The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio
Evelyn Ryan, the 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 the 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 humour triumphed over poverty, and her persistence makes the reader cheer her on.
This was a fun read. The story itself is a winner as almost all of us cheer for an underdog and Evelyn Ryan was an underdog. Yet, when one reads her story, one doesn’t feel sorry for her, though she lives a very challenging life. Her husband is an alcoholic. He works but his salary, when and if he gives Evelyn any part of it, is small, far too small to cover the expenses relative to a family of ten, ten, children.
Evelyn supplements her lack of money by entering contests. Remember those contests from years past, where you had to complete a phrase about a product, write a poem about it, or develop a grabbing catchphrase to label it. ‘You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with….’ ‘A little dab will do ya…’ ‘Where’s the beef?’ ‘When you’re number 2, ya gotta try harder.’ Well, Evelyn had some winners too and she won a whopper too, lots of money, for those days, and especially for her family. She won numerous small things, toasters, tv’s, radios, toaster ovens, two cars, an all expense paid trip. All by writing her contest submissions.
The story is catching. Written by Terry Ryan, her oldest daughter, Evelyn is a winner. So is this book. It isn’t Pulitzer Prize stuff but in living life, it sends the message that there’s a winning side to every life. Sometimes you have to read between the lines, or maybe just turn the page!
3 1/2 stars