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‘Bombeck’ opens Ohio Chautauqua

Ohio native, humor columnist and author Erma Bombeck is portrayed Tuesday evening by scholar Susan Marie Frontczak during opening night of the Ohio Chautauqua historical education program. The free series continues through the week at 7:30 p.m. at 321 Mahoning Ave. NW, Warren. Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple

WARREN — She wrote about garage sale treasure hunts, junk drawers, family seminars on how to replace a roll of toilet paper and the struggles of long trips in a station wagon driven by a husband / dad with a bladder the size of a watermelon.

From 1965 until her death in 1996, Ohioan Erma Bombeck was the original mommy blogger, writing about daily life with humor and heart. Her thrice-weekly column, “At Wit’s End” appeared in more than 900 newspapers; she was a regular on “Good Morning America;” and six of her then nine books had reached the New York Times bestsellers list.

It was literary success after years of failure trying to become a writer. In the end, she found all the material she needed in her own living room.

“There I was, in the suburbs of Dayton with a car that wouldn’t run, a toilet that would, a mother-in-law who called me Edna, and I wondered what I had to offer that was unique. I was ordinary. That was my turf,” Bombeck, as portrayed by scholar Susan Marie Frontczak, said Tuesday, the opening night of the Ohio Chautauqua historical education program.

With quips and quirks, she described not being able to keep up with the housework, trying to keep school projects straight and stopping her husband from cramming the last few ounces of everything into one container. When her three children grew up, Bombeck relayed the impatience of loving the grandkids she didn’t have yet, and pushing her three kids to hurry up and get married.

“They would say, ‘How do I know if I found the right one?’ and I said, ‘If you want guarantees, marry a Sears car battery.'”

It was said that in her time, the most common item hanging on refrigerators across America was kids’ drawings, and No. 2 was Erma Bombeck columns.

“I had a choice — take myself seriously and drink a gin every day after the school bus left, or admit to fears and frustrations and have a good time with it,” Frontczak as Bombeck said.

Ohio Chautauqua is a program of the Ohio Humanities, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The free community event is hosted by the Tribune Chronicle and the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library, with support from the Trumbull 100, the Charitable Remainder Trust of Raymond L. and Janice M. Bland, the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau and in partnership with The Warren Heritage Center.

Each themed series visits eight Ohio communities over the course of two summers. The other locations hosting Ohio Chautauqua this year are Defiance, Milan and neighboring Geauga County. This year’s theme is “Modern Legends.”

This is the seventh time Ohio Chautauqua has been hosted in Warren, which traditionally has the largest crowds in the state.

“Is it crowded? We must be in Warren,” Pat Williamson, Ohio Humanities executive director, said. “It is exciting to see all of you here this evening.”

A total 548 spectators overflowed the red-and-white tent set up on the lawn at 303 Mahoning Ave. NW, next to the historic Kinsman House. Some brought their own chairs and set up outside the main and small auxiliary tents.

Among the attendees was Joyce Franklin of Brookfield. “Myself and my neighbor across the street, when our kids were growing up in the 1960s, we used to have a code, SOS — Save Our Sanity. And we’d call each other and read Erma Bombeck columns back and forth,” Franklin said.

“I read excerpts from her books,” Jan Montgomery of Howland said. “She had a special humor.”

She also praised Chautauqua. “Where can you go and have a program like this and it didn’t cost you anything?” she said.

“It’s a Warren treasure,” Carol Trube of Howland said.

First-timer Judy Breckner of Southington said, “When I saw it was Erma Bombeck and Julia Child and Robert F. Kennedy (on the program), I said I’d like to see what that’s about.”

Her friend Darlene Moncoveish of Nelson not only agreed, she called Breckner to make sure they were on schedule. “I reminded her,” Moncoveish said.

The simple Chautauqua stage contained a wooden, high-back dining room chair, and a small wooden table on which sat an electric typewriter, coffee mug, reading glasses, cookie plate and several sheets of paper.

“Motherhood is the hardest job in the whole wide world,” Frontczak as Bombeck said.

She closed the first portion of the show reciting a 1985 Bombeck essay, “I love you enough to say no.” Among the lines:

“Someday, when my children are old enough to understand the logic that motivates a mother, I’ll tell them…

“I loved you enough to bug you about where you were going, with whom and what time you would get home.

“I loved you enough to insist you buy a bike with your own money, which we could afford, and you couldn’t.

“I loved you enough to be silent and let you discover your hand-picked friend was a creep.

“I loved you enough to stand over you for two hours while you cleaned your bedroom, a job that would have taken me 15 minutes.

“… I loved you enough to let you stumble, fall, hurt, and fail.

“… But most of all, I loved you enough to say no when you hated me for it. That was the hardest part of all.”

bcole@tribtoday.com

Coming up

Evening performances are 7:30 p.m. under the red-and-white-striped tent at 303 Mahoning Ave. NW, Warren. In case of poor weather, performances will move to the Thomas meeting room at the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library, 444 Mahoning Ave. NW, Warren.

• Tonight — Lt. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., renowned World War II fighter pilot and the first African-American general in the U.S. Air Force, portrayed by Dr. J. H. Armstead Jr.

• Thursday — Julia Child, cookbook author and TV personality, portrayed by Karen Vuranch.

• Friday — Cesar Chavez, Latin-American civil rights activist, portrayed by Fred Blanco.

• Saturday — Robert F. Kennedy, U.S. senator and presidential candidate, portrayed by Jeremy Meier.

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