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Listen to a Life Story Contest Grand Prize Winner



James Lindmark, 17
and his grandfather Bob Lindmark, 75

James is a grade 11 student at Arrowhead Union High School in Hartland, WI. His Language Arts Teacher, Becca McCann, encouraged students to enter the Listen to a Life Contest.

Says James, "This is a story of my Grandpa Bob's time as a Marine in the Vietnam War and how my dad [also shown in photo above] got his name. This story is written in honor of Joe Ware, one of many who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Talking to my grandpa helped me to understand the suffering our veterans deal with every day."

James is on the school wrestling team, shoots trap, and plays baseball.

Here is the winning entry James submitted…


Bob sat on the couch of a hospital room, his legs tense. His wife was giving birth to twins. The first boy had come five minutes earlier. The second boy was almost here. "Just a few more minutes," he thought, with his eyes closed, "and this will be over." Then the newborn let out a scream that tore through the walls…

"Do you hear that?" whispered Joe.

"Sounds like a heck of a fight," Bob whispered back.

The Marines were trekking through the Da Nang Forest. Everyone had dysentery from a well in a small village last week. The hot, humid jungle air burned their throats as they inhaled the stench of death: a fresh napalm strike.

In an instant, the bushes around them flashed with gunfire. Zing! A barrage of bullets cut through the air and enclosed them.

Bob and Joe sprinted to a cluster of trees through tall, razor-sharp grass that sliced their forearms and faces. They raised their rifles to shoot at the scattered Viet Cong. Bang! Mortars crashed into the tree canopy above, sending shattered metal and wood splinters into the faces and shoulders of the Marines below. Bob's eyes pivoted from the enemy to his best friend, Joe – not 10 yards away. A glimpse of a diving mortar between them forced his eyes to close. A shard of metal tore into his leg, bursting them back open, only to see Joe, torn open and screaming on the jungle floor…

"Bob?" asked Suzy.


"Did you want to hold him?"

He hadn't even realized the cord was cut and his wife held their second son in her arms. As the newborn was passed to him, Bob thought of the screams. They were too similar to ignore.

"Suzy. This one's name is Joe."



Izzy Golding, 12
and aunt Maguerite Chinn, 70, Maryland


"I'm going to be late for the airport!" my brother yelled.

"Coming!" I replied.

As I approached my brother standing by the restaurant entrance, I knew this was my first step into adulthood.

"I can't believe I'm taking over the restaurant," I spoke.

"You're going to do great," my brother said. "Just put one foot in front of the other."

"Just put one foot in front of the other," I whispered quietly to myself. "I can do that."

The next morning, Negril Eatery officially opened. "Come on Maguerite, you can do this," I kept telling myself.

"Hello everyone!" I shouted. "Experience true Jamaican cuisine at Negril Eatery."

The first couple of weeks were a struggle. People walked past the restaurant. No one cared to try something new and exciting. It seemed like all hope was lost, or so I thought.

One day, an older woman arrived at the restaurant. "Hello ma'am," I welcomed her. "Do any of these foods spark your interest?"

"I will have one chicken patty please," she said.

"Here you go," I said, handing her the golden encrusted patty.

Seconds later, the woman smiled with delight. "This tastes delicious!" she exclaimed. "What is your name?"

"Maguerite Chinn," I replied.

"Well, this is magnificent Maguerite," she said with a smile. "Come to think of it, my son is getting married in a couple of weeks. Would you like to cater for the wedding?"

"Oh my goodness!" I squealed. "Of course!"

A couple of weeks later, my employees and I catered the Johnson wedding reception. Many of the guests enjoyed the food and even asked for my business card. The journey to success was hard – but all I needed to do was put one foot in front of the other.

Anna Martin, 10
and grandmother Patricia Perkins, 72, Maine

What do you want to be when you grow up? "I want to be an alligator," said five-year-old Tutu.

She loved animals, but later decided against becoming an alligator to become a teacher. As a teacher her goal was to make a permanent, positive difference in her students' lives. As a mom she wanted to raise happy, successful, compassionate children.

Tutu is my grandmother. I chose her to write about because she's funny, enthusiastic, and an important person in my life.

One thing that makes Tutu happy is when she's working outside. For example, she likes gardening and working at her farm. She helped a baby lamb learn how to walk. Being outside with her animals brings her joy and being a grandmother brings her happiness.

There were many people who had a big impact on her life. For example, her mom taught her to be a good listener. Her husband John taught her to take risks, because life is short, and you only have one time to live. Her father-in-law, who is my great grampy, had a really hard life growing up. His parents died when he was a teenager, and he grew up really poor. But you could never tell that his childhood was really hard, because he never complained and he was always a hard worker.

The advice Tutu gives to fifth graders is to be who you are and don't worry what others think of you. Also, life is short, so take risks. Finally, "people are like flower arrangements – they're more interesting if they're off center." It doesn't matter that people are different. Flowers don't always have to be straight or perfect, and neither do people.

Braden Schilling, 17
and grandmother Jane Schilling, 69, Wisconsin

Jane sat on her bed, her mother's arm wrapped around her. "It will be okay," her mother comforted. I'm so glad she is here, Jane thought.

Jane and her mom spoke often, staying up to date with her life, keeping their bond tight. But that gradually started changing in 2008.

After the death of her mother's best friend, Rocky, her mother would ask Jane lots of questions, like "I don't remember how to get home from this store, which way do I go?" or "What time do you get off of work?" Her mother panicked and would get frustrated when she couldn't remember things she'd always known in her own daily life.

Then the doctor informed her mother that she had dementia. Within the next year, her mother, Betty, landed in an assisted living facility.

Now, Jane was supporting her mother and helping her, as her mother did for her throughout her life. Betty remembered the past well, but not recent memories. It became hard to hold a conversation with her. "What did you have for lunch today?" she'd ask Jane. Minutes later the same question would resurface. I have to answer it as if she just asked it for the first time, Jane would remind herself when it happened.

Jane now had to find a new way to love her mother, not as the same mother figure she had been her whole life. She was watching the old mother she knew slip away from her. It hurt Jane, the helpless feeling she had; but she knew that her mother could not help it. She could not seek to grasp onto the mother she'd always had.

She loved the mother she had now. Jane knew even though her mother had dementia, it wasn't over. It was a new beginning.

James Nay, 15
and grandmother Lena Traiforos, 79, New York

"Lena, Lena, Lena!"

Your mother's voice breaks through the fog of sleep. It's the middle of the night in 1947 Greece. You need to get out of bed and find a place to hide. Local Nazi sympathizers are coming for your father, who is outspoken against them. Confused and disoriented, you tumble from the warm covers. The cool room air spreads across your skin.

Your family rents the upstairs rooms from a kind woman, who ushers your family into an underground cellar. Crouching in the far corner, you feel dirt and stones behind your back and under your bare feet. You shiver – with cold and fear – as the smell of potatoes and onions surrounds you.

Three sharp knocks sound on the wooden front door. Through a crack in the old oak floorboards, you watch the black boots of three men carrying rifles, directly above your head. They spread throughout the small home. Finding it empty, they walk to the front door to leave.

As they stand overhead, your baby sister begins whimpering in your mother's arms. The panic coursing through your body is reflected in your mother's eyes.

It's too late. Despite frantic attempts to calm your sister, the men have heard. As their boots land on each step, you count how many more to go until they reach the bottom. One man walks past the makeshift cellar door, so close that you smell the scent of Ouzo – the traditional Greek licorice liquor – that he must have enjoyed earlier that evening.

Searching in the dark basement, crouching under the low ceiling, they find nothing. The cellar door, small and carved into the dirt wall, remains unseen. Your sister, soothed in your mother's arms, remains silent. The men walk up the stairs and back into the dark night.

Sydney Kim, 15
and grandmother Qinzhen Mao, 84, New Jersey

As her father's boat swayed from side to side in the waves, my grandmother huddled inside, just as restless. She tossed and turned as she tried to sleep, crammed next to her ten siblings. The small cabin was too hot and noisy; but it was the impending threat to their lives that kept my grandmother up. The next morning, the view of the shore would change, as her father steered them away from the march of the Japanese Imperial Army.

When she was eight, my grandmother witnessed the Invasion of Nanking during Japan's attack on China in World War II. No one should have paid any attention to her humble village; but because it was near the city, soldiers surged toward it like an avalanche. Her father, afraid of a burning house and a slaughtered family, snuck all eleven of his children onto a small fishing boat to escape the occupation.

They had a week's supply of food. One week became one month, which became six. Each day, my grandmother woke up to an unsteady deck that lurched underfoot, threatening to send her overboard.

Living on the boat was uneventful yet uneasy. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do except fret over supplies, watch for soldiers, and hope. But my grandmother learned how to live in such conditions, talking in whispers and surviving on scraps.

When COVID-19 shut down Shanghai over seventy years later, my grandmother drew strength from her childhood experiences. The limited food, the confinement, and the uncertainty felt like déjà vu. But just as she survived the invasion, she endured quarantine, passing along stories of patience and steadiness to me over the phone.

Life always tries to knock you off your feet. The important thing is to learn how to adjust and keep your balance.

Yonah Arroyo, 12
and grandfather John Novak, 67, Tennessee

In an old town in Illinois, where you could hear the roosters crow in the morning, lived a boy. He had the same routine every day. He'd go to school, come back at night, eat dinner, and go to bed. One day on the way to school, he heard some music. But he wasn't really into music, so he just kept going in his same routine.

The next day when he was walking to school, he heard the music again. This time he looked over the fence. He saw a boy his age playing the saxophone.

When he got to school, he went to class and imagined being a professional saxophonist. When he got home, he asked his parents to buy him a saxophone. But they said no, because he didn't know how to play one.

The next day he went to music class and asked his teacher if he was allowed to practice on a saxophone after school. He practiced for four years.

After the four years, he was really good. His parents decided to buy him a saxophone. He practiced for a couple more years. When he graduated college, he joined a band and moved away. He played on boats, in parades, and he even played at a couple of weddings. All of that led him back to Illinois where he got married, and started playing for churches.

He looks back and sees how a saxophone changed his life – from being just a boy going to school, to graduating college and becoming a professional saxophonist.

Toby Lu, 15
and grandfriend Chris Zhang, 63, British Columbia

"Help with the dishes," Mr. Chris said firmly.

"Help with the dishes?" I replied, stunned. "That's your advice for my life?"

As a child, Chris wasn't like most other kids. He lost his mother to cancer when he was ten, and was left alone with his father, who was usually away from home. The only light on the horizon was visiting his dear grandma every summer at her small Okanagan property in Eastern BC. The smell of dirt and animals filled the air every day. He loved chasing the ducks and swimming in the lily-covered pond behind the farmhouse. But he also saw the impoverished life his grandma lived, and it broke his heart.

Every year he pledged to buy her a nice house after graduating from university. She would always answer, "Christopher, success begins with doing the small things. The big things will follow. How about a little help with the dishes?"

As a little boy he would always help; but the older he got, the less he helped out. His friends would call on the phone, or there would be a bonfire party to go to. As the years passed, he stopped visiting every summer.

He loved his grandma and kept in touch by phone, but even the phone calls started to fade. "Call you back tomorrow, Gran."

Tomorrow became next week, and next week became next month, and on the exact day he turned 21 Chris received the news his dear grandma had passed away from an infection he didn't even know about. From that moment, Mr. Chris decided to honor his grandma by passing along her wisdom to others, even in the modern age of dishwashers.

"Help with the dishes," he repeated with a tear in his eye. "Your future you will thank you."



Listen to a Life Story Contest Markham EcoLegacy Award

Thulasihan Kaneshathasan, 14
and grandmother Prema Pathmanathan, 73, Ontario

Life certainly works in mysterious ways. Over one's lifespan, irreplaceable knowledge is gained through a tedious lifetime. A celebrity has this knowledge recorded in video, and a millionaire has it engraved in books. Who, though, is there to write about the valuable guidance of an elder, or the life of a refugee?

This is about the life of my grandmother, Premawathyrani.

Life hasn't been kind to her, as is the case for most Sri Lankan Tamils who survived the Tamil genocide. Married to the love of her life, and with two young kids and a baby, life seemed to be going well.

Then came the war.

My grandfather was killed. At age 26, my grandmother was a lone widow, with three children amidst a terrible war.

She knew the troubles to come, so she learned how to manage her fate. She decided to use our ancestral knowledge.

Through the monsoon seasons, came sickness and disease. My mother, aunt, and uncle fell ill. My grandmother drew Bermuda grass, neem, and palm sap together to create a healing remedy. My family was cured within two days.

As they grew up, they fell, sprained their wrists, and drew blood. My grandmother ground turmeric, cut aloe vera, and heated sesame oil. She bandaged and healed their wounds, and calmed their minds.

When they became adults and suffered through bodily changes, she ground neem and mixed it with honey. She fed them fenugreek every morning and calmed their inner systems.

As her children became mothers, she cured sickness with Amla and helped ensure a safe birth.

Now, decades later, she heals her five grandchildren. As I fell and broke bones, as my sister and cousins entered adulthood, and as sickness plagued us, my grandmother was there – and still is, waiting to soothe our woes.

Listen to a Life Story Contest Markham EcoLegacy Award

Jocelin Chang, 17
and grandmother Mary Ling, 88, Ontario

Another day to journey the sewer. Still slow morning weather. Rooster crows and machines chatter stitching leather.

Daughter of a hustler, 8 years old like no other. Alone. Mother, sisters are at the shop, father is in the city, brothers are chasing girls (in theory). Just me and my fish Molly.

No one could keep me away from the sewage wells. I don't mind the murky splash and rotting smells. Fish food was only sold in the city. My bare hands dug fungus, moss, peat. My treasure: bloodworms! At least Molly gets to eat. On a lucky day, I found a coin or two among the soggy mulch.

My grandmother remembers living simple back home. She strutted in scrap patchwork jeans before they were trendy. When things were going well in the shop, maybe a sliver of meat. But a chilled soda in summer's blaze – just the thought of it made her heart sing in a million different ways!

Coming to Canada was a culture shock. High school cafeterias were another planet. No one was desperately clawing their way out of the black hole of debt. To her, the sight of leftover pizza crusts and half-finished soda cans in the trash was alien.

Since when did living luxury come at the expense of the planet? Since when did eating every crumb become the poor person's status?

Every few years, each generation loses its balance. Trembling and waning until sustainability becomes "cool" again. My grandmother was into environmentalism before it was a trend. It wasn't her choice.

Today, my opportunities come from her struggle. Our generational struggles have changed, but caring for the Earth shouldn't. Her stories keep me rooted in gratitude for everything that I have.