Spring/Summer 2013

Back Story

A Starr is Born

By Joan Vennochi JD'84

She saved everything. 

The “Ode to a Grasshopper” penned during junior high biology lab, while everyone else was doing what they were supposed to be doing—dissecting a grasshopper. 

The sixth-grade composition book filled with cheerful essays about summer camp and Saturday chores, with the teacher’s encouraging assessment prominently displayed in red ink – “Keep on writing. You have a nice, humorous style.”

The book reports that evolved into boxes of newspaper clippings, from “The Devil’s Tale” in high school to a college newspaper and ultimately a metropolitan daily.

My mother has saved them all. And, last year, when she and my father moved so very reluctantly from the house they had lived in for almost 60 years, the scraps of lined notebook paper and boxes of yellowing clips were all there for me to contemplate, along with my old prom dresses and Beatles posters. She saved those, too.

I was not the next great American novelist, waiting to burst onto the literary scene from a nondescript split-level tract house on Long Island.

Those schoolgirl scrawls are pretty ordinary.

But when I look at the collection of my earliest work, I am moved by a mother’s faith in a child’s dreams. My mom knew I wanted to be a writer.

As I grew older, that goal became more specific: I wanted to be a journalist. And even though I didn’t know any journalists and she didn’t either, she bought into my mission.

What prompted that career choice? I really don’t know.

My main connection with newspapers came from the ones my dad brought home every night, and he didn’t buy most of them. He picked up the ones left behind on the seats of the Long Island Rail Road, on his daily commute back and forth to Penn Station. 

Some of those dailies featured the comic strip Brenda Starr, a tale about a glamorous, red-haired newspaper reporter who traveled to exotic places in her quest for the next great scoop and a lost love. Maybe that was my inspiration.

If so, it took a great leap of faith to believe that a shy, nearsighted little girl who was too timid to knock on doors to sell Girl Scout cookies could someday be bold enough to have a newspaper byline.

But my mother made that leap for and with me. When I became the first in the family to go to college, it was to Boston, where I wanted to study journalism. My father, more old-fashioned in his thinking, wanted me closer to home, where I could use state university scholarship money to become a teacher. My mother lobbied for my preference, and so my dad ended up driving me off to what he considered an alien destination, especially for a New York sports fan.

My mother played the same supportive role after college graduation. My dad hoped I would come back home, but she insisted that I take the first newspaper job I was offered, working for a tiny Connecticut weekly. Once again, I won the battle because of her backup artillery. My dad was again dispatched to drive me out of state, this time to find my first apartment and help me set it up.

I did not turn into Brenda Starr; I was never glamorous or adventurous enough for that. But I did carve out a small niche in the career I envisioned, and I like to think it loops back to the notebooks and clippings my mother saved. They represent her belief in me. It was strong enough to get me where I wanted to go. 

Issue Contents Back to Top