I was almost home from school. In fact, I was only a block away from Tanner Manor. There, at the bottom of the hill at the intersection of Foothill and Fremont, a girl about five years older than me glanced quickly as she crossed my path. Stopping dead in her tracks, she suddenly turned around and blurted out, “Hey, are you a Tanner?”
“Who?” I responded, doing my best dead pan. “Who are the Tanners?” Then, with Tanner heritage written all over my face, I told a flat-out, bald-faced lie. “No. I’m not a Tanner.” And, with that, I turned and walked away, laughing as if I’d really gotten away with something.
I only denied my family name that one time, and what possessed me to do it still baffles me. Since then, I had many chances to repent of bearing false witness because this kind of encounter happened repeatedly. Even now, our strong family resemblance makes it easy for people to pick out a Tanner in a crowd.
I became so accustomed to being recognized as a Tanner that one time I took my “fame” a little too far.
Some years ago, I was attending a meeting in the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City. A kind of Mecca and crossroads for many Mormons, the place was teeming with people, increasing the odds of running into old friends and past acquaintances. Sure enough, one woman several years my senior did what had become a common experience for me: she stared at me for a long time, as if she might know me. I fully expected her to ask The Question: “Are you a Tanner?” But this time, I thought, I’ll save the poor woman the trouble and approach her.
“Do you know me?” I asked. I thought she would tell me what I’d heard so many times before—that I looked so much like my mother Athelia or like one of my older sisters. Instead, she told me who she was: a former General President for the Relief Society, the church organization for women around the world.
I'm the twelfth of 13 children. I was born into a poor family living in a big house on top of a hill in South Pasadena, California. We called it Tanner Manor, and these are my stories of growing up there.