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Ma's Diner

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

We Rock Islanders are blessed with at least a dozen museums housing everything from mummies to weapons. But only one is a living interactive museum where you can actually return to that old world of home cooking before microwaves, frozen meals, and fast food: Ma's Studio Diner.

Ma's Diner is housed in a small blue cement block building on West 13th Street between Brady and Main on top of the bluff in Davenport, Iowa. A handprinted "open" sign in the window is framed by a jungle of live plants. Admission is free.

"Ma" is LaPerche Starr Peasley, who presides over a lunch counter too cluttered with desserts to sit at, a kitchen table seating seven, and some ten small booths.

Ma Peasley is no pretend Ma. She’s a single mother who's been cooking for forty years. There is no menu. Instead, crude signs are tacked on a board like notes on the refrigerator door. What Ma cooks, you eat. It depends on what she can find at the market the day before, or whatever might be left in the refrigerator that Ma can whip up for $2.86 and add a little pizazz to. You might come on the day she serves carrot-tomato soup, or Pennsylvania Dutch Matrimonial Soup, or Texas Poverty Pie, or stuffed baked sweet potatoes. There's never been a French fry in the place.

If the food alone doesn't remind you of home cooking, Ma Peasley will. All those orders your mother handed out during meals back home, you'll get here as Ma makes the rounds of each booth. "Stop talking, your food's getting cold," Ma might instruct you. Or, "Clean your plate or no dessert," or, "You're not eating your crusts." On busy days, you might even have to clear your own table when you're through.

And, just like any other mom, you'll get scolded if you stay away too long. "Where have you been," Ma asks. "Well Ma," I have to confess, "I've been way up there in the 1990s—where no one in Hardees knows my name, and where kids at the registers are helpless to add the cost of two burgers when the computer is down.

"Well, you're forgiven," Ma Peasly will say. And then, in this little Davenport museum, you’ll take your place as one of the interactive exhibits.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.