Built in 1912, Tanner Manor had no intercom system to help us communicate with quiet gentility or discretion. Consequently, when the phone rang or someone showed up at the front door, we’d just yell through the house, “Answer the pho-oone!” Each command was delivered with an exclamation point planted firmly at the end, splitting the final syllable into two. “Get the do-oor!” By yelling, we hoped to save ourselves the hassle of hunting for someone throughout the entire house. If we had to, we would continue to holler from room to room until we found the person being called upon.
Some of my all-time favorite places to visit are libraries, which, as every good citizen knows, demand quiet, hushed tones from their patrons. In contrast, the very structure of Tanner Manor seemed to invite noise. Filled with hardwood, linoleum, tile, and cement floors, the house was made to reverberate. What’s more, we had no insulation and only small patches of very thin carpet with little padding. So, with more than a dozen people living in a mostly uncarpeted home, the decibel level was usually high.
I was only vaguely aware that my house rocked and rolled more than most. I probably thought the noise was merely a function of having so many people in our house, and certainly that was a factor. But I know now it was more than that. The noise was tangible evidence that Mom and Dad let us be ourselves. Although they could have (and some might say they should have) quieted us down more often, they usually didn’t. Others might have considered us unacceptably noisy, but Mom and Dad seemed to accept and, dare I say, even relish the sounds of their children. We bounced basketballs in upstairs bedrooms; we ran up and down both the front and back staircases; we raced the length of the upstairs hallway; we slid down bannisters; we did gymnastics in the attic; we roller-skated in the basement; we had tickle fights on the beds; and we sang in the bathrooms; and we blasted radios throughout the entire house.
One of my favorite noisy activities was sliding down the attic stairs. Riding inside thick, old sleeping bags or “tobogganing” on top of a discarded baby mattress, we’d race down the hard, wooden steps, squealing for all we were worth. Then we’d climb back up again and start over. Hour after hour, we would bounce and slide, shout and laugh. Once, when I described this homegrown activity to a friend, she asked, “And where were your parents? What did your mother say?” That’s when I realized, for Mom and Dad, our having fun and being happy trumped their squelching the chaotic but joyful cacophony.
We children weren’t the only ones making noise, though. With one roar, Dad would call us all together for family prayers. He'd use the same voice when ordering us to “count off” before piling into a car after church or for a road trip. Mom, with lightning speed in the kitchen, would create her own daily version of “Trashin’ the Camp” (from the Disney movie Tarzan) by shutting drawers with her hips, closing cupboards with her elbows, and tossing dishes in the sink with one hand while simultaneously whipping up something in the mixer with the other hand.
Being loud was not just a function of Tanner Manor either; it is genetic. I’m told the Sutton men from my Grandma Tanner’s side could sit on separate porches, a large distance apart, and carry on a conversation with each other. The Sutton voice is a loud voice, a booming voice, and some of us inherited it. Of course, as a child I was blissfully unaware that my volume was constantly high until one time, by chance, I found out my good friend’s mother didn’t want me at a birthday party because I was too loud.
As a grownup, I became much more conscious of being a noisemaker and have tried most of my adult life to modulate my volume. Nowadays, I get conflicting feedback from my own family. Some days I do my own version of Mom in the kitchen; other times I’m told I need to speak up. So, I’m both too loud and too soft…except when I get together with the Tanner Tribe. With them, anything goes.
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.