Wednesday 8 June 2011

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

Nineteen-fifties housewife Mrs. Evelyn Ryan from Defiance, Ohio raised ten children successfully, despite being married to an alcoholic. How did she do it? She wrote. She wrote essays and poems for newspapers. More significantly, at a time when many companies were looking for input from their consumers, she would write ditties for their advertisements. She would enter contest after contest, mailing numerous entries under variations on her name like E. Ryan or Evelyn Ryan or Mrs. E. Ryan or even substituting one of her children's names. Just when she had no money left to pay the milkman, she would get a letter in the mail saying she had won a contest and a small cheque was enclosed. While her husband, Kelly, was squandering his pay cheque at the bar, she was writing. She wrote when she ironed. She wrote while she watched television. She wrote while she cooked dinner. She never stopped. She won many products, from something as small as a toaster to something as big as a sports car, which she subsequently gave to her son. When she wrote, she had a knack of saying a lot in only a few words (usually 25 words or less) and companies recognized that. At one point, she won a large freezer, but she had no money to buy food to put in it. However, on another occasion, she won a shopping spree, racing with her children from aisle to aisle as she loaded the cart while the stopwatch ticked, and therefore was able to fill the freezer to overflowing. She even won a trip to New York City, something exciting for someone who didn't even own a car. In the meantime, her husband continued to drink away their bank account, even taking out a second mortgage on the house, but failing to make payments. Just as the bank was about to foreclose on the house, she won a Dr. Pepper contest and was able to burn the mortgage.

Her husband, rather than being appreciative, often resented his wife when she won these contests, making him feeling inadequate since he couldn't pay the bills on his own. He was often verbally abusive to her and the children; they knew that when objects started to fly, it was time to vacate the room. Even so, Evelyn tried to remain positive and loving towards everyone, especially the children, despite her husband's negativity.

The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio is the title of the book about Evelyn Ryan's life written by one of her daughters, Terry. In 2005, the book was made into a movie filmed in Paris, Ontario. If you watch closely, you will notice the scene where Julianne Moore (Evelyn) drives across a bridge; it's the lower level bridge across the Grand River.

It is inspiring to hear about a woman who, despite having a troubled marriage and financial woes, used her talent for writing to make a living and raise ten children. A devout Roman Catholic, she counted her blessings and not her burdens. What an incredible woman!

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