Monthly Archives: June 2016

For the Queens and Kings of Appalachia

Louise Rudolph and Howards

My future Queens and Kings.

Searching for the BaldridgeTree, my family history blog, had its origin in the genealogy research I began in the latter part of my life. As the sad story goes, I was late to recognize the value of my heritage, and I squandered far too many opportunities to learn it from the best sources, my still-living family members. Thus, I now must dig out each and every scrap of family history from the books and databases that are available.

However, I soon discovered that, as valuable as every old photo and document record may be, they did not satisfy my need. Okay, now that I know the dates of birth and death, the marriages, the children, the places lived and deeds accomplished, now what?
When I first began researching my family, I often found quotes that were meaningful to my task and which encouraged me to persevere. One in particular that inspired me was by Mitch Albom, from his book For One More Day: “Sharing tales of those we’ve lost is how we keep from really losing them.”

Someone wise also pointed out that, at the end, our lives are often encapsulated by two dates separated by a dash. And since the dash represents everything that happens between those two dates, it is the most important part. The guiding thought I adopted for my blog reflects all of this when it says in part, “I honor their history. I cherish their lives. I will tell their story. I will remember them.”

I also have found inspiration in reading the stories that others write about their own family history. This story, For the Queens and Kings of Appalachia, for example. It’s from a blog written by Anna Wess, and since Appalachia is my heritage, too, I always recommend Anna’s work to others. If you haven’t yet read this particular story of hers, you should — it doesn’t matter whether it’s your heritage or not. And if you aren’t acquainted with the writing of Anna Wess, you should definitely correct that oversight, too.

You may not have heard her name before, but you soon will. Anna writes with an authentic Appalachian voice — and I don’t mean that she mimics our dialect and accent as others have tried to do She doesn’t need to, because Anna Wess is the real deal and it flows naturally.

Anna Wess writes of her home, the mountains of Southwest Virginia, but they are ours, too. The mountains of Kentucky, of West Virginia, of Tennessee, of North Carolina, of dadgum southern Ohio — even if you live in a city on the flattest of the flat plains of Indiana, no matter. We cannot leave those mountains behind; they will never go from us; for they are OUR mountains, and they are home.

Mamaw

My Granny, Rebecca Reed Baldridge 0n her porch in Lackey, Kentucky.

Anna is OF us, and her stories are OUR stories. When she writes about her Granny, you may recognize your own Granny. You will know Anna as kin by her words. One note of caution: if you’re no longer in Appalachia, her tales are a letter from home that will make you ache with yearning.

After you have read this award-winning story, sit and stay a spell. Do yourself a great favor and look around at the other offerings on her blog. Anna will welcome you as family and offer whatever she has to share.

Oh, and when you do visit with Anna, do not fail to make your acquaintance with Paw. You could hear some distant echoes of your own Daddy in him. At the very least, you will never be able to forget Paw.

Yeah, I’m a big fan of Anna Wess.  Just trust an old country boy — read, you will be, too. The only downside is that you may often find yourself wistfully looking into an empty mailbox, longing for another letter from home to arrive.

twig

Appalachian Ink ~ Home of Anna Wess (and Granny)

queens

This is a hard place. And we are hard people. All of us know that hardness, even those who have escaped into the rest of the world. We are proud of it. It’s a birthright. A certain bad blood courses through us, as arcane as the land itself. These mountains are family, our very ancestors. They have taught us lessons that haughty Northerners and other foreigners will never learn or understand.

 We are children of the pines. Walkers of the high ridges. Tellers of stories too wild to be true… but are. We are the daughters and sons of central Appalachia. We are, by birth, Kings and Queens of this nowhere. We know this. These mountains have told us so. They love us and want to keep us all to themselves. The wind has whispered it to our souls since we knew how to speak and listen. And we listen…

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Categories: Baldridge Tree | 2 Comments

Hello, Dad, glad to finally meet you

Dad as a boy

 

My mind still talks to you.
My heart still looks for you.
My soul knows you are at peace.

The son of a coal miner, born in the Letcher County, Kentucky, coal company town of Seco in 1925, college was never an option for Dad, or even part of his reality. His father Fair had worked underground, mining coal to support his family since 1920, and there was no reason for Dad to think his path in life would be any different. Completing high school might have been a possibility, but even that accomplishment was denied him when he chose to go to war instead.

I did graduate from high school, but, with little hope for college, I had no plans for where I was going or what I would do next. Fortunately, I was presented with an unexpected opportunity to attend college that summer, and I did. I soon developed an interest in the theatre and decided to major in drama. We had always gone to the movies when growing up, but live theatre had never been a part of our lives, and since my family remained mostly unaware of what I did in college, it never occurred to me that there would be any interest.

Dad-DramaticsClub

Then, one day, many years after Dad was gone, I came across a Floyd County Schools yearbook from 1942, when Dad must have been in high school. I had always known that Dad attended Garrett High School in Floyd County, Kentucky. My grandmother often mentioned that he had worked on the old gym building when he was in school there, but that was literally all I knew.

When I browsed the pages of that 1942 yearbook, I was excited to find pictures of Dad that I never even knew existed. But one unexpected photo I discovered was particularly astonishing. On a page devoted to the Garrett High School Dramatics Club, below the photo of the club’s members, the first name in row three was Rudolph Baldridge.

And sure enough, there he was. That would have been Dad’s sophomore year and he was 16.
I actually recognized his picture, but I simply could not comprehend that Dad was in the drama club in high school; and I never knew. The subject simply never came up between us.

Garrett Dramatics Club, 1942

Rudolph Baldridge, freshman, Garrett HS, 1941

Rudolph Baldridge, freshman, Garrett HS, 1941

Dad was also in the Garrett freshman class picture in the previous 1941 yearbook.
In the Floyd County Schools yearbook from 1940, I later discovered that he attended Wayland High School — as a freshman. I have no idea what that means. Dad was in the Science Club at Wayland as well.

Not long after the 1941-1942 school year at Garrett High School had begun, on December 7, 1941, our country entered World War II. Dad would have been 17 at the end of his sophomore year in June of 1942, perhaps still too young to serve. But it appears that Dad did not return to start the next school year at Garrett, and he never attended high school again.

In September of 1942, Dad’s father, Fair, began work mining with Elkhorn Coal in Wayland. Dad’s Naval Service separation record shows that he was employed by the Army Air Base at Patterson Field in Dayton, Ohio, from September of 1943 until he enlisted on May 17, 1943, just before his 18th birthday. Fair was laid off by Elkhorn in April of 1943. Apparently, he was then hired by the same Dayton, Ohio, Army Air Base in May, just as Dad was leaving for the Navy.

Almost everything that I know about Dad’s time in the Navy is found on his military discharge document, but I was reminded recently that at least some of his time was served as cook on a Navy ship. Dad’s record indicates that he lived at 334 South Main Street in Dayton when he enlisted, and confirms that he completed two years of high school. It says that he served at NTS, Great Lakes, Illinois, and received $6.40 in pay each month. He was awarded medals for American Area and for Victory World War II.

It shows that he was honorably discharged on April 18, 1946, in Shelton, Virginia, after serving a total of two years, eleven months, and two days. It also says that he received $89.67 in pay at his discharge, which included a $36.55 travel allowance, with $100 in mustering out pay.

Rudolph Baldridge and Azlee Workman

    Rudolph Baldridge and Azlee Workman

Finally, it indicates that Dad will be returning to his home in Lackey, Floyd County, Kentucky, to seek employment upon his discharge.

Not long afterwards, Dad married his sweetheart, 16 year old Azlee Workman, who was living with her father, Henry Workman, and her new stepmother, 20 year old Inez. In July of 1947, their first born child, Kenneth Ray, came into the world.

My genealogy research has uncovered much that I did not know about Dad, but there is still much that I do not and may never know. I must say, however, that I don’t anticipate discovering anything that will surprise me any more or please me more greatly than his brief time with the Garrett High School Dramatics Club.

twig

Categories: Baldridge Tree, Coal Mining | 1 Comment

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