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Listen to a Life Story Contest Grand Prize Winner



Madeline Chun, 17
and her grandmother Cha-sook Kim, 74

Madeline is a grade 11 student at The Hockaday School in Dallas, TX.

As a Korean-American, she entered the Listen to a Life Contest as a way to connect with her grandmother and her stories, which are often lost in translation.

Madeline enjoys writing and is an alumna of the Kenyon Young Writers Workshop. When she's not writing, she's probably practicing fencing, rehearsing with her string quartet, or reading a historical fiction novel.

Here is Madeline's winning entry…

Every day, before the yolk of a sun cracked on the horizon, a young Korean girl walked with her mother to a nearby farm. There, rows and rows of cucumber bushes marched in lines, like emeralds buried in the soil. Breathing in the freshly-turned earth's rich scent, she picked up a basket, eager to begin.

From dawn to evening, she plucked cucumbers from their vines and tossed them in her basket. Her small stature and nimble fingers made her the quickest worker in the fields, and her basket soon brimmed with the greenest and ripest cucumbers. As she nudged aside curlicue vines and wide leaves, her mouth watered as she imagined the satisfying crunch of the cucumber, its refreshing juice dribbling down her chin. But, instead, she shook her head and placed the cucumber in her basket. Because the farm only paid for the ripest cucumbers, she was only allowed to eat the ones with brown pocks and misshapen stems.

When the sky grew dusty with stars, the workers retreated from the fields, their baskets empty and their wallets full. Quickly, the young girl picked the two finest green cucumbers from her basket and hid them in the pockets she had sewn into her hanbok. When she and her mother arrived home, she dashed to her room to gobble the cucumbers. On her last bite, she paused before curiously removing one seed from the center.

Now, over half a century later, she presides over her own farm, where ruby red dates and topaz tangerines thrive. As she strolls along the rows of trees and bushes, she pauses by a small cucumber plant, the same one brought from Korea to California. Smiling, she plucks an emerald green cucumber from a vine. The perfect snack for a summer's day.



Hannah Widman, 17
and grandfather Wayne Barre, 65, Florida

All the clichés stand true. Life is short. Time does, in fact, fly. Just a blink of the eye, and suddenly the present is your past and it's been a lifetime.

The realization of one's aging does not happen over decades, not through experience or wisdom or any of the other all-knowing hogwash that younger folk tend to believe they will one day possess. No. It happens on a day just like any other day. You'll wake up, wipe the gunk out of your eyes, take your morning pee, and on the way out you will happen to glance in the mirror just right – and that's the moment. It's the moment of your mortality.

In this moment, you'll feel almost out of body, like you're seeing yourself for the very first time. You'll wonder if it's a trick of the light, or one of those carnival fun house mirrors, causing this distortion of self, confusing your reflection. But no dice. Without a doubt, your hands will find your face, fingertips running along each imperfection and wrinkle in your skin, critiquing their findings. When did I get… old?

As you touch each wrinkle, a movie of memories plays in your mind. The faint frown lines from tough times you thought you couldn't get through, now not even a thought. That line in the middle of your forehead from all those times your children drove you crazy, but you loved them anyway. The crinkles at the corners of your eyes, from getting to laugh with the love of your life for forty-five years of blissful marriage. Just for a moment, you'll become obsessed with the stories etched into you by time.

Then, suddenly, it's over. You step back, take a final look at yourself, and walk away, feeling quite different.

Amelie Baveja, 16
and grandmother Shashi Gupta, 72, New Jersey

Shashi gets married at 18. A majority of her married life is spent walking on eggshells, because when she does not tiptoe quietly, the eggs explode loudly and with vengeance. She tiptoes to the windowsill and dreams of escape. Instead of escape, she gives birth to one, two, three baby girls. The fourth cannot be a disappointment to her family, and he is not – he is a baby boy.

Shashi tells her children she loves them every single day. She makes their favorite golgappas on their birthdays to watch their faces light up in joy. She initiates conversation with her husband for the first time, pushing him to send her baby girls to school. He sends them to get her to shut up again. She tiptoes to the windowsill and smiles at her reflection.

Shashi knows her children are hardworking and she feels proud when they accept scholarships to go to college. But her pride is overshadowed by her loneliness. She sits by the windowsill and watches the mangoes turn from green to a ripe red, only to fall and again repeat the cycle. One day, in the sweltering heat, she eats a sweet mango and plants the seed. She wonders if it will sprout.

Shashi's children graduate with Master's degrees. But before she can celebrate, they all move to the US. She tiptoes to the windowsill and cries.

The children, now adults, work harder than ever to get their mother a green card. In less than a year, she sees her children again – grown up, independent, strong and beautiful. She cries again, tears of joy. There are hugs, kisses, golgappas and, in the following years, four beautiful wedding ceremonies and nine grandchildren.

Shashi walks to a new windowsill and watches her grandchildren play on the lawn.

Jack Braunschweig, 18
and grandfriend Maria Jacobs, 91, Wisconsin


The boxcar is tight. The windows are boarded up. I don't know how long I've been here. Mothers hold crying babies. People can't use the bathroom. Those who do resort to the corner. It smells of feces and sweat.

Suddenly, the boxcar shutters to a stop. A soldier slides the doors open, and two others point guns our way. Beyond the soldiers I see a large clump of buildings, caged around the outside. One-by-one, we are shoved out of the car and we walk to the entrance of the complex.

As we enter, they separate us. I am put with other children my age. My mother is put with other women. I begin to panic. I call for my mother, but I cannot see her anymore. My group gets pushed forward into the complex. Up ahead I see a line of older women, all looking rather confused.

I mumble, "Why are they lined up…" BANG! The first woman collapses backward into a poorly dug pit.

People begin to scream, and I struggle to comprehend what I just witnessed.

BANG! One-by-one, soldiers shoot every single person in that line.

Our group is pushed onwards. As we pass the pile of bodies, I can still see some of them struggling – not dead, but surely suffering.

I see more lines of people, each with a pit dug out behind them. I feel like throwing up. In the last line, I see a familiar figure. She turns around, and I see my mother's face. My stomach drops and I start to scream, but a soldier clasps his hand over my mouth. I claw and scratch, but he does not budge.

BANG! I feel tears rush out of my eyes as I watch my mother fold backwards lifelessly.

Adam Krasilovsky, 17
and great-grandmother Lola Halpern, 95, California

If faced with the most inconceivable atrocities and inhumane conditions, would I have the inner fortitude, courage, and resilience to persevere?

My great-grandmother, Lola, most certainly did. At the age of 13, her world was turned upside down by inexplicable hatred and prejudice. Separated from the rest of her family, all of whom were later killed by the Nazis, Lola narrowly escaped death through bravery, determination, and hope. Lola survived four concentration camps, enduring demanding, forced labor with little to no food, as death surrounded her.

One time, she was crammed into an overpacked cattle car with hundreds of other Jews headed to Treblinka, a known death camp. Lola refused to accept her fate. Using a sharp object, she cut a slit in the boxcar and jumped off the moving train. Gunshots rang out around her, but she was spared their impact. Having lost her shoes during her leap, Lola trudged barefoot through the snow, desperate to find shelter from the punishing conditions.

With faith in humanity, Lola sought refuge in each farmhouse she encountered – until one property owner turned her over to SS troops in exchange for 5 kilos of sugar. The SS guard directed her to turn around and walk 20 paces so that he could shoot her. Lola did as she was instructed; the SS guard never fired his weapon.

Due to her resolve, hope, and underlying belief that the next day would be better than the current one, Lola survived this and many other near-death experiences, despite the odds being stacked against her. Today, at age 95, she remains a true inspiration.

In today's society, rife with division and Herculean challenges, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Lola's powerful message of hope and resilience serves as a guiding principle for navigating life's challenges and obstacles.

Mia Geyman, 16
and grandmother Anne Geyman, 74, Wisconsin

On a sunny day in New York, Anne and her grown son Tony rode their bikes down the boardwalk near their home – just like they used to when Tony was little. The image of Anne teaching her five-year-old son how to ride a bike on that boardwalk was just a distant memory now.

Getting closer to the city, the world began to shake under their feet. Screams filled the atmosphere while Anne fell to the sidewalk. She looked up at the sky. Beyond the trees was a billowing cloud of black smoke. She was too stunned to move.

Tony, visibly scared, snapped her out of it and began to take out his phone. All over every news channel were the headlines: "Twin Towers Hit" and "Burning Towers Hit By An Unidentified Plane." Anne couldn't move, knowing her husband was working in the North Tower.

Rushing to get up, tears streamed down her cheeks. Her face remained emotionless. She was smart enough to know what happened, but kept up hope for her worried son right next to her. All she wanted to do was rush to the burning towers to find her husband. But she knew she couldn't.

They biked home and immediately turned on the news. The empty feeling Anne felt while sitting there knowing she couldn't do anything to help was eating her up. Her son sat with her, screaming at the television. Between all the panic and crying, Anne waited. All she could do was wait.

Anne stared at the bare wooden door waiting for her husband to walk through. Safe. Alive. She didn't sleep, eat, or move. She sat in the velvet green recliner facing the door all day, waiting for it to open.

It never did.

Elle Cicenas, 11
and grandfather Barney Stinnett, 81, West Virginia

What is a legacy? A legacy can be explained as something remarkable a person does. It can also be described as something interesting that happens during one's life. However, I think that a legacy is simply the stories, love, and memories someone leaves behind.

My grandfather's father died in 1951. But his memory lives on in the stories Grandpa tells me.

Clifford Stinnett's career was working dawn to dusk in the coal mines. This hazardous job greatly affected the Stinnett family. Back then, coal mining had to be done by people as compared to the machines of today. As a result, many got mining-related diseases. One of the most common was Black Lung, which causes the lungs to die and makes it harder to breathe. Black Lung was the cause of my great-grandfather's death. My grandfather remembers his dad often saying, "Let's stop and blow awhile," and would stop to sit down or take a break because of his affected lungs.

Nevertheless, Clifford Stinnett still had time to spend with his son, my grandfather. He used to take him to get a haircut and afterward to see a movie. He also took the little boy hunting. And every week they attended church. Clifford Stinnett helped his son become the accomplished man he is today by demonstrating virtues such as honesty, diligence, and humility. "Clifford Stinnett was a hardworking Christian man who loved his family," says Grandpa.

To conclude, a legacy is truly the memories that someone passes on to future generations. My great-grandfather and his family's simple life, similar to that of the thousands of other coal miners in West Virginia, are legacies worth remembering.

Kyo Lee, 15
and grandfriend Sara Kim, 58, Ontario


Black hair flowing in the wind and her baby brother strapped to her narrow back, Sara stood in front of the local high school. Her only wish was to enter through the school's doors every morning. But as a girl, she had few reasons to attend school and too many reasons for her to stay home: her parents needed help, the farming required extra hands, and the impoverished family of developing Korea could not spare for a girl's education.

Nonetheless, Sara never stopped learning. In the peace of night after the day's chores, she was a free student. She read and studied and discovered under a dripping oil lamp. Soon, she was admitted to a prestigious high school where she could pursue her studies. However, tuition and family responsibilities restrained her. Hiding her tears behind her strong facade, she got her first factory job in middle school.

Since then, she never stopped working. Her hair grayed, her children grew up, and her previous longing for learning was lost in the crevices of life. Returning to education was something she could never have dreamt of.

But life presented her a surprise gift in disguise. While recovering from an accident, Sara took the first break in her life. With her free time, she exploratively took an English course at a local community center. But as soon as she delved into the material, everything came back to her: her curiosity, her yearning for knowledge, and her passion.

Tonight, the lamp shines on a textbook and Sara is deeply absorbed. This is me, she thinks – a student at heart. Learning isn't restricted by time or age. Under this light, she is the same student she was under the dripping oil lamp. This is who I am.



Listen to a Life Story Contest Special International Submission

Raya Moeini, 10, and grandfather Hadi Moeini, 73, Iran


My grandfather, whom I call Babahadi, always tells me to go and buy any book I like. A few months ago we went to the library and became a member. He also has a large library at home.

We live in Iran. Babahadi started his military service in 1968. Due to the disputes between Iran and Iraq, he served in difficult conditions and lived in poor facilities on the border of our country. A few years later, in 1979, there was a revolution in Iran. The Iranian revolution took place by educated people and they wanted democracy. But the strange part of this revolution was its exit from the intellectual class and transformation into a religious government. This was the beginning of a gap between those who formed the revolution and those who took power.

Shortly afterward, in 1980, war broke out between Iran and Iraq. Babahadi, who was an engineer, worked in the south of Iran and in war zones. Unfortunately, this war lasted for eight years. Thousands of people were killed, wounded, disabled and displaced. The war finally ended through negotiations, but it could have ended much sooner.

For many families, the effects of the war continued to be felt. Babahadi has had many difficult times.

Mohammad Moeini Then, two years ago, on January 8, 2020, Flight PS752 was shot down by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards with missiles. My loving uncle, Mohammad, the kind and always smiling son of Babahadi, was on that plane with 175 other passengers and an unborn child.

Mohammad lived in Canada and came to Iran for the January holidays. We were all very proud of him. Everybody knew him for his kindness.

Babahadi does not forget this crime and his desire is justice. He wants peace everywhere in the world.