Virginia Myrtle Clark was born July 6, 1882 in Geary County, Kansas. Her parents were Arbelia Ross and William Clark, Arbelia came west from Loudon County, VA to Geary County, Kansas, with her parents, after the Civil War. William Clark, born in Jamaica to Scottish Presbyterian Missionaries, arrived in Geary County, KS from Canada in 1868. There were several Virginias and a Ginny, or two, in the family, so Virginia Myrtle was called Myrtle, her entire life. *
Around 1899, Myrtle packed her wooden trunk and took the train to the capital city, Topeka. She worked as a maid at the Superintendent of the Kansas State Hospital’s exceptionally large house. The family story is the Superintendent’s wife invited her to dress up and attend a party at this fine house one day. Myrtle overcame her reluctance as a Presbyterian missionary granddaughter and attended the party. There was dancing and she succumbed to the temptation and gave it a whirl. After the party, she felt that it just wasn’t the thing for her and she went back home to Geary County. When I hear this story, I think of the song from The Music Man about Marian the librarian being a “sadder, but wiser gal.”
In 1902, Myrtle married Andrew Engstrom, a Swedish immigrant. They lived in the second story of a building on Main Street in Dwight, Kansas, Geary County, of course. I have passed this building quite a few times when visiting Dwight.
Myrtle was my grandmother’s mother. She was in a car accident and became bedridden. She was at both her daughter’s homes in a hospital bed at different times. And there was a long trip to move her from a nursing home back to a daughter’s house at one point. I was promised ice cream as a treat if I was good. I asked about said ice cream at one point. Grandma Engstrom told me she did not like ice cream. I was shocked.
My grandmother cared for my siblings and I when my parents were working. I went to school around the block. My most vivid memory of Grandma Engstrom was running in the house my first week of first grade. Grandma Engstrom said to her daughter from her hospital bed, in the front room, “Dorothy, Susan, must have learned enough words to play Skip-a-Cross, with me.” I froze and was a bit scared. This woman had once told me she did not like ice cream. Did I even want to play a word game with her? Grandma Smith put me in a chair, sitting on a book, so I could reach the bed table and I played Skip-a-Cross with Grandma Engstrom every day that fall. Skip-a-Cross is a fore runner to Scrabble. I attribute my family renowned success in Scrabble to those early years beside my great-grandmother’s bed.
Here I am, 138 years from a hot July day in central Kansas, sitting in air conditioning, remembering Virginia Myrtle. I think there is ice cream in the freezer…….
*A Rose by any other name might be Myrtle…
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