When I read the book The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less, I knew Mom and Evelyn Ryan, the protagonist, would have been fast friends. The two of them, in many ways, are peas in a pod. Both raised big families during the 50s and 60s. Both were brilliant women who chose to pour their intellect into family rather than fortune. Both loved words and had a knack for stringing together rhymes almost effortlessly. And both faced pending financial disaster with pluck and optimism. I’m sure Mom would have had fun channeling her creativity into marketing ditties, but, unlike Mrs. Ryan, she didn’t make any money with her jingles.
Instead, Mom wrote scripts for church plays, lyrics for family Christmas parties, and, lucky for me, a very corny poem for my birth announcement, which doubled as our family Christmas card that year. It’s no surprise to me that, although I was born on September 5, 1962, it took until December for my folks to get the word out. Besides, Mom would have seen combining the news of my birth with the celebration of the Savior’s birth delightfully efficient. I’m quite certain my family stopped sending Christmas cards soon after that time, but Mom continued playing with words, tossing around silly rhymes, and making up trite puns any chance she got.
It’s hard to tell just who illustrated the faded, somewhat tattered birth announcement, but I’m certain it was one of my siblings. Mom always looked for opportunities to put others to work, then she heaped lavish praise on them for their accomplishments. I like to think that what the poem lacks in proper punctuation and polish it makes up for in the genuine joy my parents were trying to express. Mom always made certain she put to rest inquiring minds by insisting her children were “no accident.” She and Dad wanted every single one of us.
Below, I’ve transcribed the announcement, typing it to preserve as much of the original spelling, punctuation, and format as possible.)
As Christmas time rolls round again, our message we shall SCRATCH
From TANNER’S HENHOUSE comes the news we have twelve EGGS to HATCH!
Old PAPA ROOSTER’S really proud and simply has to CROW
While MAMA HEN adds CACKLES, too her pride and joy to show.
“We’ll call her Janet,” Mama said as she climbed off her NEST
“And there’s no doubt that she will be a GOOD EGG like the rest!”
Crowed Papa, “This new little EGG will make our twelve complete!
They’re CHEEPer by the Dozen, too---our EGGS are hard to beat!
“At times they act a wee bit CRACKED, or slightly SOFT, ‘tis true;
While some are EGGHEADS, some HARD-BOILED, and some are DEVILED, too.
“We know they’re not SPOILED ROTTEN, though, but neither FRESH are they
Let’s get this OVER-EASY now and class them all GRADE A!”
So now our GRADE A dozen EGGS and HEN and ROOSTER, too,
Have SCRAMBLED up each joyous wish to here EGGstend to you.
Then SUNNY-SIDE UP we’ll remain and hope that you will, too.
May God’s choice blessings be yours now and all the whole year through!
So, with that announcement, I took my place as the child who made our family “Cheep-er by the Dozen.”
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.