Tanner Manor boasted eight bedrooms and six bathrooms but only one shower. With several rows of perforated piping, the master bathroom “surround shower” was way ahead of its time. Sadly, though, we never used it because it leaked. So, in typical Tanner-fashion, we neither complained about it nor fixed it; we simply used our only other option: the bathtubs.
Tanners were first-rate bathers. We knew how to maximize the water and space in a tub. When we were younger, we bathed like pioneers, sharing bath water till it went murky and cold. Later, when we were allowed the luxury of having our own baths, we learned how to bathe quickly when needed and to take long baths (like Mom) whenever possible.
Rinsing hair clean in a tub was a mystery to my friends. “Just how do you do that when the water is full of shampoo?” Ah, therein lies the flip trick. Rinse out the shampoo on one side of the tub, then quickly swish the bubbles to the same end while flipping to the other where the water was still relatively clean. To this day, I’m not sure why I didn’t think to turn on the faucets and let clean water run through my soapy hair. I guess I just formed early habits of doing water gymnastics.
Later, in the junior-high locker room, I learned the blessed efficiency of taking a shower. But for the first 12 years of my life, taking a bath seemed perfectly fine. The biggest problem, really, was filling the tub with water. That took time! If we wanted a bath, which we always did, we had to plan ahead. Especially in high school, getting to seminary by 6:00 a.m. meant we had to get up very, very early.
Why, you may ask, didn’t you just shower—I mean bathe—at night? Ah, that would have been anathema to my father, who repeatedly preached, “You sweat when you sleep.” For one year in Shelley, Idaho, he taught seminary to teenagers, many of whom came to class smelling something fierce. That singular experience strongly reinforced his propensity to be neurotically clean, especially when it came to personal hygiene. So, no matter how poor we were or how much water it took to bathe his children, Dad would not have us skimp on baths. Factor in all the times we came home sweaty after playing sports, and you can imagine how often those tubs were filling up, day and night.
Yet, we all managed to become quite skilled at participating in our unique round-the-clock rhythm of filling tubs, taking baths, and sharing bathroom space. As a big family, we quite easily adjusted when someone stayed too long in the bathroom. However, the entire family could be thrown off tempo when a tub wasn’t filled properly.
Such was the case one afternoon when Bryan needed a bath. Tired from some sports practice or game, he opened the water spigots to begin filling the tub while he lay down on his bed to wait. Instead, he fell asleep. Unbeknownst to him or anyone else, the tub water overflowed, then it flowed and flowed and flowed all across the bathroom floor and into the adjoining dressing room and bedroom.
Those of us downstairs were not aware of the flood until water started dripping from overhead. Out it seeped, through the light fixtures and through cracks in our old ceilings. First clear then a freakish yellow, the water picked up the color of the wood and ended up looking very much like urine raining from above. That alone was enough to replace horror with humor.
Bryan felt terrible about his mistake, but, unfortunately, his was not an isolated incident. More than once, someone shouted news of an in-house flood. Because the leaks from upstairs often spread across several rooms downstairs, even the youngest children were needed to prevent the dripping water from ruining the flooring and furniture below. Much like putting out a fire, we worked together as “first responders," grabbing pots, bowls, buckets, and towels and stationing ourselves under a leak...or two.
From a child’s point of view, when these floods put everyone in the house on high alert, I felt thrilled by the urgency and adventure of it all. In a strange way, these were fun times. My parents, though, I’m sure would have preferred a less damaging kind of entertainment.
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.