An exciting military career in a denture lab

April 7, 2019

Emmett Oldaker was still attached to his mother’s umbilical cord during cleanup after the ’37 flood, but he remembers the story she tells about his untimely coming-out party in 1938.

“My parents were visiting my grandparents in Guyandotte when I decided to be born,” said Oldaker. “The doctor couldn’t make it because the bridge over the Guyandotte River was flooded. As a midwife with over 150 deliveries, my grandmother took charge of the delivery and brought me into this world without a hitch. When the doctor arrived, Mom and I were just fine.”

“Dad was a carpenter who worked for the Miller Construction Company,” said Oldaker. “He died of a heart attack at 40, and it devastated me to lose the closeness we shared. I don’t believe a 12 year old is capable of understanding the loss of a parent — I know I didn’t. The Social Security check Mom received wasn’t enough, so she became a cook at the State Hospital on 20th Street. Lucky for us, my father finished building our home along 4th Avenue in Guyandotte before passing.”

Most of Oldaker’s water activities involved swimming at the public pool in Guyandotte, except for the time his buddies lured him to the Ohio River where the “big boys” would go. Against his mother’s warning, peer pressure won out and off to the river they went. It just so happened that some of his neighbors were fishing and witnessed the boys far from the safety of shore. Naturally, Mom found out before he made it home. When she asked if the pool was very crowded, the trap was set and he took the bait like a dog to a bone. This resulted in more trouble had he just fessed up before the first lie. This resulted in extra punishment followed by transferring all supervision of after-school activities to his grandparents until Mom returned from work — and his grandparents were more strict.

“The Mecca Movie Theater in Guyandotte was located on Main Street almost across from the VFW today,” said Oldaker. “Saturday matinees were 15 cents, I’d go when I had the money. My best Christmas present ever was a J.C. Higgins Bicycle from Montgomery Ward when I was 11.1 was told

Dad bought it on sale during the summer and disassembled it so he could hide it under their bed until Christmas. My mother’s two favorite holidays were Thanksgiving and Easter because it was a time for family visits from out of town. My reason for loving those holidays was Mom’s home-style fried chicken that was so terrific it would make Colonel Sanders open a pizza parlor. Her chicken was just that good, and each member of our family had their own special piece already spoken for.”

Oldaker describes his father’s 1936 Graham four-door black sedan as an ugly car with a back seat big enough to transport Marshall’s basketball team. It was also dependable and had a great heater.

Grade school at Guyandotte Elementary started with all the excitement of being caught swimming in the Ohio River. After the first 21 days, disciplinary problems prompted the principal to notified Oldaker’s father. Dad, in turn, informed his son if word of anything — even the slightest whisper from school of a problem — he’d be happy to stand at the dinner table for days until his bottom cooled down. Funny how discipline works, out of that inspirational father-son talk grew the perfect poster child for student of the year.

“When Dad died, my fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Ballard, must have noticed how my father’s death affected me,” said Oldaker. “She began involving me in class projects and discussions, helping me with assignments and generally becoming a friend whose extra help was greatly appreciated. Good teachers are like that, and she was one of the best. As far as snow days, most of the teachers lived close enough to walk to school. I always heard if you could make it to school in the snow, then be there. If not, then stay home. Usually it was just an opportunity to go sleigh riding.”

Junior high at Enslow brought on another great memory of unusual circumstances: Seems that young Oldaker developed a severe case of stage fright during an onstage school play. When it became his turn to deliver his speaking part, his knees buckled, nausea followed with a fall to the floor and a trip to the hospital for observation. He returned to school with the news the play was canceled, which expedited his recovery.

“I played the clarinet in the band at Huntington East High School, he said. “Traveled to all the football games. I also began doing anything for spending money. I set pins at the Spot Bowling Alley, bagged groceries at Thorn-burg’s Market, caddied at the Guyan Country Club, and trimmed a few lawns with a sickle bar. My first car was a 1947 Plymouth that I bought for a hundred bucks and soon discovered it needed an engine overhaul; I bought the parts for $27 and rebuilt it myself. After graduating in 1956, I worked with my stepfather at the Frederick Hotel until I enlisted in the military.”

Oldaker’s career in the Air Force had all the glamour of a toothache. In fact, the Air Force determined his aptitude was perfect for learning how to make dentures, and that’s what he did for the next four years, with assignments in Texas, Kansas and Europe.

“I worked in a Huntington dental lab for a couple of years after discharge,” said Oldaker. “Then I became an electrician apprentice for four years and joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, where I worked until retirement 39 years later.”

Oldaker has gone hunting with a group of buddies from work for nearly 20 years. He was the church treasurer at Westmoreland Church of Christ for 12 years. He recently was among a plane full of veterans on last October’s Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. He said it was the most well-orchestrated, emotional outpouring of respect for the American veteran that he has ever been a part of.

Oldaker says he had long ago outgrown any desire to ever test the waters of the Ohio River again. It’s also difficult to understand that anyone with his amiable personality could ever disrupt school classes. Besides, any man who drives a vehicle today with a bright red decal in the rear window telling the world that he loves his wife would never tell a lie.

Clyde Beal seeks out interesting stories from folks around the Tri-State. Email archie350@frontier.com.