On this day: December 6

Thanks to the very handy addition to the Ancestry app, I have an easier way of keeping track of anniversaries among the three major trees I research. It’s like what Facebook does with birthdays — makes you seem really awesome for not forgetting.

Today would have been my great uncle Frank’s 84th birthday. Looking back, I realize how cool he really was. He also thought he was cool, which could grate on you at times. I guess that’s what family does.

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James Franklin Street was born 6 December 1930 in the Antioch community outside Ripley, Mississippi, to Emmett Columbus Street and Leona Elizabeth Linville. He was the last of six, but the only boy. He had a childhood fascination with motors and speed.

One of my favorite stories about his childhood goes like this:

My great-grandfather sent Frank to the garage up the road where the family Chevrolet was being worked on, just to see how close the car was to being ready and to get the bill. Frank gets the information and the mechanic turns and goes back inside. Now, my uncle was ten years old at this point and really did know better, but I guess he couldn’t help himself. With the mechanic inside and not paying attention, he clambered inside the car and pretended he was driving. Haven’t we all done that at one point? He was pushing hard on the gas pedal, imagining how fast that car could go. Something else must have happened because suddenly there was a loud noise and a crash on the floor. The car had thrown a rod, causing the mechanic more work and my great-grandfather more money. My great-grandfather was as mad as anyone had ever seen when he found out what happened. I can’t say I blame him. I would be mad too.

Luckily, his dad got over it and Frank got to grow up.

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That’s teenage Frank with his parents. He loved having his picture taken.

Two of his brothers in law, Fred Malatesta and Eugene Webb, were Air Force pilots during WWII. I’m sure they regaled teenage Frank with stories from their service. There were also family friends who had their own planes, landing them in a field in the middle of town with everyone watching. Frank became obsessed with planes.

Frank graduated from Mississippi State College (now Mississippi State University) with a business degree. There he was the epitome of cool, taking selfies before selfies were a thing.

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No, really, he was smart and popular because of his good looks (though we won’t discuss the Errol Flynn stage) and outgoing personality.

He married Margaret Schuchart from Pennsylvania and had two sons, Paul and David. They moved around often because of his Air Force commitments but he saw more of the world than any of the family ever had.

When the conflict with Korea loomed on the horizon, Lieutenant Street was ready. He served with distinction in both Korea and Vietnam during 1965 becoming Captain Frank Street before long. He never discussed his military career with anyone much, though we were all proud. I know he got out of Vietnam a lot better off than some guys did because he was a fighter pilot. But it had to be hard.

In civilian life he was a commercial pilot for American Airlines until his retirement in 1990.

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By the time I knew him he looked more like this, pictured here in 1997 with his sisters, Lottie and Lucy.

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  He passed away 4 March 2006 at his home in Crystal Lake, Illinois at the age of 75.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Frank!

On this day: October 16

scan0021On this day in 1888, my great-grandfather Emmett Columbus Street was born on his father’s farm in the Antioch community, five miles outside of Ripley, Mississippi. He’s pictured here in 1944, holding his first grandson, Richard Hawley.  I know he doesn’t look too happy, but he was.  Honestly. That frown was a permanent fixture on his face.

Emmett was the seventh child and fifth son of Joseph David Street and Minerva Alice Jamieson.  In a day of arranged marriages, the relationship between Joe and Alice, as they were known, was, by all accounts, an adoring one. So when she died in 1895, after nineteen years of marriage, Joe didn’t immediately remarry, as men with young children were so apt to do.  It took him twelve years to do so.

Emmett was not without guidance, however.  He was surrounded by family, but the death of his mother taught him a cruel lesson. While life could be beautiful and filled with love, it was also harsh and unforgiving. You had to be self-reliant because there may not always be someone around to help you.

Other family lessons were imprinted on him by his father, mostly a love of books and education. Emmett managed more schooling than most of his ancestors, but all of them could read and write, even if they were self-taught.  They knew that educated people, then as now, had advantages in society that the illiterate did not. So that’s how Emmett gained his frown.  He ruined his eyes while reading his books.

Emmett in 1913, shortly before his wedding
Emmett in 1913, shortly before his wedding

On 9 November 1913, he married Leona Elizabeth Linville, a nearby neighbor in Antioch. They moved to her brother William’s farm in Ruleville, where Emmett taught school for a year and farmed for another year. After that, they came back home, with their new addition, my grandmother Hazel, in tow.  They settled on five acres full of elm trees and a stream running through it in west Ripley, so their growing family could go to school and get that valued education. Their farm became largely self-sustaining with cows, his beloved chickens, and a large garden to grow the fresh vegetables to be stored for winter.

Emmett, holding grandson Ernest Webb's hand, feeding his beloved chickens
Emmett, holding grandson Ernest Webb’s hand, feeding his beloved chickens

Emmett, along with his brothers James and Joseph, owned several businesses in town. His skill enabled his children to know only of the Depression from others.  Emmett was able to install a tennis court on his property, more or less equivalent to having an in-ground pool today.

The most that was expected for daughters was to marry well and have babies, but Emmett’s experience showed him that kind of life was dangerous, so he saw to it that his daughters finished high school and acquired a skill to be self-supporting. My grandmother ran an ice cream parlor and my great-aunt Lois ran a beauty shop on the town square, both buildings owned by their father.

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Emmett and Leona’s tombstone in Antioch Primitive Baptist Church cemetery

Emmett died at home of a heart attack on 8 November 1947, the day before his 34th wedding anniversary. But as it says on his tombstone, the legacy of Emmett Columbus Street lives on in his descendants.  All of us are book lovers and college graduates. Among us are doctors, lawyers, architects, and engineers. We all have the furrowed brow and the large ears, the self-reliant streak that would make Thoreau proud, an intellectual curiosity that sometimes gets the best of us. But we are successful and of that, he would be proud.

Happy Birthday, Papa Emmett!