Early mornings, after breakfast, when I was a youth, I liked to read the good parts of the newspaper. First the comics pages, then Ann Landers, and three times each week, Erma Bombeck’s column. You didn’t need to be a suburban housewife to enjoy Bombeck’s wit, but mom said she related to the humor better than I ever could.
Bombeck’s newspaper columns and her many books told about the day to day life of being a wife and mother. There were endless descriptions of mishaps, daily tragedies, disappointments, and family foibles. She wrote about children, houses, cars, and pets. Most of the stories were told in a humorous manner. Her experiences all had the ring of truth to them.
Erma Fiste was born to a working class family near Dayton, Ohio, February 21, 1927. Her first short column began in 1940 for her junior high school newspaper. By Erma’s high school years, she refined her writing style as serious with touches of humorous asides. Her first paying job began in 1942 as a copygirl for the Dayton Herald. She continued working for the Dayton paper through her one semester at Ohio University.
The next year, she enrolled at the University of Dayton, a Roman Catholic schoo,l and worked three jobs to support her expenses. While attending the school, Erma converted from protestantism to catholicism. At this time she married World War Two veteran Bill Bombeck, a former student of the Dayton school.
She put her full-time journalistic career on hold in order to raise two sons and an adopted daughter. Erma kept her pen active by writing a few humor columns for the local free shopping paper. When her last son entered school, in 1965, she began writing the column, “At Wit’s End’ for the Dayton Journal Herald. Within the year, the column went into syndication. In 1968, the family moved to Paradise Valley, Arizona.
“I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband, which I took for granted.”
Bombeck’s popularity continued it’s upward spiral through the 1970s as a result of her best-selling books. Next came humor segments on “Good Morning America” from 1975 until 1986. Her latent feminism finally broke through when she tirelessly campaigned for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. This episode strained her relationship with her more conservative readers.
“I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.”
In 1992, Bombeck was diagnosed with a malignancy in her left breast. She wrote about the cancer, the chemotherapy and her mastectomy. Even though she made light of the experiences, Erma was emotionally shaken up. At around the same time, her kidneys began to fail due to inherited Polycystic kidney disease.
In the spring of 1996, a matching donor organ was located, so Bombeck and her husband went to San Francisco for the transplant surgery. The operation took place on April 3, 1996. The new kidney did not work out, so Bombeck’s health continued to deteriorate. She passed away on April 22, 1996. She was interred at Dayton, Ohio.