Excerpt from The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less

by Terry Ryan

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2001, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2002, 352 pages

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Chapter Three: Supermarket Spree

Our new home at 801 Washington looked un-furnished even after we moved in. We had no money to buy appliances, let alone furniture. But in the months after winning the Western Auto contest, Mom entered a slew of other contests and won enough things to make the house seem functional: an automatic coffeemaker, a Deepfreeze home freezer, a Westinghouse refrigerator, a Motorola radio, two wall clocks, three wool blankets, a box of household tools, a set of kitchen appliances, and three pairs of Arthur Murray shoes.

Many of these prizes were not what Mom had been aiming for. The wall clocks, for example, were seventh prizes in a contest whose first prize was a station wagon. She was always trying to replace the dilapidated family Chevy with something a bit more dependable. Just to start the car most mornings required a ten-person push so Dad could pop the clutch and rumble off to work in a cloud of blue smoke. Even so, the two wall clocks didn't go to waste. Mom gave one to our aunt Lucy and hung the other in the dining room, where it covered a baseball-sized dent of missing plaster that no one would ever own up to.

The Westinghouse refrigerator, though, was a first prize in an aluminum foil contest, for which Mom submitted this 25-words-or-less entry on why she liked using Alcoa Wrap:

I like strong Alcoa Wrap because Alcoa resists "all thumbs" handling -- stays whole to keep juices and flavors IN, ashes OUT, of cookout meals; deserves merit badge for simplifying Scout cookery.

The Deepfreeze home freezer, also a first prize, was gigantic -- four feet high, five feet wide, and three feet deep -- so big it would have been more appropriate in a restaurant or an army mess hall. It looked very empty with just a single gallon of ice cream sitting in the bottom of it. Most of us couldn't even reach the container without falling in. But my mother was ingenious. If we needed clothes, she made them. If we needed a freezer, she won one. If we needed food to fill the new freezer, she was going to win that too.

In a Seabrook Farms contest, Mom was awarded a shopping spree at the local Big Chief Supermarket. She submitted her 25-word entry in poem form:

Wide selections, priced to please her;
Scads of Seabrook's in their freezer,
Warmth that scorns the impersonal trend,
Stamps "Big Chief" as the housewife's friend.

A shopping spree in a supermarket was not what anyone else would have considered a major win, but to Mom it was the answer to our prayers. Our aunt Lucy, a bank teller who lived down the road in Bryan, bought a lot of our weekly groceries, but a freezer filled to capacity would relieve Mom's worries about food for months.

Weeks before the scheduled shopping spree, Mom gathered the family around the dining room table to help plan her assault. Dad had fled the scene, increasingly sullen since "Moneybags," his sarcastic nickname for Dick, had won the Western Auto contest.

"Okay," Mom said, "there are some ironclad rules. First, I've got only ten minutes to grab everything I can."

"That's not very long," I said.

"Just stay in the candy aisle," offered Mike.

"Second," she said, "everything has to fit in one shopping cart."

"One?" Betsy said. "I thought each of us would get a cart."

"Third, everything has to be edible."

"Bruce will eat anything," said Rog.

"Open your mouth, Rog," Bruce said, clenching his fist. "I've got your lunch right here."

As they lunged across the table at each other, Mom yelled, "Knock it off, you two! I'm not finished." They sat back down, trading menacing stares as Mom continued.

"Fourth," she said, "only one of everything. I can get different sizes of the same brand, or same sizes of different brands, but only one of each brand and size."

Copyright © 2001 by Terry Ryan. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster.

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