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Listen to a Life Contest
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Listen to a Life Contest Grand Prize Winner
Congratulations to Caitlyn Carpenter, 13
and her grandmother Barbara Edelmann, 76
Listen to a Life Story Contest Grand Prize Winner

Caitlyn is a grade 8 student at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY. Her English teacher Loraine McCurdy-Little, who encouraged Caitlyn to enter the Listen to a Life Story Contest, thinks it's important to offer students opportunities like the contest to have their work recognized and shared.

Caitlyn is an avid reader who can never pass up a good book, and enjoys writing. She is a violist (i.e. she plays the viola, not the violin), and is attending a music camp, as well as a music festival, over the summer. She has been playing tennis since she was a toddler. Above all, Caitlyn loves to learn. School is her second home.

After entering the Listen to a Life Story Contest and discovering more about her grandmother, Caitlyn has developed a general interest in people's experiences growing up. She is currently conducting a series of interviews with people from different countries that have incredible stories. She's learned that you never know about a person's background if you don't ask them.

Here is Caitlyn's winning entry…

In a charming home located in Hamden, Connecticut, a little girl took her seat upon a dormant radiator. She watched tentatively as her mother patiently taught her the secrets of the kitchen.

Many years prior, before the little girl was even born, her mother won the equivalent of what is now nearly two thousand dollars thanks to her elite pie making skills. She wished to pass down those skills to her daughter. Her daughter is my grandmother.

Now 76, my grandmother uses the handwritten recipes of her mother to remember the beautiful woman who raised her all those years ago. You see, my great-grandmother's award-winning pie recipes didn't come out of any cookbook. The dishes were completely derived from her kitchen. That is quite clear when reading her recipes, for next to several ingredients, the words "watch it" are written. They instruct the chef to measure on instinct, rather than numbers. Additionally, she calls for "heaping" tablespoons, and requires the chef to "feel" the dough by mixing it by hand.

These quirky little hand-written commands are what make the recipes special to the now 76-year-old little girl, not how the dishes taste. My grandmother still uses her mother's recipes and is always careful to "watch it" when she is told to. For my grandmother, no published recipes can ever compare to her mom's. Every dish that she makes comes out different than the one before, for better or for worse depending on how she "watches it."

So really, this is a story about remembering. It may not be ground-breaking, but it's special. It shows how time-old tradition, and a couple of funny words, can preserve a legacy of beautiful women, memories of a girl atop a radiator, and a series of truly unique desserts.

Listen to a Life Contest Legacy Award Winners
Abi Sorensen, 10, and grandmother Bae Hung Jin Choi, 81, Texas

My story begins during the Korean War. I was only twelve when I faced terror and almost starved to death.

My school had just been bombed. Terrorists flooded everywhere throughout my neighborhood. I left my big city where I had lived – forever. That night, my family and I escaped to my grandparent's house in a small town in the south. There was a jungle of cows, pigs, and chickens everywhere. I had to go to a school inside a tent!

Worst of all, I had to eat pumpkins every day. Pumpkin soup, pumpkin candy, pumpkin rice cakes, and dried pumpkins – you name it, we ate it. Pumpkins were the most common and abundant food where I lived. I used to hate pumpkins before the Korean War. For two whole days I starved until finally I decided to try a pumpkin rice cake. It was so delicious! From that day on, I decided that I had better keep on eating all the different kinds of pumpkin foods, or I'd starve.

A couple years later when I was in high school, I tutored a child named Hoban. Hoban is similar to "Hobak" which means pumpkin in Korean. Hoban was teased a lot because Hoban sounded like Hobak. I saw Hoban crying one day and asked him what was wrong. He told me how miserable his life was with all the children making fun of his name.

So, I told him a story to comfort him: "When I was a child about your age, I hated pumpkins before the Korean War. Then where I lived, only pumpkins were common and abundant. I had starved for two days and finally decided to try a pumpkin rice cake. It was scrumptious! If it hadn't been for pumpkins, I would never have survived the Korean War."

Sydney Sturdivant, 10, and
grandmother Doris Leiterman, 90, Wisconsin

Doris Leiterman is a person who was poor in money, but rich in family.

Doris was born in 1927. She was the oldest girl in a family of thirteen children. Doris and her family of fifteen lived in a two-bedroom apartment with one bathroom, and later moved to a very small home. Like many families during the Great Depression, Doris's family had more struggles than anyone could imagine.

Lots of people didn't have jobs, including her dad. Doris and her siblings worked bailing, stacking and selling newspapers in order to earn nine cents so they could go to the movies on Sundays. When Doris was sixteen, she quit school and started working at St. Norbert College in the kitchen.

Doris's family didn't have a refrigerator like most people do today. Instead they had an icebox and, in order to keep their food cold, they had to put in ice. Even though food wasn't expensive, Doris's family had difficulties getting food. They had to get help from the city to get food. At that time, three pounds of cookies or three loaves of bread only cost twenty-five cents.

Doris only wore hand-me-down clothes from her older brothers. They had to put cardboard in their shoes so they would last longer. "There was lots and lots of poverty," Doris recalls. "With thirteen children, nothing came easy. When my dad found a job, things got easier," Doris remembers.

At ninety, Doris is not poor anymore. She likes to shop, go out to dinner and loves to spend time with her family. She has three children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is still rich in family.

Rebecca Costanza, 12, and grandfather Jon Schippers, 73, New York

"Go, go, go!" they all screamed.

I knew it was a life or death situation. I wasn't letting my country down now.

But let's go back to the days when I wasn't concerned if I was going to live another day…

I was young and grew up not-so-wealthy, but not poor either. A very simple childhood, if I may say. I know it doesn't sound too exciting, but I don't regret even a single second.

The best journey of my life wasn't one I chose: I was recruited.

What's that? I grew up in that time. People weren't just joining the army, navy, marines or coast guard like flies to some rotten food. Not many people volunteered to either die trying or barely live. If you didn't join on your own, you were recruited, depending on your strength and agility; even if you weren't strong or agile, you were recruited. As long as you were young – 18, 19, or early 20s. Many were recruited and very few joined willingly.

I don't remember exactly when I was recruited, but I certainly wasn't a happy trooper. I was recruited into the marines.

Training was the first part of the real action. You can't just join the marines and hop right into battle. Since I was such a youngster, I thought of it as an obstacle course. But, oh, it was so much more. It wasn't a joke. Once you were prepared, you headed into the fight.

It was rough. I'd rather not talk about the struggles of war.

Now, as a veteran, I'm very proud of my service. I'm not sure what I would have done had I not been recruited. Best opportunity, ever.

Emma Hickey, 14, and grandfather David Wagoner, 72, Maryland


They say when a man goes off to war that he comes back different, changed, afraid of his own shadow. However, I had the ringing of gun shots and the hissing of snakes whispering throughout my head.

The telephone rang, and that's when I was transported back to it all. When I was drafted into the Vietnam War, I worked in the finance section of the 101 Airborne. Although I was "secluded" from the horrors of war, nothing can shelter you from the devastation that washes over a man.

When serving in the finance section, I got put "in charge of quarters." Specifically, I would wait for soldiers to pick up records of the fallen or immensely injured. Making sure all records were on display, in alphabetical order, I looked straight ahead at the beige wall, only looking down when the soldier needed the record.

The units could go to the movie theater, a special privilege after all your work was finished. It was a mellow area.

I heard the yells first. The shot came moments after, before I turned the handle of the door and I stood in utter disbelief, somehow unable to steer my gaze away from the lifeless man.

Slipping down the wall, I sat and looked at my hands, twisting and knotting them as tree roots would sprawl into the earth. This is the first time I looked death in the eye.

After that night, everything became repetitive: wake up, eat, do my job, eat, sleep, and the occasional patrol. Sometimes, you would hear the Vietnamese soldiers yell slurs and shoot their automatics. Funnily enough, I was closer to getting bit by a snake than ever looking at a Vietnamese man in the dense jungle.

Tyler Sjoblom, 14, and grandfriend Hugues Chevalier, 56, Tennessee

Hugues Chevalier, born more than five decades ago in Mulhouse, France, has lived through many different historical events. Most he was too young to remember, such as the assassination of JFK, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the nuclear plant in Ukraine, and an oil tanker that broke in the ocean.

But there is one big event that is a vivid memory for him. He watched the moon landing. He talks about how he can remember sitting in front of his TV and watching the rocket land. He remembers how much it influenced him as a child to want to become an astronaut and pilot. He had posters and plastic models covering his bedroom after the event. Hugues said it made him extremely interested in space and different planets in our solar system. And while he looked up to many explorers, his biggest inspiration were the men who went to the moon.

This big event led to his decision to join the military when he was 18. When talking to him at dinners, he constantly talks about the fact that the moon landing is one of the few reasons that he decided to become a pilot in the Air Force instead of military like his older siblings (only one of his siblings decided to join the Air Force as well.) This one event, that happened when he was a young child, shaped who he became and the majority of his life events and decisions. He loved space simply for the fact that he watched as men from America walked onto the moon for the first time and made a lasting impact on not only him, but the entire world.

Mackenzie Kutniewski, 12, and grandmother Kathy Alley, 62, Maine

I asked my grandmother to share a life lesson she has learned. She started, "I have lived a good life with ups and downs. But the thing I've learned over the years is to treat others the way you want to be treated. I know it's cheesy, but even when you can't think of any reason to, just do it. It could make someone's day."

"When I was in high school, I was having trouble with other kids. They said things about my clothes and I was irritated. Day after day, they found something wrong with me. They made comments and I would snap something back. This went on for a long time, so I asked my mom for advice."

"My mom, being the intelligent woman she is, asked, 'How are you treating them? If you're not treating them the way you want to be treated, then they won't do the same. Ask them questions like how was your day, or have a good day, good morning, good night. It might take awhile, but it will work.'"

"I thought about it. Would this actually work? I knew I hadn't treated them like I should."

"Mom was right. It did take awhile, but over the next few months, people began treating me nicely, and I was doing the same. I had a lot more friends than I had before."

My grandmother has taught me a lot over the years. She's taught me to be kind, be myself, even if it means being the zebra in a group of lions. She taught me to give someone help when they need it or to do it just because. But the one lesson I'll always remember is to treat people the way you want to be treated.

Jordan Allen, 15, and grandfather Greg Goodrich, 64, Minnesota


Summer, 1971. My final summer before leaving the family farm in Royal Center, Indiana for college. My mother's footsteps drew me from my dreams, back into my sticky-hot bedroom. The familiar creak of the stairs signaled the start of another workday on the farm.

Smells of sizzling bacon reached my nose and urged me to the kitchen. No, I thought. The job at hand came first. I left the scent behind and walked to the barn. The forty Holstein dairy cows barely acknowledged my existence as I shuffled towards the rudimentary milking machine. After what felt like hours of tedious and intense milking, as milking was mostly guesswork, I completed my first task. I trudged back to the house to inhale my breakfast before heading out to the hay field.

The sun lashed my back as I followed the baler, making our way down the long rows of hay. After hours of lifting heavy bales, I returned to the cows for another round of milking. By the time I got back to the house for dinner, my muscles were worn and my mind frazzled. Afterwards, I made my way back up the creaky stairs to my bed, where I drifted off into a well-earned sleep, feeling satisfied about another job done.

My grandfather's experiences on the farm taught him many things he used throughout his life. The most important one is that work always comes before play, an idea lost in the clutter of modern life. Hardworking people like him are disappearing.

But perhaps all hope is not lost. Maybe the solution to our problem is much simpler than we thought. Maybe, all we really need, is a day on the farm.

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