The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less

by Terry Ryan

Audio Other(Other - Abridged, 3 Cassettes)

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The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio introduces Evelyn Ryan, an enterprising woman who kept poverty at bay with wit, poetry, and perfect prose during the "contest era" of the 1950s and 1960s. Evelyn's winning ways defied the church, her alcoholic husband, and antiquated views of housewives. To her, flouting convention was a small price to pay when it came to raising her six sons and four daughters.
Graced with a rare appreciation for life's inherent hilarity, Evelyn turned every financial challenge into an opportunity for fun and profit. The story of this irrepressible woman, whose clever entries are worthy of Erma Bombeck, Dorothy Parker, and Ogden Nash, is told by her daughter Terry with an infectious joy that shows how a winning spirit will always triumph over poverty.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743508360
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication date: 04/01/2001
Edition description: Abridged, 3 Cassettes
Product dimensions: 4.19(w) x 7.05(h) x 1.12(d)

About the Author

Terry Ryan, the sixth of Evelyn Ryan's ten children, was a consultant on the film adaptation of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. She lives in San Francisco, California.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter Three: Supermarket Spree

Our new home at 801 Washington looked un-furnished even after we moved in. We had no money to buy appliances, let alone furniture. But in the months after winning the Western Auto contest, Mom entered a slew of other contests and won enough things to make the house seem functional: an automatic coffeemaker, a Deepfreeze home freezer, a Westinghouse refrigerator, a Motorola radio, two wall clocks, three wool blankets, a box of household tools, a set of kitchen appliances, and three pairs of Arthur Murray shoes.

Many of these prizes were not what Mom had been aiming for. The wall clocks, for example, were seventh prizes in a contest whose first prize was a station wagon. She was always trying to replace the dilapidated family Chevy with something a bit more dependable. Just to start the car most mornings required a ten-person push so Dad could pop the clutch and rumble off to work in a cloud of blue smoke. Even so, the two wall clocks didn't go to waste. Mom gave one to our aunt Lucy and hung the other in the dining room, where it covered a baseball-sized dent of missing plaster that no one would ever own up to.

The Westinghouse refrigerator, though, was a first prize in an aluminum foil contest, for which Mom submitted this 25-words-or-less entry on why she liked using Alcoa Wrap:

I like strong Alcoa Wrap because Alcoa resists "all thumbs" handling -- stays whole to keep juices and flavors IN, ashes OUT, of cookout meals; deserves merit badge for simplifying Scout cookery.

The Deepfreeze home freezer, also a first prize, was gigantic -- four feet high, five feet wide, and three feet deep -- so big it would have been more appropriate in a restaurant or an army mess hall. It looked very empty with just a single gallon of ice cream sitting in the bottom of it. Most of us couldn't even reach the container without falling in. But my mother was ingenious. If we needed clothes, she made them. If we needed a freezer, she won one. If we needed food to fill the new freezer, she was going to win that too.

In a Seabrook Farms contest, Mom was awarded a shopping spree at the local Big Chief Supermarket. She submitted her 25-word entry in poem form:

Wide selections, priced to please her;

Scads of Seabrook's in their freezer,

Warmth that scorns the impersonal trend,

Stamps "Big Chief" as the housewife's friend.

A shopping spree in a supermarket was not what anyone else would have considered a major win, but to Mom it was the answer to our prayers. Our aunt Lucy, a bank teller who lived down the road in Bryan, bought a lot of our weekly groceries, but a freezer filled to capacity would relieve Mom's worries about food for months.

Weeks before the scheduled shopping spree, Mom gathered the family around the dining room table to help plan her assault. Dad had fled the scene, increasingly sullen since "Moneybags," his sarcastic nickname for Dick, had won the Western Auto contest.

"Okay," Mom said, "there are some ironclad rules. First, I've got only ten minutes to grab everything I can."

"That's not very long," I said.

"Just stay in the candy aisle," offered Mike.

"Second," she said, "everything has to fit in one shopping cart."

"One?" Betsy said. "I thought each of us would get a cart."

"Third, everything has to be edible."

"Bruce will eat anything," said Rog.

"Open your mouth, Rog," Bruce said, clenching his fist. "I've got your lunch right here."

As they lunged across the table at each other, Mom yelled, "Knock it off, you two! I'm not finished." They sat back down, trading menacing stares as Mom continued.

"Fourth," she said, "only one of everything. I can get different sizes of the same brand, or same sizes of different brands, but only one of each brand and size."

"The list would have been shorter," said Dick, "if they'd listed the things you can have."

"It's still okay," Bub said. "Everything comes in lots of brands and sizes."

"Besides," said Lea Anne, who was home from nursing school for the weekend, "none of the meat packages will weigh exactly the same, so you can at least start there."

"One last thing," Mom said. "I have to fill the cart by myself. No one can help me."

"We don't get to go along?" moaned Barb, expressing the sagging disappointment we all felt. I wasn't the only one with visions of being let loose for a few minutes in aisles filled with potato chips, jelly beans, cupcakes, and ice cream.

"You can come," said Mom, "but you'll have to stay back with the store clerks and the Seabrook representative. What you can help me with is planning how to do it."

We decided that the first step would be mapping out the store, aisle by aisle, so Mom could memorize every inch of the place. The Big Chief Supermarket was huge, about half a football field long. Dad had to join in this time -- he was the only one in the family who could drive -- taking several of us along to scout it out.

Anybody else in Mom's position might have gone after the usual milk and bread and bologna and ketchup. Not Mom. "Think big," she said. "If I'm going to get a cartload of free food, I'm not going to waste cart space or time going after on-sale chicken parts and fish sticks." (We ate fish sticks almost every Friday night for supper.) "We can ignore the five-pound bags of sugar and gallons of milk, too."

"The Mars bars are on aisle five," said Mike.

"I want you kids to taste chateaubriand, New York steak, lobster, and anything else you've never tried before. Heck, I want to try them too.

"I'll have to grab a token amount of Seabrook's frozen food first," Mom added, ever aware of pleasing the contest sponsors. "But after that I'm heading for the meat department."

The only problem was the shopping cart itself. It looked no bigger than the inside of a large suitcase. Even the bottom rack seemed paltry, barely big enough for a ten-pound sack of potatoes. While we stood over the meat cases at the back of the store, the butcher, Bob Wallen, came out to say hello. Everyone in Defiance, including Bob, had already heard about Mom's upcoming shopping spree.

"If there's any special cut of meat you're interested in, Evelyn," he said, "tell me now, and I'll have it ready ahead of time."

"I'm half afraid I won't have room for everything I want," she said. "The cart is so shallow."

Bob's blue eyes lit up. He came out from around the counter and measured the sides with his knife-scarred hands. "Hey, we can fix that," he said. "I can cut some flat slabs of beef and extra-long sides of bacon. See, you can stand them on end all around the inside edge and make the sides taller."

Now Mom's eyes lit up. "That would double the cart's capacity," she said. "Bob, you're going straight to heaven!"

"This is no ordinary shopping spree, Evelyn," Bob said, a huge grin on his round face. "This is a treasure hunt! You won't have to come back to my counter for a long, long time."

When the day of the shopping spree finally arrived, we were ready. Mom knew exactly what she wanted and where it was in the store. Even so, she was slightly nervous. In the car on the way there, she said, "I wish I had twenty minutes instead of ten. I wish all of you could help me. I wish I had won a station wagon instead of a shopping spree." Then she laughed and said, "Who am I kidding? This is going to be fun."

The shopping spree was scheduled to take place before the store opened for business. Mom had the option of doing it after business hours, but by that time of night Dad would have been too drunk to drive her to the store and too argumentative to be out in public. As our old Chevy pulled into the nearly empty lot on the appointed morning, we could see the store manager, Harvey Ward, the Seabrook executive, who I will call Miles Streeter, and a few clerks waiting just inside the glass door for Mom's arrival. She stepped out of the front passenger seat and into the store, and everybody applauded. Mr. Streeter watched the stream of kids pouring out of the car like clowns out of a Volkswagen.

"How did you all fit in there?" he asked as we trailed into the store after Mom.

"With a shoehorn," Mom laughed, as she pulled a shopping cart from the rack. "They won't get in the way. They're just going to yell out the time every few minutes so I can keep on schedule."

And then an act of kindness occurred, altering the outcome of the day for the Ryan family. Mr. Streeter looked at us and looked again at the rule sheet. He placed his thumb over the line specifying that the shopper couldn't have help. He turned to two of the store clerks, Pauline and Hazel, who had come in early to watch Mom's ten minutes of fame. Both in their sixties, the two women were rooting for her as much as any of us kids were. They also had a better understanding of the store's layout than Mom did, Mr. Streeter knew, and they wore industrial-strength shoes that had run up and down these aisles many times before. "I'm going to turn my back," he told them. "Any help you give Mrs. Ryan in filling the cart won't be seen by me." Everyone's eyes lit up.

Mom tested the cart by rolling it back and forth a few times, making sure she didn't have to fumble around the store on defective wheels. Harvey adjusted his bow tie and held up a stopwatch. Mom's hands gripped the cart handle. She bent forward slightly, standing like an Olympic sprinter waiting for the starting gun.

"Go!" yelled Harvey as he clicked the watch on.

Down the aisle they all flew, Hazel and Pauline following Mom in a trot toward the meat department, where Bob pointed out the prepackaged sheets of beef ribs and bacon -- even extra-long rolls of salami -- to use in supporting the sides. Pauline and Hazel held the slabs of meat up in the cart and Mom filled in the center, hauling huge beef and pork roasts, platter-sized steaks, and six-packs of filet mignon out of the case and tossing them into the cart.

"Seven minutes to go!" called Rog from the front of the store.

"I think we should split up," said Mom, her voice a few octaves higher than usual. "I'll take the frozen food aisle. You two hit the European food section."

"What do you want?" Hazel asked, already running toward aisle eight on the heels of Pauline.

"Exotic things!" Mom said. "Expensive things! The good stuff! But only one of each!"

At the front of the store, Bub lifted Betsy up onto his shoulders. "Six minutes, Mommy!" she shouted.

Mom shot through the frozen food aisle like a missile, grabbing game hens and emptying the seafood section of lobster thermidor, crab claws, filet of sole, salmon steaks, halibut, everything but fish sticks. "Absolutely no fish sticks!" yelled Mom, as Pauline and Hazel careened around the corner, arms filled with cans of pâté, mushrooms, caviar, artichoke hearts, blanched asparagus, hollandaise sauce, and who knows what else.

"Three minutes!" shouted Bruce.

Mom wrestled with several quarts of gourmet ice cream. Pauline and Hazel loaded up on frozen broccoli in cheese sauce, lasagna with truffles, bourbon-laced ladyfingers, and French chocolate sauce.

At the one-minute mark, Mike yelled from the front of the store. "Candy in aisle five!" And a barrage of Toblerone chocolates, jars of roasted pumpkin seeds, and several six-, eight-, and twelve-packs of Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars landed atop the piles of meat, frozen food, and canned goods already in the cart.

In the final seconds, as Pauline and Hazel jammed the bottom rack with fresh pineapples and coconuts, Mom tried and failed to balance two family-sized bags of potato chips on the pyramid of cans that was now taller than the meat walls.

"Hurry, Mom!" Barb screamed, as Mom and the cart rocketed out of the produce section on the way to the checkout stand. Giving up trying to weigh the bags of chips down with cans of Finnish sardines as she ran, she grabbed a large candy cane from a Christmas display on her way by and stabbed it through the heart of the bags into a box of frozen bonbons below.

A cheer erupted from the assembled spectators as Mom rounded the magazine racks and nearly catapulted her teetering mountain of goods into the checkout aisle. "Time's up!" yelled Harvey, bringing his stopwatch down with a mighty click.

It was over.

In all, Mom netted $411.44 worth of food (the equivalent of $3,000 today), a fortune in our eyes.

Later we would learn to hide the imported food from him, but that night Dad inexplicably threw a dozen cans through the open back door into the yard.

We sat around the kitchen table, which was piled high with the rest of the canned delicacies, in silence. When Dad finally went to bed, Bruce turned to Mom. "What was that all about?"

"I don't know," she sighed. "He's been drinking."

"What exactly is caviar?" asked Barb.

"Fish eggs," said Mom.

A long silence engulfed the room. It was self-explanatory. No one was going to eat the caviar.

"Do you know that U.S. Army research has shown a relationship between intelligence and a willingness to eat unfamiliar foods?" Mom said.

Except for Mom, nobody would eat the lobster either -- it was just too different from fish sticks.

Copyright © 2001 by Terry Ryan

Table of Contents


Foreword by Suze Orman

Part One

1. The Contester

2. Rhyme Does Pay

3. Supermarket Spree

Part Two

4. The Sleeping Giant

5. Father of the Year

6. Too Damned Happy

7. Defiance

8. Tickle Hills

Part Three

9. Poet Laureate

10. Giant Steps

11. Name That Sandwich

Part Four

12. The Affadaisies

13. Round Robin

14. Going, Going, Gone

Part Five

15. Hell and High Water

16. Mrs. Etchie

17. Such a Thing as Destiny

Part Six

18. Rock Bottom

19. Her Weight in Gold

Epilogue: A Truckload of Birds

Afterword by Betsy Ryan

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher


USA Today

"Nabs first prize in the memoir genre."

People (Book of the Week)


San Francisco Chronicle

"A good-natured memoir as compelling as a commercial jingle."

O, The Oprah Magazine

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 54 reviews.
englishproject2010 More than 1 year ago
This is certainly one of the best memoirs I have ever read. Evelyn Ryan's strength is unbelievable; it is her determination that keeps her family from falling apart. It was very interesting to see all the circumstances that woman had to fight against during this time period. I was shocked to see how much dominance husbands had over their wives. If one is not familiar with American history, this book will serve as somewhat of an eye-opener to the role of women. A cult of domesticity becomes very apparent because it is simply expected of women to tend to all of the household needs, and what they do is not even considered work. Studying history certainly enhanced my enjoyment of this book. I really expected that, given its circumstances, this story was going to be depressing. Although some parts were sad, on the whole, the story was very uplifting. It made me appreciate hard work and the value of family. It really made me appreciate my own mother's work in the home as well. I also loved how the multiple facets of "Mother's" and "Dad's" character were shown. Mother could not be strong at all times, and Dad was not a complete monster-he did care for her very much. I believe that this stresses the important lesson that every single person has both flaws and redeeming qualities. The memoir demonstrates that Tuff learns this lesson, because she is the author and she shows positive characteristics about her father. I would honestly recommend this book to anybody. In my opinion, it has everything: good morals, a suspenseful story, and very realistic characters. This is probably because the book is a true story-which, to me, makes it even more compelling. Terry Ryan (Tuff) certainly led a very interesting life, and she captures the ups and downs brilliantly in this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book and then watched the movie. I have to say I liked the book better than the movie. This book inspired me to enter more contests and complete more surveys for cash. I always thought it wasn't possible to win contests, but this book has changed my mind. I doubt that I could be as lucky or clever as this lady was, but I have found some fun things to enter for.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Evelyn Ryan, a housewife with ten children, managed to literally keep the wolf from the door with her winning ways. Married to an abusive husband who drank the family's sole income as quickly as he earned it, Evelyn sought help from her priest. He advised her to sit tight. A nun suggested she take in laundry. More laundry was all she needed. So, equipped with nothing more than ready wit, determination, and cockeyed optimism she did what many did during the 1950s - she entered every contest imaginable and she won. Whether Dr. Pepper, Kleenex tissues or a supermarket buying spree, she brought home enough to house, feed, and clothe her six sons and four daughters. Once, when her husband had secretly taken out a second mortgage on their home and they owed the bank $4,000, she won $3,440.64, a car, a European trip, and two watches. Always thinking and writing, she kept a notepad at the ready on the tip of her ironing board. Miraculously, she even managed to leave her children a modest inheritance. But, more than that, this remarkable woman left them a legacy of love and the awareness of the indomitability of the human spirit. Beautifully and touchingly read by the author (child no. 6).
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mere words can not fully convey the enjoyment I felt reading this book, or the impact its story had on me. Terry Ryan's story makes her mother a hero to all of us, serves as inspiration for making the most of what we have, and provides a better understanding of the challenges that many of our parents faced during this time. Her story is interesting, funny, charming, and best of all - true! I couldn't put this book down; it was thoroughly engaging, entertaining, and superbly written. With each chapter, I could barely wait to read on and find out what happened next... the only disappointment was getting to the end - - not that the ending itself was disappointing (quite the opposite, in fact, as the story was very satisfying) - - rather, I enjoyed Ryan's writing so much that I never wanted it to end!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A touching memoir which lovingly evokes the era of contesting in America. Before companies hired expensive ad agencies to create slogans, jingles, tag lines and logos, they turned to the housewives for help via these contests. I was moved by Evelyn Ryan's struggle to support her huge family in a time when few women had careers. The book demonstrated how so many women, though relegated to the role of housewives, were still able to find outlets for their talents, wits and intellects. I enjoyed the humor of Mrs. Ryan's entries and can't believe she didn't win the top prizes more often! This book reminded me of 'Rocket Boys' in that it drills home the message that, despite harrowing odds and crushing poverty, dreams can come true with a bit of ingenuity and lots of persistence.
indygo88 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting memoir, I think primarily because of its originality. I've heard of people who spend a lot of time with sweepstakes & contests, but have never heard of one who makes a living off of it. I found it inspiring to a certain degree, but I also thought the author's mother was weak in certain ways. Why did she put up with that husband of hers? And really....10 kids? Why keep having them if you know you can't afford them? But granted, that's not the author's fault, so I digress. In many ways this was an inspirational mother & she obviously was doing something right to have her kids turn out so well in the end.It was the writing style of this story that bothered me more than anything, or maybe the author's monotone in her reading of the audiobook version. Maybe I'm just too used to memoirs that are funny & quirky, but this one just fell flat for me. Perhaps with a different reader, this would've impressed me more. As for the jingles themselves -- it was great that Ryan's mother kept such good records & Terry was able to use them in her memoir, but honestly, I didn't think the jingles were anything spectactular, or certainly not prizeworthy in some cases. Perhaps that's a sign of the times changing, as jingles aren't utilized near as much nowadays as they used to be & I can't appreciate them the way one would several decades ago. Nevertheless, I'm a sucker for movie adaptations, so I'll probably rent a copy of the movie to see how I like that.
WittyreaderLI on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Terry Ryan is not from your average family. She lives with her 9, yes 9 brothers and sisters along with her mother and father with very little money. But her mother has a passion: entering contests. Terry and her siblings barely survive as they deal with an alcoholic father and little to no food at times, yet their spirits are never low as their mother gives them hope. This book was a pleasant and quick read.
jlcarroll on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An entertaining, often humorous look at 1950s America and the life of an intelligent, indomitable women who kept a family of 12 afloat on sheer wit and determination.
chsbellboy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent story of a family growing up in a generation before my own. Through struggles with finances brought on by an alcoholic father, a family of 9 manages to stay afloat through the mother's ability to write small jingles that win contests. Ultimately, the story provides some hope and a good look at family dynamics in the 1950's.
drsyko on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is a warm and lovingly written memoir that chronicles the life of Evelyn Ryan, who, as her daughter and the author of the book Terry Ryan puts it, raised 10 kids on 25 words or less.I love biographies. I especially love to learn from others¿ mistakes and triumphs and to be inspired to be better than I am. I am partial to stories about ordinary people, that is, people like me. While Catherine the Great, Hatshepsut, and Amelia Earhart were all immensely interesting and inspiring, their lives were nothing like mine. I know that while what they did was all well and good for them, there is not the remotest chance that I am going to rule Russia, have myself declared King and a god, or fly myself from here to Bakersfield, let alone around the world. And so I enjoy reading about people who have done things there is a remote chance I might also do.This book is about a woman who leads an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. Evelyn Ryan is a woman of talent, wisdom, humor and an amazing ability to keep her eyes on the prize, both literally and figuratively, no matter what is happening around her. That she lived in a town called Defiance is only fitting, for this is a woman who defied many things, including the odds.Evelyn was born in 1913 and her mother died shortly after. Her father remarried when she was 3 years old. In the early 20¿s her stepmother published, and wrote most of, a local newspaper. Evelyn was taught to set type and by the time she was 17 she had earned a reputation for both speed and accuracy as a typesetter. By the time she was 20 she was also writing a twenty-inch column for the newspaper. She wrote everything from social gossip to satire about the government. Her column was popular, but she didn¿t feel that she was really any good at writing, and because of a lack of confidence she gave up the column after a year. (She would, however, continue throughout her life to make some money from stories she submitted to various newspapers.) She wanted to be a nurse and started school, but she had a horrible case of eczema which left her hands blistered and swollen and she had to quit school and return home. Shortly after that she met and married Kelly Ryan. Of this decision she tells one of her children, ¿I want you to know that I don¿t regret any part of my life, including marrying Dad.¿ She and Kelly had 10 children in quick succession.Think back to the role of women in the 40¿s and 50¿s and Evelyn Ryan would fit that bill. She was Catholic, which heavily influenced her decisions, including having 10 children, staying home to raise them, and deciding to stay married for life, even though her husband was an abusive alcoholic who drank up most of his paycheck. The financial strain that this caused was immense and this is what led Mrs. Ryan to turn her writing skills towards entering contests. The primary theme of this book, however, is how she manages to keep her family together and give her children a happy childhood in spite of the adversity that they faced. It might sound depressing, just one more book about the ravages of growing up with an alcoholic parent. But this book, written with humor, intelligence and compassion by Mrs. Ryan¿s daughter Terry is infused with joy, laughter and is a tremendous tribute to the power of resilience and the unwavering love of a mother for her children.Mrs. Ryan was a prize winner and that¿s how she supported her family for over 20 years. From the late thirties into the sixties many manufacturers and stores held contests. But these were not like the contests of today, where you fill out an entry blank, have a 1 in 10 trillion chance of winning, and you start getting junk mail from the 2,463 companies who bought your name and address from the company holding the contest. The contests that Mrs. Ryan entered required good writing skills, cleverness and a good sense of humor, all of which she possessed in great quantity. She starte
neily2007 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of those books you can't lay down. Have read it more than once, and watched the movie. A story that reminds people to be thankful for what they have. Shows what a mother will do to keep a roof over her childrens heads and food in their tummies.
nevusmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this so much. What stood out for me was the grit and determination of the mom. Raising 10 kids seems herculean by itself, but then you throw in an alcoholic father in a time and age when you just didn't get divorced, and the task becomes all the more daunting. How she went about it was by entering contests; the ones where you came up with catchy slogans; another relic of times gone by, I'm afraid. I truly enjoyed the samples of her writing shared throughout the book. I also really enjoyed the story of Charlie the chicken, who was raised by their door-opening cat.
StoutHearted on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I tore through this book until the last page - the star of this inspirational tale, Evelyn Ryan, is one of the most amazing characters I've ever seen on page. Amazing still, that she was a real person, a 50's housewife raising ten children with little to no help from her alcoholic husband. This would be a tale of woe if it weren't for Evelyn's ingenuity, skill, and luck at entering contests. Her cute and clever rhyming jingles, included appropriately throughout the book along with the kitschy ads and contest forms that inspired them, were all a part of this overwhelmed mom's can-do attitude. The family certainly wouldn't have survived without her. Not only the glue that kept the family together, her prizes here and there replaced broken appliances, helped pay the bills, and even bought the Ryans a house! For every major adversity, Evelyn's prizes saved the day.It's amazing how much this woman accomplished with so much stacked against her, and here I complain I don't have time to do the dishes.
wirtley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting biography written by the child of 10 children. They grew up in the 1950's. The father was an alcoholic. The mother sent in jingles to companies to win money. She won a couple cars, a trip to New York and many appliances. The mom had a way of being positive even when the chips were down. Interesting read about a time when jingle contests were prevalent.
NellieMc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put the book down. A story of 10 children raised in poverty by an alcoholic father and one of the most engaging mothers put in print. It's hard to believe she was that saintly; I'm sure there are stories missing, but enough comes through to make this a genuine feel-good tale of a woman who kept her children housed and clothed (barely) through her skill in winning jingle contests. The book also transplants you to the 1950s and, as someone then alive, I remember enough to feel that the author truly caught that era. Unique story, interesting and vivid characters, a book well worth your time.
MarthaHuntley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Inspiring and a great read!
mhgatti on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Anytime Food Network, HGTV, or DIY has a sweepstakes, I'm all over it. $25,000 for new a garage? $50,000 for a dream kitchen? $100,000 towards landscaping? I'm there, there, and there. And the king of all of these sweepstakes has got to be the HGTV Million-Dollar Dream Home Giveaway. When that thing's going on I have a hard time thinking about anything else.The great thing about these sweepstakes is that you don't have to do anything but give your name and address, and you can enter every day. You don't even need stamps anymore. The only sweepstakes that I don't enter are the ones that make you write something. You know, when they want you to tell them why you should win, or say why your wife deserves a new kitchen, or come up with a catchy new slogan for their glass cleaner, all in 25 words or less. These contests stop me dead in my tracks.Evelyn Ryan, now she knew how to do those things. She's the subject of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, written by her daughter, Terry Ryan. Since her alcoholic husband drank most of his paycheck, Evelyn entered as many contests as she could as a way to keep her ten kids fed and clothed. Lucky for them, this was during the golden age of sweepstakes - the forties and fifties - and she was very good at them.By far, the most interesting parts of this book are the numerous entries that are reprinted from the notebooks that Terry Ryan's mother kept to keep track of all her submissions. A wide range of contests are represented, everything from losing entries that didn't even merit a $10 prize to this one, from a "name this sandwich" contest which won her a car and a trip to NYC: My Frisk-the-Fridgidaire Clean-the-Cupboards-Bare Sandwich.Evelyn supplemented her winnings by selling poetry to magazines and local newspapers. Her poetic style, which often showed up in her sweepstakes entries, was very Ogden Nash-like (this one got her $25 from the Toledo Blade): Birds of a Feather To public buildings, Types indigenous Are litter-ally Always pigeonous.She quickly learned that the best entries didn't always win, sometimes you had to know what the judges wanted to hear: [Contest-judging company] Donnelley had offices in all the major U.S. cities, but the Chicago office was known to prefer honest-sounding, straightforward entries, leaning to trite.As much as I enjoyed reading these clever entries, I'm sorry to say that the rest of the book seems to have been written to please those Chicago judges: it's a little too honest-sounding, too straightforward, and too trite. Even when dealing with her father's drinking problem, Terry Ryan's writing is more than a little too gee-wiz corny for me to enjoy. Several times the same scene is described: the kids playing outside waiting for the mailman (loving nicknamed Pokey for his leisurely pace) to bring the latest prize announcement, just as the bank's threatening to foreclose (or just as the car breaks down, or just as one of the kids need new glasses, etc.). Wholesome is good, but after a while it gets kind of old. The book also seems to have been written at about an sixth-grade reading level, which certainly didn't add to my enjoyment.I had heard about this book from a segment on NPR's All Things Considered. I don't want to slam this book too much, since it was obviously written as a daughter's loving memoir of her mother, but I now realize that something that sounds interesting for a five-minute segment doesn't always stay interesting for three hundred-pages.In contest lingo, I'd say this book merits an honorable mention, at best.
campingmomma on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was such a wonderfully, touching, heartfelt story. Mrs. Evelyn Ryan (and all her various contest aliases) is indeed the "hero" her daughter portrays her to be. Any stay at home mom who can raise 10 kids on an alcoholic fathers meager income by contesting is a saint in my book. Her story is an inspiration to all. Most if not all of her children went on to college to boot. Mrs. Ryan could make or repair just about anything (most comically her own girdle) in order to make ends meet. Many of Mrs. Ryan's contest submissions are included as well as photo's of herself and sometimes the family when a big contest prize was won. What I enjoyed most about the book was not Evelyn's writing, but that of her daugher Tuff (Terry Ryan, the books' author). Her first person account made me feel as if I was standing in the kitchen smelling the repairs being made to the girdle with the iron, or sitting in the living room when one of the contest judges moved a magazine to sit in a chair only to have a spring pop out in his face that the magazine was covering up, or last but not least standing on the front porch watching Charlie the chicken attack people from the bushes. It was a great comedy, tragedy and tear jerker all in one...a fantastic book!
TanyaTomato on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Short, but entertaining. Tells of contesting before it was just chance, but it was mostly a story of a strong loving matriarch with an optimistic outlook.
hoxierice on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I watched the movie and it was such an amazing story I read the book. I love stories about real people. Plus the movie had great costumes and aprons!
melwil_2006 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first non thriller/crime book that I haven't been able to put down. This is non-fiction, the story of a woman, Evelyn Ryan, who supported her family of twelve through 'contesting', entering 25 words or less and jingles competitions. The story is told by her daughter, with just enough separation and intimacy. It is a fantastic story, you often forget it is real as amazing things happen. Peppered throughout the book are the little rhymes and poems Evelyn wrote.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Famfatale More than 1 year ago
An enjoyable read. So glad I happened upon it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best memoirs I have read yet. Definitely reccomend. It is funny, inspiring and a great read.