Me, My Mom & Erma!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Just back from the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers' Workshop (the largest humor writers' conference in America) and was blown away by the event: Well-organized, great presenters, and an enthusiastic, loving, talented group of emerging writers who showered me with love, laughs talent, and tears. I was humbled that my presentation (THE THREE H'S: How Humor, Heartbreak and Honesty Are Intimately Intertwined) touched so many, and that my books sold out in the blink of an eye. And you head to my Facebook account to see pix of the "WADE-ETTES"!

My mom introduced me to Erma at a young age, and her influence on me was foundational.

As we approach Mother's Day, I wanted to share part of what I said at the conference ... and part of what I've been writing. In fact, essays that I wrote about Erma and my mom will be appearing in the June/July issue of Metrosource Magazine ( and on a Mother's Day blog at featuring some amazing writers.

I am also currently writing a memoir titled ME, MY MOM & ERMA: How I Learned to Laugh Through Tragedy and Pursue My Passion from Two Midwestern Mothers.

Hope you enjoy the following ... Oh! ... and for the many of you that have asked, Marge is doing well! Walking, running (albeit slowly), eating and giving me lots of kisses! She's farting again, I tell everyone, which means she's largely back to normal.


Not long after singing “Delta Dawn” in a rural talent contest – a throng of Conway Twitty look-alikes laughing into their cowboy hats – my mother told me she was proud of me.

“You were true to yourself,” she said. “And that can only bring happiness.”

She then bought me a little, leather journal.

“This is how you will make sense of the world,” she wrote in it. “So, write!”

And I did. Mostly about her.

My nickname for my mom was “Digit.”

As a beloved nurse in our little Ozarks town, my mother was the go-to gal whenever a local idiot whacked off a finger with a chainsaw.

She would answer our giant, red, rotary phone and say in her lilting Southern accent, “Can you locate your thumb? Good!” Then she’d rush out with an Igloo cooler filled with ice.

My mom discovered my journal one day while cleaning my room and promptly shoved our local newspaper in front of my nose while I was eating a bowl of Quisp. “You need to read Erma!”

From that day on, Erma Bombeck and my mom became my best friends. They taught me you had to have a passion for what you did, a pride in who you were, and, mostly, the ability to laugh at yourself and life, or you wouldn’t survive.

Those would be fortuitous lessons.

My older brother died just after graduating high school. When my mother seemed no longer able to laugh, to get out of bed, I made it my sole goal to bring her back to life. I read to her from Erma and my journals. And, slowly, she began to laugh. We became more than mother-son, we became best friends.

My mom and I joked that we invented e-mail. When I was in college – before technology had taken over – we wrote each other humorous letters about life. We titled them “E-mail,” short for Erma mail.

In our E-mails, my mom implored me to write, to be the next Erma.

And she would not be deterred.

I vividly remember the New Year’s Day I stood in front of my city mailbox, alongside my mother, clutching a fistful of query letters after I’d spent two years completing my first memoir, America’s Boy.

“Here’s to rejection!” I said.

“Here’s to dreams!” my mom had said.

She forced my hand into the mailbox and shook the letters free, the slot careening back on my fingers.

“Thanks, Digit!” I said.

“I’m so proud of you,” she said. “And so is Erma.”

Two weeks later, I had three offers of representation.

When America’s Boy was published, my mom sent me a copy of The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, and wrote the following Erma quote inside: “There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, ‘Yes, I’ve got dreams, of course I’ve got dreams.’ Then they put the box away and bring it out once in a while to look in it, and, yep, they’re still there. These are great dreams, but they never even get out of the box. It takes an uncommon amount of guts to put your dreams on the line, to hold them up and say, ‘How good or how bad am I?’ That’s where courage comes in.”

My mother passed away last June of cancer, just weeks after seeing my current memoir, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream, featured on NBC’s Today Show.

“I’m so proud of you,” she told me that day. “See, being true to yourself led to happiness.”

“But I’m so sad,” I bawled.

“And I’m so happy,” she replied. “I could not have asked for a better son or life.” And then she whispered, “You know, laughter rises out of tragedy, when you need it most, and rewards you for your courage.”

It was an Erma quote, one we’d often recited to each other in dire times.

And then I said, pulling another Erma quote from my memory, “And insanity is hereditary. You can catch it from your kids.”

She laughed. Hard.

“You’re my best friend,” I told her.

This is my first Mother’s Day without the woman who brought me into it, and though that dull ache will not fade – and I fear it never will – I am blessed to share the simple lessons my two Midwestern moms taught me, because we can never hear them enough:

Love. Laugh. Be true to yourself.

And happiness will follow.