by Ray Allen
Part 2 - The Hannah Sisters
Chapter 8 - The Music Man, Miss Quick, The Composer, and the Honeymooners
From time to time, Grandmother Allen and Weadie both took in “roomers.” This is an old term which means people who would rent spare bedrooms in people’s homes. The whole practice is pretty much a thing of the past, but in Milton in our day, it was common.
Often, when we’d arrive, we’d be introduced to Mr. So and So, some man who was the current “roomer.” At Grandmother Allen’s, there was never more than one room rented, and the roomers were limited to single men.
When you entered her house from the front porch, you were presented with a wide central hall and a quite grand staircase going upstairs. To the right were bedrooms, on the left were the parlor or living room, dining room and kitchen. So the door to the right in the front foyer gave to the front bedroom, the one often rented. It was the best bedroom, so was surely rented since it would bring the highest rent. It had nice carved furniture, a very high headboard on the big bed, a full-size fireplace and a private bath.
When not rented, this was Grandmother Allen’s own room, of course. But the fact that she vacated whenever a renter was available, only tells more about her. She was always focused on money, and never turned down an opportunity to make some. Yes, we learned in later years she had always had the reputation of a miser, but to be fair, she had been left an almost penniless widow decades before, with very few ways to make a living. She had to be frugal, especially if she was to maintain her position in town, which was all-important to her. Surely Maxie and Fred paid her rent, too.
And where did our grandmother sleep when her room was rented? Upstairs. That word held magic for me, since I had never lived in a two-story house, and since Miami homes are almost all one-story, I had seen very few.
Upstairs at Grandmother Allen’s was a strange place. She called it two bedrooms, but it really wasn’t. In the style of bungalow houses of the time this one was built, the second story was one huge room that rambled from large dormers across the front to the same across the back. The stairs came up in the middle, sort of dividing the space in two. Grandmother Allen had always used it as two sleeping areas, one by the front windows, and another all the way to the back. The back area, overlooking the backyard, was hers. The front area was our bedroom when we visited. In between, there were old trunks, bookcases, and a sideboard with a beautiful mantle clock that was ebony with Roman-style columns supporting a classical portico-shaped top. It was one of the clocks in the house that chimed the hours, so whenever we went to bed, we dozed off listening to loud ticks and the magic of the bells of this old wind-up clock
Our favorite things about the upstairs were the several plank doors of various sizes in the walls. We quickly learned that they opened to huge, floored attic areas that sort of spread out under the roof from around the two sleeping “rooms”. These storage areas were actually like rooms themselves—full-height with lights, shelves, and endless fascinating things. Our dad’s rocking horse was there, along with his crumbling elementary school books, a shiny child’s bowling set, and his teddy bear. Old letters were tied up in ribbons, and carefully stored. There were lots of handmade quilts both in old trunks and in storage bags. One of our great finds was our dad’s childhood marble bag. It was a small chamois sack with a buckskin drawstring. Inside were marbles like we had never seen. Unlike the colorful round glass marbles we knew, these were the uneven glazed clay marbles of an earlier time. They were all dark brown and of varying sizes; some were lumpy and not even well-rounded.
Unlike most attics, everything in Grandmother Allen’s was always spotless, since the maid was required to clean and straighten these areas in the same way she cleaned the rest of the house. Needless to say, the attic doors and the wonderland they opened never failed to interest two visiting children. We were in there all the time.
Another brand new thing to us was what everyone called the “slop jars.” They were used upstairs since there was no bathroom on that level. and you had to walk through one of the first-floor bedrooms to reach a bathroom. Once the bedroom doors were closed at night, there was simply no bathroom available!
Of course, we couldn’t believe it, but we learned how to use them—they weren’t jars really, but heavy, fancy-looking covered ceramic bed pots that were stored under the beds. Each one was decorated with roses or other flowers, and if they’d been used, they were emptied and washed in the morning.
At Weadie’s there were more rooms to rent, and at various times, we met various characters who were staying there.
My favorite was an attractive young woman named Miss Quick. I think I remember that she was from Mississippi. In any case, she was new in town, and had just started working at Western Union where she helped people write and send telegrams. In those days, there were Western Union storefronts in every city and town since telegrams were still a major form of communication. We thought that was exciting, and we’d wait for her to come home each night after work. We never knew Miss Quick’s first name, but we knew she wore tight dresses, high heels and had long hair. To a little boy, she was glamour personified, and she was also very nice to us. I really liked Miss Quick.
Then there was the zither player. We never met him, but he had roomed at Weadie’s just before one of our visits. She had been very impressed with him, and explained that he was not only a musician, but a composer, a word she pronounced in a way that gave it great respect. She also showed us a zither he had left behind. Needless to say, we had never heard of or seen such an exotic musical instrument. And of course, we had never met a composer, so I remember being impressed. The man had had a foreign name, too,--Italian, I think-- which added to his artistic image in our minds. In any case, he had left some of his published music with Weadie, autographed, and we thought that was really interesting. When we left that time, she gave us his autographed music and the zither to take home. She knew we were both taking piano lessons, and hoped these things would inspire us. I still have the zither.
Probably the most memorable roomer experience, although we never knew it then, was when the honeymoon couple rented the big room off the porch. We never met them, but Weadie was giggling with Minnie Lee about them being on their honeymoon.
Their room opened to the big front porch but also had a door that opened to one of the halls inside. When that room was rented, roomers were given their own front door key, since the inside door to that room had been blocked by a big high sideboard, placed right across the doorway. We knew all that, and we also knew that every door in that house had a keyhole. Like at Grandmother Allen’s, all the big old doors had brass knobs on large brass plates with open keyholes below the knobs. Usually, keys were left in the locks, since those old keys opened all the interior doors in the house. You could use any one for any door.
Anyhow, the night the honeymooners checked in, we realized there was something amusing about what may be going on in that room, but of course, we had no idea what the giggling was about. Like all kids, we decided to try to figure it out for ourselves. We realized we could crawl under the old sideboard, remove the key from the blocked door and have a look through the keyhole. So we waited until nobody else was around, and secretly crouched down and looked in. All we saw was the young man sitting up on the bed in his undershirt and shorts, while his new wife reclined under the sheets. Today, we realize we came close to quite an education. After peering in, we wondered what all the fuss was about, and why we had gone to so much trouble. Weadie never knew.