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Child of Light

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Cindy Weretheman lived near Rock Island for almost twenty-four years. For the last four of those years, she taught me something about light.

I met Cindy when she came to college and found herself in my writing class. She seemed shy, moving to a seat in the corner by herself.

But her first theme, midway in a stack of papers I was correcting on a late March night, took my breath away. It was a description of the way the afternoon sunshine flooded through the leaded glass windows of her grandmother's house into the hallway as Cindy put her coat on to go out and play. Golden light played on the oak bench, the doors of the closet, and scattered across the floor.

The grandmother's house was one of the oldest in Rock Island. Its age, its immense size, its warmth all came alive in that description of the hallway and the sunlight. I can still feel that house now.

Cindy's class attendance was sporadic, her papers seldom on time. She was so thin, I thought she must be anorexic. "No," she told me, "I have cystic fibrosis." Even on good days, she had to spend three hours on a machine to clear her lungs. Bad weeks she spent in intensive care at the hospital.

In all our talks, Cindy never said, "Why me." Instead, she laughed at jokes, cheered her teachers up, turned in her themes late, and got married.

In every paper she wrote, there was light. Sun coming from behind clouds, rising in the morning to clear mists, the dependable sun. She wrote about coming outdoors into the light, about getting her boots stuck in the mud in a spring woods, and then running out of the dark into a meadow streaming with light.

Her hospital stays and her incompletes grew longer. Then she died awaiting a lung transplant. Her veins simply gave way like old leather. At the visitation, her family had filled a bulletin board with snapshots of Cindy, 24 years of them. Cindy playing, Cindy making faces, horsing around.

But I knew Cindy, too, and I could see that every one of these photos was underexposed. None were as bright as her words.

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.