BY DOROTHY ROSBY
Ever since I read that the documents and other memorabilia of my hero Erma Bombeck will soon be displayed at her alma mater, the University of Dayton, I’ve been wondering what will become of my papers when I’m gone. Will they be exhibited in a new climate-controlled wing at my alma mater? Or will they be discarded by disappointed descendants who while cleaning out my office decide I must have been quite unstable all along and they should probably go ahead and contest my will?
Just in case it’s the former, I look around my house to determine what a Dorothy Rosby collection might contain. Erma Bombeck was, of course, one of the great American humorists of the 20th century. She published more than 4000 columns in 900 newspapers. Her columns fill six boxes. I’ve published somewhat fewer columns in somewhat fewer newspapers. Newspaper clippings of my columns fill one box—almost.
Her collection contains hundreds of her column ideas written on the back of old column drafts, scraps of paper and even an airline napkin. I also have hundreds of column ideas scribbled on scraps of paper, with the most interesting one being a paper placemat from a local diner. It comes complete with a mustard stain which lends it a touch of authenticity and only a faint mustardy odor. I don’t think there’s any sense in shipping my notes off to Augustana University though because no one could read them anyway. I barely can.
Also in the Bombeck collection are the original manuscripts of her 15 books, many of them bestsellers. I’ve written some books too, though not 15—and not bestsellers. Among Erma’s items is the 1977 New York Times’ Best Seller List plaque for The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, her first book to garner that honor. I have no such plaque. Nor do I have a septic tank…or green grass.
I have won some awards though. I have a handful of certificates suitable for framing and a “Best Wife” refrigerator magnet in the shape of an Oscar that my husband picked up at a gift shop in Hollywood.
The Bombeck collection features correspondence including letters from readers all over the country. I’ve saved reader letters too—the nice ones anyway.
Among the items the University of Dayton will display is the issue of The World Almanac and Book of Facts naming Erma Bombeck one of the 25 Most Influential Women in America. I don’t have anything like that, but I may still have the poster made in my honor a few years back officially declaring me “The Ice Cream Kid” which is almost as impressive.
Erma Bombeck served as grand marshal of the 1986 Rose Parade and her collection contains a large gold-framed photo of her family riding in a rose-covered white convertible during the event. I was never grand marshal, but I did march in many parades as last chair clarinetist in my high school band. As far as I know there are no photos to prove it though and I hope none are ever found.
Among the many other items in the Erma Bombeck collection are commencement addresses she gave, scripts for Maggie, the sitcom she helped produce and other proposed TV and movie scripts. I’ve never written a script nor have I done any commencement addresses. I did however give the valedictorian address at my high school graduation. Don’t be impressed. There were only 28 in my graduating class; even the “F” students were in the top thirty. Still my speech would make a nice addition to my collection except I didn’t keep it. And I don’t remember a thing about it. I doubt it lives on in anyone else’s memory either.
So there you have it: the Dorothy Rosby collection. It may not have the name recognition of the Erma Bombeck collection, but it will take up less space.
Dorothy Rosby is the author of three books of humorous essays, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better.