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How Could Anyone Forget Erma Bombeck?

Updated on July 5, 2015
Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.


A woman of her time.

If you are younger than 25, you probably missed it. You missed the life of Erma Bombeck. You can still share in the joy of it, but instead of finding it in your newspaper every week, you’re going to have to go looking for it.

The column I remember best was entitled, “I Am An American!” complete with the exclamation point in the headline. Those of you who know the basics of newspaper journalism, know that is a faux pas that gets you called before your editor before the presses run. You’d better have a darned good reason for using it. Apparently Erma did.

When I went cyber searching for the column I found endless references to the most popular quote from the piece:

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of tanks and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but by family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you’ve overeaten, but it’s patriotism.”

Now, there is no debating that is a quote for the ages, but every other word from the article is as well. I still cannot imagine why it took me over an hour on the Internet (a lifetime in online terms) to uncover the original column, but find it, I did:

I Am An American!

by Erma Bombeck

The American people do something better than anyone in the world. They love their country.

A walloping 80 percent admitted this in a recent Gallup poll. That’s pretty amazing when you realize that patriotism is a lot like sex to people. It’s too personal to talk about in public or to flaunt on a bumper sticker.

Patriotism is also hard to diagnose. Most people don’t realize they’ve got it.

Some people look at the Statue of Liberty and cannot speak. Others look at the flag on the side of the Space Shuttle and tears begin to well in their eyes. Occasionally, people will find themselves sitting a little taller when an athlete bends down to receive an Olympics medal and the massive United States flag unfurls behind him. Or the throat may hurt when a hostage puts his hand over his heart and salutes the flag he has not seen for 14 months.

These may seem like flu symptoms. It’s patriotism.

Sometimes you travel with patriotism and don’t know it. Like the Russian who said to me, “I’ve never been to the United States. What are the borders like?”

I told her there were no border patrols or checkpoints or walls. State lines were open and free with only an amused California trooper who watches you eat three oranges and four bananas which you cannot bring into California.

Or the Australian woman who cornered me on a book tour and said, “Tell me how far American women are now in their struggle for liberation so I will know where we’ll be 20 years from now.”

I thought the flush was menopausal. It was patriotism.

We take for granted that we elect peanut farmers to the presidency, have a Bill of Rights for children, and give hurricanes human names. We have a bell that is a symbol of freedom with a crack in it, are a nation of immigrants from every portion of the world, and have more people who watch “Dallas” on television than voted in the last election.

You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of tanks and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but by family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you’ve overeaten, but it’s patriotism.

Quotes Erma is best known for:

Who writes like that? Actually no one does now that she is gone. Erma was from Centerville, Ohio, and she lived across the street from another mid-century icon, Phil Donahue, renown talk-show host back when there was nothing to apologize for in that job title. Makes you wonder what they put in the water in Centerville back then?

Erma made a name for herself writing touchy-feely, funny articles about being a housewife in the 1960’s for her hometown newspaper. National syndication, several New York Times bestsellers, and a regular TV spot as a contributor to “Good Morning America” grew from that original boredom doing household chores.

She is primarily remembered for cute sayings like the following:

“Insanity is hereditary. You can catch it from your kids.”

“Housework, if it is done properly, can cause brain damage.”

“Every puppy should have a boy.”

On a deeper level, she also coined the following phrases:

“Laughter rises out of tragedy when you need it the most, and rewards you for your courage.”

“Don't confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other.”

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

Then there were moments when she struck a raw nerve so precisely, she had the skill of a brain surgeon:

“Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.”

“There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, 'Yes, I've got dreams, of course I've got dreams.' Then they put the box away and bring it out once in a while to look in it, and yep, they're still there. These are great dreams, but they never even get out of the box. It takes an uncommon amount of guts to put your dreams on the line, to hold them up and say, 'How good or how bad am I?' That's where courage comes in.”

But there was more to Erma than just that:

And a personal favorite as the mother of a daughter from the post-liberation generation:

“We've got a generation now who were born with semi-equality. They don't know how it was before, so they think, this isn't too bad. We're working. We have our attache' cases and our three piece suits. I get very disgusted with the younger generation of women. We had a torch to pass, and they are just sitting there. They don't realize it can be taken away. Things are going to have to get worse before they join in fighting the battle.”

Erma and I also had motherhood in common. We both had a daughter first, then two sons. My second favorite of her columns was this one from the unique perspective of a Mom three times over:

A mother’s wardrobe
• 1st baby: You begin wearing maternity clothes as soon as your doctor
confirms your pregnancy.
• 2nd baby: You wear your regular clothes for as long as possible.
• 3rd baby: Your maternity clothes ARE your regular clothes.
A mom preparing for the Birth
• 1st baby: You practice your breathing religiously.
• 2nd baby: You don’t bother practicing because you remember that last
time, breathing didn’t do a thing.
• 3rd baby: You ask for an epidural in your 8th month.
The Babies Clothing
• 1st baby: You pre-wash your newborn’s clothes, color-coordinate them,
and fold them neatly in the baby’s little bureau.
• 2nd baby: You check to make sure that the clothes are clean and discard only the ones with the darkest stains.
• 3rd baby: Boys can wear pink, can’t they?
• 1st baby: If the pacifier falls on the floor, you put it away until you can go home and wash and boil it.
• 2nd baby: When the pacifier falls on the floor, you squirt it off with some juice from the baby’s bottle.
• 3rd baby: You wipe it off on your shirt and pop it back in.
• 1st baby: You change your baby’s diapers every hour, whether they need it or not.
• 2nd baby: You change their diaper every 2 to 3 hours, if needed.
• 3rd baby: You try to change their diaper before others start to
complain about the smell or you see it sagging to their knees.
Going Out
• 1st baby: The first time you leave your baby with a sitter, you call
home 5 times.
• 2nd baby: Just before you walk out the door, you remember to leave a
number where you can be reached.
• 3rd baby: You leave instructions for the sitter to call only if she sees blood.
At Home
• 1st baby: You spend a good bit of every day just gazing at the baby.
• 2nd baby: You spend a bit of every day watching to be sure your older
child isn’t squeezing, poking, or hitting the baby.
• 3rd baby: You spend a little bit of every day hiding from the children.

I would have sworn another of my favorite quotes from her was part of the list above, but it doesn't include the fact that parents have enough pictures of the first baby doing nothing more than sleeping to circle the globe, but the third baby's birth and high school graduation are on the same roll of film. It's only funny because it is almost true! To appreciate this humor though you have to remember film.

If I’ve piqued your interest in this amazing writer, either for the first time or with a lucky reminder, then I’ve justified my existence for the day (month/year). I’d love to include the amazing column Erma wrote about God creating Mothers or her never-to-be-equaled list of what she would do differently in life after learning she had terminal cancer. I’ll leave those to the curious reader. As it is, I’ll be lucky if the HubPages duplicate content police don’t pull this tribute. If they do, I’ll apologize profusely and plead with them to realize you can not write a hub honoring a great writer and not use that writer’s words – at least some of them.

In closing, I’ll simply quote the New York Times Book Review of her final work published after her untimely death in 1996. “Forever, Erma” is a modest measure of our loss.”

How it all began:

My Favorite Pix of Erma: We've all been there!


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    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      18 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      With Mother's Day coming up, it is appropriate to remember a woman who wrote about Motherhood with a sense of humor!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Paula: So glad you found this one! That's why I recycle. I can't tell you how many times Erma's words got me through raising three kids!!!

    • fpherj48 profile image


      2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      I'm very surprised this one got past me all these months~~because Oh,, how I love Erma (rest her soul) I think I've read all her books. I especially remember many years ago (in the 70's) of Erma's books was the first time I realized I could be made to laugh out loud repeatedly while reading, and need to take a break while wiping tears away!

      She was definitely one of a kind. Paula

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      In so many ways she was America's Mom, but her children always swore she wrote fiction! Thanks for commenting.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      3 years ago from Florida

      What a gal! One of my children, knowing how much I loved Erma, gave me three of her books. I've read each one over and over!

      I love her quote about never washing her glass sliding doors, cause she didn't want to erase her children's handprints.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      poetryman6969: Interesting comment - thanks and welcome to my hubs.

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      3 years ago

      She was an American original. Back when we were not ashamed to be something special in the eyes of men.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      3 years ago from Oakley, CA

      P.S. Book titles--I also had to giggle over her other book, "If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?"

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thanks for the share. Welcome to my hubs PurvisBobb44.

    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image


      3 years ago from Florida

      Hi Kathleen,

      She was one of my favorites and still is---I could not wait for her books to come out. My friends and I talked about her humorous wisdom and how her take on the simple things in life.

      No one has taken her place with me. I mentioned her in my first blog as an author---she is the only I wrote about.

      When she got sick we prayed for her in our different churches. I will never forget this lady who made me laugh when nothing else could.

      Bobbi Hunter

      I will share with Twitter, G+ and Pin on my Re-pin board at Pinterest.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thanks to these five ladies who found this hub on Mother's Day. What great timing. Happy day after Mother's Days - let the chaos begin!

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      3 years ago from Germany

      What a beautiful tribute! How can I forget Erma Bombeck when I kept on laughing reading her books. I have read her books in the 80´s and the 9o´s and they were mostly in German language translation. I borrowed them in our city library. Thanks for reminding me of her. I will read her books again. Voted this up, funny, beautiful and awesome.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      3 years ago from Oakley, CA

      I loved Erma Bombeck. Her passing was a great loss.

      Two of my favorite quotes of hers are:

      "Men! You can't live with 'em, and you can't sell 'em for spare parts!"


      "Someone should cross ball point pens with wire coat hangers so they will multiply instead of disappearing."

      Voted up, ++

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 

      3 years ago from Los Angeles

      What a gem of a hub- so glad I found it! Having grown up in the 50s and 60s, Erma Bombeck was a role model. I will always appreciate her humor and uncommon wisdom and hope my daughter will too!

      Thank you this treat on Mother's Day!


    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      3 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I loved all of the Erma Bombeck books that I have read and so many of her writings contain enough truth to make them resonate and make them even funnier. She certainly had a special gift and her words will continue to enlighten and amuse people for as long as they still read her writings. Yes...the grass IS GREENER over a septic tank! Ha! Sharing this. Happy Mother's Day!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      3 years ago from Florida

      I was a big fan of Erma Bombeck! One of my daughters gave me two of her books and I keep them in my bathroom. I never tire of reading those books. I like her quote about not ever washing her sliding doors glass when her kids were young, because she didn't want to wash their precious handprints away.

      Voted this up, and shared on this Mother's Day!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      ArtDiva: So glad you found this hub. She was one of my first role models.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      This woman, wonderfully humorous, and always laughing out loud reading her writing. And, remembered reading this honoring the memory of her, her humor, her witty wisdom.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      MsDora: Her wisdom endures, doesn't it. Glad you found this one!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Kathleen, thank you for these memories. Recently, I obtained a book of Erma Bombeck's sayings at a give-a-way. You're right, she's a treasure only to the older folk. Your personal comments in this article are very impressive, too.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Peg: I'm a third too and I feel your pain. I wonder how many hubbers are third-borns? Might make a good question!

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      What a great trip down the career path of this amazingly funny woman. I still remember her book title, "The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank" and realize how true her truisms were. That article on patriotism was terrific. I'm glad you found that and shared it.

      About the third baby - I found this funny even though I am the third and it is painfully true.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      rebeccamealey: That factoid surprised me too. Oh for the days when "Talk Shows" featured a writer and their newest book or somebody in the news who has actually accomplished something! Donahue knew how to create conversation not sensationalism.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Thanks for helping us remember Erma Bombeck. I certainly loved reading her column years back. It is quite interesting to learn that she was neighbors with Phil Donahue!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thanks Victoria.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 

      4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Such a great tribute! A very enjoyable hub. :-)

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia


      YOU are who I wrote this hub for. Her thoughts shouldn't be gone just because she is. So glad you found this hub and enjoyed it.

    • GlendaGoodWitch profile image


      4 years ago from California

      Very interesting. I remember her name and that she was a writer but that is about it. Great hub. It kind of makes me sad because it took me back to an era when people wrote educated and tasteful articles that were actually read. The title, I Am An American is so patriotic and full of gratitude, the way people used to be.

      Whenever I listen to the majority of celebrities and "influential"people they are complaining about America, so much so that the younger generation don't even want to admit to being American.

      Times change, I miss this positive attitude.

      I also love her line, "don't confuse fame with success; Madonna is one and Helen Keller is another", so spot on!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Glad to remind you of a lady we all miss. Til: thanks especially for the compliment right now - Your timing is perfect.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      4 years ago from New York

      I agree with every comment here! I love humor and I love Erma Bombeck. I devoured her books and always read her columns. She once said, "When humor goes, there goes civilization." I couldn't agree more.

      You've done a lovely tribute Kathleen. Like all your writings this was a pleasure to read.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      She was a wonderful writer and human being. You have given her the pride of place she deserves in your excellent article. I cried a good bit and smiled a great deal. I read all her columns and at one time owned several of her books. Thank you.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thanks Jaye. Hey, do you have time to do some more editing on "Lord, Lord" for me? I'm almost done with the first draft of the whole thing.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      4 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Kathleen - I can certainly never forget Erma because I enjoyed her wry style of humor as well as her occasionally pithy writing. You've presented us with a lovely tribute to a writer who deserved to be formally named a national treasure. She was.

      Voted Up++


    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      FlourishAnyway: So glad you stumbled upon this one. It's a small world about Donahue. Wonder what was in the water in that neighborhood? Thanks for sharing.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      This is a great throwback hub! I haven't thought about her in years, but I remember her fondly. I didn't know she lived across the street from Donahue. Voted up and more, plus sharing.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      4 years ago

      I do remember her well. I used to enjoy hearing her speak and have read several of her books. She was a character and had so much to contribute to our view of life. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      BlossomSB: Me too! And I think somewhere along the line we have all had the "video" experience, or we wouldn't be doing this!

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Love the bits about the babies. I can relate to that! Good hub.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      btrbell: There are so many of her quotes to pick from and doing this hub I found some I hadn't seen before. Made it even harder to choose.

      grand old lady: Glad you found Erma in this hub. I accomplished my goal - thanks!

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      What a wonderful tribute to a fascinating woman. Now I know the person behind the name. She was a great writer and you made her come alive and made her more meaningful to me in this piece.

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 

      4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you for this great article on a great woman. Erma Bombeck was an amazing writer and I love reading what other people have to say and , in particular, what you have picked as your favorite quotes. Really nice tribute! Up+

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      B.Leekley: To lose someone so young and full of promise - I'm so sorry. It's encouraging to those of us who write that if we are lucky enough we might write something that outlives us.

      You've picked a great cause to advocate. I remember when all cancers were a death sentence. We have made progress, but you still hear of the ones we still lose too young.

      Thanks for contributing to this hub.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Up and Beautiful. This is a lovely, and much deserved by your subject, tribute.

      I won't forget Erma Bombeck because several years ago when I lived in another state I got to know a writing colleague who was a wife and mother of school-age children and who wrote humorous blog posts about her life. She was frequently compared with Erma Bombeck, and I agreed. She had a knack for making a poignant point humorously and for seeing the humor in day to day married and parenting life. She was starting to gain a following when she learned she had terminal cancer. She died within half a year in her 30s. I'm for promoting greater attention to cancer prevention as a public health issue.


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