Patron Spotlight: Melinda "Mellydear" Myerson

by Banned Library in

She stands four foot, ten inches and towers over most sitting people. Telling her captive audiences about her quilting, Mellydear waves her hands like she is painting a mural in the air. Melinda "Mellydear" Myerson is a fixture at the library, one of those patrons who has held a library card longer than most of the staff has been alive.

    "I'm ninety-two years old, and I'm gonna live to be a hundred if the deal I made with the devil works out," she told our librarian asking about her life.

    Mellydear was born in New York City in 1926 to George and Rita Lyft. The way she tells it, her father was at the office on that early August day and to escape the heat her mother went to the premiere of Don Juan starring John Barrymore. "When she saw that man up on the screen, I just popped out," Mellydear said.

    Three years later the small family suffered when Black Friday hit and moved west. Her father, a former stockbroker, had an idea to join the rodeo. Her mother went along with Mellydear in hand, the child so small she could be carried on her mother's back. Within a year of moving to Kansas, her father had run off with a rodeo clown named Bingo taking the family savings.

    "Momma worked a lot of house jobs. She did the laundry, kept up with the kids, all kinds of things to keep me and her fed. In the end, it weren't enough," Mellydear said of those times. Her and her mother ended up moving down south to where they had family, living in a shotgun house on Orchard View Avenue here in town.

    Her grandmother gave Melinda the nickname "Mellydear." Living in the small house, the child would hear screams coming from one end to the other. "'Melly, be a dear and bring me the cotton balls.' 'Melly, be a dear and get the tub for granny's feet.' Eventually people just shortened it to Mellydear and it stuck."

    Mellydear's teenage years were spent listless, however. She dreamed of the big city in which she was born and that lead her to the crossroads just outside of town. A local legend said that if you went to the crossroads at midnight and waited an hour, the devil would appear to trade your soul.

    "I didn't believe it, but I was hungry and bored. I had dropped out of school so I thought, what the hell? So I made that deal with the devil and here I am," Mellydear said of that night. She would speak no more of it.

    Pushed by her demonic pact, she ran away from home on a freight train and went north. The way she told the story, she bounced around from Chicago to San Francisco to Walla Walla cooking and performing household chores to make ends meet. That all ended on a chance trip to Miami in the fall of 1945.

    "He was a soldier I met at a flophouse. He said that if I married him when he came back he'd buy a house. I didn't want no house, but he was cute so I said okay. Me and Jerry were married up until he died two winters ago. I cheated on him a bunch and he drank, but he's dead so let's go on." The two moved back to her hometown and bought the house on Applecart Street she lives in to this day.

    When asked why she moved back to her hometown, Mellydear said she was tired and her momma was sick. Her mother Rita died the next winter, run over by an RC Cola truck making deliveries. "She loved RC Cola and it killed her," Mellydear said.

    In her grief, Mellydear came to the library. Here she found books on making quilts and began her passion. Within two years she started a quilting club in the library that continues until this day.

    "It's just a chance for all of us women in town to get together and talk," she said with a laugh. "Plus there's something about the shapes. They call to me. When the magical seven get together and create a geometric wonder, seven, no more, no less, the quilt becomes a conduit. It's said the first person to sleep under one of my group's quilts will dream of their death. There's no way to stop it."

    Mellydear's infectious laugh can be heard all around the library.