Mom wasn’t exactly nocturnal, but no matter how early I got up, she was already awake. However, unlike other mothers who sat in their bathrobes while quietly reading the morning newspaper and sipping coffee, Mom would bounce out of bed, ready to “race through the day.” But before taking care of us, she took care of herself.
Without any fancy workout clothes, she would move straight from bed to floor every morning and begin her daily hip-swinging routine. Lying flat on her back with arms straight out, she would toss her body side to side, causing her to serpentine back and forth across the bedroom. This was, effectively, her own version of yoga before yoga was cool. But it was yoga on steroids (minus the deep breathing). Slowing down was never part of Mom’s modus operandi.
With a body like a rubber band, she was far more flexible than I ever was. In fact, try as I might, I could not do backbends even in elementary school, and I never really mastered the splits when I was a flag girl in high school. Mom, on the other hand, has maintained a Gumby-like body her entire life. On time while visiting my sister Kaye, she needed to see an out-of-town doctor. So, bragging about how “very healthy” she normally was, she plopped herself onto the exam room floor and began reaching and stretching and bending, “as if that were the most normal behavior in the world for a woman in her 80s,” Kaye said. To this day, now in her 90s, at the slightest mention she can still touch her toes, she will give a command performance.
In addition to being flexible, Mom had a sixth sense about needing cardio exercise. Long before the word “aerobic” was part of the American vernacular and before Jane Fonda came along in purple leotards and fuzzy leg warmers telling us to pump our arms harder and kick our legs higher, Mom was already finding ways to increase her heart rate sufficiently. One way she accomplished her goal was by taking every opportunity to go up and down the many staircases of Tanner Manor.
Early on, Mom seemed to know instinctively what it took to be healthy. After exercising every morning, the first thing she did was drink a couple of glasses of lemon (alkaline) water, then she continued downing copious amounts of water throughout the rest of the day.
Mom either didn’t feel body aches and pains or simply ignored them, or both. And, according to Mom, allergies belonged only to those wealthy enough to pay for prescription medicines. (Evidently, my Dad, who blew his nose loud, long, and often, must have had a cold for 50 years.) In fact, our family’s entire drug supply was limited to an old shoebox containing one bottle of plain aspirin a few other seldom-used remedies. That amount sufficed, though, because we rarely got sick, least of all Mom. When she did feel something coming on, she did not take medicine. Instead, she swore by her own protocol: stay down the first day a bug hits, and flush out the germs with Mason jar after Mason jar full of water!
Watching Mom run the household with vim and vigor, I always assumed being hearty and hale was as much a part of my heritage as my Tanner nose. Excellent health and vast amounts of energy were Mom’s gifts from God that she claimed then channeled into raising a big family in a big house.
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.