The day she arrived at Tanner Manor is the first time I remember meeting Clara Sutton Tanner, the one and only grandparent I ever knew. Breaking a hip necessitated her relocating from Utah to California where my dad, her only surviving child, lived, and where Mom would shoulder most of her care for the next several years. I must have been about six years old when, from my bedroom window, I watched the car pull into the driveway. Then Dad, with his customary chivalry, helped Grandma out of the car and let her take his arm. She shuffled into our house where she would live for the next several years.
Clearly, this grandma had lost the spring in her step, but she had not lost the ability to speak her mind. Long before she came to Tanner Manor, Grandma Tanner was legend for being frank, outspoken, and brutally honest. But those traits weren’t new to me; I had seen them in my dad and had, unwittingly, already begun adopting them myself.
Cut out of the same fabric, Dad and Grandma had a long history of locking horns. Evidently, when he was young, Dad made a habit of picking fights. He was that kid who, when he would walk down the street, made mothers scamper to pull their children inside. “Why do you like to fight?” Grandma would ask, exasperated. “Why do you like to go to picture shows?” he’d shoot back, as if his neighborhood tussles were merely a form of entertainment. Apparently, these mother-son altercations happened frequently enough for a pattern to emerge. As Dad used to describe it, after too many harsh words passed between them, Grandma would insist the two of them kneel down together to pray, repent, and ask forgiveness of each other. She was bullheaded. Yet, with the same ferocity she loved her son, she loved God, and she knew how to set herself right with both of them.
Once Grandma came to Tanner Manor, Dad would often tease her just enough to provoke her. For example, he’d mention the woman who once made Grandma work all week (not just one day, as promised) for two dollars, and Grandma’s ire would begin to boil anew. When he gently scolded her for holding a grudge or speaking ill of someone, she would retort, “Well, it’s true, and that’s all there is to it!” Then she’d stick out her lower lip and glower.
Like Dad, we kids also liked pulling Grandma’s leg from time to time. Once, Mark got a devious notion to pretend to be John who, serving a mission in Brazil, was due to come home soon. Just out of the tub with a towel around his waist and his dark hair slicked back, Mark milked the moment. He expounded on his grand adventures in Brazil, and Grandma was fully duped.
But that wasn’t the end of the fun. After the masquerade, Grandma insisted to my dad that John had, indeed, come home, and wasn’t that wonderful. Dad, unaware of Mark’s antics, tried to correct her. Now, accused her of lying, she was mad as could be. After all, she had seen John with her own eyes. In fact, he had sat right on the edge of her bed visiting with her just minutes before. Later, when she found out Mark had fooled her, she was furious. It took years for her to forgive him.
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.