Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tanner Manor: “The House that Built Me”

Tanner Manor as I remember it

It’s almost too big, too grand a topic to tackle. Much like structure itself, the story of Tanner Manor, my childhood home, sometimes looms larger than life. For years, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the magnitude of that place and articulate the role it played in shaping my life.

Though just another house in town, our home was commonly known and referred to as “Tanner Manor” by friends and strangers alike. Perched atop a hill on nearly an acre of land at the intersection of Fremont Avenue and Buena Vista Street in South Pasadena, California, the almost-9000-square-foot edifice still stands as an icon, I’m told. Schoolmates I haven’t seen in years, including people I didn’t even know well, now connect with me on Facebook and mention my home by its nickname.

People count on markers (like Tanner Manor) to give them a sense of where they are in the world. I was reminded of this when my husband decided it was time to paint our 13-year-old house. Since I welcome change, I considered this a great opportunity to transform the look of our house by switching, say, the color of the front door. But each of our children was adamant: “Absolutely not! We have to have a big red door!” Without exception, they all wanted to keep that door because it represents home to them, it brings them comfort when they return from places near and far, and it serves as a key identifier to help others navigate their way to our house. Similarly, much of my personal identity and security was tied to Tanner Manor, a place where I knew I belonged and that gave me a strong sense of my place in my family as well as in my community. In short, Tanner Manor helped me know where I was in the world.

Admittedly, we all like some things to stay the same, and going home again can give us the comfort, stability, and reassurance that not everything changes. So, when my parents sold the place during my senior year in high school, although I hadn’t officially left home as an adult, I was distraught because I felt I could “never go home again.” Separating who I was from Tanner Manor itself wasn’t easy. Would leaving my home behind change my character, the essence of the person I had become?

Miranda Lambert, the 2010 Female County Music Artist of the Year, made it big with her song, “The House that Built Me.” (The title alone helps explain the power a house can have in shaping a child.) Now grown and a little broken down by life, Lambert sings of trying to heal by going back to her childhood home and getting in touch with the person she once was.

I know they say you can’t go home again
I just had to come back one last time . . .

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it’s like I’m someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself

If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me

Broken or not, returning home can put us in touch with memories of our beginnings, a time of shaping and becoming, a time when life was probably a little simpler and we were less complicated characters. As Lambert laments,

You leave home and you move on and you do the best you can
I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am . . .

It’s healthy—perhaps even necessary—to go back home at times, if only figuratively, to remind us of who we really are. Returning may mean attending a family reunion, but sometimes it just means making a phone call to a family member. At other times, all we can do to get back home is take a private trip down memory lane to remind us what we were made of. 

When I think of Tanner Manor, I’m flooded with memories that built me.

I remember being in so many places: roller-skating in the basement and climbing on the roof; playing wiffle ball in the front yard and planting a garden in the backyard; playing dress up with cast-off costumes in the attic and getting ready for a school dance in front of the full-length mirror in my parents’ bathroom; exploring nooks and crannies under the house and shimmying down the dumbwaiter shafts inside; singing in the bathroom and dancing in the kitchen; racing up the linoleum-covered back staircase and sliding down the slick, black banister of the front staircase.

I remember seeing so many faces: praying with all of my family in the morning and praying again together at night; laughing at Dad’s funny sayings and weeping when he talked about God; getting up early to help Mom do laundry before school and going to bed late after talking with a sibling; snuggling and laughing in my parents’ bed with as many of us as we could fit and crying alone in my own bed; sharing family dinners with strangers and washing loads of dishes with my brothers and sisters.

And the memories all seem to include constant activity: sliding down the attic stairs in thick, old sleeping bags and sliding into the French doors while playing “black tag” in the front entry hall; throwing dance parties so loud the police showed up and shushing each other when Dad was counseling clients; blasting the radio while cleaning—endlessly cleaning—all 36 rooms and squealing while swimming—always swimming—in the next-door-neighbors’ pool.
As the first child to be born into our family after we moved to Tanner Manor, I had to get on board quickly and hang on for the ride! Already abuzz with people, my home was a self-contained, high-adventure place where life was in constant motion. Returning there in my mind is enough to fill me with warmth and joy. 


  1. Wow, that is a beautiful sounding home! And 36 rooms. What an adventure it must have been living there!

  2. It was very large but not as fancy as you might imagine. The adventures we had, though, would not disappoint your imagination.

  3. I have so many happy memories of that home! It's no wonder your family, and that home, were, and are legendary!

  4. You and many others loved that house. Recently my mom told me she and Dad made a promise they would share it with others, and share it they did!