Friday, March 17, 2017

Military Man & Family Man

The soldier is the Army. No army is better than its soldiers. The Soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.
George S. Patton Jr.
Frank Ewing Cheatham, my great uncle, was born in St. Louis, Missouri on July 27, 1931. During World War II, he was one of many African Americans that enlisted in the army. Uncle Frank could have enlisted as a way of escape from the racial tensions that were rising in St. Louis. Instead of staying home and enduring the hatred and discrimination of the times, my great uncle decided to go serve his country at a time of war, both here at home and abroad. Not only did he just serve in WWII, but he made the military his career. He served until his death in 1979. Although, Great Uncle Frank was a military man, taking care of his country, he also took time out for his family. Following are some cherished memories from his nieces Cathleen Allen Johnson and Lynn McFarland Kenney:  
Uncle Frank and his family were stationed in Monteray, California. My mom and her sisters took me and my brother and cousins on an adventurous train ride from St. Louis to California. It was three days of wonder and jaw dropping experiences. We all had a ball on the train. This was in the late 1950s. As children we knew nothing of segregation, Jim Crow, or racism. We were on a train heading to beautiful California to see our uncle. We had to ride a ferry, after the train ride. Another new adventure. We were so excited to see our cousins Andrea, Princess, and baby Kirk. Aunt Verna made huge banana-nut cakes and cleaned her sand-filled backyard, not dirt-sand. We went to the beach and the rodeo. With cowboy hats to prove it. We had so much fun. I couldn’t believe that every day was sunny and humid free. My hair did not “go back” the whole time!!! I I just remember the big smile on Uncle Frank’s face. While he was stationed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, we visited he and his family there, while we visited Famma’s sister’s farm in Hopkinsville. Famma was what I called my grandmother, Princess.  Fun, fun, fun on the farm. Cathleen Allen Johnson (niece).

My fondest memory of Uncle Frank was when he would come to St. Louis. He always drove his Cadillac and we knew we were going to have fun. He called us “Pep”. When I lived with him every Saturday in the summers were lawn day. That is why today I know how to take care of my lawn. Lynn McFarland Kenney ( niece)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Teaching: The Music of Marceline's Heart

My great aunt Marceline Jeanne` Cheatham Thomas was an excellent educator and fabulous person. She had a heart for young people and showed it throughout her life.
Born in St. Louis, MO in 1929, Marceline was the middle child of her five siblings. She was educated and taught in the St. Louis Public Schools. Her teaching career began at Benton Elementary School on Kingshighway in the early 1950s.  Now she was just not a regular run of the mill teacher, but extraordinary. What made her extraordinary? She was no non-sense, did not smile that often, very professional, stern, and had very high standards for her students and herself. She was all business in the classroom and took educating her eighth grade students very seriously. She absolutely loved all of her students and her coworkers. She not only taught eighth grade at Benton, but also at Hickey Elementary school. Moreover, Marceline was also deeply involved in her church, St. Peters A.M.E church on Shreve and Margaretta in St. Louis, MO. She was the Director of the Youth Chorale, a member of the Steward Board, and Secretary to the Quarterly Conference. In addition to all this, she served as an usher, Sunday School Superintendent, Sunday School Teacher, and Church Secretary. Marceline was serious about  God, church, family, and the education of her students.
Even though Marceline was serious about what she did, she did take time out to enjoy life. She loved sports and was a season ticket holder for the St. Louis Rams football team. She also played volleyball.  In the 70s, Marceline was one of the chorus singers in the stage production of Purlie Victorious by Ossie Davis in St. Louis, MO. Not only was she dedicated  in all she did, but she was a very talented lady.
Following is a cherished memory of her niece, Cathleen Allen Johnson, about her dear aunt.
My aunt was beautiful, intelligent, no non-sense, and an educator extraordinaire! My brother and I would love it when we would be walking home to Greer from Simmons and Turner Middle and Auntie Marceline would be cruising down the street in her red convertible and pick us up. Boy, we thought we were somebody! I remember how beautiful my mom and her sisters looked on Sunday mornings for church. They were dressed to the nines with their big legs and hour glass figures. They always wore the latest fashions. My freshman year in high school Auntie Marceline gave me her Spiegel Catalog and told me I could pick out $200.00 worth of clothes. Boy, I wore that catalog out. You talking about mixing and matching stuff! When those boxes came, well it was like Christmas in August. I still remember one of the outfits- grey wool box pleated skirt, with a matching short red jacket with gold military buttons. The collar and down the front of the jacket was trimmed in gray. I even had red flats. Boy, I was clean!!!

She passed in 1983, but her legacy of love for educating children lives on through the lives of her nieces, nephews, and students. Teaching and being an inspiration to young people was the goal of Marceline’s life. I would say that she accomplished that goal to the highest.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Everything's Copacetic

Have you ever met someone that was seemingly cool and nothing bothered him or her? Well that was my great Uncle James Cheatham. I never met him because he died before I was born.  However, I feel like I know him through pictures and the fond memories of his wife, Mariah, daughter Melanie (from retold stories), and his nieces and nephews.
According to his nieces and nephews, Uncle James was the coolest, smoothest, most handsome, and most fun uncle of them all. Yes child, he was tall, dark, and handsome. He had a sideways grin that, I understand, GOT THE GIRLS EVERYTIME! Baby, let’s talk about his swag. He had the cool, slow, not in a rush to get there walk. Whatever it was would be there when he arrived.
Everyone called him “Cheat”, but in my mom’s eighth grade autograph book he signed his name “Pretty Cheat”. ENOUGH SAID!!!! My mother remembers Uncle James picking up all his nieces and nephews in his new gold Cadillac. Ohhhh weee, what a treat that it was to ride in a brand, spanking new car. No not just a car, but a Cadillac at that. Only thing was that their feet could not touch the gold medallion crested car mats. Yes, Uncle James had his nieces and nephews riding with their feet suspended in the air the entire trip.
Oh and he could dance. Dancing on a dime was his thing. Whenever the Madison was playing, you would see Uncle James snapping his fingers and moving his feet. My mom said that when the music was playing he would come down the Madison line saying “Here comes Pretty Cheat”. Dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
Uncle James Lived, Love, and had fun because


Friday, March 10, 2017

"That's My Story And I'm Sticking To It"

My maternal great aunt, Marilyn Cheatham Darby, always would end her stories by saying “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!”
Marilyn Rochelle Cheatham was born to her loving parents, Wilton and Princess Cheatham, on August 4, 1933. She was the baby girl of her five siblings- Ellistine, Wilton, Marceline, Frank, and James. Marilyn was always a curious and out spoken child. She did not like anybody bullying her or her family. For example, Marilyn’s Cousin Irene came to live with them in St. Louis for a while and attended the same elementary school as the Cheatham kids. Aunt Irene remembers that her father, Jodie Cheatham, had given her a ring and had told her not to take it to school. If she lost it, she was going to get a whipping when she got home! Well, she did wear it to school, and don’t you know one of the girls saw it and took it, bully that she was. Well, Aunt Irene ran to get her big cousin Marilyn because she knew that if she went home without it, she would be in a lot of trouble and if anyone could get the ring back Marilyn could. Marilyn found the girl after school and told her she better give the ring back and beat her down. Irene got the ring back and was not in trouble anymore.  Aunt Irene said that Marilyn could beat the shit out of a rock!!!  
Another story that Auntie told was that at Dunbar Elementary School in the early 50s, her teacher would stand at the door and clap her hands. All students would have to be in their seats before she stopped clapping. Well, Auntie Marilyn did not make it to her seat in time and the teacher slapped her across the face. Well, Auntie says she was shocked and taken aback. When she got home from school her mother asked her what was that red hand print on her face was and Auntie told her what had happened. Now I understand that my great grandmother, Princess, was a sweet, kind, humble lady, but she told her daughter “NOT TO LET ANYBODY EVER SLAP HER”!!  Well the next day, bless Jesus (Auntie’s words),  she couldn’t wait to get to school. When the bell rang and the teacher was stationed at the door clapping her hands, Auntie got in the back of the line, letting everyone in front of her. She walked slowly, determined and did a little jig. Just as she got to the door the teacher stopped clapping again. IT WAS ON NOW BABY!! Everybody in the class was frozen in anticipation of what was going to happen next. Well my Auntie did not disappoint. The teacher raised her hand to slap her again, and to her utter surprise, Auntie grabbed her hand and with her other hand slapped her across her face as hard as she could, grabbed her in the chest, and tore her blouse off of her, exposing her to the class. The story goes that they had to get the principle to get Auntie up off of the teacher. Needless to say that was the last day that teacher ever clapped again. These are just a few examples of many about how Marilyn defended herself and stood up for those being treated wrong.  She was definitely a no non-sense, no foolishness, and no crazy kind of person. She could “read” a person too. You were not going to fool her nor get anything by her! If you were any of the before mentioned, you were sure to be on her list and subject to be “cussed out”. I know that these early signs of Auntie defending the weak and not taking anything off of anyone, led her to become a Federal Investigator later in life. When talking to my mom and her cousins, they all told me that their one ambition in life was to grow up and cuss like auntie.
In addition to Marilyn being tough, Auntie loved family and loved telling stories. She was a fabulous storyteller and could mesmerize you with her words. My mother remembers Auntie telling her the story of her mother, Princess, sending her to her first day at Sumner High School, in St. Louis, attired in a dress with a big sash in the back and high top shoes. LOL!!!! That was my Aunt, she could tell the best stories with a lot of embellishments. True or not, her stories were very comical and memorable. Even though she could get you told, she was all CLASS. Dressing and carrying herself in a lady like manner.
It was her stories that got me started on this genealogical journey to find my family and help others find their families. Just listening to Auntie tell her stories of the family, the people she remembered, and their lives was enough for me to want to know more. As I began to research family members on Ancestry and Familysearch, I would call her to share what I had found. She would be so excited and tell me to keep searching. About five years before Auntie passed, I made her up a Family History binder and sent it to her. She absolutely cherished it, reading each page carefully and calling me to tell me more funny stories to add to the information. In 2013, she died, but her legacy of storytelling and her love for family will live on through those she touched with her life.