"There ought to be enough material in this one day's conference for me to write another book!" joked syndicated columnist Erma Bombeck upon arrival in Salt Lake City to keynote Sen. Orrin Hatch's Utah Women's Conference at the Salt Palace today.
Although famous for her one-liners, such as "A working mother is a woman racing around the kitchen in a pair of bedroom slippers, trying to quick-thaw a chop under each armpit," and "Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving," Bombeck told the Deseret News in an exclusive interview that she uses one-liners in her speeches because she is "very insecure.""If they're sleeping out there or cleaning the lipstick off their teeth, it really unsettles me. So I do one-liners just to make sure they're breathing."
Although Bombeck is known mostly for gentle humor, she does write serious columns on occasion, "because if you don't touch on the ambivalence of motherhood and family, you're just doing shtick."
Her writing, she said, "is not 100 percent comedy and I don't think that's ever been what the writing is all about. It's 100 percent real life and there is just a little exaggeration thrown in."
Her latest book, "I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise," is a serious narrative on children who have had cancer and beaten the odds. The book took two years to research and another nine months to write.
"It took a lot of time. It was a little different for me and I don't want to make any mistakes on that one. You see, with my books I can just sit there and hallucinate and they sort of fall out on the page - you can do anything with humor. But when you have a subject like this that you're trying to apply humor to - it's really hard. This is the most serious work I've done."
The column has changed direction gradually over the 25 years of its history. In the early days, the word for it, according to Bombeck, was "domestic drolleries," a word coined by the New York Times. "But they don't call it that any more. I've graduated."
Even though her children are now "old" - in their 30s - she still emphasizes her own experience in the column.
"I do that because there is such a sensitivity with humor. You don't write anything but what someone is going to call you up and say, `You're a slimeball!' People get very upset. You've struck a nerve. You've gotten too close to something. You've done something that they're not ready to laugh at yet. So I use myself and my family because they don't send me rotten mail."
Bombeck says that in her experience women have demonstrated the greatest ability to laugh at themselves, and that baby boomers take themselves most seriously. "They just don't lighten up too easily."
Her favorite kind of column to do is on voluntarism.
"It's an easy column for me to do because I'm the consummate volunteer and my husband is too. We believe that in order to belong to a community you've got to give something back to it. You can't just live there. We believe when you're in a position to give something back to it, do it. Double it. Triple it. And you get back far more than you ever give. I'm a big disciple of voluntarism."
Bombeck has been interested in writing since she was 9 years old. "That was the only thing I could do.I can't do anything else. I have no other talents. This is it. You're lookin' at it!"
Back in Dayton, Ohio, she wrote in grade school, in high school, in college - then walked into a newspaper and got her first job there, and it is her newspaper work that she is still most proud of. Although she spent 11 years appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," she hated television. "I'm not a performer. I'm much too shy."
Shyness is not a quality that most people would have ascribed to the witty Bombeck, who now lives in Phoenix, Ariz., and last visited Utah 10 years ago. She has been so well-received that it is not likely to be that long until she comes again.