Forever, Erma: Best Loved Writing from America's Favorite Humorist

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A lot of columnists write words to end up in the Congressional Record or on the president's desk or at the Pulitzer Committee's door. But Erma Bombeck went us all one better. Her words won her the permanent place of honor in American life: the refrigerator door. Now we are again at wit's end."--Ellen Goodman

"Erma Bombeck may be gone, but she'll live forever in her columns. A fitting finale for the much-loved...

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Forever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing From America's Favorite Humorist

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Overview


A lot of columnists write words to end up in the Congressional Record or on the president's desk or at the Pulitzer Committee's door. But Erma Bombeck went us all one better. Her words won her the permanent place of honor in American life: the refrigerator door. Now we are again at wit's end."--Ellen Goodman

"Erma Bombeck may be gone, but she'll live forever in her columns. A fitting finale for the much-loved humorist." --Booklist

"Forever, Erma is a modest measure of our loss." --The New York Times Book Review

Erma Bombeck's own aversion to producing books of column collections over the years made the family and publisher of the hardcover Forever, Erma apprehensive about its public acceptance.

The pubic proved Erma's misgivings were unfounded. Within nine weeks of the publication date, the book had climbed to number three on The New York Times best-seller list. It remained on the list for a total of fifteen weeks. Over 400,000 copies had been bought by her loyalists and their friends and families.

The success of the hardcover edition expands Erma's literary legacy. Now the paperback edition of Forever, Erma will reach new generations. We all see ourselves in her words.

Only the emotional spectrum of this book matches its topical diversity. One's feelings are reminiscent of the same warmth and tenderness only Erma could portray, and readers will be delighted to find their favorite selections. Included with 188 other columns are her first, "Children Cornering the Coin Market," from January 1965, and her last one, "Let's Face It," from April 1996.

As in the hardcover edition, a tribute chapter includes remembrances from some of Erma's family, friends, and colleagues, including Phil Donahue, Art Buchwald, and Ellen Goodman.

Readers around the world loved Erma Bombeck and cherished every one of her columns. Forever, Erma, will give them a classic way to hold on to this most gifted writer. As Phil Donahue said, "We shall never see the likes of her again. She was real and she brought us down to earth--gently, generously, and with brilliant humor. When the scholars gather hundreds of years from now to learn about us, they can't know it all if they don't read Erma.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The housewife columnist whose gently subversive humor has won her a prominent niche in American culture is commemorated in this collection of over 120 of her most popular and memorable essays. Bombeck, whose bestsellers include All I Know About Animal Behavior I Learned in Loehmann's Dressing Room, died in 1996. Trained as a newspaper reporter, she honed her skills into a unique blend of humorous social commentary based on the quotidian passage of domestic life and an empathy with women in their relations with the larger world, including spouses and children. Much honored, quoted and sought after for advice, Bombeck had an infectious sense of human absurdity that is highlighted in this collection celebrating her 25-year career as a low-key enforcer of the positive in the face of adversity, whether it be her own terminal illness, or "missing socks, promiscuous hangovers and other unexplained phenomena" that were grist for her reporter's mill. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Women lost a champion and the world lost a humorist when Bombeck died at age 59 in April of this year. Exiting life as selflessly and graciously as she lived it (she refused to use her celebrity status to "jump the line" for a much-needed kidney transplant), Bombeck left us more than 4500 columns, 12 books, countless public appearances, and a glimmer of optimism intrinsic to her writings. Her latest book takes readers on a journey through a collection of her favorite writings compiled by Donna Martin (formerly a vice president of Andrews & McMeel) and journalist Alan McDermott with the assistance of Bombeck's secretary, Norma Born; Bombeck's husband, Bill; and Bombeck herself. This anthology runs the gamut of Bombeck's career, both chronologically and thematically, with tributes from Ellen Goodman and Art Buchwald, among others. Many public libraries already possessing Bombeck's works (most recently, All I Know About Animal Behavior I Learned in Loehmann's Dressing Room, HarperCollins, 1996) will want to make their collection complete with this selection.Kay Meredith Dusheck, Univ. of Iowa, Iowa City
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780836226843
  • Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
  • Publication date: 11/1/1996
  • Pages: 294
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.31 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author


Beloved for her wry yet warm look at family life, Erma Bombeck was America's favorite humorist at the time of her death in 1996. Ten of her 13 books, including Forever, Erma, appeared on the New York Times best-seller list. She claimed her first fiction writing was the weather forecast in the Dayton Herald. Her favorite food was pasta, and her hobby was dust.
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Table of Contents

Foreword  

xi

Paint Tint Caper--September 4, 1965  

1

Birds, Bees and Guppies--January 6, 1966  

2

Good Neighbor Policy--May 16, 1966  

3

Waking Up Momma--July 4, 1966  

5

When Last Child Goes to School--September 5, 1966  

6

Surviving Motherhood--September 1966  

7

Costume for the School Play--May 29, 1968  

8

Outgrowing Naps--August 14, 1968  

9

A Mother's Eye--August 18, 1968  

11

Confirmed Shouter--March 5, 1969  

12

Youngest Child Tries to Tell a Joke--May 23, 1969  

13

No More Oatmeal Kisses--January 29, 1969  

14

"Are We Rich?"--June 3, 1971  

15

When God Created Mothers--May 12, 1974  

16

Motherhood-Love and Laughter--September 1974  

18

How to Communicate with Toddlers--December 1974  

19

The Twelve Days of School--September 1975  

20

"Things My Mother Taught Me" Assignment--September 28, 1975  

21

A Baby's Bill of Rights--November 13, 1975  

22

Happiness and Motherhood--April 24, 1980  

23

Disposable Diapers--February 8, 1990  

24

Spit--March 18, 1990  

26

Children Cornering the Coin Market--January 5, 1965  

28

My Son, the President--October 30, 1965  

30

"I Don't Want to Go to Grandma's"--May 1966  

31

Going Deaf from Rock `n' Roll--January 23, 1967  

32

Daughter Learning to Drive--July 18, 1969  

34

Phone Messages--October 22, 1969  

35

Working Mom's Telephone Crisis--May 28, 1971  

36

I've Always Loved You Best--July 20, 1971  

38

Mike and the Grass--May 1973  

39

Live-in Neighbor Child--September 30, 1973  

40

Kids: Life's Greatest Mysteries--July 29, 1975  

41

I Loved You Enough to  

--January 6, 1976

 

42

Parents Get Apartment--June 6, 1976  

43

Children Are Like Kites--May 15, 1977  

44

Summertime Blues--August 3, 1978  

46

Local or Toll Call Girlfriend?--February 1, 1979  

47

Marching to a Different Drummer--November 3, 1979  

48

Parenthood Is Worth the Risks--September 2, 1980  

49

Favorite Child--May 10, 1981  

50

The First Day of School--September 3, 1981  

51

Third Child--November 5, 1981  

52

Mother-Son Dialogue--January 13, 1987  

53

Different Mother for Each Child--June 26, 1990  

55

Soap Operas--June 1, 1965  

56

Lost identity--September 18, 1965  

57

When the Memory Starts to Go--June 9, 1967  

59

Subversive Window Washer--September 29, 1967  

60

Sewing-Basket Blues--November 21, 1969  

61

Ironing--June 10, 1971  

63

The Mother Who Drives--June 11, 1972  

64

Making Paycheck Stretch--October 1972  

65

A Housewife's Prayer--October 1974  

66

Mom Last to Get Cold--October 16, 1975  

67

"I Was 37 Years Old at the Time"--August 7, 1976  

69

Dumpy Paper Dress--March 31, 1977  

70

Handbags--October 25, 1977  

71

Bizarre Accidents--November 29,1981  

72

Turning into Mother--June 1, 1989  

73

Get Well for Mom--April 3, 1966  

75

Cleaning Out the Attic--December 28, 1966  

76

Interpreting the Checkbook--April 24, 1967  

78

Men Have a Six-Word Limit--July 23, 1969  

79

Car Hits a Tree--January 24, 1971  

80

Daytime Husband, Nocturnal Wife--March 22, 1971  

81

Keeping Track of Valuable Papers--June 1972  

83

Husband Born Late--October 8, 1972  

84

Husband Dreads Hammering Nails in the Wall--November 23, 1972  

85

My Husband the Prince of Darkness--February 20, 1973  

86

Husband Has Clothes for All Occasions--May 8, 1979  

87

Jim Is Retired--May 19, 1985  

89

My Social Life--November 3, 1985  

90

Clippers--April 26, 1987  

91

Car Heater--December 11, 1988  

92

Husband Reads at Night--March 14, 1989  

93

Husband Preempts His Christmas Gifts--December 10, 1992  

95

Household Hints--September 11, 1965  

97

The Home Handyman--January 18, 1966  

98

The American Clothesline--April 20, 1967  

100

Getting Locked Out--July 8, 1968  

101

No Pencil in the House--February 17, 1969  

102

The Husband Who Prunes--September 15, 1969  

104

Garage Sales--June 6, 1971  

105

Relaxing with "Country Gardens"--October 26, 1975  

106

Working Wife/Maid Communication--September 28, 1982  

107

VCR--January 24, 1985  

108

"What Time Is It?"--November 2, 1986  

109

Boston Fern--November 13, 1986  

111

Repairmanese--March 3, 1988  

112

Eyeglasses in Every Room--June 27, 1989  

113

Weekends--March 15, 1990]TC1  

114

Changing of the Closets--May 1, 1990  

115

Swinging Was Respectable on Front Porch--September 22, 1994  

117

Martha Stewart--September 27, 1995  

118

When God Created Fathers--June 17, 1973  

120

Consolidating Cereal, Ice Cream, Cookies, etc.--December 8, 1974  

121

Stepfather--January 6, 1980  

122

Daddy Doll Under the Bed--June 21, 1981  

123

Speak "Thermostat"--December 19, 1982  

125

New Generation of Fathers--June 21, 1987  

126

The Instead-of Cookbook--November 4, 1965  

128

Weight Watchers Dilemma--April 27, 1972  

129

Burning Calories--August 18, 1974  

130

Dinner Is Ready--May 24, 1977  

132

Dieting Is a Losing Battle--March 21, 1978  

133

Seven Days to Make Garbage--May 3, 1981  

134

Thawing Hamburger--March 9, 1982  

135

Fruitcake--December 11, 1986  

136

Doggie Bags--August 25, 1987  

138

Spices--July 26, 1988  

139

Older People Only Talk about Food--May 24, 1990  

140

Leftovers That Refuse to Die--December 17, 1991  

141

Leftover Halloween Candy--December 1, 1994  

143

Tooth Traps--June 4, 1995  

144

Daughter Returns to College--January 28, 1972  

146

Picking Up the Tennis Ball--July 24, 1975  

147

Empty Nest Overrated--October 1,1978  

148

Parents Covet Kids' Closets--August 9, 1979  

149

"Not to Worry"--July 15, 1984  

150

My Son's Answering Machine--June 22, 1986  

152

Remembering Children's Names and Ages--June 14, 1987  

153

Kids Show Up for Dinner--July 19, 1990  

154

Parent-Child Bonding--January 13, 1991  

155

When Grown Kids Come to Visit--December 20, 1995  

157

Grandma and Funerals--November 20, 1968  

159

Love Is a Grandparent--November 3, 1974  

160

The Volunteer--June 24, 1975  

161

Mother Earned Her Wrinkles--February 8, 1976  

163

The Listener--February 26, 1977  

164

Mothers of Disabled Children--May 11, 1980  

165

Heroes--August 2, 1981  

166

Caregivers--November 26, 1991  

167

Mothers Who Have Lost a Child--May 14, 1995  

168

Help Thy Neighbor--August 25, 1968  

170

Men Never Ask Directions--August 24, 1969  

171

The Last Family Vacation--June 1972  

172

Parking the Family Trailer--June 1972  

173

Showing Slides of Vacation--February 26, 1974  

175

Continental Breakfast--August 17, 1975  

176

Elusive Rest Area--July 11, 1976  

177

Seeing America by Headlights--September 16, 1980  

178

Eleven-Piece Vacation Wardrobe--July 21, 1981  

180

Traveling with Tripod--July 27, 1982  

181

Alaska Cruise and Smoked Salmon--April 21, 1987  

182

Children of Christmas--December 25, 1969  

184

Kids Are Sick  

It Must Be Christmas--December 18, 1970

 

185

Family Christmas Newsletter--December 9, 1971  

186

Christmas Chimes--December 23, 1976  

187

Son Home for the Holidays?--January 2, 1977  

189

Halloween Challenges "No Talent" Mother--October 30, 1979  

190

Grandfather's Solitude--December 25, 1979  

191

No One Diets on Thanksgiving--November 26, 1981  

192

"Love Is" List for a Gusto Husband--February 14, 1982  

193

Thanksgiving and Families--November 25, 1982  

194

Memory Tree--December 22, 1983  

195

Christmas Newsletter Winner--December 12, 1985  

197

Undecorating the Christmas Tree--January 1, 1987  

198

"Equal" Christmas Gifts--December 22, 1994  

199

Entertaining--November 18, 1965  

201

Mouse in the Pump Organ--January 13, 1971  

202

My Husband Builds a Fire--December 1971  

203

"Come Casual"--April 1975  

205

Party Hostess Loneliest Person in the World--September 1975  

206

College Reunion--November 3, 1977  

207

Trip to the Rest Room--October 25, 1979  

208

Pepper Mill Experience--December 18, 1983  

209

Grandma's Grudges--May 1, 1984  

210

Houseguests--August 6, 1958  

211

Restaurant Conversation--October 20, 1985  

213

Hors d' Oeuvres--December 5, 1985  

214

Family Goodbyes--July 28, 1994  

215

Planning Birthday Celebrations--November 8, 1994  

217

Socks Lost in Washer--May 28, 1969  

219

Girdles--May 18, 1970  

220

Creeping Underwear--December 1972  

222

Socks Still Lost in Washer--April 1, 1973  

223

Pantskirt in the Rest Room--September 1973  

224

Coat Hangers--September 18, 1984  

225

No Luck with Pantyhose--November 10, 1985  

226

Crockpot Sock--March 20, 1990  

228

The Restless Car--October 1, 1995  

229

Talent--June 6, 1966  

231

Even Charity Has Its Bounds--January 2, 1967  

232

Time--November 17, 1971  

233

Women Are Financial Giants--February 19, 1980  

235

Junk Drawers--January 17, 1984  

236

Box Savers--December 20, 1984  

237

I'm-Not-Going Syndrome--October 28, 1986  

238

Fashion Trends Pioneer--October 11, 1987  

240

Shoulder Pads--December 1, 1988  

241

Comfortable Shoes--September 14, 1989  

242

Seize the Moment--June 25, 1991  

243

Brain Capacity Is Limited--July 4, 1993  

245

Let's Face It, Not All Ruts Need Repair--April 17, 1996  

246

Tributes  </ font>

248

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First Chapter

Hello, Young Mothers

Paint Tint Caper--September 4, 1965

Once . . . just once . . . I'd like to be dressed for an emergency.

I don't mean like my grandmother used to warn: "That is not underwear to be hit by a car in." I mean just to be glued together, so you're not standing in a hospital hallway in a sweatshirt (PROPERTY OF NOTRE DAME ATHLETIC DEPT.) and a pair of bedroom slippers.

In a way, it's almost as if fate were waging a cruel war and you're in the middle of it. Not only are you (a) bleeding to death, (b) grimacing in pain, and (c) worried half out of your skull, you are also plagued with the fear that the nurses in East Wing C are passing the hat to adopt you and your family for Thanksgiving.

Take our Paint Tint Caper, for example. Our small son climbed into bed with us early one morning and smiled broadly. I'm intuitive. I'm a mother. I sensed something was wrong. His teeth were blue. He had bitten into a tube of paint tint. Now if you're visualizing some sweet, tousled-hair boy in his fire-engine pajamas, forget it. This kid looked like he was being raised by werewolves!

In addition to his blue teeth, he was wearing a pair of training pants and his father's old T-shirt, which caught him loosely around the ankles. This was obviously no time to be proud or to explain that I was a few years behind in the laundry. We rode like the wind to the emergency ward of the hospital, where the doctor checked over his blue teeth so calmly I thought there was something wrong with mine because they were white.

"What kind of paint tint?" he asked clinically.

"Sky blue," we said shakily, pointing to the color on his T-shirt.

"I can see that," he said irritably. "I mean, what did it contain chemically?"

My husband and I stared at each other. Normally, you understand, we don't let a can of paint into the house until we've committed the chemical contents and their percentages to memory. This one had escaped us somehow.

While they were pumping his stomach, we took a good look at ourselves. My husband was in a pair of thrown-over-the-chair denims and his pajama top. I was wearing yesterday's house dress with no belt, no hose, and a scarf around my uncombed hair. I was clutching a dish towel, my only accessory. We looked like a family of Okies who had just stepped into the corridor long enough to get a tin can of water for our boiling radiator.

There are other stories, other dilemmas, but the characters never change. We're always standing around, unwashed, uncurled, harried, penniless, memory gone, no lipstick, no hose, unmatched shoes, and using the dirtiest cloth in the house to bind our wounds.

Makes you want to plan your next accident, doesn't it?

Birds, Bees and Guppies-January 6, 1966

The sex education of a child is pretty important. None of us wants to blow it.

I have a horror of ending up like the woman in the old joke who was asked by her child where he came from and, after she explained all the technical processes in a well-chosen vocabulary, he looked at her intently and said, "I just wondered. Mike came from Hartford, Connecticut."

I figured I had the problem whipped the day my son took an interest in fish. What better way to explain the beautiful reproduction cycle of life than through the animal kingdom? We bought two pairs of guppies and a small aquarium. That was our first mistake. We should either have bought four males and a small aquarium, four females and a small aquarium or two pairs and a reservoir. I had heard of population explosions before, but this was ridiculous! The breakfast conversation ran something like this:

"What's new at Peyton Place by the Sea?" inquired my husband.

"Mrs. Guppy is e-n-c-e-i-n-t-e again," I'd spell.

"Put a little salt in the water. That'll cure anything," he mumbled.

"Daddy," said my son, "that means she's pregnant."

"Again!" choked Daddy. "Can't we organize an intramural volleyball game in there or something?"

The first aquarium begat a second aquarium with no relief in sight. "Are you getting anything out of your experiences with guppies?" I asked delicately one afternoon.

"Oh, yeah, they're neat," my son exclaimed enthusiastically.

"I mean, now that you've watched the male and the female, do you understand the processes that go into the offspring? Have you noticed the role of the mother in all this?"

"Yeah," he said, bright-eyed. "You oughta see her eat her babies."

We added a third aquarium, which was promptly filled with saltwater and three pairs of seahorses.

"Now, I want you to pay special attention to the female," I instructed. "The chances are it won't take her long to be with child, and perhaps you can even see the birth."

"The female doesn't give birth, Mom," he explained. "The male seahorse gives birth."

I felt myself smiling, perhaps anticipating a trend. "Ridiculous," I said, "females always give birth."

The male began to take on weight. I thought I saw his ankles swell. He became a mother on the twenty-third of the month.

"That's pretty interesting," said my son. "I hope I'm not a mother when I grow up, but if I am, I hope my kids are born on land."

I had blown it. I knew I would.

Good Neighbor Policy--May 16, 1966

Occasionally, I will overhear a woman boast, "Well, I don't neighbor. I'm much too busy to be running in and out, drinking coffee and making small talk with a bunch of women!"

Well, who wouldn't prefer making small talk with a bunch of men! But if I have to compromise, I'll take neighbors. If it hadn't been for neighbors, I'd have flunked my ink blot tests years ago!

When the children were quite small we moved into a new house that was rather isolated. (Rather isolated! These people had never seen a wheel until we unpacked the kids' tricycles.) After three days of explaining to a five-year-old why birds don't get electrocuted when they sit on telephone wires, watching a three-year-old eat egg yolks with his fingers and listening to a three-month-old cry around the clock, I was ready to chuck the whole mess and trade them all for a ride in a shiny new car with a vanilla salesman.

Enter my first neighbor--a woman who spoke in complete, coherent sentences, who ate with a knife and fork and who only cried at weddings. I couldn't help myself. In a dramatic gesture, I bolted the door and threw my body across it to prevent her exit. She understood.

Since then, I've had some winners and some losers. (I had one who would have borrowed my eyeballs if they had fit into a cup and survived the trip across the lawn.) If I were to make a composite of the perfect neighbor, I'd have to list a good neighbor as one who:

1. Doesn't call you up and ask you why your son wants to borrow 30 pounds of cement. Just says "No!" and calls the police.

2. Doesn't whip in and out of your utility room like Doris Day just to tell you your bleach is weak and your laundry second-rate.

3. Doesn't snicker when you unpack eight bags of groceries, then borrow coffee, butter and potatoes for your dinner.

4. Doesn't sulk in your privet hedge when you borrow ice, card tables and silverware for a party to which she hasn't been invited.

5. Doesn't feel she has the right to comment on your relatives just because she hears about them from you four hours out of every day.

6. Doesn't deny she knows you well enough to write a bestselling novel about you but not well enough to walk into your house without knocking.

Yes, sir, you show me a woman who doesn't neighbor--and I'll show you a woman who gets talked about by the ones who do!

Waking Up Momma--July 4, 1966

How I am awakened in the morning usually determines how I feel the rest of the day.

When allowed to wake up in the natural way, I find myself quite civil and reasonable to cope with the routine. When the children do the job for me, I awake surly, uncommunicative and tire easily. (I once fell asleep while I was having my tooth filled.)

It all begins at some small hour in the morning. The children line up at my bedside and stare at me as if I'm a white whale that has been washed onto the beach.

"I think she hears us. Her eyelids fluttered."

"Wait till she turns over, then everybody cough."

"Get him out of here."

"She's pulling the covers over her ears. Start coughing."

I don't know how long it will be before one of them discovers that by taking my pulse they will be able to figure out by its rapid beat if I am faking or not. But it will come.

When they were smaller, they were even less subtle. They would stick their wet fingers in the openings of my face and whisper, "You awake yet?" Or good old Daddy would simply heave a flannel-wrapped bundle at me and say, "Here's Mommy's little boy." (Any mother with half a skull knows that when Daddy's little boy becomes Mommy's little boy, Daddy's little boy is so wet he's treading water!)

The imagination of children never fails to stagger me. Once they put a hamster on my chest, and when I bolted upright (my throat muscles paralyzed with fright) they asked, "Do you have any alcohol for the chemistry set?"

Probably the most unnerving eye-opener was a couple of weeks ago, when my eyes popped open without the slightest provocation. "Those rotten kids have done it again," I grumbled. "How can I sleep with that infernal quiet? The last time it was this quiet they were eating cereal on the front lawn in raggy pajamas." I hurried to find them.

I found them in the kitchen intent on their cereal. No noise. No nonsense. "Go back to bed," they yelled. "We won't want any lunch until nine-thirty or so."

It was going to be another one of those days.

When Last Child Goes to School--September 5, 1966

One of,the foremost exponents of modern-day terrorism is the woman who asks, "What are you going to do with yourself when all your children are in school?"

They go on to paint a dismal picture of the lonely mother who plucks a pair of sticky socks off the ceiling and sobs uncontrollably into them, "My baby! My baby!" A woman who wanders through the house, unfulfilled and fighting bravely against the realization that she's being replaced by a 35-cent plate lunch and a woman she'd like to sue for alienation of affection. A disillusioned woman without purpose who must fill her time somehow until the big yellow bus deposits her brood at the curb so she can once again run and fetch!

For many a woman, this will be a rather accurate prediction. She's the woman who didn't have many interests going for her in the first place. When the children came along, it was the answer to her problem. Here was her crutch, her ace in the hole, her reason for not having to go outside the home, invent diversions, meet new friends, put up her hair, read a book or function as a woman. She wore her children like a hair shirt and told everyone how they depended upon her--when it was the other way around.

To most women, however, the school bell will sound as glorious as VE Day. It's over. She's done it. She is back to some semblance of a schedule, some precious time to herself. She wanted children too, but for another reason. They fulfilled a strong desire to love, raise and leave as a legacy another human being. But they didn't fulfill her ambitions, her struggle for individuality or her need to make a contribution to this life, no matter how small.

I have seen women emerge like great beautiful butterflies from a cocoon existence that was limited to naps and peanut butter. I have seen them assume leadership, develop and grow into active citizens, unearth artful talents that surprised everyone--even themselves, revert to skills they had BB (Before Babies), and set about restoring their own personal appearance.

I have also seen them sink into despondency, scrub the kitchen twice a week to pass the time and mechanically mouth the same old routine, "I can't . . . (name anything). I've got the children."

From a woman who has lived through the "last one into school" bit, may I give you a piece of advice. Allow yourself the luxury of that one last look as he waves goodbye from the bus. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and have a good cry for at least five minutes. Then, if you haven't suffered enough, walk slowly through the house and let the quiet pound at your eardrums. If you like, enjoy a round of guilt complex. ("Why was I so rotten to him all summer?")

Now, straighten your shoulders, take a deep breath and look out of your window. There's a big world out there. You earned it! Now, enjoy it!

Surviving Motherhood--September 1966

I have discovered that one of the rich rewards of motherhood is casting maledictions on your children in the event they become parents. It's a unique way of saying, "Just wait, kid . . . you're gonna get yours."

One of my earliest recollections of this tribal custom dates back to my childhood when one day I was nailed in the act of throwing mud balls at Mother's corset flapping on the clothesline.

Enraged, my mother shook her fists at me and yelled, "May all your children have ingrown toenails!" Observing that didn't shake me, she added a bonus. "And may your tears be so salty you spit brine for a week!"

I'm not saying I fully comprehended all this, but from her tone I sensed she wasn't wishing me a happy birthday. I noticed Grandma talked this way too. Sometimes when Mother had had a bad day Grandma would smile, rather pleased with herself, and say, "I told you, Missy, if you made your bed of thorns, you'd have to walk through it in your bare feet."

Or when she really wanted to sink Mother, she'd say, "Didn't I predict that lip of yours would grow so long you'd have to take a tuck in it?"

Throughout childhood, the words of wisdom continued to flow until I felt like I was living with a couple of hollow-eyed gypsies. Words of encouragement, like "May you have a wart on your nose on your wedding day and heartburn on your honeymoon." Or, "Take care, missy, little girls who sass their mothers live to see their best friends chalk dirty words on their tombstones."

None of this made much sense until I had children of my own. Now, casting curses on my children is a way of life. It's the most comforting way I know to get rid of all my anxieties, hostilities and frustrations.

And the beauty is that the kids don't comprehend a word I'm saying.

I have one that's a real teaser. I just drop my shoulders, let my arms fall limp to my sides and nod my head tiredly. I don't say anything at first until I am sure I have their attention. Then I say, "Wait . . . just wait . . . until you're a mother." (Occasionally, my son, who is very bright for 11, will remind me he's a boy and only the female species bear their young, but he gets the message. I know he does.)

Casting curses isn't the easiest thing in the world. To work up to a pitch you need incentive, like the other day when I found a pile of dirty socks stuffed in the Erector set box.

I yelled at the top of my voice, "I hope you have identical twins . . . two weeks apart! May your patio face southwest. May your father belch loudly at the father-son banquet. May you have a rainbow over your playpen!"

When they get home from school, I'll think of some more.

Costume for the School Play--May 29, 1968

There is nothing that does more for my mornings than to have a child announce hysterically, "Mom! I'm in a play today. I need a costume!"

Some mothers are lucky. They have children who get all the good parts. Their little girls are fairy princesses with magic wands and Sunday dresses. Or their little boys are assigned roles as toy soldiers who can be outfitted from the toy box.

Not my kids. They are always cast as a bad tooth, the Sixteenth Amendment or Mr. Courtesy.

With the bad tooth, we faked it. I wrapped the kid in a white sheet and stuck a raisin in his navel to depict a cavity.

The Sixteenth Amendment was a bit more complicated. It deals, of course, with the power of Congress to lay and collect taxes on incomes. We outfitted her in a baggy suit with the pockets inside out and a blank check across her mouth stamped INSUFFICIENT FUNDS.

Mr. Courtesy was a real challenge. We finally put him in a Superman suit, changed the big red S to a big red C and told him to smile until his face broke.

Last week, one of the kids did it again. "Hey, Mom. I forgot to tell you, but I'm in a play today."

"Don't sweat it," I said calmly. "I'll get a costume. What are you?"

"I'm a participle," he said.

I steadied myself against the stove. "Split or dangling?"

"You're confused," he said. "I only dangle. Dan Freeby is the one who splits. He's an infinitive."

"Wonderful," I said. "Now, what did you have in mind?"

"I don't care. The teachers just want me to modify Mike Ferrett."

"What's he wearing?"

"I don't know. Whatever nouns wear."

"You're right," I said. "You see one noun, you've seen them all. Look, why don't you just wear a clean shirt and your slipover with your Sunday pants?"

"That's dumb," he said. "Who'd know I was a participle?"

"Who'd know you weren't?" I snapped.

"If this will help you," he said, "I look exactly like a gerund."

I promised myself a good stiff belt of vanilla if I lived through this morning.

Outgrowing Naps--August 14, 1968

A group of young mothers huddled around the kiddie pool the other day discussing children's naps.

"I think Lisa has outgrown naps," said one pretty blonde. "She's twenty-two months now and told me she didn't want to rest in the afternoons anymore."

I nearly fell out of my water wings. What is the world coming to when a child under two sets her own schedule?

In my book the question was never to nap or not to nap but rather how old should a mother be before her naps are discontinued? It seems like only yesterday my son confronted me with the decision.

"Do I have to nap again today?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because I fell asleep while having my teeth filled this morning."

"Were you tired?"

"I wasn't bored."

"Can I mess around while you nap?"

"No!"

"Why?"

"Because you get into things."

"Name me one."

"Putting bubble gum on the nozzle of the garden hose, turning on the water and having it break and flood the living room."

"Name me two."

"Go to sleep."

"Can I have a drink?"

"No."

"Look at my foot! My toenail is turning black."

"Try washing it."

"What happens if I don't take a nap now?"

"You go to bed at five-thirty."

"Why do I have to sleep when you're tired?"

"For the same reason I put a sweater on you when I am cold."

"I'm the only fifth-grader I know who comes to ball practice with chenille creases on his face."

"That's the thanks a mother gets for sacrificing herself two hours every afternoon to see that her child gets the proper rest."

He sighed and said, "If you snore, should I roll you over on your side?"

Smart-mouth kid.

A Mother's Eye--August 18, 1968

Of all the means of communication known to man, none is quite as effective as the Mother's Eye. Or, as we say, one glance is worth a thousand punches in the mouth. There are a variety, depending upon the situation, but these are a few of the old standards.

THE LOOK OF DEATH: This is used on a child with a busy finger up his nose. (It is similar to the Frozen Stare usually employed to catch a waiter's eye, but is somewhat different.) It's a steady gaze, unflinching and unyielding. The brow is furrowed, the lips are firm with no trace of a smile. The face remains in a hypnotic state until the finger is removed from the nose.

THE DEADPAN GLARE: This is the one most often used at the dinner table for children who fill their glasses to overflowing, eat gravy with their fingers and bulge their cheeks with food. On some occasions, the Deadpan Glare is accompanied by a good swift kick in the thigh under the table.

THE MARTYR'S COUNTENANCE: This is unmistakably the look of pain and is conjured up when a child parades down the church aisle carrying his training pants or demands the $2 you borrowed from him in the middle of a cocktail party. Some people confuse the Martyr's Countenance with the Deadpan Glare. When in doubt, remember that the Martyr's Countenance is accompanied by tears, biting of the lower lip until it bleeds and fainting.

THE DESPERATE SQUINT is a real study in pantomime. The jaw is set firm, the lips curl and the eyes are narrow and menacing. They dart back and forth. It is used when a child is loose at the mouth and asks in a loud voice if it is true Aunt Helen wouldn't know what to do with a man if she found one. If Aunt Helen happens to be in the room at the time these words are uttered, a mother often goes into her Divine Guidance Stare.

THE DIVINE GUIDANCE STARE is a desperate look where her head is tilted upward, her eyes roll back until the whites show and the lips utter what seems to be a Buddhist prayer.

Perhaps the most feared of all looks is a mother's No Look look. This appears to be a blank expression to a child who is jumping on the sofa with his muddy feet or running around at an adult party at 2 A.M., but beware. The most literal translation of the No Look look comes from a youngster who interpreted it as "When the company goes, head for the bed and look small and helpless until it blows over."

Confirmed Shouter--March 5, 1969

Ever since President Nixon's inaugural plea to "speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices," I've had misgivings about my big mouth.

I've always admired parents who discipline their children in hushed whispers: "Arthur, you are a naughty boy for turning on all the gas jets. Now I want you to drag your little sister out into the fresh air, give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and apologize. Don't make Mama have to raise her voice."

I'm a shouter. Once on a vacation when one of the kids turned on the car heater while going through Georgia, my mother told me they felt the vibrations as far north as Port Huron, Michigan.

No one is born a shrew. I used to watch women getting flushed and angry while they chewed out their children and I'd say to myself, "My goodness, that woman is going to have a heart attack. No one should discipline a child in anger." (I was five at the time and being flogged with a yardstick by my mother.)

Having children of my own knocked a hole in that theory. To begin with, there were only 32 hours out of every week when I wasn't angry, and then I was sleeping.

Also, I discovered children never took a "no" seriously unless the dishes rattled when you said it.

And the real clincher came when I discovered I had runners. "Runners" are kids who, when they commit some sin, take off for the fields, trees, basements, neighbors, attics or sewers.

Did you ever try to whisper to someone you couldn't see? I took to shouting.

We once had a neighbor who was born out of her time. She belonged in a hoopskirt eating a basket lunch at Tara.

I lived next to her for four years, and not once did that disgusting old dame raise her voice. Of course you can imagine what that made me sound like. (The Shore Patrol breaking up a floating crap game.)

Anyway, one day the boys were throwing a ball against her house and she appeared like an apparition at the door, gestured to them and said softly, "Boys, would you-all come here for a moment?"

I watched her gesturing, talking and smiling. When she finished the boys disbanded.

I pounced on my son. "What did that mealy-mouthed little frail have to say to you boys?"

"She said if we broke her windows, she'd break our faces!"

From that day forward I forgave her for her quietness. What she lacked in volume she made up for in content. What class!

I should love to follow President Nixon's advice, but when you've got varicose neck veins from years of shouting, it isn't going to be easy. Will you put down that coffee cup and pay attention? I said it isn't going to be easy!

Youngest Child Tries to Tell a Joke--May 23, 1969

Our youngest child has been trying to tell a joke at the dinner table for the last three years. The same one.

I feel sorry for the kid. To be on the tail end of a family means anything you come up with has either been told or isn't worth telling. We can always tell when his favorite magazine comes in the mail. He will rush into the kitchen and say, "Why did it take three Boy Scouts to help a little old lady across the street?" and one of the older ones will shout, "Because she didn't want to go, you cluck!"

Personally I wish he'd take the magazine, crumple it and stuff it in every opening in his face, but he never does. He always looks amazed that someone knew the answer and says, "That's right."

Next month, it's the same old deal. "How do you stop an elephant from charging?" His sister, looking bored, will snap, "Let me guess. You take away his credit cards."

"That's right," he says, perplexed.

About three years ago he said, "Have you heard the story about a man who bought a mousetrap and went to the refrigerator for cheese and--"

"Which reminds me," interrupted his father. "Who ate the beer cheese?"

"I didn't eat it," one of the kids said. "I used it for bass bait."

In the months to follow, we were to hear the preamble to the joke dozens of times ... always with interruptions, never completed.

Finally, one day last week I said, "Tell me your joke about the man with the mousetrap and the cheese for bait."

"Well," he said, perching himself on the stool, "he found out he didn't have any cheese for bait, so he cut a picture from a magazine of a piece of cheese. When he woke up the next morning, know what he found in his trap? A picture of a mouse."

"Tell it at dinner," I urged.

Under protest, the family sat rigid and listened to the story without interruption. By the time he got to his punch line he was hysterical. His eyes were shining with excitement, and I thought he was going to explode as he built for his big finish. "And do you know what he found in his trap?" he asked. "A mouse!"

No one said a word. I wonder whether Henny Youngman got started this way.

No More Oatmeal Kisses--January 29, 1969

A young mother writes: "I know you've written before about the empty-nest syndrome, that lonely period after the children are grown and gone. Right now I'm up to my eyeballs in laundry and muddy boots. The baby is teething; the boys are fighting. My husband just called and said to eat without him, and I fell off my diet. Lay it on me again, will you?"

OK. One of these days, you'll shout, "Why don't you kids grow up and act your age!" And they will. Or, "You guys get outside and find yourselves something to do . . . and don't slam the door!" And they won't.

You'll straighten up the boys' bedroom neat and tidy: bumper stickers discarded, bedspread tucked and smooth, toys displayed on the shelves. Hangers in the closet. Animals caged. And you'll say out loud, "Now I want it to stay this way." And it will.

You'll prepare a perfect dinner with a salad that hasn't been picked to death and a cake with no finger traces in the icing, and you'll say, "Now, there's a meal for company." And you'll eat it alone.

You'll say, "I want complete privacy on the phone. No dancing around. No demolition crews. Silence! Do you hear?" And you'll have it.

No more plastic tablecloths stained with spaghetti. No more bedspreads to protect the sofa from damp bottoms. No more gates to stumble over at the top of the basement steps. No more clothespins under the sofa. No more playpens to arrange a room around.

No more anxious nights under a vaporizer tent. No more sand on the sheets or Popeye movies in the bathroom. No more iron-on patches, rubber bands for ponytails, tight boots or wet knotted shoestrings.

Imagine. A lipstick with a point on it. No baby-sitter for New Year's Eve. Washing only once a week. Seeing a steak that isn't ground. Having your teeth cleaned without a baby on your lap.

No PTA meetings. No car pools. No blaring radios. No one washing her hair at 11 o'clock at night. Having your own roll of Scotch tape.

Think about it. No more Christmas presents out of toothpicks and library paste. No more sloppy oatmeal kisses. No more tooth fairy. No giggles in the dark. No knees to heal, no responsibility.

Only a voice crying, "Why don't you grow up?" and the silence echoing, "I did."

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 27, 2012

    Very nice collection of parenting stories

    This is why I like to give this book as a baby shower gift. It helps new parents keep things in perspective...you know, pick-your-battles.
    Erma had an absolutely hilarious way of writing, and I miss that...

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2010

    Bought as a gift

    I bought this book for my mother for Christmas. She has always loved Erma Bombeck and said she loves this book. I haven't read it myself, so that is all I can say about it.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2000

    Incredibly funny perspectives on children and life

    I swear Erma was God's answer to frustrated, concerned, shocked, bewildered, and dismayed parents everywhere. I love her stories of children's antics -- they're short, hilarious, and remind me way too much of the torture I put my parents through. Tell me that parents 50 years ago or even 50 years from now won't read this and just shake their heads in acknowledgement. Great gift for 1st time moms & dads.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2013

    This is a wonderful collection of Erma Bombeck's columns. I high

    This is a wonderful collection of Erma Bombeck's columns. I highly recommend it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2014

    Writing Contest- RULES

    Hi! Welcome to my writing contest! I have set some rules, so you know what your boundries are. Not to discourage you to write a story! I will decide winners (first place, second place, third place, and honorable mention) on March 28th in the second result. Here's the rules: <br>
    1. No er<_>otic themes whatsoever <br>
    2. Must have at least 2,500 characters remaining when finished writing <br>
    3. All stories in the THIRD result. Second result is for questions and comments. You may add more chapters in the fourth result + <br>
    4. Your story must be written under this search- if not, you will be disqualified <br>
    5. You must include a name and title either at the begining, end, or headline of your story <br>
    6. Have fun (:D)

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    Erma Bombeck

    Timelessly funny from a lovely lady.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2013

    Missing sox??

    Great book--loved her columns since I wasyoung(ish) and they haven't lost anything over the years! And I have half a dozen sox sitting on my dresser because the washing machine STILL eats the matching ones--some things will never change.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2013

    I hope you die

    ~other Jason

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2013

    Harmonie

    Er....

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2013

    Jason

    Ok

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 30, 2013

    This is Erma at her best. She always drew from her life experiences those things which most of us young mothers were experiencing and turned the craziness of our lives into lighthearted reflections on our situations. I loved her then, I love her now.

    I enjoyed the diversity of subjects covered in the book. Erma shares her life experiences with the reader and gives us a chance to go back in time and remember that we experienced the same situations and feelings. I laughed out loud many times throughout the book, and certainly nodded my head in agreement with her observations. She was a treasure in my life in the 1970's and 1980's.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2013

    Brought back old memoriess

    What a great collection of Erma Bombeck's articles from At Wit's End. I remember being in high school and reading the articles in The Oregonian as I ate breakfast. I would laugh until I cried. My mom would finally take the the paper away and say "You're going to miss the school bus unless you hurry up!" Then, as I brushed my teeth, I could hear her laughter as she , too, enjoyed the humor of Ms. Bombeck! We lost a great lady in her passing. There will be no one like her.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2013

    Spike Nine by Freekit

    At awsome first result under title Spike Nine.

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2013

    Dark

    It was dark a cat named luckyleaf was roaming the forest and ran into tigerstar they fought and they fought and luckyleaf died the end

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2013

    TO THE DUMB ASS CAT WHO CALLED THIS CONTEST

    KICKS YOU OUT OF THE B&N STORE AND BITES YOUR HEAD OFF NOW FU<_>CKING GET OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2013

    The Strange Kit by Silverleaf

    At rainbowkit results (in order of chapters) 8,6,7, and 10.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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