Our home did not just have an open-door policy; we had an open-everything policy. Our windows had no screens, and our doors were never locked, even when we left on vacation. With at least six different doors, several large bay windows, and two balconies not off limits to tree climbers, Tanner Manor was very permeable, making it nigh unto impossible to lock up.
Actually, we were told the back of our house was actually once the front of the house. This makes sense if the long alley running the full length of the three backyards was, indeed, the thoroughfare for horse-drawn carriages. Evidence that this may have been the case is the presence of two elevated, concrete stumps located at the bottom of the middle yard. These small landings would have made it easier for women to exit carriages more safely and gracefully. Visitors could have walked up either side of the double-sided staircase, which led to one longer staircase leading up to a large, open-air veranda surrounded by columns. From there, callers could have gone into the large entry hall through either set of French doors.
Perhaps much sooner than when we owned the home, the heavy front door facing Buena Vista Street became the formal entrance. But it was just that: formal. Mostly, those who used the front door were doorbell ringers, such as solicitors and Dad’s business clients. Occasionally, young men arriving to take my sisters or me to a formal dance would also ring the front doorbell. But the rest all used the side entrance.
The side door also faced the street, but it sat to the right and recessed from the formal front door. It was plain and unadorned, and swung open and shut day and night. Since Tanner Manor, vintage 1912, predates home refrigeration by just one year, the architect designed that door for ice deliveries. For us, though, it was the door used by good friends. Out of politeness, they would often try knocking, but the usual commotion inside the house made it hard to hear them. Feeling welcome nonetheless, these friends would eventually learn to just knock and enter all in one motion. Some wouldn’t even bother knocking at all.
This was particularly true of nearby neighbors who came early to our house for rides to seminary but didn't want to disturb our sleeping family in the wee-morning hours. However, when they came in unannounced, they did so at their own risk. Our across-the-street neighbor Bettyanne Johnson probably wished she had made a little more noise one dark morning before slipping in quietly through the side door. As she walked in, she met my mother, who, thinking she still had free reign of the house, was not yet dressed for the day. Frozen in their tracks, both stared at each other without saying a word. Neither spoke about the incident again until many years later when they were able to have a good laugh.
Once, when our family was going out of town, somebody must have thought we should be a little more responsible about not leaving our home an open target for vagrants or thieves. So, both my sister Claralyn and my sister Kaye invited their respective boyfriends (Ross Palfreyman and Guy Whitworth) to stay at our house while we were gone. In Guy’s own words, entitled “Night Fright,” this is what happened:
When the Tanners were going to Wyoming for a vacation one time, Kaye asked me to spend the night in her empty house. Unbeknownst to me, Claralyn had asked Ross to do the same job.
So, after I settled myself comfortably into Kaye’s bedroom, I heard footsteps in the hall. You can imagine my horror to see the tall, dark figure outside my door.
Ross (who was the tall, dark figure) thought I (the sleeping, frightened chicken in bed) was merely a bum who had wandered off the streets. He was content to let me sleep there while he found some other remote corner of Tanner Manor…until I started talking very fast and loudly. He, at once recognized my voice, and the mystery was solved.
So much for helping out my girlfriend, eh? That incident probably took ten years off my life!
After that experience, I don’t think we ever tried again having people house-sit in our absence, but I don't recall ever successfully locking up the house either. Often during family trips, someone usually had to stay behind for work or sports commitments anyway. And, besides, everyone was welcome at Tanner Manor!
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.