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The Telephone Call

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

I can't quite make up my mind whether this is a ghost story or not. You decide.Back in the early part of the 20th century, there were people called phrenologists who believed they could read your personality from the shape of your head. It was phrenologists who claimed that women had an extra-large "nurturing bump" on their heads which made them natural mothers, eager to change diapers and sooth crying babies in the middle of the night.

If that claim is true, Greg Patton's mother had a larger than average nurturing bump. She and her son lived a few miles apart in Alma, Wisconsin, back in the 1920s. Alma was a small Mississippi River town nestled at the foot of a bluff north of LaCrosse.

Nevertheless, the telephone had reached Alma by the 1920s, an event that allowed Greg's mother to exercise her nurturing bump regularly. The telephone line merely replaced the umbilical cord.

Greg and his mother called each other every day—just to chat, Greg said. It was always pleasant talk. How was Greg doing? Was he feeling better after his cold? What did he plan on doing that day? Would he be stopping over after work for a short visit with his mother, or perhaps for supper?

One morning, during their telephone conversation, Greg thought his mother seemed—different. A bit more insistent, "demonstrative," is how he put it. After he hung up the phone, he decided to drive over and check on her. As he pulled out of his lane, he noticed a telephone crew working on the lines which had been cut four hours before by a falling tree. But he had just talked to his mother on the phone.

Greg Patton rushed to his mother's house. She was on the floor, dead. The doctor called it a heart attack and said she had been dead for at least twelve hours.

A ghost story? Maybe not. I think there's at least a chance the doctor was wrong about the heart attack. It may be that Mrs. Patton's nurturing bump needed so much energy to make that call without telephone lines that it drained the rest of her body.

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.