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River Cleanup

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

It's as inevitable as floods. Another group has just held a press conference outlining its plans for beautifying the Mississippi River. Apparently, an integral part of this new vision is fudge shops.

Like previous groups, they find the conglomeration of machinery strewn up and down the riverbanks from St. Louis to St. Paul ugly. They would force the barge terminals, the piles of sand and gravel, the storage bins, the bulldozers, the elevators and cranes, electrical towers, and loaders to leave, and return the river to its natural beauty.

For this latest group, natural beauty involves gently curved brick walkways connecting a series of Victorian boutiques selling upscale ice creams, sports apparel, fine porcelains, and, of course, fudge.

Let me make two observations. River beautifiers seldom think ahead. With the machinery gone, the muddy banks would become an eyesore, and have to be faced with stone walks and sandy beaches. That would allow the ugliness of the river to show, and they would need huge filters at St. Paul to make the water crystal clear, which would then reveal the ugly catfish and pickerel, which would have to be replaced goldfish and guppies. Better let Disney in on this right now. At least in "Riverworld," rides such as Raging Rapids, and the Whirlpool, and Huck's Raft would provide relief from the boutiques.

In the second place, who says that litter of working machinery is ugly? You remember as well as I do playing in the sandbox as a kid, and not a one of us, boy or girl, ever built a fudge shop there. Rather, we bulldozed roads, cranked sand in tiny buckets up the loader to a dump car that whizzed down a track and emptied its load every time it got full. How did this wonderful machinery that fueled our childhood imaginations turn so ugly?

Confess it, even now wouldn't you rather pull a lever and watch a load of gravel dump in a real-life sandbox than buy another pound of fudge, however creamy?

The fudge shops themselves know this deep down. They know what attracts you—it’s not the smell of fudge but the huge mixer in the front window, paddling a great cauldron of ingredients into smooth fudge, surrounded by faces pressed against the window.

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.