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Alice's Garden

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Do you remember the phrase we all used to use before the good times started rolling? "Making do." I grew up in a family that made do with whatever was in the refrigerator or in the closet. I realize now that I never came close to making do the way Alice Moltzen does—the make-do-queen of Rock Island.

Alice learned how to make do as a child of the Depression growing up in New Boston along the Mississippi River, and it’s carried her through life's challenges.

Here's just one. Alice had always loved tomatoes more than any other food. She moved into her first home in 1951 primarily so she could grow tomatoes in her own garden.

But it was not to be. As much as Alice spaded, raked, watered and fertilized, her tomato patch failed year after year. The best seed from Burpee failed to grow, ten-dollar plants from the nursery wilted. Early frosts came only to Alice's garden.

You and I would have given up long before, but not Alice. Year after year she planted and failed. It was now 1965. Fourteen years of hard gardening had produced two almost-ripe tomatoes.

By now, Alice was working as secretary to the Augustana College Music Department. One August day, Don Jackson, director of the jazz band and a fellow gardener, brought in a box of surplus tomatoes to get rid of. Alice went home with five perfectly red, large, round Better Boys.

Other teachers heard that Alice needed tomatoes. Soon, she was deluged with enough tomatoes to can—no need to garden.

Most people would stop with tomatoes, but not Alice. She understood that gardeners are desperate for attention. Just by stopping to compliment gardeners around Rock Island, Alice has assured herself of fresh beans, beets, carrots, and corn. And flowers as well. Today, she has neighbors who grow bleeding hearts and zinnias for her, and dried flowers as well.

Most people would stop here, but not Alice. Her next step is already in the works. She noticed that gardeners give away the very best. Blotches and blemishes would be embarrassing. Next summer she plans to enter the best of her gifts in the Rock Island County Fair and take every blue ribbon.

I think that's entirely legitimate. It's a skill to cultivate a garden, but an even greater skill to cultivate gardeners.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa 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.