Remember the library book sale I blogged about? The one where we got boxes and boxes of free books?
One of the books I got was a brand new copy of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan. It didn’t even have the little library card pocket glued into the back, so I guess it was an extra copy.
I really enjoyed this book about a woman who kept her family of twelve afloat in spite of her alcoholic husband drinking away his meager income. She put food on the table and a roof over their heads many times with nothing but hope, humor, and a big helping of determination.
The story is written by the daughter of Evelyn Ryan and tells about the family’s struggles and triumphs in a small town in the 1950’s. Mrs. Ryan’s winning way with words pays many of the family’s bills and gets them out of one mess after another.
It really is an amazing story of how one woman won thousands of dollars writing essays, jingles, and slogans mainly for household products. She used her wits and her knowledge of homemaking to contribute to the family’s income.
She stuck with her husband, who wasn’t much of a man, and made the best of the life she was given. She kept her humor until the end.
Managing a houseful of children with joy and sense of humor, Mrs. Ryan reminds me of someone I want to be.
This is one of my favorite excerpts from the book. It comes after one of the young boys has picked all of the tulips in the neighborhood as a surprise for his mother.(Something about this scene has a scent of familiarity.)
“Hello, Vernon,” said Mom, smiling. She never called him Pokey to his face.
“Afternoon, Evelyn,” Vernon said as he rifled through his leather mailbag. When he looked up from his letters, his gaze froze. “Uh…Evelyn?”
“Uh-huh?” Mom said.
“You probably already know this,” he said, his feet shuffling shyly, “but you’ve got a bird on your head.”
At this, Mom raised her hands slowly to the sides of her hair and felt the unmistakable feathered body resting on top.
“Oh sure,” she laughed. “I guess I forgot for a minute.”
Vernon smiled, but never stopped staring at Mom’s hairline.
“He fell out of a tree a while back,” Mom said, trying to explain away her embarrassment. “He’s been with us ever since.”
“I knew there must be a reason,” said Vernon handing Mom the day’s mail as he backed slowly down the front steps. “It’s just not often that I see a bird riding on someone’s head.”
Back in the house, Barney still nesting high in the strands of her hair, Mom chuckled as she looked in the mirror, “I can’t believe I walked out there with you on my head, Barney,” she said. “By tomorrow, everybody in town will be calling me the Bird Lady of Defiance.”
Just through the door from school, Barb delivered the punch line. “The good news, Mom,” she said, “is that you’ll no longer be known as the Dead-Tulip Lady.”