I was different from my family. I read extensively, often checking out the maximum number of books from the local library. No one in my mother’s family read anything more than the society pages of the daily newspaper while I devoured the entire contents. I loved school and dreamed of going to college while few of my maternal relatives had even finished high school. In fact, my mother did not attend school beyond the fifth grade. The Dell family was like a band of gypsies, hauling stage trunks filled with sequined costumes from city to city.
Perhaps my desire to write grew from my aloneness. An only child, I was nine when my father died in an automobile accident, and my mother and I moved in with my maternal grandmother who was not particularly happy that she had to help raise another child when she had raised nine of her own. The year after my father’s death, I began pounding out make-believe romances on an old Underwood typewriter I had hauled onto Grandmother’s kitchen table. Every day during summer vacation—because there were few kids in the neighborhood—I either read books, wrote stories, or practiced my typing, following instructions from an old typewriter manual my mother had from her night school classes.
From those make-believe stories, I moved on to become editor of my junior and senior high newspapers. After high school, I wanted desperately to attend the University of Southern California. USC had a renowned journalism program, but I only received a half scholarship to that university upon graduation and I had no financial capability to pay for the remaining tuition with my mother working as a typist for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. Instead, I attended UCLA on a full scholarship. Unfortunately UCLA did not offer a degree in journalism. Not really knowing what to do—because I had no one to counsel me—I stumbled, choosing to major in English, a subject I detested, and flunked out in my fourth semester. Soon after, I found a job as a clerk typist for the city of Los Angeles, where I met my future husband Richard. However, the shame of never finishing college ate at the core of my being.
I found my first journalism class at Pierce exhilarating. I was 33 years old, ten to twelve years older than all of my classmates. In fact, I was the same age as the instructor, a hard-edged man with rust-colored beard and hair. His name was Mike, and he was a seasoned newspaper reporter who had turned college instructor. I soaked in every minute of the class and worked hard to maintain a 4.0 grade point average.
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