting to board a flight to Chicago.  Erma writes how exhausted she was---all she wanted was to relax and just read her book.  But the woman kept talking, Erma kept mindlessly nodding… until the elderly woman says “My husband’s body is on this plane.  We were married fifty-three years…”   

Erma writes:  “I don’t think I have ever detested myself more than I did at that moment.  Another human being was screaming to be heard and in desperation had turned to a cold stranger who was more interested in a novel than the real-life drama at her elbow.  All she needed was a listener.  No advice, wisdom… just a minute or two for someone to listen.  It seems rather incongruous that in a society of super-sophisticated communication (this was in 1977!) we often suffer from a shortage of listeners.”

So, in honor of Erma, let’s all put our phones down, spend a little less time on social networking, and LISTEN to the person next to us – whether it is our spouse, our child, a neighbor, a stranger. 

Erma would be so proud of us. 
Do you have a favorite Erma quote or column?  What is it?


Friday, April 11, 2014

Unforgettable... that's what I'm not!

My husband has a poor memory, and is well-known for it. I used to think it was just things I told him that he’d forget.  Then I learned he's been this way since he was young; probably from one-too-many hits to the head during his football playing years.  As frustrated as I get when he doesn’t remember something I said, I'm glad of one thing:  he doesn't remember the exact details of every single thing I’ve said and done.  I'd never win an argument if he did!

I recently watched a program about the very few people who are "gifted" with Hyperthymesia—a condition where the person possesses an extremely detailed autobiographical memory of everything—whether they want to remember it or not.

I’m thankful I don't know anyone with that "gift".  I don't want the cold hard facts of my words or actions played back to me.  Those times when a throbbing headache might have made me a crazy woman over some random little thing, or a time when I thought I was saying something witty or clever and instead it sounded nasty.  My glaring “bad days” would flash like a strobe light in my loved ones brains.  Think about it… who of us is so perfect that we want every single thing in our life remembered?

My children are now in their early thirties, but I can still look back at their younger years and wish I’d have said and done a few things different.  What if they could remember, in great detail, all those mom-flubs of mine?  Would they readily forgive them even if they couldn’t ever forget?

In the TV program featuring people with Hyperthymesia, one was a boy about twelve years old.  It showed a conversation with his father, talking about his son.  “When he woke up the other day, he said ‘dad, this is a sad day.’  I asked him why, and my son said ‘we had a fight on this day last year and you yelled at me.’”  How sad! I felt awful for both the father and the son.  I definitely do not want anyone who knows me to have a steel-trap memory like that.

Imagine having an argument wreck a certain date for you each year, like a festering boil that never goes away.  Yes, I realize the pendulum can also swing the other way, and wonderful events can bring rainbows and sunshine to that particular date too.  But, because I’m a worry-wart, I choose to focus on the bad “what-if’s?”

So far, I have many wonderful memories from my life.  Am I remembering the events the way they really happened?  Probably not.  I’m sure the words are skewed, the pictures in my head, a little off.  But because they are my memories, I can remember as I want—without the “facts” getting in the way.

How are your memories?  Sharp and splendid?  Vague?  However they are, I hope they've become sprinkled with glitter, a little distorted and softened around the edges... memories that bring warm fuzzies ~ and unforgettable happiness.