After Delilah’s mother, Persephone, was murdered, Delilah was taken in by her great-aunt, Wanda. She never formally adopted Delilah, but was named her guardian, with control over her niece’s affairs until Delilah turned twenty-one, graduated college, or married.
Delilah knew Wanda as her “little Aunt”, which is what Persephone always called her. She was actually the youngest sister of Persephone’s mother, born a year or so after Persephone. The pair grew up together and Wanda always treated Persephone like an older sibling, rather than her niece.
Wanda would invite Persephone and Delilah over to watch Miss America every year. Persephone explained that Wanda competed in pageants as a young woman, but the best she’d ever done was winning the title of Pumpkin Queen at a festival in Dacula when she was sixteen. That competition had been marred by an outbreak of food poisoning, which took out many of the top contenders.
When Delilah and Persephone visited her, Wanda always remarked that Delilah was a natural for pageants and encouraged Persephone to enter her into local contests.
“It’s a great way to make money for college,” Wanda said once. “This child needs an education.”
“Honey, you don’t need much fancy schooling to cut hair,” Persephone replied. “Deedee’s going to come work with me when she’s old enough. Ain’t that right, sugar.”
“That’s right, Mama,” Delilah proudly replied.
“Percy, this girl’s got potential,” Wanda said. “She don’t need to be stuck in some salon all her life.”
“Like me, is that what you mean,” Persephone said. Wanda shrugged. “Let me tell you something, Wanda. I’ve been a stylist most of my adult life and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I want Deedee to be proud of who she is, not what others perceive her to be.”
“It’s not like that,” Wanda said.
“How many pageants have you competed in?” Persephone said. “You’ve just got that one title to show for it and the main reason you won that is because half the contestants ate that contaminated pork butt at the festival.”
“Politics is all that was,” Wanda said. “I was always competing against some local blonde-haired and blue-eyed angel the judges were sweet on.”
“Well, I don’t want that for my girl,” Persephone said. “Deedee needs to learn it’s her character, not her looks that count.”
“They are not selling character in that salon where you work,” Wanda said.
From the moment Delilah went to live with her, Wanda began grooming her to be in pageants. Delilah already knew a good deal about hair and makeup, learned at her mother’s knee, but Wanda spent nearly a year and invested a large sum of money teaching Delilah how to walk properly, how to wave, and, especially, how to lose her North Georgia twang.
“You’re starting out late, late, late in the game, sweetie pie,” Wanda told her. “Most girls start competing before they get into school. We’ve got to hustle to get you up to snuff.”
Within six months of completing her training, Delilah competed in her first pageant, where she was second runner up. What made her stand out from the other contestants was her talent, ventriloquism. With each pageant, Delilah gained enough of a scholarship fund to afford enrollment at a state school and when she graduated, she enrolled at Georgia State University. When she beat out all the competition for the title of Miss Bickering Textiles in a company sponsored pageant, Wanda set her sites on the ultimate crown, Miss America, and began preparing Delilah to compete in Miss Georgia.