On Being Erma’s Child

Posted April 22, 2012 by jimhigley


I just returned from the 2012 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, which celebrated the genius of this one, incredible woman.

My mom was Betty.

But this weekend, at an intimate event at the University of Dayton, I was reminded that I am also Erma’s child. Erma Bombeck.

And I’m quite certain that’s precisely how the other attendees at the 2012 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop felt.

Erma died 16 years ago today. She left this world with far too many unfinished stories. Stories where she seemed to find the nugget of gold in the nooks and crannies of our days. It might be in the garbage disposal. Or in the burnt dinner. Or in the snippy conversation between parent and child. She always found gold. And she wrapped that gold in the dancing, smiling warmth you felt in her eyes. Her stories were your stories. Her stories made you feel alive. Her stories reminded you that – with Erma – you were never alone.

If you aren’t familiar with Erma’s works, youth is your only excuse. She wrote thousands of columns and countless books in the seventies, eighties and nineties. In sharing stories of her own family, she forever chronicled the stories of a generation.

And she did it with the universal language of humor.

The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop draws hundreds of writers – from Pulitzer Prize winners and New York Times best sellers – to folks who are simply beginning their journey of sharing stories through a blog. The common bond of everyone, however, is a love of Erma. It is that bond that makes us her children.

Having just returned from this year’s Workshop, I’m still on an Erma High. I was honored to be on the faculty this year. This Workshop is different from the other writing and blogging conferences I participate in throughout the year. “Erma” isn’t packaged with glitzy presentations and it’s not overpowered by snazzy parties sponsored by big-name brands.

Nope. “Erma” is more like traveling home to a family reunion. The one without the nutty relatives.

The family atmosphere is reinforced by the regular attendance of members of Erma’s family. This year we were fortunate to have her husband, Bill, join us – along with two-thirds of her children.

L-R: Daughter- Betsy, Husband Bill, Daughter-in-Law Shari, Son-Andy

Yep. “Erma” is the family gathering you love to attend.

A sampling?

  • A walk with Craig Wilson – famed columnist at USA Today – back to the hotel. Just us. And we simply talked about my son, Kevin.
  • In the first class I taught on Integrating Video into Your Craft – I looked up only to see the A-List writer, Ilene Beckerman (who wrote the award-winning Love, Loss and What I Wore) sitting in the front row. Have you ever had someone of that stature take notes about something you were saying?
  • Sitting at a book signing one night – at the table next to Bruce Cameron – author of the NY Times Best Seller, A Dogs Purpose. My table mate, Dave Fox, and I wondered why they put the two bald guys next to the Hollywood-Good-Looks Cameron.
  • Having a chance to speak to one of my new heroes in life – Pulitzer Prize winner Connie Schultz. My admiration for her extends far beyond her writing. At the Workshop, it had everything to do with how she touched every, single person she met. Being with Connie for thirty minutes is a life lesson in the power of treating others kindly, encouragingly, and with respect.
  • Sitting at dinner listening to geniuses including folks like Alan Zweibel who was one of the first writers for Saturday Night Live or  best-selling author Adriana Trigiani who wrote for countless television hits including The Cosby Show and A Different World.

You know that wonderful feeling you have when you’ve travelled to someone else’s home and walk down to their kitchen the first morning? You smell coffee. Perhaps cinnamon rolls. And you see the faces of people you forgot you missed? That’s how this Workshop is for me. Those “faces” are my true-blue writing pals. Suzette. Tracy. Michael. Karen. Michele. And they are the faces of some amazing new family. Anna. Nancy. Debba. And many more.

I’m enjoying my Erma High. I’ve been reminded of the goodness in the world. I’m reminded of the value in helping others. I’m reminded of the importance of opening doors for others. I’m reminded of the value of sharing your story and making others smile. Cry. Or laugh. But more than anything, I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to be a child of Erma.

  • http://twitter.com/micheleweldon micheleweldon

    I interviewed her for a profile in the 80s for the Dallas Times Herald. She was marvelous. I can still hear her laugh as I came down the hall of the hotel for the interview. She was so small, funny and kind. I had almost forgotten. Thanks for this.

    • Jim Higley

      Hi Michele – Thanks so much for the note on here! I’m a fan of yours! That is so amazing to have spent time with Erma. A legend. Truly! Thanks for sharing that memory! Jim

  • tmcgrevy

    I love your last line!
    I was there, too.  I’m sorry we didn’t meet.  This is EXACTLY what the conference was like for me!  Well, except for the faculty/book signing/ cool parts. I sat near Ilene Beckerman during Tracy B’s presentation.  She asked me if I blogged and I told her about my sad, little blog.  Ms. Beckerman said she wanted to learn more.  I could have crawled under the table when she walked to the podium during Saturday’s lunch.  I had not recognized her and she was too approachable to be “The Ilene Beckerman.”  My face is still red! Tina McGrevy

    • Jim Higley

      Tina – isn’t that the truth! We all bump into these famous people and then have that moment of “my gosh, do you know who that was!”…..the joy of Erma. We’re all the same!

  • Mindy Hoffbauer

    This was my third workshop. They’re all this good, Jim–except you have old friends as well as new ones when you return to them year after year. It was terrific meeting you. Hope to see you again in 2014!

    • Jim Higley

      Mindy – so great to meet you as well! The friend making is the best part!!!! Cheers.  

  • http://julesfredrick.wordpress.com/ Jules

    What a beautiful post. And yes, the presenters, including you, were way more “approachable” thank I ever imagined or have experienced before, although I still consider myself the “gawking nobody” and have a difficult time actually doing any approaching. 

    Your workshop pumped me up, and I immediately went to my room and made a video. Now to master iMovie.

    Thanks for everything, but especially this great post.

    • Jim Higley

      I’m so excited to hear that you got a little bit out of my workshop! That means the world to me! Yeah for you to already be tackling some new skills!  Thanks so much! Jim

  • Tracy

    as always, you captured the essence of the Erma conference experience.  This was my fourth time attending… twice as an attendee and twice as a speaker, and even in my speaker capacity, I never cease to learn new things or feel humbled by the passion for our craft I feel surrounding me.  I too feel like one of Erma’s children. That is truly the gift of this conference.  
    I was thrilled to be able to connect with you, in person, however briefly, and like you, delighted to reconnect with so many old friends and new ones.
    Two years is a long time to wait for this to come around again!

    • Jim Higley

      Thanks Tracy – it’s stinks to go back to real life after such a warm weekend. It was so great to see you. You open doors for so many – myself included. Thanks. Hugs. And Erma love to you!

  • Rizvi

    Just beautiful.

    • Jim Higley

      Thanks. The entire weekend was precisely that!  Jim

  • Rebecca Sydeski

    I really enjoyed this article Jim, and enjoyed meeting you this weekend.  I read your book Friday night and stayed up too late to finish it.  Very, very touching.  And this article, well….my Erma high is on, in full gear, and I’m loving every second of it.  Right now, two years feels like forever. 

    • Jim Higley

      Rebecca – I am so honored. Thank you for taking time to read my book. It means the world to me. Let’s keep our ERMA HIGH going!  Jim

  • https://www.facebook.com/WriterBonnieJean Bonnie Jean

    I’m pointing at you nodding my head and touching my… and all choked up. 
    Glad to know you Bobblehead Dad.

    • https://www.facebook.com/WriterBonnieJean Bonnie Jean

      That’s touching my nose! dang-it

      • Jim Higley

        I was wondering what you were touching! So glad you wrote. Here’s to Erma!

  • bywordofmouth

    How I just soaked up your words … a newbie to the conference and counting the days for a redo!
    I have attended several blogging conferences and nothing at all prepared me for the energy of this one.  The alumni, the keynotes, the speakers and the definite presence of Erma … what a gift sharing those days with her nearest and dearest.
    I may not have grown up with the words of Erma, but now I am grateful to be a child of Erma too.

    • Jim Higley

      Thanks for such lovely comments. I think we all feel the same. It’s such a great, warm event. We’re all lucky to be part of it! See you in two years!

  • http://www.facebook.com/getolife Bonnie Rice

    It”s Wednesday and I’m finally able to sit still long enough to get online and do some work. I was starting to worry about myself. What a wonderful experience. I enjoyed your session and hope I took good notes because when I got home, my husband surprised me with my new phone–the kind that does video. It’s going to take two years to get all of the great ideas I learned into practice. Great post.

  • BeePea

    “Erma” is more like traveling home to a family reunion. The one without the nutty relatives.

    Exactly! It was my 1st writers workshop EVER & the love & openness of all the teachers & attendees is still keeping me warm 🙂

    Beautiful post. Thank you for the life changing session!

  • Richard Keenam

    I daily read her column and my all time favorite of here with in the late 70, which was what some dogs were saying who had been left in a hot car. As much as I care about animals being protected and am one of those where a dog is a member of the family, I hope someone remembers this article and maybe the book in which it has hopefully been published.