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First, a tangent: I loved the book The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less.
It’s about a woman in the ’50s who raised ten kids and endured an alcoholic husband, but still prospered, largely through her cleverness in winning contests.
My mom entered tons of contests when I was little. Contests are still around, but they’re different now. We fill out our address, usually online, and click, but back then contests often involved riddles or writing jingles, and always they were mailed in.
You usually needed to mail in a proof of purchase of some type with your entry, or sometimes you could write a specific phrase on a 3 x 5 piece of paper instead. I remember having a lot of 3 x 5 papers around. Mom worked a lot on finishing rhymes or doing other little quizzes, all in hopes of a “big win.”
Mom usually sent in 20-25 entries per contest, and recorded all entries in a book. On contests where entries were limited, she would sometimes enter my dad’s and us kids’ names and use other variations of her name as well. Postage added cost to entering contests, but I looked in my stamp album and saw that in my childhood letters cost .08-.10 to mail; quite a bit less than today.
Mom was even in a “contest club” made up of women who enjoyed “contesting” like she did. When one of them got a big win, they would take the others out to eat at a “win dinner.”
Mom won a lot of things, but the biggest was a CAR. It was a Camaro convertible identical to the Indy 500 Pace Car for 1969. She won it in 1969, about three months after she first began contesting. That contest was sponsored by Sprite and ten were awarded in the US — my Dad’s name (it must have been mom’s entry for him) was the tenth one drawn.
I remember our family driving to be presented with the car. The bigwig guy gave my sister and me little gold Coke keychains. It was very exciting! Mom won lots more prizes over the years, but never topped the car. Incidentally, the car was too small and sporty for our family of four, so my parents sold it.
I learned from the Prizewinner book that contests were a huge thing in the 1950s and then began declining (although I clearly remember them in the 1960s and ’70s). I’ve often thought since I’ve become an adult that there aren’t the jingle-type contests out there like there were when I was little. It’s just a different world.
I have continued somewhat with the contesting bug … whenever I see a contest, I want to enter it. However, “chance” contests don’t have near the pull for me of those where you need to write an essay or “do something.” This is probably because I feel like I will “up” my chances of winning if I actually have to create something to enter. Similarly, the heroine of Prize Winner never won a chance-related contest – all her many winnings came from her own ingenuity. While many contests of today do require luck, most back then required you to make your own luck.
I encourage you to read The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. I think you’ll be challenged and encouraged as you read about Evelyn ironing clothes with a little notebook on the ironing board, jotting down rhymes and ideas.
Have you won any contests? Did your mom enter them when you were younger?