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Paper Boats

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

From the day I began kindergarten in Jackson, Minnesota, I have preferred rainy days to sun. On those days, the gutter along our street grew into a small stream heading downhill to meet the Des Moines River below. I dawdled, walking home from school on those days, freeing pools of water from their leaf dams or making rapids out of gravel and twigs.<--break->In first grade, I learned to fold paper boats—those simple kind that can also become birthday hats—and the gutter by my house became my connection to the wide world. Down the gutter I sailed the paper boats. Often, they sogged and sank within my sight, or were caught by debris and unfolded. A few, at least, disappeared down the hill. Some must have reached the Des Moines River itself, and I imagined the most hardy sailing kitty-corner across Iowa to meet the Mississippi at Keokuk, and then down the Mississippi past New Orleans, and out into the world. I imagined the frail, brave boats eventually venturing to the shores of Tripoli, or even unto Nineveh, that great city.

Down this waterway, from grade to grade, went my first crude stick figures, pages from coloring books, line after line of penmanship tornados, pages of addition and then subtraction, and multiplication, sheets of misspellings, red with teachers' marks. All my successes and failures washed away.

In fifth grade, I wrote my first story. It was about tadpoles living on a pond on Porkso Hiebert's farm. I was unable to find a publisher, not knowing what a publisher was, and so one rainy day I folded that story and sent it down the gutter after all the other pages.

As will happen, I grew up, and followed my boats, down streams and around snags and sandbars, floating eventually to this rocky island in the Mississippi. Not even halfway to Nineveh. I write these Rock Island Lines, fold them, and float them down the airwaves to listeners I can only imagine, always only a ripple away from kindergarten.

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.