by Ray Allen
Part 2 - The Hannah Sisters
Chapter 9 -A Working Woman
Whenever I’ve told people about my Grandmother Allen, they’ve always been surprised to learn that she actually worked outside her home, most of her life. It was rare in her day, but it was obviously a necessity for her for many years, since after being widowed early, she had almost no other source of income. Before we visited Milton, she had worked at Krenzman’s, the only department store in town. She had great respect for the Krenzman family, since they were hardworking, successful and wealthy, at least by Milton standards. They were also nice people and good employers, she always told us. The fact that they were Jewish never seemed an issue to Grandmother Allen, yet they were probably the only Jews in town. Grandmother Allen had plenty of prejudices, but this was not one of them. Krenzman’s Department Store, I learned in later years, was only one of thousands of Jewish-owned emporiums all over the early south, one in each town.
By the time we arrived, she was employed by a local laundry. Her job, I think, had been self-designed, since it fit in so nicely with her address and her situation. She worked certain afternoons only, and the location of her labors was unique.
When we walked down Oak Street from Grandmother Allen’s to Weadie’s corner, all of 2 or 3 short blocks, Oak ended as it entered the streets surrounding the Courthouse Square. As you turned left at Weadie’s house, you were on Elmira Street, and there, facing the Courthouse was a long block that ended at US Highway 90. Old Highway 90 was the main federal highway west to Pensacola and east to Tallahassee, so it was a really busy road as it threaded through Milton. It was still two-lane, but busy just the same.
Facing the courthouse in that single block were several things. From left to right, Weadie’s house was first since it was at the corner, then there was part of her backyard, her double garage, and then, amazingly, the Milton Theatre. Yes, the only movie theatre in Milton was directly behind Weadie’s yard. In fact, the tall side of the theatre rose up as her yard’s back wall. Beyond the theatre, was a solid two-story brick building called "The Exchange Hotel" on the corner of the highway. We had strict instructions not to go near the "Exchange Hotel", since the Hannah Sisters all whispered and tsk tsked whenever it was mentioned. Obviously evil things went on there, and we were not allowed to know about them. This little small-town hotel had a "bad reputation," which of course made it all the more fascinating to us. But we did as we were told and stayed away. Today, the hotel, with its scarlet reputation forgotten, is beautifully restored, and a treasured antique building in Milton.
Weadie's double garage, facing Elmira Street, right up against the theatre, was the kind of old wooden, 1-story detached garage that was built right up to the sidewalk, and had barn-like doors for the two garage spaces. There were double doors on each garage that swung like gates, and had to be opened if a car was to go in or out.
I remember Weadie had an old shiny car in one of the garages, which she almost never drove, but in the other garage? It had been unused, so it had become the local laundry’s pick-up place for the Oak Street neighborhood. And who ran this branch operation of the local cleaning facility? Grandmother Allen, of course.
She’d sit behind the little counter, during the appointed hours, and welcome the maids and housewives from the neighborhood one by one. They’d bring in their wash, and she’d fill out long paper slips with information like 6 sheets, 12 pillow cases, 3 shirts, etc. Each time, she’d ask the customer whether she wanted the wash ironed or fluff dried. We learned that fluff dried meant just what it sounds like—washed clean and just dried, not ironed or even folded. If the lady chose to have things ironed, of course, she was charged more. So in our day, Grandmother Allen, all alone, reigned supreme over the laundry for the whole neighborhood. I remember her gossiping with Weadie and Maxie about the wash from certain people, how much each lady spent, and so forth. The laundry was her own private neighborhood network.
Each day, she’d simply check in the wash, make up the big bundles, and pile them up so the big truck from the laundry could pick them up at the end of the day. Of course, the truck also brought back finished laundry from days before. These were all neatly wrapped in brown paper with Grandmother Allen’s handwritten “slips” taped on them. We helped stack those neat packages on shelves out front beyond the counter.
She actually liked her work, and was proud that she had a job.
We knew all about it, since some days she took us with her. The first time, I immediately noticed the mountain of big tied-up bundles of laundry stacked in the back---huge bundles, usually with a sheet on the outside. We watched her create these big bundles as laundry arrived, tying the corners of the outside sheet like a bow, and then tossing them into the pile, waiting for the truck.. Very soon, I discovered that jumping on the big pile of bundles was fun, and Jayne and I both began jumping up and down, having a great time. Of course, our grandmother quickly stopped us; after all, a pile of dirty laundry is not where you want your grandchildren playing. But it was fun while it lasted.
Whenever we ventured back to the laundry/garage, we had a quick look at the theatre. I remember a Ray Milland mystery playing one time, the big Hollywood posters that flanked the entrance inviting us in. I know now that The Milton Theatre was actually a very small one as theatres go, but to us it was huge, and the sparkling lights and big photo posters were a big draw. We got to go to the movie quite often, especially on Saturdays when the offering was always a cowboy movie and serials. The tickets were 14 cents for adults, 9 cents for children. This meant we could go with a quarter apiece, and have enough left over for popcorn and a coke for both of us. This was long before the movie rating codes, and no parent or grandparent ever had to worry about what was showing. . Every movie was perfectly appropriate for kids.