For most of my young years, we didn’t own a washer and dryer, and I always assumed we couldn’t afford one, but it turns out Mom didn’t want them. Thirteen kids and she didn’t want to be able to launder clothes on the premises? Impossible! But Dad verified it when I was grown.
Instead of doing loads of laundry throughout each day, Mom preferred to knock out the gargantuan task in a few hours. So, a couple times a week she’d get up “before the crack of dawn”; wake two or three of us younger kids (who didn’t attend seminary yet); borrow change from the older kids; then orchestrate the production line of loading the station wagon with sorted, dirty clothes.
Unforgiveness and grudges among blood relatives is so much more common than I ever imagined.
One night, my book group discussed families breaking up over an argument or small dispute. Evidently, certain groups are infamous for their contentious ways, as I learned from friends who hail from various places around the globe. One lady said when West Virginians disagree, they simply stop talking to each other; Italians, in contrast, favor a more vociferous cutting off, perpetuating anger over long-forgotten quarrels; and Germans, even after decades of not talking, refuse to visit relatives so their children and grandchildren may go their whole lives without knowing their grandparents and aunts and uncles.
In the Tanner family, this kind of behavior would be considered immature and unacceptable.
The black sheep of our family was The Debt, or, better known in our house as “The Debt.”
From my earliest memories, Dad was in debt. I wasn’t told directly how The Debt came to be such an unwelcome but close member of the family. Instead, as the years rolled on, I picked up bits and pieces about his borrowing money from friends to build “The Business,” another complicated family member. This I did know: The Debt weighed heavily on our very existence. In my young mind, The Debt explained why we didn’t do repairs on the house and why we never stayed in hotels or took nice vacations. The ever-present Debt explained why we all wore hand-me-downs, held jobs from an early age, got haircuts at home, ate off of paper plates, and drank out of orange juice cans. Because of The Debt, we understood we were expected to pay for our own clothes, sports equipment, dance tickets, and student activity cards, and we knew to borrow pocket change from each other rather than from our parents. Living with The Debt meant forgoing most material things and, by the same token, it meant showing gratitude for receiving anything new, even basics like toothbrushes and underwear.
Above all else, what I loved about the McDonalds’ house next door was their pool. Sometimes, we would act politely and wait to be invited, and sometimes we’d drop big hints, but on particularly scorching-hot days we didn’t have much patience and would ask straight out if we could swim in their pool. Suits on and towels already in hand, we’d hoist ourselves over the cinderblock wall and scurry into the pool yard to swim to our hearts’ content.
Loud and fast: two words that describe my younger self.
I was a very active little girl, in constant motion from sunup to sundown. However, when I got a cold, sometimes it would turn into something worse, and my very personality would change. I may have forgotten this pattern, except for a couple of memories.
[A posthumous tribute I wrote on Dad’s 90th birthday]
As a very little girl, I used to love playing in a closet just off the back stairs. If I closed the door, I felt alone in a house otherwise teeming with people but safe in a world full of potential adventure and hidden treasures including hundreds of worn paperbacks, my mother’s colored array of high-heeled shoes, and stylish hats in hatboxes from another era.
Exploring in the closet one day, I played with the door’s heavy, brass lock and accidentally locked myself in. Suddenly, I didn’t feel safe anymore. Fun and adventure quickly turned to fear and isolation—feelings mostly foreign to me as a child. Even those dearest to me couldn’t help me escape. My mother couldn’t explain how to unlatch the lock, my brothers couldn’t unlock it from the outside, and my sisters couldn’t comfort me with their kind words.
Then my dad happened along.
Athelia Sears Tanner, age 99, passed away on January 16, 2020. She was born on September 12, 1920 in Bountiful, Utah, the seventh of ten children. She grew up in Salt Lake City, where she met William Coats (Bill) Tanner, Jr. in high school. They were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple on February 14, 1942. She graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in nutritional science while expecting her first child. She and Bill moved several times while he went to war and pursued graduate degrees. By the time he graduated in 1952, the couple had six children. They moved their growing family to South Pasadena, California, where they lived for the next thirty-four years and reared 13 children (seven sons and six daughters).
After sending most of their children on church missions, Bill and Athelia themselves spent the next decade and a half serving five missions together, including one as President of the Illinois Chicago Mission. Their love and service have touched the lives of thousands of people and have had an immeasurable impact on their posterity. Following Bill’s passing in 2002, Athelia served yet another mission for the church at the Nauvoo Illinois Temple with her sister Lue.
For the last few years, Athelia lived in the Inn at Barton Creek, where she enjoyed almost daily visits from her children and grandchildren. Her loving influence was felt not only by her family but also by the other residents and employees of Barton Creek. She was known for her warm smile and her contagious optimism. She loved life, learning, and the Lord. She was known for always saying, “Make it a great day!” Athelia Sears Tanner made it a great life!
Athelia was preceded in death by her husband, her eight siblings, and her parents (Athelia Viola Call and William Gailey Sears). She is survived by her sister, Lucille Sears Hofmann. Her direct descendants include 13 children—Roberta (Ray) Graham, Athelia (Ken) Woolley, Terri (Jim-deceased) Mitchell, William C. Tanner, III (Susan), John (Susan) Tanner, Richard (Shawn) Tanner, Mark (Ann) Tanner, Claralyn (Ross) Palfreyman, Kaye (Guy) Whitworth, Daken (Carolee) Tanner, Scott (Julie) Tanner, Janet (Ken) Perry, and Bryan (Renae) Tanner--as well as 78 grandchildren, 191 great grandchildren, and six great great grandchildren.
A funeral visitation will be held on Friday January 24, 6-8 pm at the downtown Radisson Hotel (215 W South Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84101). Family and friends are invited.
There will be an additional funeral visitation Saturday morning, from 8:30-10:00 at the Bountiful East Stake Center (650 E. 2150 South Bountiful, UT 84010). The funeral services will be held at the same location from 10:30-noon. Following the funeral, the family will hold a private interment at the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests making a contribution to BYU–Hawaii’s IWORK program to support students from Samoa, where Athelia’s father served three missions: https://ldsp-pay.ldschurch.org/donations/byu-hawaii?funds=30208039
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.
I was almost home from school. In fact, I was only a block away from Tanner Manor. There, at the bottom of the hill at the intersection of Foothill and Fremont, a girl about five years older than me glanced quickly as she crossed my path. Stopping dead in her tracks, she suddenly turned around and blurted out, “Hey, are you a Tanner?”
“Who?” I responded, doing my best dead pan. “Who are the Tanners?” Then, with Tanner heritage written all over my face, I told a flat-out, bald-faced lie. “No. I’m not a Tanner.” And, with that, I turned and walked away, laughing as if I’d really gotten away with something.
Some probably found it surprising that a family with so many rambunctious children could be tamed (at least occasionally), but Mom and Dad insisted we learn our manners.
Our training began at the front door. Dad, a psychologist who ran his counseling and testing business in the east wing of Tanner Manor, had his clients come and go through that door. They might have preferred to slip in and out quietly, but we Tanners would have none of that, least of all Dad. He took full advantage of our ever-revolving door to help his children develop some professional polish.
Never ashamed of our hand-me-downs or homemade haircuts, Dad would pull us to his side and proudly introduce us as his “favorite seven-year-old” or his “favorite fifteen-year-old,” and so forth. We could usually count on him getting our names right, but “Don’t ask me to remember their birthdays,” he’d say each time, only half-jokingly. With each introduction, we were required to “Look ‘em in the eye!” while giving a firm handshake. With that kind of practice, we learned over time to be “free and comfortable in all situations,” just as Dad would train his clients to be.
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.