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.
The truth is the McDonalds generously extended an open invitation to our family to swim in their pool just about any time, which says a lot about the kind of neighbors they were. Mom and Terri took that invitation to an extreme late one night. After spending all day painting and prepping Tanner Manor for Bobbe and Athelia’s double wedding reception, Terri somehow convinced Mom and the other two sisters to go skinny dipping. Assuming the McDonalds were out of town, Mom dropped her guard and her suit when, much to her horror, Mr. McDonald turned on the lights to see who had invaded his back yard at such a late hour. Ever after, Mom would say of the incident, “Bill nearly divorced me over that one.”
For being a Southern-California girl, I’m not a good swimmer. I never was. But to be fair, like so many other things, formal lessons were not in the Tanner family budget. So, my early “swim lessons” consisted of plunging in and dog paddling until I could imitate how others stroked and kicked. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hold my breath for very long nor could I float to save my life. For me, it was simply sink or swim! Besides, I couldn’t be bothered with good form and tedious breathing techniques. I just loved being in the water! I especially loved doing underwater somersaults then flashing out of the water with a dramatic flip of the hair. The diving board stood as a challenge for all of us, especially my brothers who dared each other to bounce higher and higher and to do more flips than the last guy.
Ironically, the only formal swim lessons I ever had were in Idaho. When I was ten years’ old, my cousins the Carrolls whom I scarcely knew, came through town to vacation in Southern California with their large brood of kids. Before heading back home, the parents must have had a last-minute huddle with my parents because just a couple days before summer vacation I was called out of my fifth-grade class to go home and pack. To my surprise, I was being snatched up by my dairy-farm cousins to live and work in Idaho for the summer and to get to know Aubrey, the only one in the bunch my age and gender.
As I learned was customary for families living near canals instead of by the ocean, the Carrolls habitually signed up for summer swim lessons at the local plunge. So, that year I was enrolled right along with all my farmer-tan cousins. For my first time, I learned what a proper sidestroke, backstroke, and breaststroke looked and felt like. However, much like my short-lived piano lessons with Pearl Collette, those couple of weeks would be the sum total of formal swim instruction for the rest of my life. The lessons didn’t turn me into a stellar swimmer by any stretch, but at least after that summer I could pretend to know how to swim.
I'm the twelfth of 13 children. I was born into a poor family rich in blessings. We lived in South Pasadena, California on top of a hill in a big house we called Tanner Manor. These are my stories of growing up there.