Golden: A Love Letter to Appalachia

Anna’s gift is that she somehow writes stories about your life. Even if you don’t know what “government cheese” is, she taps into your memories and you recognize yourself in her tales.
This one is something quite special. If you look deeply, past the beauty of her imagery, you will discover universal meaning that speaks to any place or time — but most especially to your here and your now.

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Of Labor Days Past

Your life isn’t behind you;
your memories are behind you.
Your life is ALWAYS ahead of you.
~ Steve Maraboli

Garrett Elementary School (center) Floyd County, Kentucky

Garrett Elementary School (center) Floyd County, Kentucky

On this Labor Day holiday, it is with somewhat mixed emotions that I contemplate returning to work tomorrow. I recently decided that this school year will be my final one, and I look forward to full retirement next June.

So, it seems today is my last Labor Day holiday. I imagine I’ll be seeing and experiencing any number of “last time” things before leaving school for the final time next June. It has also occurred to me that, as student or teacher, I have returned to school after each Labor Day for the last 65 years.

When researching family history, I’ve often wondered what sort of jobs or work my ancestors were involved in to support their families. Except for some census and employment records, that sort of information was not documented very often. When asked, many of my ancestors simply said they were farmers and their wives were house keepers. In more recent times, coal mining became a common occupation.

John Wesley Baldridge

John Wesley Baldridge

There were some notable exceptions, however. My great grandfather John Wesley Baldridge was a farmer, but I know that he also served as a magistrate in Knott County, Kentucky, for a time. A magistrate, sometimes called a justice of the peace, was an elective office and their main duty involved serving on the county fiscal court, but in Kentucky, all justices of the peace could perform and legalize marriages as well.

Five Cent Scrip, Elk Horn Coal

5 cent scrip, Elk Horn Coal

After John Wes moved his family to Lackey in Floyd County, he owned and ran what was known as a scrip store at that time. Scrip were tokens or paper issued as wages to workers by coal companies which could be used for purchases in scrip stores. Later, they lived in Hueysville and he operated a general store and a corn mill.

Of his nine sons, eight were either farmers or coal miners. Pearl, the eldest, worked as a bookkeeper and attended seminary to become a minister. Two daughters were married and did not work outside the home. Minta, the youngest child, went to college and became a teacher.

Seco, Kentucky, coal mine

Seco, Kentucky, coal mine

My grandfather Fair was a coal miner for over 20 years until he moved to Ohio to find employment. I will tell more about his work life in a future story. His only son Rudolph, my father, also worked in the mines for a time, as did both of my brothers, Eddie and Bobby.

On my mother’s side, my grandfather Henry Workman was a coal miner for many years, and so was his father William, and all three of his sons. I plan to tell more about his work in mining in another story, too.

I began college the fall after graduating from high school in 1965 and finished graduate school six years later in 1971. I began teaching that same year until I retired in 2002. I have continued working each year in one school or another since then.

Apparently, it’s difficult for some people to adjust to retirement, the getting up every morning with nothing to do and nowhere to go. I don’t understand that. I won’t have nearly enough time to do everything I want to do then.
I have enjoyed my work life, but I can’t say I’ll miss it.
It is my past — my memories. My life is still ahead.

Categories: Baldridge Tree, Coal Mining | 2 Comments

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.


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.


Categories: Baldridge Tree | 2 Comments

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