You see I’ve always been a fan – make that a HUGE fan – of the late humorist, Erma Bombeck. I followed her syndicated columns faithfully, I own autographed copies of every one of her books, I once waited in line for hours just to meet her in person, and I even have a hand-signed letter (alas to someone else) that was typed on her own personal letterhead with this wacky little caricature of a disheveled woman in house shoes holding a dead house plant. I wouldn’t take a million dollars for it – unless, of course, I was actually offered a million dollars for it. Then I’d take it. (I said I was a huge fan. I didn’t say I was a huge idiot.)
My point is that Erma has had an enormous impact on my life. She brought me laughter and encouragement as a mother, and inspired and influenced me as a writer. So what’s that got to do with Peter? Well, it all started a few days ago when a younger friend and I were chatting about books. Naturally I mentioned a few of my favorite Bombeck titles, and I was stunned (and quite frankly devastated) to discover that this poor girl had never even heard of her! After scraping my heart out of my shoes I gave Carla the total sales pitch, and not surprisingly she said it sounded like something she’d like to read for herself. (Smart girl.) So I promised to get her a copy.
The next day I went to a little bookstore not far from where I live, and not knowing my way around the store I asked the frumpy, middle-aged sales clerk, "Excuse me, but do you have any of Erma Bombeck’s books?” to which she replied sharply, "Oh boo! Erma Bombeck! She’s so OLD. I don’t know why anyone would bother reading her anymore.”
For the second time in so many days I was stunned, very definitely devastated, and this time deeply hurt as well. Feeling the way I do about Erma you’d think I would have shot back, "Ernest Hemingway is ‘old’ too, but his work, like Mrs. Bombeck’s, is timeless.” Or I could have retorted, "Erma Bombeck happens to be an American treasure who brought joy to millions of readers.” At the very least I should have said, "Look, I didn’t ask for your opinion, so if you don’t mind, just tell me whether or not you have any of her books, you old prune-faced pickle-puss.” (I just threw that last part in.)
But did I say any of those things? No. Instead I sort of laughed and said, "Yeah, I know. Her stuff really is pretty dated. But I’ve got this friend who wanted me to buy her a copy, so I thought while I was in here I might as well see if you had anything.”
The clerk rolled her eyes and said that no, they didn’t have a single Bombeck book, but she’d order one if I really wanted to waste my money. I declined, telling her it wasn’t all that important. Then I turned and left the store. All the way to my car I thought of things I wish I’d said, and felt more and more cowardly and ashamed of myself with every step.
And this is where Peter comes into the story because, well the thing is, frankly I’ve always been a little critical of his behavior on that night before the crucifixion, when he denied knowing Jesus three times. After all, what kind of a guy could do something like that to his BFF?
But now, suddenly I understood how he must have felt. I mean, I’m still beating myself up over being too chicken to stick up for my favorite author (whom I didn’t know personally, and didn’t even have anything to lose by defending.) On the other hand, Peter’s whole life was at stake, which made his response completely understandable. But can you imagine how awful it must have been for him after denying the One who meant everything in the world to him?
According to Ecclesiastes 3:7, there is a time to be silent and a time to speak, and much as I hate to admit it, I’m forever picking the wrong one. But given recent events, I’m determined to change that. From now on, when it’s time to speak I’m going to do my best to open my mouth and SPEAK! If nothing else, I owe it to Peter – and to Erma Bombeck.