the black sheep of the family
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.
Then came Dad’s big chance to kick The Debt out of our family once and for all. After years of political wrangling over two proposed freeway routes through our sleepy suburban town (both of which intersected with our precious home), the state of California offered to buy property from anyone whose home lay in the proposed path. In other words, the law of eminent domain cracked open a merciful door for Dad to sell the house at its current market value, purchase another home of equal value, then liquidate the asset to get out from under the financial burden he carried for years. Even still, when he first heard about this possibility from neighbors considering the same option, the idea seemed too good to be true. However, by my junior year in high school, plans were afoot for selling the place back to the state. Fortuitously for Mom and Dad, real estate values had boomed in the two decades since they first purchased Tanner Manor, so they would eventually make good money on the transaction, but leaving Tanner Manor behind came at a great personal cost to me.
Nonetheless, we began packing, and soon our beloved home felt deserted and empty—a house with no soul. To downsize dramatically, pieces of our lives were scattered about, boxed up, or tossed out. At the same time, Bryan was packing up his things to fly to Honduras where he would spend his sophomore year living with our older brother Mark. With no end to the tasks and with family members coming and going in all directions, the sheer activity masked the gravity of this monumental move until, in one unplanned, miserable moment, Bryan and I broke down crying. Tanner Manor was, after all, the only home he and I had ever known, and, just as we both rightly suspected, we would never return to the place that held our most cherished childhood memories.
After Bryan left the country, life became a bit of a blur. Somehow, we finished clearing out Tanner Manor, then the dust began to settle. I found myself as the only child living with my parents in a fairly new but uncomfortably modern house in Pasadena. Mom tried to make the place feel like home while I lived out my senior year, commuting back and forth to South Pasadena for seminary, school, and everything else, but I felt unanchored without my Tanner Manor. A few years later, Dad would sell the Pasadena house, allowing him to finally shed the heavy burden of owing others money. However, although the weight and worry of living with The Debt lifted, scars of financial uncertainty stayed with me ever after.
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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.