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Two Kinds of People

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

There are really only two kinds of people in and around Rock Island: those who insist that their salt and pepper shakers look like what they are and behave accordingly, and those others who would not consider setting shakers on their tables unless they looked like hens and roosters or baby deer, or souvenirs of a trip to the Black Hills. On trips to Chicago's Magnificent Mile, the first kind of people look up at the John Hancock building, drinking in the functional beauty of its crisscrossed girders, while the second kind walk a few blocks south, where they are amazed by the Chicago water tower carefully disguised to look like a gothic castle.

Closer to Rock Island. The plain saltshakers bemoan the passing of the steamboat, whose steam engine and paddle sat in plain view for everyone to see, or the canoe, whose every sensuous curve was there for a purpose. The hen-and-rooster shakers flock to the boat shows in local armories to ooh and ahh at the sleek fiberglass creations, which hide their engines deep inside, as if utility were merely an ugly necessity.

What set me off in this direction? Last week, my granddaughter and I retrieved my 1933 Lionel passenger train out of the attic for its yearly run. I had forgotten just how haunting the old steam locomotive was, with all its working parts in open view, nothing to hide, no part pretending it was anything but a wheel, a cow catcher, a smokestack, a whistle, a bell. Even its sounds were working sounds—hiss, click, clank, chuff. How different from the promises Amtrak is making to take us 200 miles an hour on a silver pencil.

This was the first time my granddaughter had seen my Lionel engine and all its miniature parts just like the real thing. Kaitlyn held the engine on her lap spellbound, her fingers turning each wheel, poking into each opening, peeking into the cab. Even after ten minutes, she resisted when I tried to put the engine back in its box. had it been a streamlined Burlington Zephyr with nothing to poke, her interest would have peaked in a minute.

That's how I already know what kind of salt and pepper shakers I'm going to find on her table when she first has me over to dinner years from now.

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.