~ Originally posted on my personal blog on February 1, 2006. ~
Title: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less
Author: Terry Ryan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the public library
First line: The ordinarily sleepy town of Defiance, Ohio, emitted an industrious hum on hot days, a subtle pulse of activity – like the buzzing of distant bees.
Goodreads blurb: Evelyn Ryan, wife of an alcoholic husband and mother of ten children, lived in a small town in a time and place when women did not seek jobs outside the home. When finances ran low, feeling desperate, she turned to her parish priest who suggested she “take in laundry.” Ryan had to laugh at the advice because she could barely keep up with her own family’s washing and ironing. A lesser woman might have succumbed to poverty, but she was determined to keep her family financially afloat and to teach her children that the life of the mind was important. In the early 1950s, Ryan started entering contests, composing her jingles, poems, and essays at the ironing board. She won household appliances, bikes, watches, clocks, and, occasionally, cash. She won a freezer, and several weeks later, she won a supermarket shopping-spree. When the family was faced with eviction, she received a $5000 first place check from the regional Western Auto Store. Ryan’s unconventionality and sense of humor triumphed over poverty, and her persistence makes the reader cheer her on.
I googled the title to make sure there weren’t any controversies brewing about it’s truthfulness and I didn’t find any. Not that I was surprised. In the acknowledgements, Ms. Ryan thanks all of her brothers and sisters – nine of them – for help in fact-checking and memory remembering. And this book wasn’t written with the intention of glorifying the author. This book is a love letter to the author’s mother.
Evelyn Ryan, the prizewinner mentioned in the title, lived in a very different world than we do today. It was small-town America, but not today’s small-town America. When I read books like this, I am always amazed at how much society has changed in just the last 50 or 60 years.
Mrs. Ryan lived in a time when spousal abuse and alcoholism was ignored. If the wife dared to speak out about what was happening, the blame was placed on her shoulders. Women were meant to be meek and submissive and keep quiet about their husband’s faults, even if those faults were harming the family.
This woman was a victim, and had every right to curl up in a corner and go to sleep and ignore the world. But she didn’t. She had ten children, and she used her ingenuity and love of words and writing to put food on the table and pay the bills. And win things like TVs, clock radios, cars, and cash. Her husband drank away his paychecks, and yet this family of 12 survived. And the love and gratitude that Terry Ryan feels toward her mother is evident on every page of this book.