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Land O'Lakes Butter

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

"How many Minnehahas are there on the Land O'Lakes butter carton," my father asked me one day when I was six. "Two?" I replied tentatively, "one on each side." "Are you sure?" he said.

Growing up in Minnesota made Land O'Lakes sweet cream butter almost mandatory. Anything else would have been apostacy. Ours came from a dairy twenty-six miles away. I checked the carton in the ice box. Two Minnehahas, Hiawatha’s Indian wife, kneeling in a short deerskin dress, holding a carton of Land O'Lakes butter.

I grew uneasy. Like most Minnesotans, my father seldom asked a question that simple. And any answer you give, a Minnesotan will reply "That so?" in a way that makes you question yourself. But there were plainly two Minnehahas. But no, there weren't. Each Minnehaha was holding a perfect carton of Land O'Lakes butter, on which, of course, was another Minnehahas. Four Minnehahas—until you looked carefully and noticed that there was yet another Minnehaha on that small picture of a butter carton, and another on that.

Somehow, I managed to graduate from high school, and even go on to college, but I was preoccupied with my father's question. I turned twenty-one with a butter carton sitting in front of me. When I was twenty-four, I married a farm girl after making sure she used Land O'Lakes butter. My wife soon discovered there was another woman: Minnehaha.

Then I took a philosophy course in graduate school which gave me the answer at last. There were an infinite number of Minnehahas on the Land O'Lakes butter, though all but sixteen, or thirty-two were potential rather than actual.

Then, next time I visited my father, I gave him my answer. "An infinite number of Minnehahas," I said.

He smiled. "What makes you so sure that's Minnehaha?" he asked. "It could be Sacajawea."

My response was to do something no Minnesotan had ever done. To save my sanity, my marriage, and my career, I drove over to the Fairway Food Store and bought my first package of oleomargarine.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

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.