I’d like to introduce you to some wonderful women.
But first, a story.
Erma Bombeck spoke at my college graduation. This is how her speech began.
“Hello. I know you’re nervous about school ending and are filled with anticipation for the future and grief for leaving behind your loved ones. I know you’re worried you won’t make it on your own. But we’re not here to talk about you parents. We’re here for the graduates.”
[Insert laughter and applause here.]
It was 1984, I was graduating from nursing school, and was no one’s favorite nursing student. My best friend and I talked too much, laughed during enema-giving lessons, and acted like nursing school was an internship on Comedy Central. It wasn’t that we didn’t understand the seriousness of caring for the ill; it was that we did. Humor was our stress valve. We knew it, and Erma Bombeck knew it too.
When I heard that Erma (can I call you Erma?) would be doing our commencement speech, I wrote her a letter. I sent it to the newspaper editor that published her syndicated column. I was twenty-one, probably not her typical reader demographic. Still, my mother was a huge fan, and we read everything Erma wrote together.
Here’s how I started her letter.
“Dear Erma Bombeck, Or How you doin’ Erma Baby.” The audacity of the young! I knew she had a good sense of humor, obviously, so I went for it. I asked to meet her, show her Duluth, and have a coffee. And true to who she was at her core, she wrote me a letter which you see above.
After the graduation ceremony, there was a dinner. Erma was seated next to the president of the college. A man that didn’t care for me and my bestie. We’d met with him earlier in the year about lapses in the Nursing curriculum, which irritated him. How dare we critique anything? When I approached the table to make myself known to Erma as she’d asked me to in her letter, the president caught my eye and tried to intervene. His eyes widened. He shook his head, and he started to stand.
I introduced myself to Erma, and she immediately welcomed me as if we were old friends. The president looked like the HS principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—shocked and outraged.
I was dazzled by Erma’s warmth and don’t remember what she said, but here’s what I remember feeling. Validated, cared for, heard, and, if you don’t mind me saying so….loved.
She helped change how the world felt about funny women and made it clear that outspoken humor wasn’t just for men.
Last week I spoke at the Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop in Dayton, Ohio and cried when they showed a slide show of her life. It was like refreshing the memories of times with my mom. I met Erma’s daughter and many others that I want you to meet. Let me introduce you to Lisa Roe, who wrote Welcome to the Neighborhood, Amy Poeppel, who has a new book, The Sweet Spot. Julie Cantrell, who is a light in the darkness, Karen Walrund, who writes about making light and joy while changing the world. I met Laraine Newman from Saturday Night Live, who has a new memoir out, and Katrina Kittle, author. She spoke so inspiringly in her keynote that I wanted to hug her while she spoke.
The conference reminded me that writing and humor connect us to our humanity, and I’m so glad you are all here and connected to me.
What a delightful and affirming story, Ann. Thank you for sharing. Erma was a rare and wonderful creature and we’re all the better for having been touched by her. And now we have your warmth, humor and joy. Carry on!
She was rare and wonderful and I miss her. Thank you for your affirming words. So lovely this AM.
I love this life story- I think of your mom and dad often. Your dad ‘s boisterous laugh was so contagious and his humorous stories filled Metro Place with joy. He laughed at himself loudest of all- telling how he locked himself out of the storage locker and then climbed over it to get the keys!! In one of your essays you shared how your mom may not have known who you were at the end but she knew she loved you. I have shared that lovely sentiment with others. Thanks for all the positivity and joy !
I’m so happy that you remember them as I do. He did laugh loudly–right in the middle of his stories!! You always had to wait until he stopped to hear the rest. I can’t even imagine him climbing over the storage locker. hahaha That had to be a sight. And, my mother–she was the most wonderful mom. I still feel her love every day. Thank you for writing to me. What a gift.
This is a beautiful piece, Ann! Thank you so much for sharing your memories — and teaching sessions at the workshop.
It was my honor, Teri. Thank you for having me.
This post is a bright gift on a gray morning. ♥️
Thank you, your email did that same for me.
Oh, Ann! How perfect! I have been marveling at examples of my own unworldly confidence this week too!
It’s a confidence game — this life.
What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you so much for writing!
Wonderful Ann. This is such a fun and interesting piece! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you!! I loved being at the conference. So inspiring.
Like you, Ann, I grew up reading Erma Bombeck, and adored her. A favorite Erma quote: “Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.”
hahaha. She was the queen.
This is lovely, and so on brand for Erma Bombeck–and for Ann Garvin. 🙂
It was amazing to meet her and later be at the conference. Kind of a full circle.
She’s an icon. xo
As always, your post has made me laugh and brightened my day…thank you for sharing and I love that letter from Erma!
It’s my honor that you are here reading.
Thank you for writing to me!
Thanks for sharing this, Ann! Love the letter, but mostly how she made you feel when you met her. Oh, that we could all do that! Thanks for always brightening my day when I see your newsletter in my inbox – you are a treasure! Hugs!!
Thank YOU. It’s always wonderful to see your words here.
You make me feel lovely too.
My Mom devotedly read the daily newspaper, but didn’t “have time” to read the books I devoured as a teen. (Full disclosure, I’m still a voracious reader.) However, Mom bought and read Erma Bombeck! And since the books were in the house, I read them too. Maybe that is why your comment, that a slideshow of Erma’s life made you cry while remembering your Mom, made me tear up remembering my Mom. Beautiful story. I can imagine you as a badass student nurse.
Thank you for writing. IT’s true though. Erma touched so many of us.
I was quite the student, I’ll say that. xoxox
I love when I see your curls in my inbox! What a delightful memory. And shame on that man for trying to suppress who you are.
Well, you know how it is with that generation of man.
I got the last laugh though.
Thanks for writing!!
What a lovely story, Ann! Well told, well remembered! My dear, I want so to be on your team, or better yet, you be on mine! Working on my soon-to-be-published novel KENNEDY GIRL – through some surprising … patches… generated by the content … in the final editing phase. It’s simply amazing how the work resonates differently once you let it out of the gate. Everyone visits it with their own ‘stuff’. Delightful break from my day reading yours.
That is for sure—once the writing is out of the gate, you can’t get it back in..
Thanks for writing, it’s so lovely to hear from you.
Such a lovely, touching story, and the full circle aspect makes it even more so. Thank God for audacity! I believe it is a key component of humor. As for your nursing school cut-ups (pardon the awful pun), gallows humor can be a sanity saver.
We were “cut-ups” hahaha. Gallows does save the day. Thank you for writing!!
You too Ann are a breath of lightness in the darkness. Lorraine
Well, Lorraine, you just brightened my day as well.
What a lovely story reaffirming Erma Bombeck’s warmth and grace. She was so inspirational to many young writers and readers, Her insights and passion for what she called “the common folks” made her writings authentic and laced with folksy humor and truth. Thank you for reminding us of her lastly legacy of joy.
You are so welcome Denise.
Loved your story. I was inspired by Erma. And by you too at your workshop.
Thanks for saying so! I hope to see you soon!
Katrina Kittle has always been one of my favorite people at past conferences, and I confess that I was a little sad that she wouldn’t be running a writing session this year…and then I took YOUR session. (Which I was tickled to get to attend because I’ve long been a fan of your writing, too.)
So many words spoke directly to my heart this past weekend. Thank you for sharing yours!
What a lovely, lovely note. Thank you so much.
Kartrina is amazing, that is for certain, I’m glad I helped a bit here and there.
See you in 2024!
I read your words and cried a little. I loved Erma Bombeck, and thinking of her brings memories of laughter shared with my mom. Ann, I wish I could share your words and books with my mom, she would have enjoyed them so much. You’re such an inspiration, and today I really needed this. Thank you.
Thank you so very much for this. Our moms, they were so much weren’t they? Thank you for telling me this—thank you for being here with me in my memories.
What a wonderful moment from your graduation, and her note to you is priceless.
I remember reading her column in Good Housekeeping magazine, like every other tweener in the 70s. Yeah, I was reading Erma pretty young–even younger than that– and my mom never minded me reading her magazines. I guess she knew. Then again, I don’t think she knows I have her 60s copy of Peyton Place, which I read as a tweener, too.
I read Fear of Flying by Erica Jong and I bet my mother had no idea!!
Erma is such a fantastic memory for us. We were lucky to have her. Thanks for always being here, Denise. xo Ann
First off,I too loved Erma Bombeck read her books and columns. I wanted to write with her whit. Your writing also ‘I thought you said this would work’ totally enjoyed.
Question what can you recommend as a way to bring more humor into your writing. Yes, I am in the process of writing a novel. It is a romance while also dealing with the drug problem in America.
The key to adding humor is to find the irony, surprise, and silliness you notice that feels like taboo–but highlighting it nonetheless. We are connected by our humanity and faults. We all know how flawed we are. Adding humor is to dig deep into the universal faults of all of us and admit to them. I hope that helps!! xo Ann
I got the add silly my smitten guy tells her jokes he’s looked up online. ‘what is the turkey thankful for? Vegetarians.’ I want her to think I’m fun in spite of my serious job, he tells his investigator partner. Delving into faults is scary. Exposing myself.
Erma Bombeck was such an influence – I love reading this tribute. I am new to Tall Poppies and look forward to exploring all the goodness here. TY
Anne! Welcome to the Poppies.
I’m so happy you’re here and so nice to e-meet you.
Ann, Oh my, I loved this post. How did I miss the Erma Bombeck conference? I loved her and have been a fan of yours since my former student, Josh Chamberlain recommended your writing and advice. For many years I taught high school and college students. I tried to push them to be as audacious as you were in your letter to Erma. Too often they believe an opportunity will fall from the sky and plop into their laps. I LOVE that the college president witnessed this! You created your own fantasy moment. You go girl! Courage spreads. Fondly, Dauna Easley
OHHH I love Josh. Thank you so much for this reply, that I missed at first. Come to Erma. Hopefully we both can, and we can connect. xo