Tribute to Erma Bombeck - Queen of Housewife Humor

Erma Bombeck
Erma Bombeck

Tribute to Erma Bombeck

Erma Bonbeck was truly the queen of housewife humor. Much of her early work was published during an era when the majority of women were working women - women working in the home as wives and mothers.

“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

That’s a quote from Erma Bombeck – writer, humorist, columnist and journalist. Erma Louise Fiste was born in Dayton, Ohio on February 21, 1927. She continually found the humor in her day to day experience as a suburban wife and mother and shared it with her readers. Her humorous newspaper columns and books are works of art. She did not have an easy life as a child; her father died when she was nine and her mother had to work to support them.

Erma showed early signs of her future vocation by writing a humor column for her junior high school paper. She worked for the Dayton Herald (which became the Journal-Herald) as a teen age copy girl, and had her first article published while she was still in high school. Erma saved money for college by writing for the publication and graduated from the University of Dayton in 1949. She returned to the Journal-Herald and married Bill Bombeck that same year. No longer a copy girl, she began writing articles for the Women’s Section of the paper.

The Bombecks started a family in 1953 when they adopted a daughter, Betsy, and the family continued to grow during the 50s with the addition of two sons—Andrew in 1955 and Matthew in 1958.

Already known for her keen wit and poignant observations, Erma’s career as a humorist really became successful in the mid-60s. Her humorous newspaper column was picked up by a newspaper syndicate.

At first her work appeared in a few dozen papers but that number soon grew to hundreds. Her column, “At Wit’s End,” found humor in some of the ordinary headaches associated with motherhood and family life. She provided the voice for our country’s suburban housewives while making them laugh – and sometimes cry – at the same time.

Erma also wrote for magazines including Good Housekeeping, Reader’s Digest, Redbook, and McCall’s. She authored several popular books including the very funny best sellers: “The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank” (1976) and “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?” (1978). The former became a television movie starring Carol Burnett and Charles Grodin.

In the mid-1970s, Erma became a television personality and appeared on “Good Morning America” for more than a decade. She created a television sitcom, “Maggie,” based on her own family but despite her popularity, the show was canceled after eight weeks.

Erma had a serious side, too. She wrote a book about childhood cancer, “I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise” (1989). The book may have been prophetic because in 1992, Erma was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. After subsequent health problems she received a kidney transplant and died from medical complications on April 22, 1996.


Erma on 'Time' Magazine
Erma on 'Time' Magazine

I believe this quote of hers sums up her lifelong philosophy: “If you can't make it better, you can laugh at it.” Here are my favorite quotes from her columns and books.


> For some of us, watching a miniseries that lasts longer than most marriages is not easy.
> For years my wedding ring has done its job. It has led me not into temptation. It has reminded my husband numerous times at parties that it's time to go home. It has been a source of relief to a dinner companion. It has been a status symbol in the maternity ward.
> Marriage has no guarantees. If that's what you're looking for, go live with a car battery.

>The only reason I would take up jogging is so that I could hear heavy breathing again.

> Before you try to keep up with the Joneses, be sure they're not trying to keep up with you.
> I was too old for a paper route, too young for Social Security and too tired for an affair.
> I haven't trusted polls since I read that 62% of women had affairs during their lunch hour. I've never met a woman in my life who would give up lunch for sex.
> People shop for a bathing suit with more care than they do a husband or wife. The rules are the same. Look for something you'll feel comfortable wearing. Allow for room to grow.


> My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.
> My theory on housework is, if the item doesn't multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?

> Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.

Garrison Keillor about Erma


> All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them.
> Who in their infinite wisdom decreed that Little League uniforms be white? Certainly not a mother.

> When a child is locked in the bathroom with water running and he says he's doing nothing but the dog is barking, call 911.

> There's nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.

> Youngsters of the age of two and three are endowed with extraordinary strength. They can lift a dog twice their own weight and dump him into the bathtub.

> No one ever died from sleeping in an unmade bed. I have known mothers who remake the bed after their children do it because there is wrinkle in the spread or the blanket is on crooked. This is sick.
> Somewhere it is written that parents who are critical of other people's children and publicly admit they can do better are asking for it.

> My kids always perceived the bathroom as a place where you wait it out until all the groceries are unloaded from the car.
> Children make your life important.

> Most women put off entertaining until the kids are grown.
> In general my children refuse to eat anything that hasn't danced in television.
> Do you know what you call those who use towels and never wash them, eat meals and never do the dishes, sit in rooms they never clean, and are entertained till they drop? If you have just answered, "A house guest," you're wrong because I have just described my kids.
> Onion rings in the car cushions do not improve with time.


> Thanks to my mother, not a single cardboard box has found its way back into society. We receive gifts in boxes from stores that went out of business twenty years ago.

> There's something wrong with a mother who washes out a measuring cup with soap and water after she's only measured water in it.

> One thing they never tell you about child raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child's name and how old he or she is.

> Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.

> Being a child at home alone in the summer is a high-risk occupation. If you call your mother at work thirteen times an hour, she can hurt you.

> I take a very practical view of raising children. I put a sign in each of their rooms: "Checkout Time is 18 years."

> It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding.

> When your mother asks, "Do you want a piece of advice?" it is a mere formality. It doesn't matter if you answer yes or no. You're going to get it anyway.

> I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.

> I was terrible at straight items. When I wrote obituaries, my mother said the only thing I ever got them to do was die in alphabetical order.



> What's with you men? Would hair stop growing on your chest if you asked directions somewhere?

> God created man, but I could do better.
> If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead.


> There is nothing more miserable in the world than to arrive in paradise and look like your passport photo.

> Sometimes I can't figure designers out. It's as if they flunked human anatomy.

> I will buy any creme, cosmetic, or elixir from a woman with a European accent.
> I never leaf through a copy of National Geographic without realizing how lucky we are to live in a society where it is traditional to wear clothes.

Random Observations

> Car designers are just going to have to come up with an automobile that outlasts the payments.

> When humor goes, there goes civilization.

> There is one thing I have never taught my body how to do and that is to figure out at 6 A.M. what it wants to eat at 6 P.M.

> On vacations: We hit the sunny beaches where we occupy ourselves keeping the sun off our skin, the saltwater off our bodies, and the sand out of our belongings.

> Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I'm taking with me when I go.

> Some say our national pastime is baseball. Not me. It's gossip.

> Someone once threw me a small, brown, hairy kiwi fruit, and I threw a wastebasket over it until it was dead.

> Getting out of the hospital is a lot like resigning from a book club. You're not out of it until the computer says you're out of it.
> Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.

> House guests should be regarded as perishables: Leave them out too long and they go bad.
> How come anything you buy will go on sale next week?

> Humorists can never start to take themselves seriously. It's literary suicide.

> I have a hat. It is graceful and feminine and gives me a certain dignity, as if I were attending a state funeral or something. Someday I may get up enough courage to wear it, instead of carrying it.

> I have a theory about the human mind. A brain is a lot like a computer. It will only take so many facts, and then it will go on overload and blow up.

> It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.

> Like religion, politics, and family planning, cereal is not a topic to be brought up in public. It's too controversial.
> Did you ever notice that the first piece of luggage on the carousel never belongs to anyone?
> Don't confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other.

> When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, "I used everything you gave me".

Erma, you did that "over and above."

© Copyright BJ Rakow Ph.D. 2011, 2013 Red. All rights reserved.

B. J. Rakow, Ph.D., Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So." Enlightening but fun to read book about job search with proven strategies for interviewing, networking, resume writing and negotiating. Includes four revealing personality tests.

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Comments for Tribute to Erma Bombeck - Queen of Housewife Humor 32 comments

Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 6 years ago from California Gold Country

My all time favorite. I followed her devotedly when she was doing her column. Thanks for bringing her back.

jayjay40 profile image

jayjay40 6 years ago from Bristol England

As usual your humour comes through in your writing. Loved the quotes they made me smile

lovelypaper profile image

lovelypaper 6 years ago from Virginia

I liked Erma. This was a great tribute to her.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, Rochelle. You're very welcome. Erma has always been one of my favorite humor writers and it's nice to know so many others appreciated her, too.

Thanks for the visit.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Welcome back, jayjay. It was my pleasure to make you smile.

Erma Bombeck could always make me smile, too.

I think we are both believers in one of her insightful quotes: "When humor goes, there goes civilization." Amen!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, lovelypaper, thank you for your visit and the kind words.

I'm going to visit your profile to check out that intriguing-looking avatar.

Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

I knew about Erma but never really followed her writings, but you've laid it all out here for me to catch up :)

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Happy to be of service, Green Lotus.

One of my deepest motivations is to share humor and laughter with others. Enjoy!

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago

I love to read her books--truly the queen of housewife humor. Her humor makes us look at life and know we can survive--anything, as long as we have a sense of humor. Thanks for this lovely tribute and I wish I knew her when she was still around.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Nice to meet you anginwu, and you're most welcome.

I agree wholeheartedly with you that life is too tough to survive sometimes without a well developed sense of humor.

Erma was a very funny writer and fortunately we can still enjoy her humor in the books and columns she wrote.

Thanks for the visit.

Sweetsusieg profile image

Sweetsusieg 6 years ago from Michigan

You may have noticed in some of my Hubs, Erma was my Hero! She taught me that dry roasted peanuts stuffed up the nose are funny!! Well, the attempt of trying to get them out is funny.

Am I ever going to find the car Hub? I've been on this treasure hunt and keep getting side tracked!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Delighted you stumbled across Erma, susie. She was a great and wholesome wit.

Your comment about peanuts up the nose reminded me that there is one comment a parent should never make to the kids when leaving the house.

If you say, "Don't put beans up your nose while I'm gone," every child will rush to put beans up his or her nose. They can't help it. Must be something in the genes.

katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

WOW Thanks for the great material by Erma Bombeck, she's a real treasure for the woman of her time.

Erma Bombeck was truly a great voice for the women who admired and needed her. Funny stuff as well. I will refer to this for antidotes. Great stuff thank you!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you, katie, for the visit and the gracious comments. Yes, Erma was a wonderfully warm and witty woman. I have always admired her as well and used to read her newspaper column religiously - that's when papers still had columns.

I agree - her humor is great stuff and I often quote her, too.

Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

I've been told my humor is like Erma's...I've never read her books but have friends who are longtime fans of hers. I vow to read her books asap! Fantastic tribute and very funny!!!

drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

If your humor has been compared to that of Erma Bombeck then you have arrived m'luv. Many of her books are available as paperbacks and she IS funny. Thank you for the 'fantastic tribute' and the 'funny.'

Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 4 years ago from Hereford, AZ

I read her columns when they were in the paper. I read as many of her books as I could find and I still will any time I find them. She was a funny, sarcastic at times lady and I find her humor very infectious. I need to go find an Erma book. I need some more of her humor. Thank you for reminding me of her.

drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida Author

Just like you, Becky, Erma was and still is one of my heroines. One of the funniest writers I have ever known. It was definitely my pleasure to remind you of her wit and humor.

Erma hit the nail on the head when she wrote: "When humor goes, there goes civilization." Ain't that the truth?

PeanutButterWine profile image

PeanutButterWine 4 years ago from North Vancouver, B.C. Canada

Erma was the best :) Thanks for sharing!

drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida Author

Nice to meet you, PBW, it was my pleasure. And Erma was the best and the funniest. She is missed.

RetailRich profile image

RetailRich 4 years ago

This was great! Very thorough and informative. I can remember sharing her articles with my mom in high school. My mom reallly loved her and so did I! Voting you up!

drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you for finding this, Rich, how nice to meet you. And thanks for the gracious comment and the up. Emma had legions of admirers for her witty humorous columns. She most definitely was a role model for young women.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

While looking for your interview with James Dean I came across this tribute. Lucky me...I'd rather read about Erma than James Dean anyway. I adored Erma Bombeck and when her first book came out I almost broke a leg getting to the store to buy a copy.

She was so right on about everything. "Thanks to my mother, not a single cardboard box has found its way back into society. We receive gifts in boxes from stores that went out of business twenty years ago." That could be me! My kids would die laughing if they read that quote.

Thanks for an enjoyable trip down memory lane.

Voted up, useful, funny, awesome, and interesting. I had to share and pin this cause she was the lady!

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Oh, how I wish I'd written about her, but to tell the absolute truth, I forgot how much I liked her because she's been gone for a while. She wrote a column on being an American every citizen should be required to read. If you've run across it, I'd appreciate it if you'd share it.

My two favorite: With the first child you sterilize everything. With the third child, if the pacifier drops to the floor you let the dog lick it clean. You have rolls and rolls of your first child sleeping. The third child's birth and high school graduation are on the same roll of film.

The Irma method of ironing: only on demand and only the parts that show.

I wish I remembered more. Thanks for the list!

rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Very Interesting! I used to love reading her columns in the "old timey" newspaper. I 'd never heard of the sitcom Maggie. Well done!

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 3 years ago from Deep South, USA

This hub made my day, drbj...I enjoyed revisiting Erma through these quotes. There was a lot of truth and wisdom tucked between the laughs in her humor.

Voted Up+++++ and shared


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

I love the funny books of Erma Bombeck. They have always made my day bright. Thanks for writing this drbj. Through this, I learned more about this humourous woman. Have a lovely day!

drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida Author

Me, too, Mary, I was and am one of Erma's biggest fans - bought and read every single book she wrote as well as all her newspaper columns I could find. She was a funny, funny lady with tremendous wit and insight. And I too could relate to your gift-box story - my grandma went even further and saved used gift-wrap and ribbons. Course times were really tough then.

So happy I could provide you with a trip down Memory Lane. Thanks for the Up and the sharing, m'dear. Now go find that interview with James Dean - you'll enjoy it. Promise.

drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, Kathleen. If I find that column you mentioned, I will send it to you in an email. Erma's comments about raising children were right on the money - the deal with taking gazillions of photos of the first child and neglecting all the rest is so true I laughed out loud.

Love the ironing quote, too, ain't it the truth? You are so welcome for this list of some of her most famous funny quotes. Enjoy, m'dear.

drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, rebecca. Thanks for finding this tribute to Erma Bombeck. Yes, at one time during her career she was writing 3 columns a week in 'old timey' Ohio newspapers which were picked up for syndication across the U.S. Delighted you enjoy her writing as much as I do.

drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida Author

And you made my day, Jaye, with your comment about the truth and wisdom that Erma tucked between the laughs in her humorous columns.

She was special. Thank you for the Up and sharing, m'luv.

drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, Thelma. How nice to know that you were also a fan of Erma's funny books. So happy you learned more about her from my tribute. Hope your weekend is the best!

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