I was raised on stories of honesty, some of which became legendary over time. For example, one time my Grandma Tanner was mistakenly given too much change by a shopkeeper. Making every effort to be scrupulously honest, she ended up paying more in bus fare to return the money than the worth of the extra dime she was given.
With such family lore, I should have known better than to pick roses from our neighbor’s front yard. As a small child, I had merely wanted to give my mother a gift. But, instead of responding with the delight, Mom met my expectant gaze with disappointment.
Up to that moment, it had not occurred to me that I had been stealing. I was a thief!
Although I was very young and my motive clearly non-malevolent, Mom, nevertheless, seized the opportunity to teach me a lesson in honesty. So, she devised a plan. Together, we made chocolate cookies. Then, with my tail between my legs, I returned to the neighbor (whose name and face I can’t recall) and offered a sheepish apology along with a plate of cookies as restitution.
By providing that painful experience for me so early in life, Mom reinforced the Tanner value of telling the truth. So, I was unprepared to find that telling the truth could also feel punitive.
Shortly before turning five years old, I started kindergarten. Never having gone to a formal preschool, I was very excited to begin my education at El Centro, the same elementary school all of my older 11 siblings had attended. My teacher, Mrs. Lawn, was new to the school and spent time that first day getting acquainted with her students. That’s when I announced I had 12 siblings. But my new teacher would not believe me. In fact, she told me to stop lying and tell her the truth. Indignant, I insisted, more emphatically this time, that I had six sisters and six brothers!
Still, she would not believe me. Kindergarten was not so fun after all.
Not until after class, when Mrs. Lawn went into the teachers’ lounge and told my “tall tale” to veteran faculty members who knew my family, did she realize I was not a liar after all. The next day she tried to apologize to me, but I was mad. I had told the truth, and this was what I got in return. Mom said she “had to work with [me] for quite a while” before I finally forgave that teacher for publicly questioning my integrity.
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.