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.
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.
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.
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.