Athelia Tanner and Janet Perry

Recorded March 26, 2009 Archived March 26, 2009 00:00 minutes
Audio not available

Interview ID: MBY005209


Janet Perry (46)interviews her mother Athelia Tanner (88) about her life and family.

Subject Log / Time Code

Athelia and her husband Bill met in high school. He called her the teacher’s pet.
Bill went away on mission and Athelia continued to date other people but reconnected with him when he returned home.
Bill wanted seventeen children because he had grown up in a small family.
Living in Idaho, lots of potato recipes.
Athelia tells the story of how she and her husband got a 36 room house for themselves and their thirteen children. They called the house Tanner Manor and later Tanner Manner.


  • Athelia Tanner
  • Janet Perry


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00:07 My name is Janet Perry, and I'm

00:11 46. This is March 26th, 2009. In Salt Lake City and I am the daughter.

00:20 My name is Cecilia Tanner. I'm 88 today is March 26th, 2009. In Salt Lake City.

00:30 I'm the mother.

00:35 Well Mom, we're at the City-County Building in Salt Lake City. And I think this is the beginning of a special time in your life. Do you want to tell me about that?

00:46 Oh, yes. This is a very building where my husband died in 1942, came and got our marriage license self. When we came here. I said, this is where it all began.

01:00 Can you tell me more about that day, but you can remember feeling my husband just got back from his mission. So we really didn't have much money but the war had started. And so we decided to get married because we need that and maybe be going overseas or whatever. So that was a special day. What was his name? His name was William Coates Tanner Junior.

01:30 But you always called him, the Outfield. And and when you bought the marriage license, wasn't there, weren't there, some unusual circumstances were broke and his father.

01:46 They didn't the $3 for the marriage, license on you.

01:52 Family had a really happy married. We had met in high school. First day of high school. We were both. Just had a quite turn 16 in the same US history class.

02:06 He used to say I was a teacher's pet not to know. I'm that that's how it all started.

02:14 So you dated in high school? Did you date other boys too? Yes, I did. And did he date other girls?

02:22 Don't know that him and Junior, I had been president of the junior high that had found two in. The name is the vice-president there and then it became a president that people said well and then he asked me for a date at at the Thanksgiving dance. And I went with him and they said well, he's never taken a girl out more than once. So just don't think he ever will again, who's already. I thought that's interesting. How did that make you feel about him? I thought, well, I'll just have to see about that.

02:54 Now, there's a story about you being a beehive and writing his name on a slip of paper saying whatever 1400 ever.

03:10 And my friend and I decided to write down the name of the person that we thought we'd like to marry and I took Bill to dinner and I had that for a long time. But finally had the fire in her home somehow that morning. Lost though. That would have been a fencing for it was inside a ring. I really had an awesome relationship. I wasn't that I didn't add him just totally

03:41 Okay, so getting back to being married, he came home from his mission and how is tell me about that reunions of seeing him after his mission. You had. You been waiting for him. Now, I've been going with a lot of different people and I I was at the University then and I guess in my second year, the universal f u r e d side because I had only written a month or twice while he was on his mission because I was going with lot of other people and I don't know it's been a couple years and I wonder if we should be in. I'll just call and see if he's got home yet. He had just walked in the door and there was someone I hadn't even written to her anything. So he never let me live that down that he thought if I just knew it was sort of around the time that he left.

04:31 So that when I saw him again, and we started going together. Again, this very different from this evening that I had with other people.

04:43 So, how did you, how did you know he was the one for you?

04:48 What qualities did he have that? Totally honest. And totally?

04:54 This, there was no pretense and he wanted to go on to college. We had a lot of the same.

05:01 Things that were important to us.

05:06 And he told me before we got married that he wanted to have a big big family because he only had one brother. He had a twin that died when he was seven months old. And he had a brother that was 4 years old, and he always said, he felt jipped because he, he really wanted to grow up in a family. So he said I wanted 17 children, okay.

05:32 That we really did, want every one of you children.

05:35 And they're ready, H? One of them. He was just as thrilled, it's the 13th or the 12th and we were all healthy and I had good health except you know, that I am. I had that Rh negative blood and when they found out, we had moved from Utah to Minnesota for his getting used to create his master's degree and they said, sure. And I just found out about this trouble with Rh negative blood and I don't know why I had that run on. It was it was positive so they read it and they said, no your negative and they told us we really shouldn't probably would never have more than that many children and then an hour would have trouble but we

06:24 We really thought we would and that would be okay.

06:29 Trust in the Lord and you're all very, very healthy. All still alive. Nobody has had any

06:35 Health problems and you're all. I want every one of you on saying it was important to both of us because we both graduated from, I graduated and nutrition and he was in Psychology and we wanted every one of you children to have an education. So every one of you have at least one degree, I think there are four five or six. I mean, it had Master's and a couple out have fancy degrees of education is very important to us, even though it took Dad a long time to finish his degree and talk about that stretch of time. It was about a decade. Wasn't

07:22 You just took longer because he was always working a job at least one job to help support the family and would always save enough so that we don't have it on enough money to pay the hospital bill on the doctor billing. And that Sullivan never went into debt for any of you and we tried to teach your children to live within your means, which we did too.

07:45 You had to be very resourceful though. I wasn't there a time you lived in Idaho. Dad had was a seminary teacher. I think you lived off of every kind of potato dish, mashed potatoes. I did different artists agree because we needed to have a car ready in case we, if we had already been separated during the war and we thought, until we, at least, we ought to have a car because during the war, all the airplanes, and trains, and everything, or you utilize for the serviceman. So if you didn't have a car of your own meet you or just in,

08:33 Our way. So you didn't own the car as a couple until you had. How many children children five children did, you know, you didn't know how to drive? Did you know? I had never driven. So, you learn to drive with 52. Now, is a painful experience, wasn't that really was? That always be afraid and I was a very cautious driver, because I had fun children in the car and no car seats, or we had fun. We used our cars are when you finally had a car and then he just did that one year. And then we came back and went back on it to work on PHP degree.

09:11 So we got mad a long stretch for you, and there were sitting you continue to have children with me. And then we have how about other people's view of some people were very critical. Can you tell me more about big Sable? If you can do it, the more power to you, but glad I could never run that. Then it got to the point where they say. They're eating my food in my car and some people that were very, very narrow-minded but I think everybody really

09:45 Admire this in a while because it still hurt your children, really. All very, very good students and very talented in that outstanding and dependable at least one of the things we try to stress when she was that, you always tell the truth and and I latched on to that someone broke a window. We live not too far from the school and summer broken window in the second grade class or something like that. And they were asking all the children who had done it. That everyone was denying it and finally, someone just said will ask John Tanner because Tanner's always tell the truth. And tell John came home and told me that I thought I had a set of used that as a little

10:29 Thanks for all that became a model. Tanner's always tell the truth. And so that was very influential in their lives. I think it was a very strong values. They had so many children that some people thought you couldn't keep track of us. And you know, what, is it easy for you to remember, is everybody, everybody say when you can you name all your children right now? That I can do that. Go ahead and do that. All the children name, all your children. Okay. I can give you their birthday to whole thing. But anyway. My oldest one is Roberta from wake up. Bobby S to Celia Cherry Trace.

11:07 John. Richard Mark clear on K Jake and Scott and Brian sometimes by our names, a lot to a lot of times at Christmas when we visit people in London twenties, people about being able to

11:27 Say our names back. One time. Somebody said something funny to him. Do you remember that about our birthdays people always disable. Can you remember their birthdays? And then say, oh my goodness. You could, but Dad couldn't, I know? Yeah, so as some other minor sides and I was used to laugh because I was like a filing cabinet. It's eight. Who's this, you know, sometimes, and I'd say the name, the date, the place doesn't phone number and the address and birthdate on yonada. I just couldn't remember things like that. You had a really good mind. What kind of student where you can? We talk about your, when you were younger. What kind of student do you remember being? And what did you like about school or dislike about school? I was usually I can't remember learning how to read, or spell or math. I didn't have that and I usually got a sand on my classes. Were you the type who had to be at the top of the class that you pay?

12:27 Rites and some of your children and I was but that's not so important. I don't feel now, but at the time I had just sort of a little competition thing with me and at the time you were at it as a young girl, at as you are today, still very athletic talks about some of the things you liked doing. I always liked Sports a lot and I was never any favourites whatever, it was the season 4, so you were an all-around athlete, doing cartwheels and things like that has really had. I didn't thought we called when it become acrobats, like about it. Now that you know, that is not what I taught myself and I just do back of a backbend and do all the way down to a half parking lot, you know.

13:27 In High Springs, a carb-free out and stand on my head and do things on my hand, lock on my knees and on my head and all those things. I just love doing things like that. It was really fun for me. Hit that reminds me of a story. You used to tell about after having children back in the day. They didn't let you move around for several days and that bothered to do you remember? And then I wanted to get up and start waiting on the nurses because I had very normal. Pregnancies on doctor told me you're disgustingly normal, but he said, because I did, I just didn't have complications and I'd watch it. I don't feel like getting up and walking waiting on them. Then, at first, they used to keep you in the hospital for 10 days.

14:14 Then they cut it down to 5 or something, and they would come in and see now you've had a chance to compare. Does it, is this. All right, and I'd say, yeah, that's fine. I thought, you know, it was very it, was very different now. So you just had help from the time your young until today. That's, and I still have good hair outside of Denver.

14:36 I never had a broken bone, I guess or anything like that. And my hair is still have never been colored my hair or done anything with my skin is just the way that I am. Your body is a great but it really is. Can we talk about being a child? But say you were a teenager during the Depression I guess. Is that right? Yeah. I was born in 1920. How long can a jury had when I was nine. And so that was, it was hard coming and if you live in the city which we did.

15:12 And if you had a farm, you always had plenty to eat but isn't in the city had to buy everything. And so my had a mother that was a very excellent cook and and has learned how to cook a bass and taught me. A lot of those things to about just making do with what you have and she would always make really tasty meals and say it, but, you know, lots of times.

15:37 Mr. Corn season or something that have corn and homemade bread and butter, and sliced tomatoes. That was it. And and that was fine because she was doing the best. She could say it was, there was one incident about spilling the sugar. Can you tell me about embarrassing? We at we had to go and get a sugar. We don't have a car. We have Little Red Wagon. And you know, how old I was about cam enough last year. It was in a very embarrassing thing.

16:13 And we had my sister, and I would go to the store and there were two stores Piggly Wiggly's and something else. The right next door to each other, would compare the prices and try to save the pennies and cuz sometimes would get some of the pennies. And so, we were carrying these big bags of the hot summer day. So, we were carrying bags of groceries and I guess the perforation made the bag break and a 10 lb bag of sugar spilled and broke up when it was a bag brown bag.

16:49 It was so bad when we just got and I'll just pick it back up and put it in the bag. And we got home and mother said.

16:56 She is canning fruit and things, you know, she just said, I just hate to do it. But now, I'm sure there's still some sugar that you could prescribe group up from the pile that we have to happen. So, we had to go back and just so humiliating. We used to call it the explosion because the, you know, the bag start of it exploded and did any of your friends. So, you doing it and not mine because I was going to grade school and that my sister was a block away, going to the junior high. And so some of her friends. And that was probably one of the most humiliating.

17:34 But mother, you can't believe it until you've been through. What a depression is like every

17:42 Hard Cash. This trip was really hard to come by and I always work when I went to high school on to college because I did get a degree in nutrition which was a wonderful thing to have with the with the children that we had.

17:58 That.

18:00 Phone number for the way she was having cash was hard to go. Yeah, and so, I used to always work. I worked at a soda fountain and I asked after school and tell that 10:00 at night and I walk home and I'm very often two miles through the park at Artpark, but I do have a different in those days. You didn't worry just save car fare, which was a jet three telkom's for a quarter, that was eight and a half since that. I'm just so I know saved, but it was money. And then so

18:35 Anyway, I made a lot of my clothes and on time. I remember when we move back to Dallas, going to be getting his degree in Minnesota. And so we decided to my father-in-law said V.

18:55 We didn't have a car at that time and he had.

19:00 His brother was also in the service. He was a medical doctor and he had taken us back there and his wife and Catholic children there and had to return the car Honda. So he

19:16 I always thought would have the time and the clothes in the things by truck, because that would deliver did they would deliver right to the door. And I didn't have a way of getting. So we went back there. I have one for Christmas. And I'm at 1, because we just could take a suitcase. That was all because we've ever. We were so crowded in that car and the and they have a thing has got as far as Denver and there was a truck strike so that they, I was stuck here without any calls and I was pregnant and getting not fitting too. Well, in that dress, that I had it every day. Would think the truck strike would break and my husband was going to get with an officer. I bet they figured the points that you got by. How long you been in the service if you'd had injuries and so many battles and things they got right to further his number, wasn't he?

20:16 The next week they were chasing them. By the way, they got right to his number and they froze that for a while and then the fruits of the clothes were there. So there are was stuck without a husband without a car without clothes and every day thinking, both of those things were going to answer. That was not an easy time getting ready. But you know, you can see everything. Isn't that the time that somebody wasn't her, man, who noticed that you were wearing the same dress over used to pick me up every Sunday for church because he had a car and he was a good friend of ours and bills and we just kept telling him, he had come over every time. I'd have the same brown checkered dress, a little guess that I can't work. And after several weeks, find me, the clothes were delivered and I had a different outfit on. He said he is so good to see you in something different than he was so humiliated.

21:16 Don't worry Papa. I feel the same way. That was a really, really tight times as a youth and a teenager and also raising a family. What kind of wisdom could you share with others who haven't had the experience that? What did you learn? During those years that you would think you can be just as happy as you decide to be and on my husband was a reading grade in Psychology, and he just said, it isn't what happens to you in life. It's how you feel about it. And so we tried to teach her children. I remember once here in our son's Scott and he said that he got sent to a place where it was everyone. No one wanted to go on a mission that it was such a bad place and he said, I could have either laugh tried and I chose to be happy and I think that's what we tried to do. I'm trying to teach you the

22:16 Yes, I'm going to happen. That's how you feel about and how you choose to react to.

22:22 We had fun in our life. Did we end in that big old house that we hadn't talked about that house. We live we grew up in what we called Tanner manner is a really was a mansion. It wasn't meant and getting that house was somewhat of a miracle and in your mind. Can you talk about that? You mostly leave one of that house so badly because we were really just on top of each other practically and I was pregnant with his child and we just were not able to find a place that we could have. And we we ready, we prayed and we just said, Heavenly Father. She'll help me sell this place. Big huge Place, 36 room, and we just said, if you can help us to get that place, we will share it with other people that don't really have that much that we were able to give that man, a man, that he met us was impressed with us. And he told me, he told her

23:17 Real estate person how much it would be. An feel said I can't pay that much. I can only pay x amount of dollars and that's it. And she said I can ask her. If not, he would, they will need to be considerate. And he said, well, then we'll get another agent because I really would like the house, but I can't pay any more than I think. Was $35,000. Can you imagine for that home? How much the home cost at home, I got how much Bill said he would pay over the phone and the man he had had, he had had on for some much more than that, but he said to my husband. He said, just need your family.

23:56 And so he chose to sell it to a sin. So that's what we did and we call that Tanner manner, but I always told you children. That was not the manner. I am a m, a n. O r that you did again, but some man or am I a n n? A e are there was important and we did used to share it with with everything and everybody. It was a huge house, 36 rooms fireplaces. It was a beautiful house. We going to have a lot of furniture first, you know, for that. That it was, there is always plenty of room and you always tell you can invite anyone or everyone all the time. In fact, I remember if I know she just graduated from high school and she said, she didn't like, hurt feelings about it and she said, mother and can I have a sleepover with the bat?

24:43 20 girls. And we had a huge attic, was a third of a football field and I said and then she said the next day off.

24:53 Can I add another 20? And I said, yeah, that's fine. And the next day and then she said, funny, I hate hurting. So you guys. Can I invite all the girls are going to begrudge if they can fit in and sign with me? And so we did and I made homemade donuts. Remember how you some 80's placed on her and, you know, from she went to her for years for Union, LOL. She said, I can't tell you how many girls have been. I've been, they helped don't come in there and I'd make him and Janet Jackson in the frosting is hankinson. And they said, that was one of the happiest memories. I had to have their suits below. Yours. You remember, when you had formal dance there, because it had a huge 20 X 30, wood, and Prince Hall, and they danced on those haven't noticed when I try to do, I tried to make it sold it because I didn't, I didn't have help physical help do these things that I like dresses. They were all hardwood floors.

25:54 Not that you can put the wax on and then I let your tits play tag and do things like that. If son and I tried to plan your work so that you didn't know you were still learning. I'm getting a little harder jobs to do as you went along. But I tried to do it so that you'd have one free day and are on 111 Fallout of a dried-up menus for the week. So I know when I go shopping what I need and also if you didn't like something on Monday, you to see if you can, cuz you had to eat your food before you could get long. Do you think our dessert or whatever? And and then you see well, I'm going to have this tomorrow so it'll be okay. I'll eat it tonight and another side, it had there, a weekly duties. I didn't call him Charles. I thought that was a bad.

26:51 Name me, it sounds like work on what siding and another for the Saturday and the kids had to keep her, they had five yards and then it was a big house and a big bottle yard some things but I always had figured it out. So that each one of you would have one free day and on that day. And remember that I'd put a gold star by there and and the daughter of cuz you had one day when you don't have to do anything for money. Came home from work the other day, you would because it could make her bed. Y'all headed to your bed by yourself. But I remember that Trace taking a friend of his who said plenty to do something.

27:31 This is my free day. This biggest are there by it and and he said she I wish I had her for you today. And I thought, honey. You have a free day everyday. The most kids don't have to do to get the kind of hurt, but we did have to do a lot of work to keep up that house and it was big enough to put have dad's business there at the end. You had that one that we had for his is honey. Good time. We had fun there didn't we? But there's a lot of work.

28:02 Was dad's business was his own. He wanted to be his own boss. Tell me how you felt about that from the get-go.

28:09 About what about Dad choosing to have his own head that ground into his hand because his father had never had, it always had to work for people and he felt that held him back. And so hit from the time he was born had said, Be Your Own Boss beer on the bus and get an education. So those two things are just so prevalent piano, obvious and bills life that he wished. He had felt it that he had to have his own business and he had to get an education, but she didn't make sure you kids. That's why I said, you know, that was a big thing in our lives to have y'all graduate from college. So how did that affect you? As a couple? And as a mom, I got us two to have your husband working for himself.

28:57 And having the income is not easy, until they got easy because my what were some of the parts about it. Well, he had a good business for he helped people. He was a psychologist, but he didn't. I had to add that. People tell about their problems, and everybody has problems and some very horrible ones that they okay.

29:22 My Ivy, you've told me what happened? That that's the end. You can change no matter what it is. If you really want to change. I can help you to change. I don't want to hear any of this garbage again, you know, because you can, you can be in charge of your life and you can change. I love that and I forgot philosophy back, he and self was not really a good businessman. He didn't consider himself a business, man. Did y'all save us? He just felt that he was helping people and so he had to pay it all the way, the secretary on all these different things, you know, Hannah ran all the office cuz he had a suite of offices and saying is for a long time. And all those things came first and then what was left over, I could have. So I didn't have any, I didn't have any income that I can really count on. You know, how much that was hard. Was that one of the reasons you used to like to stock up our food storage because you didn't know.

30:22 I stay alone so that I would always have food on hand because I always wanted you children to come and be able to bring your your kids home. And as your hands, your friends are friends home. And I think they did always feel very welcome and then coming to stop make homemade bread and they just rip that open and put butter on it. They talked about that for a long time. But my mom told me something that you probably, the thing that you're most proud of, what would that be in your life? Well, I understand that. We really want to do is to have a big family and have you all be good responsible truthful honest at Price citizens that would help. And I think every single one of you helps Anna with City or things outside of the family or the church, every single one of you two is involved and things like that. I'm really healthy.

31:23 Heather's. And and that was really important for a philosophy that we tried to teach your children. So, that's

31:32 There is nothing. That makes me happier than you change your children. I feel you're my best friends and I love to be around him more than anyone. You know that did you find anything new come into your life when dad's been gone for seven years, seven and a half. So this phase of your life has been something that's maybe a little harder to prepare for, what, did what have you learned during these last years without dad around? I miss him that he can't dwell on the unhappiness. You know, I just said hi. I keep very, very, very busy. I have enough so that I can fly around 2, but if any of you are going to have children, that are graduating as you know, are going on, missions are getting married or doing something really special special. I know all I need to do is phone on this person and I'll come if they want me to come my account. What kind of advice would you give Grandma's?

32:31 Advise them to let their own children. I had some of that gave me some good advice once and they said you can tell your children after they're married. You can maybe tell him one thing that might, you know, if there's something that you see that you just started needs Improvement, but if you tell them more than once, they feel your nagging. And so I guess I always try does not interfere with your things like that. Maybe if I could devise your maybe once, but I would never ever do that more than once cuz I didn't want to be a Niger. I wanted I wanted your children. My children are children to always love us and be happy on and not. Not holding grudges. It's not fight over things. I know too many people for they.

33:19 Stop speaking to each other and you know it within the family and and they can't even remember what it was, that made him some Little Italy thing that they argued about.

33:32 I didn't want that to ever happen. In fact would make me physically. Sick on your kids would argue an issue. No, I really just understand and not have a happy home.

33:45 Do you have any favorite story about yourself? That might that might illustrate who you really are.

33:53 Oh my goodness.

33:58 Nah, just a, very loving, and happy wife mother and grandmother and downgrade, my grandmother. We had an Evan, a grandchildren. What is a 67? Great-grandchildren make him faster and faster and I always wanted you children. I didn't want to overburden you so much with taking care of a brother or sister that you didn't want to have children of your own and every one of you has had a nice family that you love. And that's, that's really important. I feel

34:43 I think the probably the one thing that we haven't talked about that. So Central to your life, are your feelings about Jesus Christ? I have memories of you talking about your feelings about him. Is there anything? You would want your posterity to know about?

34:59 Your testimony of Jesus Christ. I really, I really believe in heavenly father and his son Jesus. Chris, Jesus Christ, and I feel that they can. I don't know how this is possible. But I feel that they know me individually and eat every single person. And they loved every single individual no matter what their race Creed or color. And that's what I would hope that I can achieve because I really do believe that Christ lived.

35:37 Can I take most people celebrate a lot of Christians that he was born and he lived. But he was also resurrect when he was crucified and he was resurrected. And so I think he still lives and that it, because of that, each of us will

35:56 To have lived quite a full life, mom. And here. You are 88. And, and everybody said it's your wedding dress. How about that came over, and put it on 10. They said, I had two dresses from what your marriage at all, your receptions. And they each put one of those on and they said, what can you put your wedding dress on? As I still did very impressive mom, you're impressive in a lot of what I have a lot. I do a lot of stretches and I walked and I, I eat what I wanted, but it's usually it's a great example. The rest of us feel the sisters feel like if we can be 88 and look, and feel as great as you will be doing wonderfully. Well, I've been blessed a lot. So thanks for spending time with me today. It's been fun.