by Ray Allen
Part 2 - The Hannah Sisters
Chapter 3 - The Husbands
But of course, Maxie had stories of her own. We later learned that she had been “the pretty one.” Her young photographs show a really striking, fine-featured woman with masses of silky upswept hair. “Daddy” had always called Maxie “his little Spanish girl.” It made some sense, because the Hannahs did have some Spanish blood from the early family’s days in colonial Pensacola, and Maxie had lovely olive skin and dark eyes. We also learned that she had once been married to a man named George Winston who was either an architect or a builder, depending on who you believed. He was long dead, but was well remembered, because he had been responsible for many of the elaborate late-Victorian courthouses in the surrounding counties of several states. George had been important, and that was never forgotten.
We were instructed to call her, simply “Maxie.” And she, like Grandmother Allen, usually called us “Precious” or “Sugar.” And yes, everybody else in town called her “Miss Maxie.”
When we met her, Maxie was married (Married twice!) to a wonderful fat man named Fred Betterton, so we had a great uncle, too. Fred was most definitely not important, but he was to us. He took us everywhere, ran errands, and generally served us along with all three of the Hannah sisters.
“Fred, we’re going shopping!”
Poor Fred did it all, including a full time job as a machinist at a nearby industrial plant. We loved Fred. He looked exactly like Bud Costello.
Looking back, one of the most amazing things about the Hannah sisters is how totally unimportant men were in their lives. They all had had at least one husband, but they were far more of a unit among themselves. And it remained that way, right to the end.
There were whispers that Maxie had become addicted to morphine or something, and her small town doctor had kept her supplied…but that was all in the past. There were murmurs about epilepsy, but it never seemed true.
When we knew Maxie, she was a perfectly healthy sweet old southern lady who was loved by all, was definitely the family’s best cook, and after she got her first black and white set, loved watching wrestling on TV. She was also the sister who had cooked and cleaned for her nephew, Ralph, at Tulane Medical School, so they had a special love for each other.
The third and youngest sister, and always our favorite, was “Miss Lizzie”. Her real name was Elizabeth of course, but when “sweet Ralph” had been a baby, he couldn’t say that, and said “Weadie” instead, so that was her name throughout the family. We particularly loved Weadie, since she was funny, loved to play with us, and generally had all the qualities that particularly endear certain adults to kids. She was always laughing.
Weadie was “the tall one.” She was tall, and sort of giraffe-like—not a beauty, but always thin and well turned out. She was not married for most of her life, but was when we met her. She had been the dutiful daughter who stayed home with “Momma and Daddy” and nursed them until their deaths. Somehow, she had been able to go to school and become a nurse when she was young, and that sort of determined the rest of her life. Everyone was sure she’d be an old maid, never marrying well into her forties. Then one day, she was hired as a private nurse for a lady who was gravely ill. The lady was the wife of Dwight Ripley Read, the owner of the Milton Gazette, and whispered (by Grandmother Allen) to be “the richest man in Milton.”
Well, Weadie moved into the Read home and nursed Mrs. Read until her death. But after that, she didn’t leave. She married Mr. Read.
We were introduced to him as “Uncle D, ” and we found Weadie called him, simply “D.” Even Grandmother Allen called him “Mr. Read”; he was clearly an important person. Actually, he really was an extremely distinguished white-haired gentleman, highly educated, always perfectly dressed in a suit, and kind and gentle too. We loved Uncle D, but saw little of him. He was very old, much older than Weadie, and he was always off doing important things with his newspaper, his lawyers, or other things we knew nothing about. In fact, he was so old, he was only there for our earliest visits to Milton, and in later years, Weadie lived on in the same house as a widow.