Wednesday’s Child: Luther and Lucy Street

Tombstone for twins Luther Allen and Lucy Alice Street at Antioch Primitive Baptist Church cemetery outside Ripley, Mississippi
Tombstone for twins Luther Allen and Lucy Alice Street at Antioch Primitive Baptist Church cemetery outside Ripley, Mississippi

Mother Goose says that Wednesday’s child is full of woe, but how can you be full of woe when you barely lived at all?

One of 1895’s hottest days was August 10th. My great-great grandfather Joseph David Street paced the floor while his wife Minerva sweated and cried and pushed. Later that afternoon, she was finally (finally!) delivered of two babies, a boy and a girl. Luther Allen and Lucy Alice Street were the tenth and eleventh children born to this family. Their older sister Myrtle helped mom deliver them.

Minerva had bled a little more than usual. There was nothing to do but pray it stopped, which it did soon enough. The family’s prayers had been answered.

Or so they thought.

A day or two later, Minerva woke up drenched in sweat and having sharp pains in her stomach. After nine other births, she knew this wasn’t right at all. She must have wondered the rest of that night whether it was going to be too late for her. The hours before sunrise must have been agonizing.

It was too late for her. Minerva Alice Jamieson Street lingered for days, dying on August 16. She was only 37. After 19 years of marriage, Joseph was left alone with ten children, two of them newborns. Most men in his situation up and married again just to have help. But Joseph didn’t. He had a 17 year old daughter and a 19 year old daughter as well as several sons to help in the field. He would make it just fine, maybe a little lonelier than necessary, for the next twelve years.

Luther followed his mother to the grave four days later. Lucy died two days after that. Even in 1895, there were substitutes for mother’s milk, but most likely Luther and Lucy didn’t take to them. They could have been premature and their bodies weren’t developed enough to handle raw animal’s milk. They could have been lactose intolerant and the milk made them ill. Or they could have just been so underdeveloped they never stood a chance. Multiple births were also harder on both parent and child.

Some days I worry whether they choked, smothered, or starved to death. Infant mortality was high and life was hard. I know it was real and I know it wasn’t ever anyone’s fault or done on purpose, but it hurts all the same. I shed real tears for people I never knew. Maybe that makes me soft or crazy, I don’t know. They’re my family, however far back. I’m sure even after nine other children, Luther and Lucy would have been loved. I grieve for the family who just lost a wife and mother. I grieve for the lost potential and memories and lives never lived.

Advertisements

Tombstone Tuesday: Keziah McBride Street

Keziah McBride Street's tombstone in Antioch Primitive Baptist Church cemetery outside Ripley, Mississippi
Keziah McBride Street’s tombstone in Antioch Primitive Baptist Church cemetery outside Ripley, Mississippi

Keziah was my fourth great-grandmother and the ancestor I seem to sympathize with the most. She saw her husband, seven sons, and oldest grandson off to the Civil War. I’ve been out to her home place where she helplessly waited and waited for her boys to come home. Soldiers would straggle wearily towards home and from one spot in the yard you can see at least three quarters of a mile down the road and around a wide bend. I can only imagine Keziah dashing out to that spot at every noise, only to find a cousin, a nephew, or even the neighbor’s boy. I’m sure she was beyond pleased that they were safe, but they weren’t her boys. It wasn’t the same. Three of her sons never came home and she died, they say, of a broken heart the next year.

Grandfather’s Diary, Part I

Over the next several Mondays, I plan on transcribing the short diary my paternal grandfather left behind. Mack Holley was an enigma of a man, even though I never knew him. There were so many who did, or thought that they did anyway. He was an outwardly friendly, generous man who kept many secrets and was prone to dark, dangerous mood swings. He had a tumultuous relationship with his parents, to say the least, but never saw fit to break the cycle with his own son. The older I get, the more I understand that the key to figuring out who I am is in large degree connected to figuring out who Mack Holley was.

All of my grandparents died before I was born, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who they were by speaking to not only my parents, but to the older people around town who knew them.

I’ll let my grandfather speak for himself now. I’ve added some punctuation and words to make it easier to follow but I have tried not to change too much in order to preserve his voice.

The Thomas Monroe Holley family around 1915. My grandfather is bottom left in the hat.
The Thomas Monroe Holley family around 1915. My grandfather is bottom left in the hat.

“I was borned May 21 1913* in a log house just across the bottom, on a hill in west part of Alcorn County Mississippi, near my uncle M C Mathis country home and store. My parents were farmers Tom and Mary Clementine Mathis Holly. At my birth I only weighed 3 lbs and [was] very weak and sickly.

In early childhood I developed whooping cough which in those days were very bad. They almost lost me in my early life. I moved with my parents and my two brothers and sister to Tippah County Mississippi in a large house in Tippah County. At [the] foot [of] the hill I never will forget were an old water mill [and] cotton gin surrounded by chestnut trees I can see plainly till this day. I played so many days on the red hill and the old gin that still stood [and] which had been there many years.

The Holley home in Tippah County
The Holley home in Tippah County

I was a weakly child, never got to go to school till I was 10 years of age. Finally that first school day came around. I shall never forget the morning my sister and myself got up early to get ready for school. As we walked out on the roadside to wait for transportation, she with high top shoes and a plat of hair down each side of [her] cheeks, myself wearing heavy shoes and new overalls. In a few minutes we saw the covered top wagon coming up the muddy road being pulled by two mules, counting by their ears. They pulled up and stopped, the back door flew open, [and] we got in and set down [in] the full packed wagon. All seem to stare at me. It seemed that we never would get out. Soon we pulled in the school yard, Providence in Tippah County. We got out and went in the school room. I were scared out of my wits. The day were longer for two days [meaning the day felt like two days]. I can see till this day how that old tall plank school house looked.

I was there this passed [past] July attending our family reunion that we held there [this] summer. Altho the old building had burned up in the years passed [past] and had been replaced by a brick building, it really brought back old memories over the years. Things are so much [different] and looking so [different], even the people has changed.

Since the day I first started to school at Providence at the age of ten years old so [different] from the way childrens are these days. [Now he goes back to talking about his first day of school.] The day finally ended. We got back in the wagon and on our way home. Being the son of poor farmers, moving around from place to place, I went to several difference [different] schools in Tippah County including one teacher schools and summer school.

As I have mention[ed] before things are so much changed. Some I like and some I do not. But I accept them all as I know they must be. As I sit here today alone by the window at home looking outside at the beautiful October day 1967, the leaves so beautiful as I watch them fall from nature and go many [different] ways and finally settled down on the ground and gradually fade away. It reminds me of my life from place to place and sometime I will also as leaves [do] grow older and older and turn to the ground, go down, and fade away.”

The first time I read this I was a know it all teenager, but I was impressed with the philosophical nature of the writing, despite his lack of what we would consider quality education. My grandfather was a deep thinker and cared a great deal about many things. But he just doesn’t seem like a worrier. At least, not yet.

Sympathy Saturday: John Green Holley

Holley, J.G. - 1903
My great-great grandfather’s death certificate

John Green Holley was born on 18 December 1833 on the family farm in Franklin, Tennessee, a few miles south of Nashville. His parents were Sion Holley and his wife, Martha Bradford. Apparently, the unique child naming ended with Sion because John and all of his siblings have those nice, common names like John, William, and Nancy. They must not want to be found.

John had moved with his family to Tippah County, Mississippi by 1850. By the turn of the next decade, we find him married to Nancy Rich and beginning a family of his own.

Seems all nice and sweet and rose colored, right? Happily ever after, maybe?

Nope. Just plain nope.

By 1880, John and Nancy are living apart and just a few years later, John completely moves off to Texas. He wanted his space and just getting out of the house wasn’t enough. He had to put a state between his family and himself.

He wanted his peace and quiet and he got it.

He died alone.