Mimi's Reviews > The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan
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Nov 29, 11

bookshelves: adult
Read in November, 2011

No matter what hand you are dealt in life or regardless of the consequences of your past decisions, you can choose how to act today and you decide who you are going to be!

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to be inspired. This is the story of a destitute housewife with ten children and an alcoholic husband who never gives up and uses her brains to win advertising contests to keep her family out of starvation. It contains so many morals! 1. Being able to humbly and gratefully accept charity but also having a drive to be able to support oneself and not live off of the labor of other's. 2. Never giving up, no matter how often you fail. 3. Accepting your lot in life and striving to better it. 4. The dignity and importance of being a housewife. 5. and many other things.

One thing that struck me was the difference in the role of a housewife in the 1950s-1970s to today. I almost never iron, but she seemed to spend a third of her days ironing. I remember when I read The HelpThe Help, being shocked by how often the women required their maids to clean their bathrooms. Today's standards are definitely lax, in my opinion. Or perhaps I am a slothful housekeeper.

I really appreciated the perspective this book adds to my life. I might have a rough day, but my husband is not alcoholic. My husband is able to make enough money to feed and clothe my children. My husband has never taken out a secret second mortgage that he is unable to repay, putting my home in danger. I have a driver's license and my own car. I have a college education. I have so many things to be grateful for and happy about, and, just like Evelyn, I have brains in my head and a warm, caring heart.

Oh, and one thing that I don't really ever think to be grateful for is my bathtub. Their first house had no bathtub. They had to sponge bathe standing up in their kitchen (or in the kitchen sink for the babies and toddlers). I am grateful for the privacy and ease of my bathtub!

It was also interesting to read how different the attitudes were about male and female roles. I can't imagine not expecting my son to do the exact same chores I require my daughter to do. And my husband is actually a better cook than I am.

And I have heard of polio before; one of my friend's moms had a slight case of it, but it was really eye opening to read about Evelyn's friend Emma who was so debilitated by it but didn't let that stop her. Amazing.

And I am really glad there are so many more avenues for women to receive help when they do have abusive husbands. I can't imagine living in that situation. And yet at the same time, I kind of felt bad for the dad, too. In his sober moments, he had a lot of potential. He just needed to overcome his drinking. So I guess I am also glad that there are more organizations now to help people become sober. Alcoholism is no longer something you just look past; it is an actual problem that people will help you with.

And now, some portions of the book I found really interesting or thought provoking.

"Instead of seeing Mom take in laundry week after week, we watched her systematically pursue contests as if she were born to win. Every time Pokey the mailman ambled his way up the front walk to deliver news of another prize, no matter how small, a thrill shot through our household. At that moment we knew that as long as we used our brains, we were not victims. By striking out to write our own ticket, we would grow up to be like our mother, winners."

"Still in their teens, Bub and Dick were young to be journeying so far from home. [The boys were moving from Ohio to Florida.] No one thought it strange when Mom told the two boys to send their laundry home. She knew they'd wear dirty clothes before going to a Laundromat, and, like a lot of women, she believed boys and men were incapable of cooking and cleaning for themselves."

"Lee Anne, my exact opposite, helped Mom with a lot of the household chores—laundry, ironing, cleaning—gamely setting an example I was intended to follow at age nine, when she left for nursing school at age 18. Since my brothers had no such expectations placed on them, I saw no reason to work that hard. My mother deserved some help, but I wasn't willing to be the sole source of household support."

"'No matter how many kids you might have,' wrote Dortha, 'I'm firmly convinced that a person can find time to do the things they want to do, and you and I must want to contest.'"

"Dortha sighed. 'I wish she could, but Emma can't even get out of her own neck of the woods. She's had polio for about fifteen years now. She spends all night in an iron lung, and all day in an automatic rocker bed so she can breathe. . . . Believe it or not, Evelyn, she gave birth in that iron lung three days after being stricken. Now she can move only her arms, and only from the elbow down, but there's nothing wrong with that head of hers. She does all her contesting flat on her back.'"

"Every time a howling summer storm knocked out the electricity in her neighborhood of Goshen, Indiana (about one hundred miles from Defiance), Emma's husband had to call in the local fire department to help pump her iron lung by hand until power was restored. If Emma were left alone for even a few minutes without power, she would die from lack of oxygen."

"Because, Tuff, 'standing up' to your dad would mean nothing. In fact, you'd be wasting your time and energy you should be spending on your life. You could spend hours every night fighting with Dad about whether he's being 'fair' to us—or you could do what you're doing: getting good grades, planning for college, saving your own money."

"A long time ago I figured out something that made life a lot simpler. Don't let yourself be judged by others, and don't judge other people."

"And let's not forget . . . how lucky we are to even have an active life."

Tuff: "Mom's life, I knew, had begun tragically. Her own mother died a few minutes after giving birth to her. Her father was so grief-stricken that he sent both his daughters to go live with relatives."
Evelyn, Tuff's mom: "'Mom had spent the morning cutting out dresses—she was a seamstress, you know. In the afternoon, she lay down on her bed and went into labor. She did everything like that—calmly, methodically. My sister Ernie's birth four years earlier had been uneventful, and so was mine, or so Dad, Aunt Clara, and the doctor thought. After I was born, they closed the bedroom door so she could rest.' Mom said. 'She bled to death in her sleep. People said Dad was never the same after that.'"

"The thought used to cross our minds that Mom could have had a wonderful life writing advertisement copy on Madison Avenue instead of raising ten children on no money in the middle of nowhere. But this was before we really knew her. We have learned from the things she left behind that hers was a remarkable life, defined most of all by the wish to include everything. From a child's poem or a paid-off loan note to her rural Ohio domestic life that allowed, or inspired, the perfect turn of phrase in a prizewinning entry, one thing was as important as the next, and equally absorbing. Looking through these things she left for us in the months after she died allowed us to see, piece by piece, what she was all about, and to appreciate the true extent of her accomplishment."
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