Freedom of the press (and how we took advantage of it)

Shortly after I graduated from college, Nanna called me up boiling with righteous indignation. The object of her wrath was the Barber family, a group of Melbourne natives whose daughter was also a graduate. Apparently her parents had the audacity to celebrate by writing an article for the local paper. It was simply sickening, Nanna told me, how much they bragged over her petty achievements.

But all was not lost, she assured me: she had a plan. I would write an article announcing my graduation, and since I was an offshoot of our fabulous family, my accomplishments would clearly outshine those of any Barber. Then we would publish the article in the same paper, thus crowning our family in triumph and covering the Barbers in shame.

It is rare that I have an opportunity to please my grandmother and indulge my sense of humor at the same time, so I put aside my suspicions that this was incredibly petty and went at the project with gusto. I set about crafting the most boastful and biased autobiography that I possibly could without technically lying. Nanna had ordered me to spare no effort, so I did my best to portray myself as a combination of Mother Teresa and Einstein. I wrote about every blood donation, every academic honor, every membership in every random student organization, every part-time job and infrequent hour of volunteer work. That time I held a bake sale with the kid next door to raise money for the Humane Society? It went in, although I omitted to mention that we had only raised two dollars.

My final draft was a masterpiece of transparent exaggeration. I sent it off to Nanna for her seal of approval and then on to the editor of Melbourne’s paper, curious to see how difficult it would be to appropriate the press for trivial and obviously self-serving purposes.

As it turned out, it was easy. The editor responded with a gracious email congratulating me on my achievements and suggesting that I should include my mother in the article as well, so that everyone would know “which of those pretty girls” I belonged to. People in Melbourne care about that sort of thing, even though my mother and her sisters haven’t lived there for thirty years. Also, he wanted a photo of me in my cap and gown to include alongside the article. I was in!

I sent him the photo and a week later I got another phone call from Nanna. She had just received her copy of the paper and found our article featured on page four, between a detailed account of a local bridal shower and an open wedding invitation addressed to the entire town. (The front page is reserved for important things like high school football games and church bake sales.)

Nanna insisted on reading the whole thing out loud to me over the phone (forgetting, apparently, that I had written it). I had been wondering if I should have gone all out and claimed to regularly rescue kittens from burning buildings and hold the world championship in unicycle racing, but I was glad that I hadn’t when I saw how genuinely pleased Nanna was to hear such nice things about her granddaughter. (For the record, though, I’m pretty sure that neither Nanna nor the editor would have questioned me if I had made such claims. I probably could have told them that I had recently been elected as the next president of Russia. Or Mars.)

It was rather nice to have earned Nanna’s approval. In fact, I felt we were sharing a moment of unusual kinship. It lasted about twenty seconds, right up until she concluded her reading by announcing, “Now I’m going to call up the Barbers and make sure they read this.”

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