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Lemons

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

As the winds of change blew down the Mississippi River and through the halls of higher learning in the 1960s, more than a few classrooms around Rock Island began teaching students to be lemons.

English teachers whose lives had been cocooned by commas and semi-colons were reborn as butterflies. Out went the red pencils, work sheets, and nearly all the 359 writing mistakes which needed correcting. The winds of change were crying "Be spontaneous, be creative, baby, just be yourselves."

English teachers found that a bit hard, but with the help of new writing texts such as It's Mine, and I'll Write It That Way, they gave it their best shot.

Out went outlines, rows of chairs, and carefully reasoned arguments for or against admitting Red China to the United Nations. In came the lemon.

I do not know why the lemon beat out the apple, pear, or cantaloupe, but it did.

Here's how it worked. Writing students were asked to bring pillows and journals to class and sit in a circle on the floor around the room. The teacher would dim the lights. The lemon sat on a low stool in the center of the circle, illuminated by a flashlight. The students were invited to stare at the lemon until they could feel its yellowness, its juice, its tart taste, and then to begin to write on what it was like to be a lemon: "I am a plump, round lemon." For some of them, it didn't work. They just remained Barb Cooper from Chicago or Peter Zimmer from Moline, but many became perfect lemons and blinked and were surprised when the lights came back on.

This sudden release of creative juices seems to have had little permanent effect. Most English teachers have repented and returned to commas. Former lemons are now some of the Rock Island area's stiffest and most respected lawyers, bankers, and doctors. Only rarely, in a waiting room or on a desk next to a name plate, will you see a single, bright yellow lemon.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.