by Ray Allen
Part 2 - The Hannah Sisters
Chapter 12 - Endings
After we were adults, we lived through all three sisters’ deaths, one by one, with Grandmother Allen holding out as the last, dying in 1972.
During their decline, I often sent flowers when one or the other was ailing. Sending flowers to Milton from far away, well before the internet, introduced me to a lovely older lady who had a flower shop on her front porch. I met her by phone, and it was like the old days we remembered as kids. This florist didn't talk business when I first spoke to her. She introduced herself in a soft Southern way, as though I was a long lost friend, and from the first minute, she couldn't have been friendlier or more helpful. She told me her name was Essie Stewart. And for a long time I thought that was correct, and in a way it was. Later I found out her real name was Sarah Elizabeth Stewart. The "Essie" was really "S. E." Anyhow, she was a delightful, very dignified lady, and like everyone else in Milton she knew everything and everybody. We even found out we were related! She had known all three of the Hannah sisters her whole life. And she remembered our father as a little boy of course. Each time, ordering flowers from Miss Stewart was a pure pleasure. It was a like a little trip back to the Milton I remembered as a kid, and her sincere concern and soft southern charm were things I treasured.
One time, I had to call Miss Stewart for some flowers for Weadie. She really didn’t want to intrude, but knew I wanted to know the truth about Weadie's condition. She had always called the Hannah sisters Miss Maxie, Miss Carrie, and “Miss Lizzy.” Finally, after some nice small talk, her voice became serious, and she said, almost tearfully, “Raymond, they say Miss Lizzy don’t know nothin’!”
This was her personal, caring way of telling me that Weadie was suffering from Alzheimers, and that she was truly concerned about her. Tragically, I already knew. But I also knew she would be very well taken care of.
Weadie was blessed by having known one of the most wonderful women in the world. “Mamie” was a charming old black lady who had worked for the family all her life. She must have been almost 400 pounds, with a joyful personality and big smile. We always knew Mamie was all heart, but we had no way of knowing how she'd react to such a profound problem as Weadie's. We needn't have worried.
As Weadie sank farther and farther from reality, Mamie moved out of her own house a few blocks away and moved into Weadie’s, and she was there day and night until the end. When we’d visit, she was always excited and happy to see us, and absolutely amazing with her wonderful care of Weadie. Mamie once told me that Weadie had been very good to her all her life, and she was simply paying her back.
On our last visit, Weadie was bedridden, and just staring, and of course, it’s so profoundly sad to see someone who had always had such a great personality in that state. But Mamie read to her, fed her, and laughed and joked with her all day long, every day until she died. Surely Mamie was an angel, and Weadie knew it. She left Mamie enough money in her will to put her son through college, always Mamie’s big dream.
And what happened to Uncle Johnny, the hermit brother? His final story is one of the most amazing of all. One day, years after our childhood visits, a flashy pink Cadillac pulled up in front of Grandmother Allen’s house on Oak Street. She told us how a thin lady with lots of piled up grey hair and a pair of those pointed sunglasses got out and marched up the steps. The lady was a woman named Zadie, and Grandmother Allen recognized her from years before. I can just hear her saying, “Well I declare! It’s Zadie!”
Well, it turns out that Zadie was one of Uncle Johnny’s childhood sweethearts, from 40 or 50 years past. Grandmother Allen told us later that Zadie had demanded of her, “Where’s Johnny?” And Grandmother Allen had told her he had lived “out in the woods” for decades. Zadie didn’t care about that; all she wanted was directions. So Grandmother Allen told her how to go out through Allentown, down this dirt road or that, and then 6 or 8 more miles, and turn into a rut road through the trees, and so on. Zadie wrote it all down, and drove off.
Later that day, Zadie’s Cadillac pulled up again at Grandmother Allen’s, with Johnny sitting in the front seat. Zadie then told our grandmother that she had recently been widowed and had decided to come “get Johnny.” And that’s exactly what she did. She took him home to Panama City where she lived, and they were married. Uncle Johnny sold our dad his land for $10 an acre, and we never heard from him again.
Years later, when Grandmother Allen died in her eighties, Jayne and her husband and my wife and I met in Milton to dispose of all her things, since she was the last of a long line. Our dad had died in his forties, so by then, we were her only living relatives. When she died, she had the furniture of all three sisters in her big house, and I remember seven different rocking chairs lined up on the fireplace hearth in her bedroom. Most of the old things were auctioned, but I still have the big carved bed and dresser that were her “Momma’s.”
All the Hannahs are in the Milton Cemetery on Berryhill Street today, and our immediate family is completely gone from the town.
Recently Jayne and I went back just to see how much we remembered. The new interstate bypassed Milton by several miles, so it’s remained a sleepy small town. But of course, there are changes. Grandmother Allen’s house today is offices for St. Mary’s church, which she would have loved. And it looks so much smaller to me now.
Across the street, the beautiful old church is the same. And a few blocks away, “Momma and Daddy’s House” is beautifully restored and loved by its current owners. Weadie’s house by the old court house square, and the Milton Theatre are gone, and in their place, facing the court house is a fine new two-story building for a law firm. But visiting Milton as adults has never been the same as the magical visits during childhood. When a couple of kids were welcomed into a very special, now vanished world.
“Milton, Florida, a perfect place to live and work.
…..Milton, Florida Website, December 2006