Tom and I got a San Juan Island Library Card! This may not seem like a big deal to those of you who live in one place all the time but it is pretty exciting to us. After we started going to the Columbus Metropolitan Library last fall, I realized how much I missed going to the library. I missed browsing among the books. Seeing what was out there. Choosing something that caught my eye. The first book that caught my eye at the San Juan Island Library was “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” by Terry Ryan.
“The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” is subtitled “How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less.” The book caught my eye because: 1. It is about someone in Ohio. 2. This woman raised 10 kids while I was lucky to raise one! 3. What is with the 25 words or less? I had to check it out and read it.
Evelyn Ryan is “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.” Married in the middle of the Great Depression, Evelyn was a good Catholic mother, welcoming a new baby into the family every two years. Like most women in towns of the era, Evelyn did not work outside the home. She didn’t even drive. Her husband, Kelly, worked in a machine shop and made enough to support the family – barely. Over time, however, his drinking consumed more and more of his paycheck.
Although Kelly was not physically abusive, his drinking turned him into a scary monster that everyone stayed away from. Evelyn dealt with her marriage, his drinking, their poverty, and her ten children with humor and a decision to be a happy person. She also coped by entering the contests that were abundant in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Evelyn became an expert “contester” winning some prize in one out of every four contests she entered. She won washing machines and dryers. She won grand prizes several times including trips to Dallas, Switzerland, and New York. Evelyn won two cars, seven television sets, and enough prizes to ensure each of her children had a Christmas present every year. In addition to her contests, she sold poems and short stories and earned the money that helped to pay the bills and keep the family afloat.
Terry Ryan, a middle child in the family, writes Evelyn’s story with a humorous and easy, personal style. The children don’t feel sorry for themselves because of their circumstances. All of them grow up as professionals and many of them get advanced degrees. As the contests dwindled in the 1960’s – with all of her children out of the house – Evelyn became as clerk at JC Penneys and the family finances improved.
Reading about this large, loving family was inspiring. I loved seeing the family pictures in the book. The book was so popular that it became a movie starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson in 2005. Next on my “to watch” list!
Evelyn did what she could with what she had. At the worst times, in answer to hard work, perseverance and prayer, a prize would come through that would be just what the family needed. They never had an abundance of anything except love, but they had enough. “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” is a book worth reading.