Erma Bombeck, 69, the housewife-turned-humorist who poked fun at life in the suburbs in columns and books such as "I Lost Everything in the Postnatal Depression," died at a hospital here April 22 of complications of a kidney transplant earlier this month.

She began her column of gentle, self-deprecating humor 30 years ago. Called "At Wit's End," it eventually was carried twice a week in about 600 newspapers. {Her column, which runs regularly in The Washington Post, appears today on Page D16.} She also was a correspondent on ABC's "Good Morning America" for 11 years and wrote a short-lived 1980 television comedy called "Maggie."

Mrs. Bombeck, a kind of poet laureate of suburbia, spun stories from the small details of home life. She claimed her washing machine ate socks but never from the same pair. Fed up with her husband's attachment to TV sports, she wrote that she once tried to get his attention by wearing a nightgown made of Astroturf. When that failed, she declared, "If a man watches 16 consecutive quarters of football, he can be declared legally dead."

Her books regularly would shove some super-serious tome off the bestseller list. "Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession" zoomed past "In Pursuit of Excellence" to become No. 1 in 1984, proving that motherhood can be more powerful than building a better corporation. Other Bombeck books included "The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank," "All I Know About Animal Behavior I Learned in Loehmann's Dressing Room," "If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?" and "When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It's Time to Go Home."

"Most of my readers are housewives," she once said. "I'm saying: Hey, let's look at us! We've all been there. We're all in this mess together. Let's get some fun out of it.' "

The Toledo Blade once said Mrs. Bombeck's "role in the column is that of a wife and mother who long ago conceded defeat but can't find anyone to surrender to."

She transformed everyday suburban life -- driving children to every activity too far to walk to and searching every nook and cranny for dust balls -- into the stuff of high humor, if not high drama.

In a 1993 column on the popularity of the romance novel "The Bridges of Madison County," she wrote: "All over the country, housewives are fantasizing about their husbands taking the kids to a fair and leaving them alone for four days. They're hiding bottles of wine behind the bleach in the utility room just in case. The other day, an exterminator knocked on my door asking for directions, and I wondered, Is he the one?' "

Mrs. Bombeck could turn serious. In her book on children surviving cancer, "I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to go to Boise," dozens of children with cancer and their families told their stories with truth and humor. They also remembered losing their hair and enduring painful treatments. One boy recalled a letter from a classmate: "Get well, David, we all like you but one person."

The profits from the 1989 book were donated to cancer research -- three years before her cancer was diagnosed.

Even with her success, Mrs. Bombeck still did housework, wrote about shopping at discount stores and said she never forgot the excitement of receiving $3 a column when she began her career.

"I can't let go of being a housewife," she said. "You have to be part of it, or you don't know what you're talking about. You've got to empty the garbage, swish out the toilet bowls. Doing the laundry keeps you humble."

In a 1994 interview with People magazine, Mrs. Bombeck said: "When I started, it seemed irreverent to take on children or housecleaning. Women were embarrassed to laugh at it, but they wanted to. Nobody wants to hear about kids or husbands that are perfect."

Mrs. Bombeck, the daughter of a crane operator and a factory worker in Dayton, Ohio, was interested in journalism from an early age. After graduating from the University of Dayton with a degree in English, she worked for the Dayton Journal Herald. In 1953, she resigned to start a family with her husband, William Lawrence Bombeck. He was a high school teacher and later a principal who became her financial manager when she started making money with her columns.

Mrs. Bombeck began writing in the Dayton area for neighborhood newspapers. Within a year, she was writing twice a week for the Journal Herald, and her column soon was in syndication. She moved with her family to Paradise Valley, Ariz., in 1971.

She learned that she had breast cancer in 1992 and underwent a double mastectomy. Shortly after that, her kidneys began failing, and she underwent dialysis four times a day at her home. Doctors attributed the kidney problem to a hereditary disorder called adult polycystic kidney disease.

Even as her health problems mounted, Bombeck kept her spirits up, friends said.

Her last book, "A Marriage Made in Heaven . . . Or Too Tired for an Affair," told of her 44-year marriage. Family members said they never were insulted by what she wrote because it was all fiction.

Sixteen universities awarded her honorary degrees. In 1979, the World Almanac named her one of the 25 most influential people in America.

In addition to her husband, survivors include three children. CAPTION: Erma Bombeck, a kind of poet laureate of suburbia, began her column of gentle, self-deprecating humor 30 years ago.