My grandmother is a preacher’s wife. My grandmother was also a librarian. My grandmother has a Ph.D. in Education. My grandmother’s married and professional lives privileged accuracy and proper comportment. The birth year fib would only work if it sounded accurate and didn’t make her appear to be a trollop. That’s important in my family: the appearance of correctness. Just make sure everything looks right.
One thing this means, this need to make sure everything looks right, is that people in my family prefer to keep their personal information to themselves. When I was twenty-five and in my first tenure-track position, already publishing love poems and family history poems and what I saw last night in my bedroom poems and what I saw out my window this morning poems, I called my mother to complain about the colleague who called himself my boss. I sung a blues full of evocative detail. I employed my best narrative skills. I poured a doozy on her. When I finished, she repeated a line I’ve heard all my life: Don’t go around talking about this to just anyone. As if her greatest concern was not that I had been professionally wronged, but that I might wander about advertising that I had been wronged. That wouldn’t be right.