When syndicated columnist Erma Bombeck came to town over the weekend, I had a delightful chat with her. When you meet someone famous, you always wonder if she will be down-to-earth or highfallutin, and Bombeck did not disappoint.
She was genuine. She talked easily, and always with the humor that has been her trademark in 25 years of writing a column."You talk about a steady date," she said, "that's it - as steady as you get. I started out covering what I call the `utility room beat,' and everyone yawned and smiled and said, `That's sweet.' And what's happened to the utility room beat is that it has turned into one of the most interesting revolutions in the history of our times. There's been a woman's revolution. Nothing has stayed the same - and I've chronicled all those things - humorously, of course."
When Bombeck last came to Utah - 10 years ago - her purpose was to plead for equal rights for women under the law. "I was a little bit different. I didn't belong to NOW (the National Organization for Women). I didn't belong to any organized group at all. I just thought it would be nice if we were in the Constitution. So I came to Salt Lake City."
Jokingly, she added, "They didn't ask me back."
But then, she doesn't enjoy doing a lot of lecturing anyway.
"I did so much traveling for `Good Morning America' that I sort of gave it up. I was on the road for 11 years for them, and that just burns you out. I just didn't want to do that much traveling. I just wanted to stay home and write books and columns and put my life in some kind of order."
The result is that her writing became even more productive. Her latest book, "I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise," is a serious narrative about children who have had cancer and beaten the odds. It is a departure from her normally straight-humorous style. Next fall she will have another new book out about her travels that is most easily characterized as outrageous.
Erma Bombeck, who writes gentle satire most of the time, runs into all the same criticism that other columnists face. She says she writes mostly about her family to avoid some of those heavy barbs, but she still gets her share of "rotten mail - 700 newspapers multiplied" - people who call her a "slimeball."
"I'm not saying that you ignore it and say it doesn't make any difference. Of courses it does! But you can sorta tell. The ones that don't sign their names - you never read it. That's my piece of advice. I have the courage to sign my name to what I write. And I respond to everything. But if they don't sign their names and they're not proud of what they wrote, then I'm not going to dignify it by reading it. They've wasted a stamp."
In fact, she says the most controversy she has ever gotten has come when she has written about the U.S. Post Office. "It will be late arriving to you, but it will get there. Every postman in the world is very sensitive about his job. It's incredible."
Erma Bombeck loves reading newspapers, and it disturbs her that some newspapers today are not doing well. "There is a younger generation of kids that live on sound bites and do not sit down and read enough. And I'm not quite sure what it takes to get them to read."
Since she had spoken out for equality for women, I asked her if she considered herself a feminist. It was not an easy question for her, because she doesn't identify with every feminist cause. She is opposed to abortion, for instance.
"People thought if the ERA passed there would be certain changes, and those changes came anyway. It was like a train you couldn't stop. Some of the changes were good and some were not. That's what change is all about. Women would like the right to do what God meant us to do and have a career if we have a talent for it, and yet I would like my daughter-in-law when I get one to stay home and raise my grandchild. So the ambivalence is still there. And if I believe that women have a long way to go yet - probably I'm a feminist."
And that is vintage Erma Bombeck.