Margaret Lucille McClain, 1929-1930

Since we’ve been on the topic of the children and grandchildren of Nathan and Mary McClain, this seems like a good time to elaborate a bit on the Arthur and Addie McClain’s fourth child. I mentioned her just briefly before.

On October 27, 1929 a surprise package arrived at Arthur and Addie McClain’s house in Tallman, in the form of baby Margaret.

A notation on the back of this photo gives her age here as 3½ months and her weight as 13 pounds. So she was way below normal weight even at this point, due to the myotonia-induced inability to swallow.

But what began as a joyful occasion soon turned into one of the saddest periods in Grandma and Grandpa’s life. Margaret was born with the congenital condition myotonia. This can manifest itself in many different ways, but in Margaret’s case it resulted in gagging and difficulty swallowing. The end result was that Margaret could not take in enough nourishment and gradually starved to death as her parents watched.

In his grief, Grandpa wrote a poem:


She came, we thought her ours,
And loved her as the rest.
But God just loaned her
And he knoweth best.
So now we stand and sadly watch and wait
The angels help to let her through the gate.

She came to us and was
A joy supreme;
With eyes so blue,
And perfect as a dream.
We cannot speak, we only dumbly wait
The angels help to let her through the gate.

Our friends stand near
Their loving aid to lend;
In these sad hours
There’s nothing like a friend.
But they with us can only watch and wait
The angels help to let her through the gate.

Someday we’ll know
Someday we’ll understand
His wondrous love,
The workings of his hand
We’ll know just why we had to sadly wait
The angels help to let her through the gate.

She passed away just over nine months after she was born, on July 31, 1930.

Her death was actually the result of pneumonia resulting from aspiration of food. But the root cause was her inability to swallow fully due to myotonia. These days I imagine a life-threatening case such as Margaret’s would be treated with a nasal feeding tube or perhaps a tube directly into the stomach to prevent aspiration and deliver sufficient nutrition to keep her alive until she was old enough for therapy or other treatment for the swallowing difficulty. But there was nothing like that in 1930. If Margaret hadn’t died of pneumonia, she presumably would have died of malnutrition.

It was touching to observe that in the 1930 census for the Tallman area, which was taken in late April, Margaret was listed as being at Ellery and Leota’s house. That’s just a snapshot in time, of course, but it shows that they were willing to help bear the burden that Margaret’s care must have been so Grandma and Grandpa could have a break.

A note on Margaret’s name: There seems to be some confusion about Margaret’s middle name. I was told some years back that it was “Louise.” However the name listed on her death certificate is “Lucile”. The caption on the back of the above photo agrees with the death certificate, but spells the name “Lucille” (two L’s in the middle). Since this caption was certainly written by someone in the family at the time of Margaret’s life, I suspect the latter is the intended spelling.