This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
For twenty years, Marian Lardner taught kindergarten at Earl Hansen School in the city of Rock Island.
Mrs. Lardner's classroom often resembled a town dump or an unkempt woods. On any given week, the room might be full of tree branches, tadpoles, crawfish, and assorted stones, all there for the poking.
The day I went there to make paper airplanes Marion had brought in a bushel of leaves for her kids to study, but when the bushel was dumped on the floor, the leaves turned out to be full of sow bugs, centipedes, daddy long legs, and unidentified creatures, creating an impromptu unit on bugs.
Here's another project that escaped lesson plans. Earl Hansen school was separated by a chain link fence from a sheltered care home for retarded senior citizens. At recess, the kids and the seniors stood along the fence and stared at each other.
Marion's students took care of that. One spring, they cut a hole in the fence and put in a gate. Together, the kindergarteners and the seniors dug and planted a vegetable garden, becoming partners and friends.
The seniors promised to tend the garden while the students were on vacation, and there would be a harvest festival in the fall. I wish I could tell you that all went well, but it did not. The sun was too hot for the medication the seniors were taking, a lawnmower ran over parts of the garden, and only a few of the hardier veggies survived.
There was a harvest festival of sorts that fall. The students made scarecrows which they called "ephemeral folk figures" because it was more fun to say. Friendships were renewed.
That was several years ago. Today, the gate is closed, the garden gone. Last year Marion Lardner retired, and the new director of the sheltered home does not approve of mingling.
The kindergarteners who built the gate must now be in college or at work. Do these young adults remember the garden and their friends?
Perhaps one of them will come back to Earl Hansen to teach, and to open the gate again.
Don't you hope so?
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.