Growing Up


At school, Erma played the bookworm. Class clown? Definitely not. But if anyone had cared to search beneath the surface, they would have discovered a child fascinated by humor. Erma practically inhaled the works of popular humorists including Robert Benchley, James Thurber, and H. Allen Smith. So it’s not surprising that when given the opportunity to write for the school newspaper, she produced a humor column.

The staff of Emerson Junior High allowed the newspaper, The Owl, to carry Erma’s work even though it was biting and sometimes even cruel. With those first columns, Erma discovered the power of words. Praise from teachers and students fueled her desire to poke fun at the world.

High School

When she moved on to Patterson Vocational High School, Erma crammed school, social and academic news into her own column. It was basically serious stuff, but she always managed to fit in at least one amusing tidbit like this: “In sociology class, it is discovered that there is no teacher worse than your fellow students. The sisters [teaching nuns] have given over the class to the students…Results: If you have a blank look on your face, you’re a dead ringer to be called upon.”

One day when she was fifteen, Erma walked into the office of the managing editor of the Dayton Herald, the city’s afternoon newspaper and said, “I want to work for your paper.” The editor explained that only a full-time position was available.

“That’s okay, I can work two weeks and get you another girl to work the two weeks I’m in school. While she’s in school, I’ll work. That’s how our school operates. It’ll be just like having a full-time person,” Erma ended triumphantly. She was hired.

She proudly wore the title “copygirl,” but Erma wrote for the newspaper only once during high school. Shirley Temple came to Dayton for the premiere of her latest movie, Since You Went Away. Erma interviewed her as one sixteen-year-old to another and the story was published on the feature page. Erma received the newspaper staff award for feature of the week — $10 and a spot on the bulletin board. That day, she assured herself, marked the beginning of a great career.

Bill Bombeck worked for the city’s morning paper, the Dayton Journal. When copygirl met copyboy, sparks flew, at least for Erma. Erma thought he was gorgeous. She didn’t care if he couldn’t put two words together and come up with a sentence. She eyed him for two or three years before they got together. Then, after only a couple of dates, he left for the Army and Korea.

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

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