When I Got Married, Mom Gave Me an Erma Bombeck Library


From Aunt Erma’s Cope Book

My mom, Mary, loved Erma Bombeck. She bought her paperbacks and read her newspaper articles, often clipping them out and sending them to me…a young wife and mother. Bombeck’s timeless humor was an encouragement in those days of stress and struggle. I saw myself in some of her predicaments like wrangling a car seat onto the counter, clinging to a crying kid on my hip and trying to wrangle a third thumbsucker while pushing a shopping cart with my hip through checkouts, avoiding eye contact with the rack of candy bars beside us.

Too often I looked for answers in women’s groups, psychology, in pop gurus and those folks that were great attention grabbers. I wanted to be organized, to be relevant, to be slim and loved (our society often equates these two things.) In this chapter, “Tidying Up Your Life”, Bombeck’s mother finally suggests a class on getting organized. Erma struggles through the class and leaves with a classmate.

“I walked with Ruth, who offered to drive me to where my car was parked. (She had also arrived late and had parked her car in a towaway zone.) We discussed our frailties.

“The trouble with me,” said Ruth, “is I’m a perfectionist. Do you have a coat-hanger?”

“What for?”

“I locked my keys in the car. I’m one of those people who can’t settle for mediocrity,” she explained, taking off her necklace and making a loop in it to pull the button up. “Easy now…I got it!” she smiled. “Do you know I even used to iron diapers? The only reason I’m taking this class is so I can learn who to compromise. If I don’t, I’m going to drive myself crazy. What’s your problem?”

“It’s my mother,” I said. “She thinks I need organization. She plans her next headache.”

Ruth nodded. “I know the type.”

“Her spices are alphabetized. She cleans spatters from her stove every time she uses it. Every year she changes her closet over from winter to summer.”

“You’re kidding!”

“No. I have never seen my mother carry a suede handbag in the summer. She’s what I call a box-saver.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It’s the difference between youth and old age, I think. When you’re young you believe that somewhere around the next bend is always a box when you need it. Old age never wants to take that chance.”

“You know, I think you’re right,” nodded Ruth.

“She’s got boxes inside boxes. I’ve received scarves in a stationery box, a blouse in a shoebox, and once on my birthday I got a small pendant in a box marked ‘Rectal Thermometer.’ Every Christmas, I get something from Mother in a Nieman-Marcus box. It’s the same box. My Mother has never been in Nieman-Marcus in her entire life.” (Bombeck 1979) Fawcett Crest, NY

When I read this, I saw how my friends from over the years became their moms. I didn’t inherit the buoyant and joyful flippancy I thought I saw at the core of my mother. Yes, she was very smart and very experienced, but I thought too youthful in her cheerful attitudes. I was stubbornly determined to plan, organize and tidy every issue I came in contact with, feeling the condemning stare of some in my aegis who like Death in “Christmas Carol,” pointed a stern bony finger at failures to dissuade me from moving forward.

It took years of counseling, and prayer to let joy seep back into my outlook on life. I began to open new doors and while stepping into the unknown, I discovered I had forgotten to love and to honor myself. I over-valued the opinions of those who judged me and found me inadequate, something my mother would never do. I discovered that there is a God who loves me exactly the way He created me. Obviously, He has a great sense of humor. I think appreciating good humor in my Erma Bombeck collection is a great place to find my way back home.

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