Early Childhood


Erma Louise Fiste was born on February 21, 1927. With her parents and half-sister Thelma, Erma lived on Hedges Street in a Dayton, Ohio, neighborhood filled with hardworking, lower middle class families. Her dad, a crane operator for the city of Dayton, couldn’t offer the family many extras, but Erma never remembered feeling poor. There was always food on the table, serviceable clothing, and enough money squeezed out each month to pay for tap dancing lessons.

Even when they weren’t dancing, Erma and her Thelma were a team. Erma idolized her sister, who was seven years older. On weekends when Thelma visited her natural mother, Erma would sit, chin in hands, on the front steps of the house for hours, peering up and down the street, eagerly awaiting her big sister’s return.

At the age of five, Erma ached to attend school. With Thelma away all day, Erma was bored. Although children generally did not begin first grade until they were six, Erma’s eagerness along with her mother’s certainty that she was ready, convinced the principal to admit her. She couldn’t yet read, but Erma had already fallen in love with books. She raced around the house, collecting all the volumes she could find and toted them off to school.

Erma was an eager student and, at least until difficulties surfaced in college, an excellent one. Reading opened up life to her and helped her cope with the world of adults in which she found herself. When the school day ended, she would rush home, grab a book and scramble to her special spot under the eaves where it was cool. She would read out loud taking all the parts as though she were in a play. At Christmas, while her friends begged for dolls and bikes, she pleaded for books.

Erma wanted to make up stories and write for the school newspaper. English became the only subject she cared about. Every other period in the school day became just another hour to get through. She longed to travel and experience life beyond Dayton. And even at the age of 10, she wanted to write about it.

From the book, Erma Bombeck: Writer and Humorist by Lynn Hutner Colwell.
Used with permission of the author.

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