Courtesy of BJJones Photography
Today was one of errands, lunch with friends, and a short nap after a bit of shopping. We topped off the day with dinner out. I had no time for writing earlier. Nor did I really have a specific subject to work on.
I got home and dived into unresolved emails, as well as Facebook comments and post. I found my subject when I opened an email from one of my groups—Publishing Syndicate.
The update referred to this year’s bi-annual Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop held in Dayton, Ohio. The promo piece also announced the submission requirements for the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.
Yes, it is another challenge. There are many this month. If things keep up, I won’t be able to polish my armor fast enough for the jousts. I’ll have to hire a squire.
Anyone of an age will remember Erma and her syndicated columns and her books. Her humor set a new standard for housewives/mothers everywhere. Her irreverence toward traditional attitudes concerning housekeeping and mothering duties bordered on scandalous satire.
For myself, I thought she was a hoot and wished that I could write just like her. She had a freshness of phrase that kept humorous points rolling around in one’s mind until they stuck somewhere inside to a projection of one’s sympathies. That sense of universal connection was the key to her staying power and her humor.
Whether I enter this contest later or not, I want to try for a hint of Bombeck with a flash piece here. Since she worked in daily memoir, I’ll draw from my own past.
Lessons for Kids
Compared to today, growing up in the rural Midwest during the 50’s and 60’s was like living down the road from Laura Ingles. If our food could come via fishing pole, shotgun, or picking from foliage, it filled our freezer and canning jars. The local bird population held strafing sorties around our house to keep us from what berries we’d managed to miss in our foraging.
Snapping turtles and frogs didn’t actually enjoy our hospitality, but they didn’t argue for long. Mom had a way with kitchen utensils. And I learned that fish scales can add sparkle to kitchen tile for weeks without them popping off.
Now, I have to say that brother and I learned early that the earth was our friend and provider. We also learned that Mom never handed us anything to eat that would kill us. We might wish to die after ingestion of whatever offering came to hand, but it wouldn’t kill us. Lots of kids back then learned how to recognize things like wild lettuce, wild garlic, wild onion, and wild radish without hesitation through the same rites of passage.
The lesson is called survival for preppers today. We had a different term for it—something to do with slow torture, I believe.
Mushrooms left the forests in our gunny sacks and old pillow cases in early spring—mostly morels, but sometimes puffballs tagged along. Spotting poisonous fungi species meant a lecture on their habitat and special circumstances. Their looks were examined, not for praise, but for certainty of recognition. Case in point—“’Shrooms with blackcaps announce your end, kids. Think funeral.”
Early summer had us foraging along railroad tracks for those succulent little morsels, wild strawberries. Mom would hand us each a small bucket with the instruction to be careful around the tracks and to keep an ear open for train whistles.
What is it about train tracks and wild strawberries? Did the regular train schedule and vibrating rails encourage plant growth or what? Mom believed our young eyes were better than hers, plus we were closer to the ground already. That was her reasoning for handing the buckets to us. We were just sure of it. It would be easier for us to spot those berries that were barely bigger than a large pea.
When sugar peaches ripened and wild plums readied themselves for plucking, brother and I had lessons in the easiest way to carry large, heavy harvesting sacks across fields and along tractor lanes without bruising the fruit. I didn’t realize until much later that we got our physical fitness training for free, while those who had money had to spend it on expensive gyms and golf. Think of all the money my folks saved themselves.
The autumn brought harvesting from native black walnut, hickory, butternut, and hazels. Crisp air, tainted with rising tannin levels from all those nut hulls laying all over the ground, greeted us each time we went to do battle with the squirrels for the bounty. Late autumn had Mom and me slaving at the kitchen table, knives and nut picks whittling down the piles of cured and cracked nuts for the treasures inside.
As blisters rose on my thumb pads and my fingers grew shaky, Mom would tell stories about when she was a kid. She used one story regularly to point out the joys of doing a good job the first time ‘round. It went like this.
“Your grandmother always had me, or your aunt, peel the potatoes. If our peelings were too thick when we finished the chore, we got to peel the peelings. Potatoes were too hard to grow and harvest to allow waste in the peeling. I hated peeling potatoes, but I got very good at.”
I learned not to complain. I was sincerely grateful she hadn’t put me on potato duty yet.
Growing up with an outdoorsman for a father and a mother who could have taught Euell Gibbons a few lessons gave us a solid appreciation for knowing how to disappear. Barring that, one could concentrate on reasoning skills for those times when logic might prevent another lesson in the woods. Failing that tack, stoicism became a mantle of honor.
* * *
Before I hear from any who would berate me for this portrayal of my mother, know this. I loved her deeply until the day she died. Her lessons in life and in the natural world have bolstered my abilities to adapt to time, circumstance, and environment. Hers and my father’s teachings never failed me and have kept me strong throughout my life.
If she read this piece, she’d chuckle all the way through, and she’d point out a few lessons I’ve not included.
As for the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, I haven’t yet decided if I’ll submit to it. If I do, I still don’t know from what portion of my life I’ll write. I might just go for something from my tenure on a guest ranch in Jackson, Wyoming. Possibilities abound from that job.
For those who want to look into this opportunity to express personal humor in memoir, you can follow the links provided in this post to get all of the latest info on the event and the workshop.
Happy writing, all.