Twenty-five words or less

In "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio," Terry Ryan's mother, Evelyn, keeps poverty at bay with wit, luck and perfect prose during the "contest era" of the 1950s and '60s.

By Read by Terry Ryan
Published April 16, 2001 7:35PM (EDT)

In recounting how her mother kept the family afloat by writing jingles and contest entries, author Terry Ryan steps back into a time when fledgling advertising agencies were active partners with consumers and everyday people saw possibility in every coupon.

Mom's winning ways defied the Catholic Church, her alcoholic husband's spending habits and outsiders' antiquated views of housewives. To her, flouting convention was a small price to pay when it came to securing a happy home for her six sons and four daughters. Evelyn, who would surely be a Madison Avenue executive if she were working today, composed her jingles not in the boardroom, but at the ironing board.

By entering contests wherever she found them -- TV, radio, newspapers, direct-mail ads -- Evelyn Ryan was able to win every appliance her family ever owned, not to mention cars, television sets, bicycles, watches, a jukebox, and even trips to New York, Dallas and Switzerland. But it wasn't just the winning that was miraculous; it was the timing. If a toaster died, one was sure to arrive in the mail from a forgotten contest. Days after the bank called in the second mortgage on the house, a call came from the Dr. Pepper company: Evelyn was the grand-prize winner in its national contest -- and had won enough to pay the bank.

Listen to an excerpt from "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less," courtesy of Simon & Schuster Audio, read by the author.

Read by Terry Ryan

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