I recently spoke to the Laughing Liberty Ladies Red Hat Society on location in Richmond. Being with these ladies is as easy as being at home! There's my friends Lois and Shirley, and other ladies who have been in my hometown for decades. One, Dorothy, even recalls buying a refrigerator from my dad in the 1940s!
Jenny Pugh is a colleague who writes for Western Wayne News. One of these ladies is not from Union County but came to live there in recent years, inspired by visiting the local boating and camping venues and she now adores her new hometown!
A couple other ladies travel to be with this bunch monthly from Cincinnati.
Thank you, Liberty ladies, for having me as your speaker!
I survived! Going into this past week, I had two personal meetings and four author-oriented gigs. It would be a fun week, a blessed and rare-air period of days, even, but it would involve a lot of programs and making sure I had the correct amount of everything (script, props, books) ready to go with the specific event.
Monday was Writer Chicks Society at Janet’s in Noblesville, and as always, we had a lot to say, and numerous updates on our projects. We didn’t even finish early, despite missing our member, Susan, who was off having fun on a family trip.
That evening found me in Middletown with a fellowship session, and then the highlight of the 2021-22 year of Bible Study Fellowship, our annual share night, where participants are welcome at an open mic to share their personal takeaways and insights from the study. This year's was Matthew.
Tuesday night took me down I-69 and other routes south to Greenwood at the Greenwood Christian Church where about 220 filled the fellowship hall for a mother-daughter banquet. Although I grew up in a tiny church, this banquet took me back to those years and how much I adored those banquets!
I only wish I had taken photos! Two key people among many wonderful ones made my night. One of the coordinators, Stellamae Carley, invited me to give the 2020 program, which covid ruined, as it did in 2021, and I was delighted to be remembered for the 2022 edition.
I broke out my new card reader to use for credit and debit payments and I felt nervous to use it for the first time. God sent me an angel named Elaine in the parking lot! We chatted there and some more inside and when she asked to purchase books with her card before everyone got there.
I told her she was my Guinea pig. I felt so grateful to process her payment while there wasn’t a group around waiting on my fumbles--and all went great. She even helped at my table as the night went on. And she gave me her necklace!
Wednesday night it was off to Fishers where Creek Readers and I discussed my book, There’s a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go. I can’t begin to express to hostess Kay how much I appreciate her selecting my book and how much fun it was to see how the book affected the club members.
They brought heirlooms to discuss and share with the group ranging from Mary Jo’s father’s poem to Ellen’s majorette uniform and other delights! Kay told me it was one of the best meetings the group has ever had! I’m humbled and grateful.
When Thursday arrived, I did a first. I sat down and on the spot, that day, wrote a program for the evening’s gig, in my beloved New Castle for the Young Moderns Home Ec Club. They were hosting their annual guest night with about 40 slated to attend.
I had put off writing their program because I wasn’t sure which direction to go with it. I decided to go with a shorter, more personal program about how I came to write the book and what our family went through during both 2020 and 2021 and how cleaning out the attic and writing the book helped get me through some tough times.
I ended on a personal note about how we all made it! We survived a worldwide pandemic and it’s something to celebrate!
Oh, but I'm not done ...
Saturday's road took me east to another mother-daughter banquet, this one at Hagerstown’s New Testament Church of Christ. The Friendship Circle outdid themselves in décor and attention to detail, along with delicious food. They even surprised me with inviting my cover artist Marilyn Witt to join us! It was lovely. Just lovely.
Note: The following is my latest published column in the three papers for which I write twice a month. It printed around the date of Erma's 95th birthday.
by Donna Cronk
I hadn’t thought much about Erma Bombeck in some time. The national columnist was part of the average American homemaker’s life for 30 years through her consistent output of domestic common sense and humor.
I’m sure that many women considered her almost a friend who dropped by whenever the paper arrived.
It seemed that she would always be at it, cranking out copy from her laundry-room beat; that maybe we haven’t heard from her in a while due to a backlog of dirty clothes, with a funny story coming right up about how that happened.
Her death at age 69 in 1996 meant we would never share her life’s roadmap through her 70s, 80s, and even now, in what her 90-something self would have to say about life and aging. Today, oddly, I’m feeling the loss of that loss.
The humorist came back on my radar recently when my friend, Cathy, mentioned that she wanted to record a PBS show coming on late that night about Erma. I decided to stay up and watch it. While not a new program, I had never seen it before so it was new to me. It brought back memories.
When I came to the New Castle paper in 1989, Erma’s columns arrived in a large white Universal Press Syndicate envelope and had to be typed into our news program. It’s hard to remember how we got things done before the internet changed everything, but for sure, there was considerably more retyping copy into video display terminals (VDTs).
I sometimes spent entire afternoons keying in club minutes and wedding write-ups, for example. It fell to me to type Erma’s work.
I did the math, and at that time, she was a year younger than I am now. She lived only another seven years, passing from complications of a kidney transplant, a few days after penning her final column.
How can it be that she’s been gone for an entire generation—folks born, raised, and then some—without the wit and wisdom of one of the funniest women who ever knew her way around home row. I wonder if anyone under 50 has heard of her.
Erma is funny and brilliant on paper, but I didn’t think her charm translated well into TV spots. I wanted to laugh … but (sorry, Erma), it didn’t work. She was a paper person through and through. So was I, getting so nervous I nearly froze back then when I had to speak at newspaper-sponsored recipe contests.
I thought her lack of stage presence made her all the more believable and “like us.” She looked and sounded like your own mom, sister, or yourself, up there on the big stage or in the talk-show-guest’s hot seat.
Her gift was finding the relatable insights and humorous irony in ordinary-life situations. Not once or occasionally, but cranking out weekly masterpieces with the same inch-count as the previous ones, and the ones to come the next week. She pulled a writer’s version of dancing backward in high heels.
Her humor had none of the mean-girl snark nor insinuation that someone of a different political or faith bent than hers is a horrible person. She found the common ground. I couldn’t tell you her politics or denomination.
Erma inspired us. She truly was “just a housewife” from Ohio, and she really did make the casseroles and care for her family despite 30 million readers looking in, well, reading what she wrote.
Once I won a statewide newspaper-contest award for column writing. The judge jotted in the comments section that you never know from where the next Erma Bombeck will come.
She didn’t come from me, but putting Erma’s name in the same sentence to describe my writing was worth more than the engraved plaque. And I do like engraved plaques.
These days, I think of Erma in a new way. How is it that 70 once seemed old and now… not so much. I told a friend the other day that, “When I use the phrase ‘older woman,’ it will always mean someone older than I am.”
Should I live to be 100, the "older woman" I mention will be at least 100.1 years old.
Years ago we bought Brian’s mom a book collection of Erma’s columns for a Christmas gift. When Mary passed, and we went through things in preparation for an estate sale, I saved back the Bombeck book. I thought it was surely dated, though.
What did I know? I was then a younger woman in my late forties.
Now? Even though the hunky actors she mentions on her pages are dead, and we use computers instead of typewriters, and too much comedy has turned vicious, I expect that if I read that book, I’d find that Erma is timeless.
The last time I sat down and read her work, or enjoyed it as I retyped her columns for the paper, we weren’t peers—writing or otherwise. Now we are. I’ve caught up. We’ve both seen greater or lesser chunks of our sixties. We both had columns for at least three decades. Heck, we both had husbands who were school principals. She got a kidney transplant; my older son works in kidney-transplant surgeries. We have plenty in common.
It sure would have been nice to read Erma’s take on the sunset side of life, those missing years she didn’t get; the ones I still hope to see.
The unique twist of being common, yet one of a kind: that was Erma. She gave us the sustenance we needed to assemble a meatloaf after a long day, can the green beans when the garden is on summer overload, fold the laundry (yet again) and run the sweeper (yet again). And come on! No matter what other Big Things we’re doing, who likes a crunchy carpet or damp laundry? Seeing to the mundane is part of life. Erma knew that. She made it interesting.
Erma would now be 95. I miss her.
Donna Cronk is retired from 31 years at the New Castle Courier-Times. She still writes columns for three papers, and enjoys giving programs and attending book club discussions about her new book, There’s a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go. Connect with her at email@example.com.
As I continue the spring tour of ladies banquets, libraries, and other stops, I found myself over the weekend at two venues. Saturday was a brunch in Selma at the Christ United Methodist Church. I was invited by Anita Price.
It turns out that this church is the "home" church--if not now, in their childhoods or other previous years--to several women I know. Jackie, a retired teacher from my sons' elementary school, was on hand as this is her hometown childhood church!
So often, anywhere I go in Indiana feels like home. Connections abound!
Attending were some Bible Study Fellowship mentors, including with Anita, our long-time teaching leader Jodie, and group leader, Brenda, along with at least a couple others who were there. The committee provided fun decorations and a lovely brunch. Thank you Anita, for taking a chance on someone you have never heard speak before to provide the program.
Friday night found me in my home-away-from-home, Henry County, where Debbie from the Mt. Zion Wesleyan Church invited me to be the banquet speaker with a theme of "Garden Party." When I walked into their gym/multipurpose room, this bouquet was my welcome, and now greets me when I walk into our dining room:
The committee worked hard to carry out the spring floral theme, but also decorated the stage in keeping with the theme of my 2022 book, There's a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go.
A nice crowd filled the space and enjoyed a meal of a baked potato and taco salad bar, and dessert. There was a Garden Party photo booth, door prizes and fun.
Grateful for these lovely gigs, when I got home Saturday afternoon, I felt relieved that I didn't conflate the two gatherings! I had never been to either of these venues, and since they were hours apart, I hoped I didn't talk about gardens where trips were the theme, and vice versa.
And I was tired! That was my third program for the week. Tuesday's was at the Knightstown Public Library, and we had a wonderful time with my signature "What's in Your Attic?" program. Several attendees brought their heirlooms.
Today I have been working hard my to-do list; tonight is the last BSF of the 2021-22 year with our Share Night next Monday, and then we're off for the summer. I think I'll take the next hour off before it's time to get ready to leave. It's a busy season. But busy in a fulfilling kind of way. Hope your week is a good one.