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Listen to a Life Contest
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Listen to a Life Contest Grand Prize

Congratulations to
Becca Hammond, 16, and her grandfriend Curt Jensen, 65

Listen to a Life Essay Contest Grand Prize Winner

Becca is a grade 10 student at Cloquet Senior High in Cloquet, MN. Her English teacher Jason Richardson encourages students to enter the Listen to a Life Contest every year. He works with students to help them understand various writing devices and study past winners. Becca rewrote her winning essay so many times that she started to wonder whether it was any good at all! Her teacher commented that many great writers feel the same way. Becca is an avid reader and plays soccer. The kind of writing she enjoys most is song lyrics – in fact, she hopes to become a singer/songwriter.


The engine revved. The smell of oil hung in the air. Anticipation clung to Curt's leather jacket. "After I bought one bike, it wasn't enough." The wind picked up speed and so did the jet black Harley. Flying by fast, he was invincible: part man, part machine – oblivious to the troubles of the surrounding world. This is enjoying life, he thought. This is love.

But no matter how hard he tried, happiness wouldn't come. The world gave him none of the promises of plenty, and skepticism was Curt's best friend.

Curt Jensen, a family friend for many years, loved motorcycles and California's highway. After buying one bike, he bought another and another and another... That sleek black, shiny finish, the oil and gasoline, the grime underneath your fingernails: perfection. In his mind, life was a highway, and a filthy one at that. A drunk and a clown, he dedicated his life to motorcycles – and ruined it. The love of his life was a Harley and a bottle of booze. Until he met Debbie.

They fell in love, got married, moved a hundred times, and were miserable. Curt's alcoholism drove Debbie to leave. But she fought for him, knowing her love was stronger than Curt's abuse. And since God had another plan in mind for them, opportunity poked its nose out of his gasoline can. And the direction of his life took a U-turn.

Curt said good-bye to alcohol and went through school, becoming a medical technician. The couple's marriage was restored and their love for each other grew. For Curt, drugs, depression, and booze had blanketed his life like a thick fog – but he conquered. He realized that "having stuff is okay, but not stuff having you." And he forever holds onto that.

Listen to a Life Contest Runner Up Prize

Lily Porth, 10, and great-grandfather Donald DuBois, 98, Vermont


When my great-grandpa Don DuBois was 95 years old, he bought himself a brand new car. My great-grandma commented that this was an optimistic thing to do, buying a car at an age when most people won't be driving much longer. But that's Grandpa.

In 1933, when Grandpa graduated from high school, the Great Depression was becoming worse every day. If people could find work, it only paid about two dollars a day. Grandpa's family had enough food and a house to live in, but they didn't have enough money to send him to college. This was a disappointment to him, but he accepted the reality of what was happening around him and made new plans. He learned a number of different trades, and eventually owned a machine shop where he manufactured items like milk separators and wind chimes. He came up with several inventions and owns American and Canadian patents on some of his ideas!

Grandpa also tried some things that failed. He learned to play several string instruments and joined a dance band. They went to Florida in the mid-1940s. They found that southern folks didn't care much for their northern music. The only profit they made from that trip was a carload of oranges! But they had a wonderful time.

Now, at 98, Grandpa's body is tired and his pace is slowing down. But he still does things that have meaning for him and make him happy. Every summer he plants a big garden and he tends to his small orchard of fruit trees. Although he is aging, he finds at least a little pleasure in his life every day. He has taught me that you don't always get what you expect in life, but you can enjoy whatever life offers you.

Noah Medina, 12, and grandmother Corinne Cruver, 83, Washington

I am here today because of a juicy, green watermelon that sat in the bottom of an icebox in 1935.

Running home from school, her feet burning against the hot ground because of her worn out shoes, my six-year-old grandma rushed into her usually empty house – only this time it wasn't empty. There, against the wall, sat a large white box that was bigger than she was. She was scared at first (having never seen a refrigerator before), but curiosity overtook her and she crept towards the mysterious box. She opened it, and to her amazement it lit up! Then she got an idea.

"What if I climb in the box and close the door? Will the light go off?"

Little did she know that if she got in and closed the door, she would never get out of the box alive. Grandma started to climb in, but something blocked her way. She looked down and, to her amazement, saw a giant green watermelon! She always wanted a watermelon. But when the Great Depression hit, Grandma's family lost their farm and they had no money for such luxuries. They had no money for anything: no running water, no bathroom; only a single set of clothes and one solitary light in their little attic home.

She didn't move the watermelon for fear of damaging it. In the morning, they had juicy watermelon for breakfast. Grandma still says it was the best thing she ever ate!

That sense of gratitude has shaped her whole life. Because she had so little as a child, grandma appreciates every good thing that comes her way. Her boundless optimism has helped her make the world a better place as an educator, a volunteer, and an environmental activist.

I'm so grateful for that watermelon!

Abby Meinert, 8, and grandfather Gary Nytes, 62, Minnesota


When my grandpa was in sixth grade, he attended a little country school by the name of Union Hill Elementary. The country school was four miles from the big school in town. There were only seven students in his class. First, second, and third grade students were in one classroom; fourth, fifth, and sixth in another.

My grandpa thought he was a good student. When he went to the big school, his teacher had him take a test to find out what he knew and how well he would handle the course work after sixth grade.

Grandpa thought he did well on the test. But when he went to see the guidance counselor, he told my grandpa, "Based on what I know of your family, I think you should be put on a vocational track, where you would learn about farming, how to fix machinery or welding." Grandpa disagreed. He told the counselor he had bigger dreams and was going to college to become a teacher.

Grandpa grew up on a farm and didn't enjoy farm chores, like feeding pigs. So, my grandpa went to college. When he got accepted to Mankato State College, fifty miles from his parent's house, he sent his acceptance letter to the high school guidance counselor. When Grandpa graduated from college, he mailed his past counselor a copy of his diploma. Grandpa taught for five years, went back to school, and became a high school principal. Five years later, he became Superintendent of a school district. At that time, Grandpa made a special visit to his past high school guidance counselor.

My grandpa asked the counselor to encourage students to aim high, rather than discourage dreams. My grandpa was motivated to follow his dreams – and I am, too!

Elena Haskins, 15, and grandfriend Gertrud Braun, 86, New York

And they began to run.
The Germans were running, faster and faster.
But these weren't those empty-souled Germans we usually hear of in books.
They too were running out of fear.
They didn't do anything wrong, civilians.
Just ordinary people,
like you
and like me.

Torn by war,
separated from family,
wondering if they'd see tomorrow.

World War II had taken the stage and had been dancing with
bombs and air raids for at least a few years already.
There was no intermission.
The wartime waltz and sonata of screams continued to linger through
the ears of the Europeans, not caring who had to listen.

Gertrud Braun, just a young German girl,
held her breath as the sounds of Russians drew closer.

She was the oldest of eight children, yet only a few years over ten.
Grasping a giant cooking pot, her two-year-old brother
stumbled along behind the pack.
Everyone froze when they heard the Russian soldiers approaching.
A shrill scream tore through the silence –
he had stepped in cold water and, like the game of Battleship,
their hidden F7 was soon discovered.

The Russians, as the Germans,
were still human beings
tied down by

A bottle of whiskey and a pocket watch can control a man.
They escaped that time.
Never knowing when a bomb might fall,
tucked into the shadows of shelters.
Separated and sent away to youth camps,
Gertrud was later reunited with her family.

Proud am I, of her,
leading her family,
taking control,

We often forget the war troubles of the German people,
always stereotyped as the Bad Guys.
But Gertrud showed me,
showed everyone…
War doesn't care who's good and who's bad.
War doesn't pick just one enemy.
War has no intermission.

Josie Wimbs, 12, and great-grandfather Edward Wimbs, 82, Arizona


My Great-Grandpa Edward Wimbs was in the Korean War. He grew up in a small town in Pixley, California. He has grown older over the years, but he still remembers everything that he witnessed and went through. He tells me everything in complete detail.

One of his most vivid memories of being in this war was his astonishing position as a soldier: he had to pick up the dead bodies of his fellow soldiers on the battlefield.

This is something you just don't forget when you see it with your own eyes. You remember what it smells like, and what the scenery looked like. This was no walk-in-the-park duty he had to do, though he acted like it and took full responsibility of his duty on the battlefield. He took it seriously and coped by remembering that he was picking up the bodies of his friends – husbands, brothers, uncles, and dads. He had to be strong and stay on task. If he didn't do it, who would?

He was rewarded for duties like any other soldier. He received a Medal of Honor, handed to him by the president himself. He was very thankful that he got this recognition, and accepted it with a huge smile and a firm handshake.

A second vivid, yet different memory that he remembers extremely well is that he saw a poor Korean girl on the road. He got out and offered a piece of ordinary gum to the girl with a simple hand gesture. She gratefully took it in a blink of an eye. She stuck it in her tiny mouth and chewed like there was no tomorrow.

Great-Grandpa will have these memories in a special place in the back of his mind until the day he dies.

Briana Kennedy, 13, and uncle Carl Rhodes, 62, Indiana


It was 43 years ago this year that my Uncle Carl went to Vietnam where he served with the 101st Airborne Division. In 1969, the 101st Airborne Division operated I Corps, which was in the northern-most region of South Vietnam. He spent most of his tour patrolling an area called Hai Van.

This is where his story begins…

It was Christmas Eve of 1969. The U.S. Army didn't want any of its soldiers to be killed or injured during Christmas. So, all combat operations ceased from December 23 through December 26. But because the Tet Offensive of 1968 was still in the back of everyone's mind, my uncle and his buddies were all on heightened alert. They spent Christmas Eve in a bunker on their perimeter waiting for "the big attack."

My uncle says that it was close to midnight when, from somewhere on his bunker line, someone started singing Silent Night.

He recalls that whoever it was had a beautiful voice. Soon he and his entire division were singing Silent Night.

Today, with my uncle being a preacher, he often talks about wishing he would have found that young man who sang so well. He often wonders what would have happened if he had attempted to discover the identity of that singer. From time to time, though, he tells me that it may not even have been a young man in his division, but perhaps an angel. Whoever it was – Angel of God or a man with an angelic voice – my uncle experienced a peace that night that he hadn't felt in a long time.

My uncle shared a saying they had in Vietnam: "Freedom has a taste to those who have fought for it that the protected will never know."

Puja Vengadasalam, 9, and grandfather Jagadindar Sen, 80,
New Jersey


BOOM! CRASH! BANG! Swords glistened in the night. People screamed all around, afraid of dying. A little boy clung tightly to his mother's arm amidst the riots.

I can feel the fear of that nine-year-old who is my Dada, my grandfather. The British had decided to partition India on the basis of religion before giving it independence. Dada was a Hindu boy living in a Muslim part of India that was to become Pakistan. With neighbors becoming killers, Dada's parents decided to leave for Calcutta in India.

The only way to get there was by crossing the Padma River. Dada and his family waited for their turn on the boat, having nothing but the clothes they were wearing. When the call came, they joined the crowd already on the big boat. The night was long, but they reached India safely.

Dada loved India, his new home. The family was poor, but they had each other. In fact, little Dada was already dreaming big dreams. He was going to become someone special. He was going to graduate and go abroad.

Dada worked very hard to achieve his dreams. He spent countless nights studying hard under the street lights. There were obstacles, but Dada did not give up. His dream came true: he graduated and went abroad. The little boy became the first in his family selected to train in England. On his return, he helped many companies succeed as a well-known engineer.

Today Dada lives with us in America. He remembers the day I was born – when he first wished me to be someone special. Today I am nine years old and have the same dream for myself. I have learned a lot from my Dada. Like him, I will work hard and ACHIEVE my dream.

Doha A., 14, and grandmother A.M., 56, Ontario


My grandmother fought days and nights for her right to a free life. She never believed that one is meant to go straight from their parents' prison to their husband's hell, always knowing that what could have been, would have been.

She was a woman who had little say in how her life would be lived. She always thought the world was set up for each individual in the same way: everyone was born, lived with their parents, then moved to their husband's house.

Little did she know what she was doing, let alone what she was getting herself into. One day, she was a sister; the next day, she was the wife of a man she barely knew.

"I don't even know you," she spoke hesitantly to her new husband.

"Ah, yes! However, you should be thanking me because I saved you from a terrible fate you would have encountered if I hadn't married you," he claimed.

"What terrible fate?" she almost shouted.

"Listen girl, every boy you see walking down the streets wants one thing and one thing only. By staying single, you're providing them with the opportunity of a lifetime. By marrying me, you've steered yourself clear of any desires they might have had for you."

With a heavy heart, knowing there was no further argument, she allowed her legs to carry her forward. She was at the mercy of the man who stood before her.

After many moons passed, she produced six boys and two girls. Seeing her high school girlfriends walking with books in one arm and the men of their dreams on the other was like a well-deserved slap in the face. What's done is done, even if what could have been, would have been.

Isabella Pica, 13, and grandmother Sally Pica, 74, Oklahoma


She got into her car and drove to the airport. She could barely see through her windshield. The rain was coming down hard. It smelled like rain, like the earth. She was scared and cold. All she could think about was that she had to find out if he was all right.

Once she was there, she was sat down and told that something had happened – something disastrous. At some point she realized that he wasn't coming back. Anthony's life had been taken in a plane crash, gone just like that. He was gone, the love of her life; she had lost her husband forever.

My grandma was only twenty-eight. They had two kids at home, nine months old and three years old. They would grow up without a father. She was a stay-at-home mom, but after the plane crash she knew she'd have to find a job, take care of her kids, do everything all on her own. She felt abandoned, all alone. But even though he was gone, it didn't mean she had to stop living altogether.

Now her kids are all grown up, and have kids of their own. She goes on trips every summer with her family. She learned to be a single mother and how to take care of her kids on her own. From all that has happened to her, she realized that life is short, and that you should live every moment of it to the fullest.

She has inspired me to be the best person I can be. She is one of the nicest people I know, and she has taught me not to take life for granted. When I think about everything she's been through, it makes me thankful to have her as my grandma.

Erin Sullivan, 11, and grandfriend Norma Nesbitt, 74, Texas


Born in 1937, premature, Norma Orr had many impediments. She could fit in the palm of her father's hand, her incubator was a shoebox put on the door of a heated oven, and Norma weighed only two pounds.

When she was four, World War II started and her father went overseas to fight. Her mother got a job. Her family was given a ration book for food and items that were scarce.

When Norma was five, she woke up one morning and couldn't move. Polio was very common at that time, so her mother took her to the doctor to see if she had it. Her usual doctor looked at Norma, and also a visiting French doctor. Her regular doctor claimed that Norma had polio; but then the French doctor spoke up.

He said that he studied polio in France, and that she didn't have polio – she had rheumatic fever. That meant she had to lie in bed all day. What did she do to pass the time? "I liked to watch the other kids play games on the front porch."

A funny memory Norma has of this time is when a songbird perched on a branch by her window and started chirping at her. She remembers trying to get up to look at the bird that she thought came specially for her. "Instead of getting closer to the bird, I fell flat on my face," she says, laughing.

I ask Norma what helped her get through five years of rheumatic fever. She says it was humor. Whenever Norma got upset, she would joke about it. Humor has helped her see the bright side of things all throughout her life.

Shelby Conklin, 13, and grandmother Karen Conklin, 73, Oklahoma


"Karen. Run upstairs with your sister and don't come out."

They heard yelling and a crash, but my grandmother and her sisters didn't come out. The next morning they saw that a chair was broken; at least their mom wasn't. He had come home drunk again.

My grandmother grew up in a living science experiment. The government wanted to create the perfect community. All of the citizens were selected by the government and had to meet certain requirements. No one was too rich, no one was poor; they all lived middle class lives. It seemed perfect. Everyone knew everyone, but people never asked about home life. No one knew that my grandmother's dad was an alcoholic. No one knew that he came home drunk; no one knew he broke things; and no one knew that his kids had to run upstairs and lock the door just in case.

Now, 60 years later, my grandmother seems happy. She loves helping people and going to church. But most people don't know that she suffers from severe self-esteem issues. She constantly has to tell herself that she is good enough, but something in the back of her mind keeps insisting that she just isn't. In addition, my grandmother is more prone to showing emotion, and she is extremely sensitive.

My grandmother has taught me not to judge people by what they have because they could have horrible things happening to them. No one is perfect. Everyone has something going on.

Madison Reeves, 14, and grandfriend Emma Green, 73,
South Carolina


Through life, there are many battles you have to face. Some may be harder than others.

I interviewed someone who has always been there for me. Her name is Mrs. Emma. She is a lady who cleans my house. Some may call her a maid, but she is so much more than that. Mrs. Emma has been cleaning my house ever since my brother and I have been alive.

Mrs. Emma is an elderly black lady, and she has told me that she faced some tough times in her childhood and in her life. She was born in 1939, when there was still some racism around in South Carolina. She told me that she would go with her mom and help clean houses for white people. Even though Mrs. Emma is black, everybody that meets her says that she is one of the nicest, caring ladies they have ever met.

When I was a child, I would come home from school and both of my parents would be gone working. Mrs. Emma was always there. I knew she wasn't family, but I've always thought of her as family. If I was sick, she would always be there to take care of me, to feed me.

I asked her what life lesson she would share with me. She told me, "Never give up. When you fall, just get back up and try again." She also told me that sometimes life gets tough, and sometimes you will meet some very mean people. But that doesn't matter. It's what you do that matters.

Kalista Prame, 11, and grandfriend Annette Porter, 68, Massachusetts

Ms. Annette is the type of person that you go to for advice. Who wouldn't love her? Ms. Annette took care of me for about five years, and she inspired me so much. All I want is to share with the world my experience and how great a person she is.

When Ms. Annette was 17, she graduated from high school and joined the Women's Army Core, or W.A.C. But the army career didn't work out for her because she got a medical discharge and was sent home. She decided on a new career taking care of children.

When she took care of her first baby, it was only ten days old. She says she remembers the little fingers and how much the baby depended on her. The baby's name was Chearl, and was the start of the long list of children's names she would remember forever. Since then, she has taken care of 67 kids, including me, and remembers every single one's name.

She herself has no children, but she thinks of the kids she takes care of as her own children. She gives great advice to kids. I'll always remember the advice she gave me: "Just remember that you have your whole life ahead of you and if you remember to love Jesus, obey your parents, and love yourself, everything will fall into place."

I take this advice to mean that we all have bumps and bad times in our life, but you just have to live through it and move on. Then soon, life will work out to your advantage.

I love Ms. Annette and I hope she never stops taking care of children.

Michelle Macinga, 12, and grandmother Dorothy Laguardia, 84, Ohio

My Grandma Dorothy and I have been very close since the day I was born, twelve years ago. But when I was younger, and I told her about wanting to take piano and dance lessons, she said I didn't need to. When I asked her about her past, she wasn't very open about her childhood experiences.

As I got older I wondered why she was this way. After interviewing her, I learned that she was born during the Great Depression and her family didn't have much money. Her parents always told her the same thing she told me about not needing to do activities. I also learned that she was bullied when she was younger. This led my grandma to have very low self-esteem and not be very outgoing. Even though the students were dressed the same in my grandma's school, people would still be mean to others.

When my grandma was younger they had two types of bullying: physical and emotional bullying. I told Grandma about cyber bullying and she got very sad to know that there are more forms of bullying than before. It sends chills down my grandma's spine when she sees kids being mean to each other on television. If she catches me watching one of those shows, she tells me to change the channel because she doesn't want me to think that it's okay to be rude or disrespectful.

My grandma always made sure that the next generation (my mother and I) would have high self-esteem and be very confident. I feel that this is very important to pass on to the next generation of our family. I will always remember what my grandma says about bullying. I hope someday more people realize the long-lasting effects bullying can have on someone.

Danielle DeVellis, 17, and grandfriend Mary Flannery, 52, Massachusetts


Imagine lying under the covers of your warm bed, drifting slowly into dreamland. The troubles of your day melt away like ice cream in the summer, mending your tired heart. As the walls of your quiet bedroom slip away, take your mind to its own sublime, magical world filled with evergreen jungles and blooming flowers, or beaches with warm weather and blue skies. Come back to reality now as the morning birds sing. Open your eyes to the walls that became open doors overnight – blank, still in one piece. Let your mind put together the fragments of color and images from the night before. Bring them back to life. Paint it.

That is exactly what my teacher Mary Flannery did. As a child, she took what was only a figment of her imagination and painted the story right on her walls. "It's in my DNA," she says as I ask her how her career as an artist started.

This quirky woman with a warm soul and paint on her pants is a builder. She is not the kind in a yellow hard hat and boots, but a creator and a founder. She built her own utopia out of her bedroom walls and, with determination and her gracious heart, filled an inner city's palisade with beauty.

She built her own dream from the ground up. 26 years later it has become a masterpiece. She is the shepherd of a true artist's promised land. Raw Arts is a non-profit organization designed to help aspiring young artists grow in character and skill. It is a home away from home, and the walls have as much compassion as the people in them.

Brycen James, 12, and grandfather Terry James, 53, Ohio

My grandpa, Terry James, was born on April 19, 1959. My grandpa is a very interesting man.

Grandpa's favorite thing to do is golf. He has loved golf ever since he was a kid. Yet, he could never hit the perfect hole-in-one. He has always said if he had newer clubs then he could hit a hole-in-one, but he admits he's too cheap to buy them. He's a really good golfer, and always gives me helpful tips: "Bryce, keep your head down. Make sure you swing smooth and let the club do the work." I often hear these tips when we're on the course.

One day, Grandpa was at the Mill Creek Golf Course with his friend Danny. Grandpa lined up and hit the ball perfectly. He had kept his head down, made a smooth swing, and let the club do the work. He saw it bounce once, but then it disappeared on the green.

His friend Danny commented, "I think it went in." As they took those last steps to the hole, they saw Grandpa's ball. He had done it! He had done what he tried to do his whole golfing career. Grandpa said he was kind of numb at first because he couldn't believe what he had just done, but then he said, "We started to cheer and scream like little girls."

Grandpa and Danny had an ongoing bet that if either of them were to ever hit a hole-in-one, the other person had to buy him a Pepsi. Danny lived up to his end of the bargain and bought Grandpa a Pepsi when they finished their round of golf. Grandpa says it was the best Pepsi he ever had in his life.

Nadia Filanovsky, 13, and grandfather Arthur Dornbusch, 74,
New York


In 1971, my grandfather Arthur Dornbusch invented the plastic Scope mouthwash bottle.

The mouthwash was previously packaged in a circular, glass container. Scope consumers wanted bottles that were clear, wouldn't break, and protected the product's flavor. Arthur asked his boss for permission to create bottles with polyester, which would perfectly substitute for the glass.

His boss said, "You cannot make a Scope bottle with anything but a round glass container." Arthur didn't believe him; the challenge would be to create the mold without his boss finding out.

He proceeded with his plan, paying $350 a week to manufacture the bottles, which was the maximum he could afford, until he met the $16,000 total project cost.

Ultimately, the bottles turned out as planned. Proctor and Gamble would be the first company to have plastic mouthwash bottles. Unfortunately, there was one problem: Arthur still hadn't told his boss.

A week later, he was called into the office of Research and Development, and the new bottles were on the table.

"Arthur, I don't remember signing a buying requisition to make the mold for this bottle," his boss stated. Arthur told him the whole story.

Afterwards, his boss replied, "What you did was right; but the way you did it was wrong."

They discussed the issue, and Arthur agreed to share design plans in the future. The company made a lot of money on the bottles, and my grandfather went on to design other beneficial products, such as the nozzle for the ketchup bottle.

My grandfather Arthur learned that you have to trust your instinct, even if it defies other people's judgments – but you also have to communicate before getting carried away. I have my own creative ideas I wish to pursue, and I'll always consider this story when chasing my dreams.

Rachel Willgohs, 16, and great-grandfather Loyal Busby, 86, Minnesota


Love comes and goes, and can come again. Once you know true love, you are never too old to find that love again – even at 85 years of age.

My Great-Grandpa Loyal proved this. After 63 years of marriage and ten children, his first love passed away. With no one to share the daily chores and to sit in the shade with, he says, "I was awful damn lonesome."

Then Loyal got a call from a cousin wanting to "hook him up" with Ida. He hadn't given much thought to dating, but decided to accept the challenge. He knew of this "young" 79-year-old lady. Ida was a schoolteacher when he was a member of the Hitterdal, MN School Board.

For their first date, Loyal took Ida to dinner at the Senior Center. Although the meal cost them "three bucks each," Ida says, "The companionship was worth every penny."

As the affair fueled, Loyal's children noticed the spring in his step. For Loyal, the proposal came with ease – why wouldn't it? After all, she loved his little red pickup! The engaged couple blew a gasket when they found out a discount on their license would mean taking pre-marriage counseling classes. Between them, they had 113 years of marriage experience – amply qualified. They "reckoned" they could run the class.

Loyal and Ida got hitched under Elmer, an elm tree on Loyal's farm. They would spend their future enjoying the shade of Elmer. Loyal's ten children, Ida's twelve children, and their families were all there to witness the two become husband and wife.

They both agree they mesh pretty well. Loyal adds, with a grin, "He makes the 'mesh' and she cleans it up." They are still in love today, and still enjoy their red pickup joy rides.

Katie Griffin, 17, and grandmother Marguerite Griffin, 89, Texas

I watch her walk slowly to the chair, carefully sit down, and catch her breath. Her wrinkled hands grip the side of the couch. She looks up and asks, "Now what is all of this about interviewing me?"

I laugh and take her hand and squeeze it lightly. She's getting so old and fragile, and she forgets so easily. She's my grandma, she is 89 years old, and I ask her about her dreams.

"My dreams?!" she says looking at me with huge brown eyes, the same ones I see when I look in the mirror. She shakes her head and laughs.

"Let me tell you something about my life," she says, with a certain sadness in her eyes. "My dreams, I knew, would never come true."

She starts off talking about her farm. When she was a little girl, her family was poor. They didn't have much money and she always dreamed of being a singer. When I was little, I always heard her singing but, being little, I never noticed how amazingly beautiful it was. I didn't appreciate it.

Grandma was about 17 when she met my grandpa. She had her youngest sons at 20. When they got older, they were sent off to the war and never came back. My dad was born in the middle of seven boys.

She looks up at me with solemn eyes. "I never became a singer." I squeeze her hand.

"But you know what," she says, "I have all of these grandbabies, and I'm happy to have you."

I look at her and smile. Her soft, wrinkly skin is soothing. I look toward a beautiful picture of her when she was 21 – and smile again.

Annie Gillan, 13, and grandfather Dale Gillan, 85, Arizona


I interviewed my grandfather who has been on the planet for quite a while. He is now 85 years old. He lived through the Dust Bowl, has had some regrets that changed his life, and grew up farming in hard times. As I talked with him, I thought about all the magnificent things he's done in his life. The interview was interesting, but it wasn't the questions and answers that surprised me. It was what was between the lines.

In the middle of the interview, I asked my grandfather about his best family memory. There was no answer for about 15 seconds; I thought the telephone line had disconnected. My dad was in the room with me and I asked him if my grandfather was still there. In my entire life I never knew that my grandfather was that emotional.

Before I called, I asked my dad what questions would be appropriate to ask my grandfather so he wouldn't feel under pressure or hurt. I never imagined him being sad over a positive question. When my dad asked him if he was there, he said he was just having a moment. It sounded like he was crying. The thought of making my grandfather cry brought tears to my eyes. I felt so bad.

Then he regrouped himself and finished the interview perfectly. Through the rest of my interview, I kept thinking what I had said wrong to make him cry. I asked my dad about it when I hung up the phone.

My dad said it was a happy cry. My questions had brought my grandfather back to good times. I felt better after that. I can't believe I made him cry tears of joy. He was actually proud of me.

Listen to a Life Contest Tulsa Legacy Award

Congratulations to
Amarion Wilkins, 10, and his grandfriend Phillip Vincent, 75

Listen to a Life Essay Contest Tulsa Legacy Award

The Legacy Project is working with the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, on a new Legacy Community Building initiative. The initiative includes celebrating and connecting all generations. We offered a special Legacy Award to the best local entry in the national contest. Media Specialist Rebecca Harris at McClure Elementary School worked closely with a group of her students she called the "Dream Team." She used the Dream book and LifeDreams activities with the students. She also arranged for them to visit Ambassador Manor, a local seniors home, to interview residents. That's where Amarion met his "new best friend."

Little did I know Trouble was waiting for me at the Assisted Living Center.

His name is Phillip Vincent, but he likes to go by Trouble. I met Trouble and five minutes later he was playing practical jokes on me and my friend. I was beginning to understand where he got his name.

Trouble is a guy who loves people. He shared with me all about his life and the lessons it has to offer.

He was called to fight in the Vietnam War. As he lay in his bunk one night, an air raid on his barracks broke out. His friend and fellow soldier was sleeping in the next bunk. He was scheduled to go home in two weeks. The next thing Trouble knew, a rocket had pierced his buddy's body, ending his life forever. He prayed for his friend's family and thanked the Lord for sparing his life.

After Trouble returned to being a civilian, he enjoyed a wonderful family life. Little did he know that one evening he would go for a ride in his car and end up in the emergency room after being hit, head-on, by another car. The bone in his leg was at a 90 degree angle and he had to get a pin in his leg.

Trouble is now taking care of his beloved wife who has Alzheimer's Disease. He tells me that she's in the next room. He'll be with her until the day she – or he – dies.

He asked me if I thought she knew who he was, even though she has Alzheimer's. Then he explains, "She may not have this," pointing to his head, "but she still has this," pointing to his heart.

When I left, Trouble turned into Knowledge and Soul. This man is my new best friend.

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