Charles Dickens made them famous, Erma Bombeck made them funny, and I made them a summary of my experience at the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, Ohio, March 31-April 2. I’m referring to six simple words Dickens wrote in 1859 with quill in hand to begin A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times.”
In 1987, with tongue-in-cheek, Erma used the same opening for Family – The Ties That Bind…And Gag. I bought her book at the table managed by the University of Dayton at the conference hotel. Nearby, the adult Bombeck kids – whose youthful anecdotes filled the very pages of my purchase – mingled in the foyer. I approached them and asked for their autographs. Betsy, Matt and Andy willingly paused from their conversation to grant my wish. They penned their names and a few personal notes on the same page where their mother’s dedication to their father was printed nearly 30 years ago.
“Look what Mom wrote,” Betsy said as she pointed at the centered text for her brothers to see. It read: To Bill Bombeck: Who had definite ideas of the conception of these characters long before I had ideas of putting them into a book. No doubt they’d seen it before, but maybe it had been a long time. I suddenly felt like I had tiptoed into an attic where Erma’s characters had opened a trunk and found one of their parent’s old love letters.
When Betsy handed the book back to me, I asked if I could take a picture with them. Another Bombeck family member gladly offered to take my camera and snap a few shots of us. I thanked all of them and then headed with my priceless book and digital images to a quiet room off of the hotel lobby.
I sunk into a soft chair and took a deep breath. I wanted to call my mom and tell her what had just happened and then send her a picture of me with the children of one of her all-time favorite authors. I longed to tell her about all the awesome writers I had met. She would have been as thrilled as me, just as she had been whenever I called with good news, before breast cancer stole her life at the age of 69, which poignantly was Erma’s age when she passed away.
Tears welled up in my eyes even as I smiled. I didn’t need to tell Mom anything about the conference. She was there in the joy that filled the dining room, in the new friendships being cultivated, and in my heart as I selected what courses to attend. I think we chose wisely because I was amazed each time I sat before award-winning authors who taught their craft as if they were our next door neighbors sharing recipes.
I took away so much from the workshop that I’m sure I could write a tale of two writers – one who had no idea where she wanted her passion to carry her, and one who now has publishing goals in sight with resources to help get her there.
Suffice it to say, it was the best of times.
And I have a photo of me with some real characters to prove it.