I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but one of my book clubs chose this title. I do my best to avoid books where bad things to happen to children and animals, because even the fictitious suffering makes me physically ill and stays with me forever (I’m talking to you, Stephen King, about the kid in “It” who put the puppy in the refrigerator – that scene’s been sitting in my gut like solidified Crisco for 15 years). So yes, there are hardships in Ryan’s story, but no, I’m not going to dwell on them when the author fought to focus her book on the triumphs of her family, not the tragedies.
My favorite part of this book was when matriarch Evelyn Ryan, mother of 10 – really 11, if you count the alcoholic husband she also has to take care of – won a grocery store shopping spree with one of the 25-word, professional-grade contest entries she used to keep her family afloat. Evelyn’s approach to spree-day reflects her attitude toward life:
“Think big,” she says, telling the kids they’re not going to waste cart space on necessities like fish sticks. “I want you kids to taste chateaubriand, New York steak, lobster, and anything else you’re never tried before. Heck, I want to try them, too.”
And then I was floored by butcher Bob, with his “knife-scarred hands” and heart of gold, who cut flat slabs of beef and extra-long sides of bacon ahead of time for Evelyn to use to line the sides of her cart and double its capacity. I cheered for Evelyn’s winning outlook and her $411.44 haul of everything from filet mignon to caviar to frozen bonbons, but even more for Bob’s caring ingenuity. When people like Bob recognize how people like Evelyn are doing everything they can to take of their kids, then offer them a hand up just when it’s needed, it feeds the soul of all of humanity.