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Ginger's Smile

By Ginger Claremohr

For the past few months, I’ve been in a highly stressed state. There is a lot going on “behind the scenes" that will ultimately be ok, but getting to the ok produces some anxiety.

In fact, the anxiety has gotten so bad that it is affecting the nerves in the lower half of my face. One morning, I woke up with such tension that my mouth and cheeks had drawn downward and appeared to be sliding from my skull.

The neurologist asked if anything alleviates the discomfort. I told him I use ice packs and lidocaine patches to sleep.

“And during the day?” he inquired.

“If I smile really big, it seems to disperse the nerves and offers some relief. I sometimes find myself tugging up on my cheeks to alleviate the discomfort.”

Two weeks ago, I went to the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop, a biennial event that I have been attending since 2008.

On the first full day, I was sitting at lunch with friends old and new, talking and having a great time, when I noticed that the blank space on my Rice Krispies treat had been filled in to read, “So much to love about Ginger’s smile!”

“Oh my gosh! How did they know which boxed lunch would be mine?!”

Then it dawned on me that someone at my table had stealthily completed the sentence. We all had a good laugh over the fact that I momentarily thought the University of Dayton kitchen crew had personalized 300 Rice Krispies treats, and managed to get each one into the right hands.

It was then I realized, my tension had subsided, and the nerve pain was gone. It didn’t return throughout the entire weekend, not even when I was nervous about my first standup comedy performance, because I smiled constantly.

But hasn’t that always been the magic of Erma Bombeck? I started reading her columns when I was around nine years old. I remember the moment I found her. I spread the Sunday newspaper out on my grandmother’s living room floor, and discovered what it meant to be a columnist, and how a cleverly crafted account of daily life can make people smile.

Because I lived 400 miles away, my grandmother would save the papers, and whenever I visited, we would read Erma together.

Over the years, I wrote hundreds of letters to my grandmother, regaling her with stories about my life in Tennessee. She would read them to her home-ec club and refer to me as her little Erma Bombeck. I was deeply connected to my grandmother, and Erma provided another avenue for us to share.

So, it didn’t really surprise me that over 40 years later, at a conference bearing her name, where her children are present, and her work is revered, someone would notice me smiling.

I’m keeping the Rice Krispies treat. It has a longer shelf life than I do, so my kids or grandkids can decide what to do with it someday. In the meantime, I will mention the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop to my neurologist. Any event that causes a perpetual smile should be noted as an antidote for anxiety.

— Ginger Claremohr

Syndicated columnist Ginger Claremohr, of Thorntown, Indiana, is an author, motivational speaker and mother of five. She has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Not Your Mother’s Book on Sex and, most notably, the May 1986 edition of the Barry Manilow Fan Club magazine.

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