Since my grandmother was the last of her siblings to marry, she got all of her parents’ things and that’s how I ended up with them. But a ration book from the Second World War was not what I could have thought of finding. I ended up with three different sets of ration books: my great-grandparents and their youngest son, Uncle Frank.
Ration books were filled with stamps used to purchase certain goods such as sugar, processed foods, meats, flour, shoes, clothing, gas, coffee, and even tires. This was meant to ensure that everyone had a fair chance to obtain the necessities, keep rich folks from buying and hoarding, and keep people from being ripped off by prices being raised to meet high demand, as well as preventing a black market of goods.
My great-grandparents tried to be self-sufficient so the ration books look almost unused. Mostly they bought sugar and flour and splurged on clothing to help their daughters get married. They didn’t do without.
Ration books are a glimpse into a past I know I can scarcely imagine. I’m spoiled by being able to go to the store and buy what I need, however much I need of it. I can’t imagine being limited by stamps or signs proclaiming limits on how much I can buy.
But I think, even if they complained, they believed the sacrifices worth it to support the boys overseas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By the time I knew him he looked more like this, pictured here in 1997 with his sisters, Lottie and Lucy.
He passed away 4 March 2006 at his home in Crystal Lake, Illinois at the age of 75.
An unwanted legacy in my family is that of mental illness and suicide. The obituaries no longer explicitly state that a family member has killed themselves but we know when it happens. It’s almost an open secret. I know all families have similar experiences, but it just seems to strike our family more. It does not discriminate between sex, age, or social status.
William Calvin Street was born 18 December 1897 in the Antioch community outside Ripley, Mississippi to James Anner George Street and Julia Ann Weatherly. His life seemed ordinary and as happy as one scratching a living from the earth could be. No family was immune from devastating loss and sadness and Calvin’s family was no exception. James and Julia lost two of their children around two years of age, Elmer in 1893 and Tolbert in 1906. Two other sons, Luther and Monroe, also committed suicide within months of each other in 1950.
No one really knows why Calvin decided to end his life; they can only make suppositions. All we know, as stated in the obituary, “It is said that some physical disability or defect had caused Mr. Street to become despondent to the point of taking his own life.” What could possibly have gone wrong with a twenty year old young man? No one knows or no one’s talking.
On 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.
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, 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.
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.