If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?

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

From her youth, Erma loved to read and write. At Christmas, when kids her age asked for toys and dolls for Christmas, Erma asked her parents for what she cherished most: books.

In school, only one subject, English, mattered to Erma. The other classes were a way to pass the time until she could get to her English class. As she got older, she started writing for school newspapers, ranging from a humorous column in The Owl¸ in Junior High, to working for the Dayton Herald as a copygirl. In 1943, Erma interviewed Shirley Temple, and the piece became a feature.

After her graduation from high school in 1944, Erma took work as a stenographer and typist to earn money for college. After a brief stint in Athens University, Erma’s funds ran out and she later enrolled in the University of Dayton.

While attending UD, Erma lived at home and worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. At one of those jobs, Rike’s, she wrote humorous material for the company newsletter. Her English teacher noticed her writing talent and so Erma soon began to write for The Exponent, the student publication of the university. Erma graduated with a degree in English in 1949.

Personal Life:

Erma married Bill Bombeck, a fellow alum of UD, in 1949. After adopting their daughter Betsy in 1953, Erma decided to be a full-time housewife. The next year, Erma continued her writing career by writing humorous columns for the Dayton Shopping News.

After the birth of her first son, Erma began a 10 year break from writing to focus on her children and expanding household. The Bombeck family moved to Centerville during that time, becoming neighbors with Phil Donahue and his family.

Erma returned to her writing career in 1964, writing for the Kettering-Oakwood Times, then the Dayton Journal Herald. Shortly after, Erma’s columns became nationally syndicated, and were being published by 36 major US papers, three of the columns titled, “At Wit’s End.”

Erma’s popularity soared, and in 1966 she went on the road, doing lectures in various cities. Her first book, “At Wit’s End,” was a compilation of her columns.

Erma’s success piled up in numerous publications, such as:

  • Redbook
  • McCall’s
  • Teen Magazine
  • Family Circle
  • Reader’s Digest
  • Good Housekeeping
  • Over 900 national newspapers

Erma’s books started rolling out as well:

  • The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank
  • If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?
  • Aunt Erma’s Cope Book
  • Just Wait Til You Have Children of Your Own
  • I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression

During her travels as author, Erma fell in love with the Arizona desert. She and her family moved into a hacienda in Phoenix. Erma was involved with TV and writing projects for several years, including two unsuccessful shows. She was offered another sitcom, but declined.

Erma became interested in politics, especially the Equal Rights Amendment. In response to her activism, some of the more conservative book stores removed her books from their shelves.

As she got older, Erma’s health began to decline. As a young adult, Erma was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney disease, a condition she kept secret for years. By the time she came public with the disease in 1993, she was on a waiting list to receive a new kidney. In April of 1996, she received a kidney transplant, but died a few weeks later from complications. She is interred at Woodland Cemetery in an unmarked grave near the rock below. After her death, Bombeck’s husband brought the rock – weighing over 29,000 pounds – to Ohio from Arizona.

“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’.”

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