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Anna V. Larson

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Several months ago, I went to Anna V. Larson's funeral at St. John's Lutheran Church in Rock Island. It was one of those passings that people call "a blessing." Anna was well up in her eighties and for the last ten years or so had lived in excruciating pain from a pinched nerve. She needed a walker to shuffle even small distances. One or two Sundays a year, she actually skipped church.

Nevertheless, it was a shock to enter the narthex and view Anna in her coffin, naked.

Oh, she had on a prim and proper Sunday dress, and a modest necklace. But where were all her buttons and badges? Without the buttons, it was hard to imagine it was really Anna lying there.

Let me explain. Anna Larson's father was a minister. She grew up in a world of parsonages which taught her manners at the same time that it gave her a deep social conscience. Perhaps that is why she became an English teacher her whole life, retiring to Rock Island just as the sixties exploded into being.

It was the perfect decade for someone with a social conscience, but for Anna, there was a problem. She was not about to stop traffic, burn the American flag, or sprinkle blood on courthouse steps. But, neither could she steel her heart against the "wretched of the earth."

And so, the buttons and badges. Each new wave of social conscience was marked by new buttons on Anna's dresses. There were buttons supporting Martin Luther King's dream, buttons demanding a free Namibia, buttons pleading for relief from world hunger and an end to the destruction of the rain forests. Anna's support of the women's movement was to pay for everything in Susan B. Anthony dollars—even her church pledge.

Anna Larson became a walking billboard. In her gentle and funny way—she laughed about all the buttons herself—she pricked the consciences of many repulsed by the flag burners.

All these buttons should have stayed with Anna—or even better, given, one to each of the mourners on the way out of church to wear as a tribute and as a reminder that, while Anna is at peace, the world is not.

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.