There’s a tradition, particularly in the South, of claiming an ancestor was “full-blooded Cherokee” and for most, it’s just a charming family myth. In Delilah Barber’s case, however, it was true. Her mother’s mother was born into a tribe in North Carolina and came to Georgia with her non-Native-American husband about a year before Delilah’s mother, Persephone, was born.
Delilah’s father was Gary Barber, an Air Force pilot who was killed in Vietnam around the time Delilah was two. His remains were never recovered, however, prompting Persephone to believe he would one day return. Consequently, Delilah was very close to her mother, who worked as a stylist at a salon in Canton, about forty miles northwest of Atlanta. She was the one who named Delilah, giving her the name of the most infamous hair stylist of all time. One of their favorite activities together was to pop some popcorn and watch Steel Magnolias, and they sometimes quoted lines to each other.
Since she was often at home in the afternoon by herself, Delilah watched a lot of television. One evening, she caught an episode of Soap featuring the ventriloquist Jay Johnson with his dummy, Bob. Delilah was fascinated with his act and started watching everything she could about ventriloquism. She borrowed some books from the library and started teaching herself how to throw her voice
When Delilah was twelve, her mother married Martin Crawford. The whole time they’d been dating, he seemed reasonably normal, but once they were married, he became very possessive toward Persephone and physically abusive toward her and verbally abusive to his step-daughter. He insisted Persephone stop working and often criticized her cooking and cleaning. When she didn’t seem thankful enough for all he was doing for them, he began hitting her. The first time he struck Delilah, however, Persephone decided that was enough and made plans to leave.