Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Blanketing veterans with compassion July 6, 2022

Jodi Frederick of the Minneapolis VA, left to right, and Jane Larson, Sharon Babcock and Lori Clausen of the Northfield-based DAR. (Photo courtesy of the DAR)

IT’S ONE THING TO EXPRESS gratitude to veterans with the words, “Thank you for your service.” It’s quite another to match those words with actions.

A patriotic-themed fidget blanket created by Sharon Babcock. (Photo courtesy of the DAR)

For a Northfield, Minnesota-based women’s service organization, caring for veterans, specifically those with disabilities, extends to doing something. Members of the Josiah Edson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) created 80 fidget blankets for veterans and others struggling with Alzheimer’s or other disabilities. Most of the blankets were recently donated to the Minneapolis VA Medical Center with the rest given to area care facilities.

Fidget blanket crafted by Jane Larson. (Photo courtesy of DAR)

As the daughter of a Korean War veteran who spent time at the VA and as the daughter of a mother who lived many years in a care center, I feel personal gratitude to this group of compassionate seamstresses—Ellen Blume, Jackie Hunt, Jane Larson, Sharon Babcock, Sue Rew, Vicki Kline and Jean Nelson’s students in Indiana. They donated materials, time and talent to craft these lap-sized blankets which will help calm fidgety hands. They care.

Fidget blanket created by Ellen Blume. (Photo courtesy of DAR)

Individuals with Alzheimer’s experience restlessness and anxiety, often expressing that in constant hand movement. Fidget blankets provide sensory therapy, a way to keep hands occupied in a safe and soothing way with zippers, ribbons, ball fringe, buttons, lace, Velcro pockets and more.

A hearts full of love fidget blanket crafted by Sue Rew. (Photo courtesy of DAR)

At at time when I need, more than ever, to learn of the goodness of others, I feel uplifted by what this group has done, especially for our veterans. Members of the DAR, 185,000 members strong in 3,000 chapters across the U.S., focus on projects promoting historic preservation, education and patriotism. All members can trace their lineage to an individual who contributed to securing American independence during the Revolutionary War.

The Northfield chapter is two years into their fidget blanket project with plans to continue. I deeply appreciate their efforts, how their care and compassion extend beyond words into actions.

TELL ME: Are you familiar with fidget blankets? Are you part of a creative team that does something to help others? I’d like to hear.

Note: A special thank you to Jane Larson, member of the Josiah Edson Chapter of the DAR, for sharing this information and photos with me.

 

July Fourth thoughts from southeastern Minnesota July 4, 2022

An American flag graces Welch Mill Innertubing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

BACK IN NOVEMBER 2021, I photographed this symbol of America in the unincorporated village of Welch. Today, the birthday of our country, seems a good day to finally share this image from southeastern Minnesota.

There’s something about the simplicity of this scene which I find particularly appealing. An historic mill. Faded signage. Blue sky on a perfect autumn afternoon. And then the jolt of bold colors in the American flag. It all comes together visually, leading to thoughts of history and what that flag symbolizes. Freedom. Democracy. Maybe even hope in the face of so much division.

A flag inspires us to ponder, to reassess, to consider, to feel gratitude. To celebrate.

In this spot along the Cannon River and the Cannon Valley Trail in Welch Township in Goodhue County, American pride runs strong at the former Welch Feed Mill, now home to Welch Mill Innertubing. The business rents inner tubes, canoes and kayaks.

During my stop eight months ago, I viewed the scene through a photographic lens, with an artist’s eye, grateful for the freedom I have to come and go, to photograph, to express myself as an artist, unencumbered.

Happy Fourth of July from southeastern Minnesota!

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About as Americana as it gets, July 4 in North Morristown July 1, 2022

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performs at 1:30 pm and 4 pm on July 4 in North Morristown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2016)

YOU LIKELY HAVE PLANS for the Fourth of July. But, if you don’t and live in southern Minnesota, I’d suggested attending the North Morristown July 4 celebration. This event is grassroots rural Americana through and through.

The homemade strawberry pie I ordered at the Pie Stand last Fourth of July. All pies are homemade. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

It’s vintage food stands, homemade pie, old tractors packing the parade, music by Minnesota musicians (like Monroe Crossing), handcrafted kiddie rides and games, BINGO, a patriot program, fireworks and so much more.

One of the many vintage food stands which add to the nostalgic charm of this celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

I direct you (click here) to my most recent photo essay and accompanying copy published this week in the July issue of Southern Minn Scene, a regional arts and entertainment magazine. I create a column, “Through a SoMinn Lens,” for this monthly publication. My latest piece, “North Morristown on July 4, a slice of Americana,” features 24 of my photos in a 3.5-page spread, beginning on page 22 of Scene.

Kids’ activities are to the left, food and beverage stands to the right and the entertainment stage straight ahead. This event is well-attended. Admission is free, but please purchase a button to help cover costs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Perhaps my column will convince those of you who live in Minnesota to attend the Fourth of July celebration in North Morristown, which is not an actual town. This is simply a place in the middle of farm fields, west of Faribault and north of Morristown. The festival grounds sits across from Trinity Lutheran Church and School and next to farm sites and acreage.

The kiddie rides are homemade and vintage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

I’ve attended many times and love the down-home feel of this celebration, which is also a reunion of sorts for those who grew up in this area (which is not me). I recognize many of you, my readers, come to my blog from afar. So please enjoy North Morristown on the Fourth via my images and words.

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration in 2016. I make no apologies for the grease-stained fingernails of this hardworking automotive machinist. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

Happy Fourth!

TELL ME: How are you celebrating the Fourth of July?

Note: If you have seen my story on newsprint, please view it again online. The paper copy of the magazine has issues with clarity of images, and not just mine. All photos I submitted for publication are sharp, clear and focused, unlike the end printing results.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One final reason to appreciate Plainview June 28, 2022

I love this stately corner brick building, home to Greenwood Agency. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

THERE ARE MANY REASONS to appreciate Plainview. It’s small town Minnesota friendly. It offers a variety of home-grown shops. It centers agriculture in Wabasha County. It was the boyhood home of noted Minnesota author Jon Hassler. Its downtown features some beautiful old brick buildings. That’s the short list. I expect if you’ve visited, or live here, you could add to Plainview’s positive qualities.

A side view of the Greenwood Agency building shows its mammoth size, especially compared to next door Plainview City Hall. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

During my brief mid-May stop in this southeastern Minnesota community of 3,340 just northeast of Rochester, I found so many things to love about Plainview. And I wrote about those in a series of blog posts over the past several weeks. Today I end that series with a photo focus on some of the historic buildings I saw downtown.

When I look at historic buildings, I always notice the windows, these on the Greenwood Agency. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

My appreciation of aged buildings runs deep. I live 60 miles from Plainview in Faribault, which boasts a downtown filled with architecturally-interesting, historic buildings.

Housed in a 1901 beautiful brick building, New Fresh Wok and The Shop on Broadway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Mostly aged buildings define this stretch of West Broadway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Old and new mix at Cakes Etc, left, and Magnolia Cottage, right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In Plainview, I saw a collection of mostly well-kept brick buildings, too, and felt inwardly grateful to those who understand their value. I realize it takes money, time and effort to invest in maintaining these aged structures. But it’s so important to do, to maintain the character and history of a community.

The side of this building indicates a missing building in the heart of downtown Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Could more be done? Certainly. That applies to both Plainview and Faribault. Again, I understand financial limitations, especially in these times of high inflation. At the core, I see that locals care about keeping these historic buildings. That is a reason to celebrate. They are helping retain community character in a way, which if destroyed, can not be rebuilt or replaced.

Cakes Etc jolts color into Plainview’s downtown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Thank you for joining me on my tour of Plainview. Even if you never visit this southeastern Minnesota community, I hope I’ve given you reasons to appreciate it and to appreciate all those small towns that, together with our cities and farms, create the fabric of America.

A Little Free Library outside city hall gives a glimpse into local readership. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

FYI: To read my previous posts from Plainview, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Anything but plain in Plainview, from signs to shops & more June 27, 2022

A favorite sign at Cupcakes Etcetera. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

THEY—SIGNS, NOTICES, WINDOW DISPLAYS—offer insights into the character of a place. I’ve discovered that during my meanderings into small towns, mostly in Minnesota.

A welcoming message on the Plainview Community Center window. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent visit to Plainview in the southeastern corner of our state, I found plenty of evidence revealing the welcoming friendliness of a creative community with lots of home-grown businesses. There’s nothing plain about Plainview. I popped into several shops when I walked along West Broadway. Some, to my disappointment, were not open on the Saturday afternoon I was in town.

An unexpected find, New Fresh Wok. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Food offerings at the Chinese restaurant. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Still, I got a good feel for this business community simply by observing. The chicken and shrimp menu options written on a whiteboard in the window of New Fresh Wok sounded mighty tasty to me. (I’d already eaten. Unfortunately.)

An eye-catching color scheme defines Cakes Etc. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

Across the street, Cakes Etcetera was closed. But the colorful building with the equally appealing signage pulled me closer. I’m pretty sure I’d be a fan of the artfully-decorated cupcakes, the decadent brownies, the Salted Nut Roll bars and other sweet treats created here.

The bottom portion of the display window at Rare Necessities. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I also appreciate occasional shops like Rare Necessities, which offers upcycled and re-imagined décor, one-of-a-kind necessities and accessories. It’s usually open from 10 am – 4 pm Friday and Saturday on the third weekend of the month, which didn’t happen to be during my stop in Plainview. Next time.

“Cakes” in a window at Cakes Etc. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But in the shops that were open and which I stepped into, I found a common denominator—friendliness. And I’m not talking a simple, how can I help you greeting. I’m talking a genuinely warm welcome with engaging conversation. The I’m glad you’re here attitude.

Posted in the window of the Plainview Community Center, an invitation to veterans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At the community center, veterans receive an especially warm welcome with free coffee on Tuesdays, during “Breakfast with Friends.” That sounds so hospitable, so small townish lovely.

Note to drivers in the window of Your Family Healthcare. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I also noted a sign in the front window of Your Family Healthcare directing delivery drivers to leave packages next door at J.T. Variety & Toys if the chiropractic clinic is closed. Just another example of Minnesota Nice, small town business version. I’ve spotted this type of signage in other rural communities.

Soap with an intriguing name, available in Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But I’ve never seen a sign for Howling Goat soap illustrated with goat and wolf props.

That random ash tray. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Nor have I seen an ASH TRAY on the side of a building, my most unusual find of the afternoon in downtown Plainview.

More cake shop signage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This is what I love about small towns. I never know what I will discover. Every community is different. Every community holds character. And that, for me, is the draw, along with friendly folks, home-grown shops and eateries, creativity…

TELL ME: Have you been to Plainview? Or have you discovered a community that holds similar appeal? I’d like to hear.

Click here to read my previous posts from Plainview. And check back for one final story in this series.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Floral & finds in Plainview, a creative shop honoring the past June 24, 2022

Detailed signage banners Young Love Floral & Finds in downtown Plainview, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

IT’S THE TYPE OF BUSINESS any small town would welcome. Home-grown. Creative. Beautifully-designed. And busy, at least during my weekend stop.

My view upon entering the shop. Shantelle Speedling is behind the counter/work space at the rear of the display area. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

When I entered Young Love Floral & Finds in downtown Plainview on a Saturday afternoon in mid-May, I paused and took in the scene before continuing up several stairs into this inviting space.

The Mallard Seeds sign came with the building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In this historic building, which housed the Plainview Hotel, then the First National Bank beginning in 1902 followed by Mallard Seeds, Shantelle Speedling has created a shop that honors the history and stories of this place. She worked in this space for 14 years, testing seed corn germination for the seed company.

If you want a quick peek at local history, view the historic photos posted in the shop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Here, in a side room reserved for small celebrations and crafting parties/make-and-take events, local historic photos fill a well-used bulletin board pocked with holes. A bold, vintage Mallard Seeds sign accents the black-and-white and sepia photo collage.

The closed doors lead to the vault, now a storage space, with the heavy vault door open to the right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Just around the corner, the in-tact original bank vault now serves as a walk-in storage space and a point of interest in this shop of florals and finds.

Created from wood flowers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

As a trained floral designer, this busy mother of three uses wood (yes, wood) and silk flowers to create stunning centerpieces, bouquets, wreaths and more. I observed a collection of her designs ready for a wedding. She also does casket sprays and florals for any occasion.

A sampling of the artfully-displayed merchandise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

The “Finds” part of her business is equally as impressive. Home décor and other items, including cow prints which drew my farm girl eyes, are decidedly rural and artfully-displayed. Propped on aged furniture, hung on barn red doors, set atop stacked wooden boxes…

Looking from the back of the shop toward the front. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This place feels like it fits Plainview, a small farming community northeast of Rochester in southeastern Minnesota’s Wabasha County. Speedling took care to retain the historic rural character of the building, right down to keeping the original embossed ceiling, refreshing it with a new coat of paint.

Newspaper stories and more are displayed on a bulletin board in the side event room. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

There’s something to be said for a shopkeeper who values the past—here an historic building—enough to make it work in the present. Speedling has accomplished that. And now she’s imprinting her stories, her history, growing her business in a building where guests once stayed, merchants once banked and seeds once germinated.

Centerpieces created by Shantelle Speedling cram the back countertop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

FYI: Click here to read my previous posts on Plainview, including features on two other businesses, The Shop on Broadway and J.T. Variety & Toys. Please check back for two more stories in my series on this small Minnesota town. You may also be interested in reading these recent posts from neighboring Elgin.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dime store memories in Plainview June 23, 2022

Plainview’s version of the old-fashioned dime store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

GRAB BAGS AND VINYL SINGLES. Goldfish and tiny turtles. And, oh, an endless assortment of whatever you needed, and didn’t need. Such are my dime store memories upon entering J.T. Variety & Toys in Plainview.

To the left, knick knacks. Center and to the right, supplies for crafters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This crammed-with-merchandise store along West Broadway in the heart of downtown Plainview hearkens to yesteryear when Ben Franklin and F.W. Woolworth stores dotted Main Street USA. J.T. Variety & Toys fits the dime store model.

A sign directs customers to the shop at 333 West Broadway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

And while I spotted no turtles, fish, grab bags or vinyl, the business offers a wide range of merchandise for all ages and interests.

Lots of fabric, lots of knick knacks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Need a gift for Aunt Gertie or your next-door neighbor or whomever? There are knick knacks and home décor items galore.

Lots of rainbow yarn choices. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Crafters—whether knitter or seamstress or some other creative—can shop an array of colorful yarn skeins cramming cubbies, folds of sorted-by-color fabric layering shelves, and much more. Choices are bountiful.

Flowers, shoes, knick knacks, craft supplies…so much merchandise packed into this small store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

The same goes for the selection of fake flowers splashing color into a display and spilling over into baskets lining the floor. Above the flowers I found a collection of summer shoes—flip flops, slip-ons shaped like insects…

Unlike the dime stores of old, credit cards are welcome at this variety store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

If I sound a tad giddy about J.T. Variety & Toys, it’s because I am. A lot of those feelings trace to childhood memories of shopping dime store aisles. Back in the day, I mostly looked because, coming from a poor farm family, buying usually wasn’t an option, except for necessities. I would stand for a long long time in the pet section at the back of Woolworths looking at those mini imported pet turtles, wishing for one.

The toy section. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I expect the kids of Plainview gravitate to the toy section of their local variety store with its puzzles and games, marbles and Play Doh, trucks and dolls, Little Golden Book and other books, and much more. I’d feel giddy if I was a kid with money to spend here.

Lots of great book choices. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Plainview is fortunate to have this homegrown business akin to the dime stores of old. It was here in this southeastern Minnesota small town, the day before our 40th wedding anniversary in mid-May, that my husband purchased a lovely anniversary greeting card while I paged through a storybook about Paul Bunyan. It wasn’t like he could buy a tiny imported pet turtle for me…

More yarn choices for crafters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

TELL ME: Do you have dime store memories? Have you discovered a store similar to J.T. Variety & Toys (Dollar stores don’t count)? I’d like to hear.

To learn more about Plainview, read my previous posts by clicking here. And watch for several more stories on this community northeast of Rochester in southeastern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

International Owl Center auctions more owl art to help Ukrainian kids June 22, 2022

A banner on the side of the International Owl Center helps visitors find the building in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

ITS MISSION SEEMS BASIC: Making the world a better place for owls through education. That’s an expected goal of the International Owl Center based in the small southeastern Minnesota community of Houston.

One of the center’s live owls, photographed during my 2015 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

But this nonprofit has spread its wings to make life better for the children of Ukraine. How? By raising monies through online auctions of owl art with proceeds benefiting United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to help Ukrainian children.

Promo for the current art auction. (Source: International Owl Center)

The fourth Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids opens at 6 am Wednesday, June 22, and closes on Sunday, June 26. All 48 original art pieces were created through the years by Ukrainian children for the International Kids’ Owl Art Contest and are in the Owl Center collection. The current auction also features one piece of art by a teacher.

Three online auctions of owl art earlier this year, sales of gift card sets and donations have already raised $225,000 for UNICEF relief in Ukraine. Bids reached as high as $8,005 for a single piece of original artwork. A fifth auction is set for August 10-14. Total fundraising goal is $400,000.

Owl art, from all over the world, decorated the Owl Center walls during my 2015 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

I’m beyond impressed by the ambition of the Owl Center and by the generosity of bidders. And I’m beyond impressed by the talent of these Ukrainian artists who range from preschool age to 18-years-old.

Because most individuals can’t afford to bid hundreds or thousands of dollars on artwork, even if donated to a worthy cause, the Owl Center offers options. The auction includes limited edition prints priced at $100. Those are limited to 25 prints each of four different owl artworks. Note that those prints sell out quickly. Additionally, the online auction site accepts direct donations to UNICEF.

The Center plans to also re-offer sets of 20 blank owl art greeting cards during the International Owl Awareness Day weekend August 5-8. Those must be purchased in-person at the center with any remaining card sets then sold in the Center’s online store.

The International Owl Center in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

As the war in Ukraine continues, media coverage has lessened, replaced by other top news stories. But that doesn’t diminish the pain, the suffering, the fear, the terror, the hunger, the displacement, the destruction, the death…that remain very real for the people of Ukraine. I am thankful that the International Owl Center has partnered with the Houston Area Community Foundation to aid Ukrainian kids. Via these fundraisers, this Minnesota community of 1,040 is offering help, and hope.

FYI: To reach the auction website, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“The Seed Keeper,” an award-winning book every Minnesotan should read June 21, 2022

Cover design by Mary Austin Speaker. Cover beadwork art by Holly Young. (Credit: Publisher, Milkweed Editions)

VISUALIZE A PACKET OF SEEDS. Then open the envelope and spill a handful of seeds onto your open palm. What do you see? You likely envision seeds planted in rich black soil, covered, watered, sprouting, growing, yielding and, then, harvested. And while that visual is accurate, seeds hold more. Much more.

Photographed at Seed Savers Exchange near Decorah, Iowa. The farm specializes in saving heirloom/heritage seeds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2018, used here for illustration only)

I just finished reading The Seed Keeper, Diane Wilson’s debut novel and winner of the 2022 Minnesota Book Award in the Novel & Short Story category. I’ve never felt so profoundly and deeply moved by a book rooted in history. Wilson’s writing is like a seed planted, nurtured, then yielding a harvest of insight and understanding.

Part of a public art installation at the Northfield Earth Day Celebration in April. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

Hers is the story of the Dakota people, specifically of several generations of women, The Seed Keepers. Hers is the story of a connection to the land, sky, water, seeds and of reclaiming that relationship. Hers is a story of wrongs done to indigenous people in Minnesota, of atrocities and challenges and struggles. Past and present. Hers is a story of wrongful family separation and of reuniting with family and community.

A full view of the art planted in Northfield for Earth Day. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

At the core of Wilson’s novel are the seeds. The seeds, stored in a willow basket, and eventually passed through the generations. The seeds that not only provided food for their families’ survival, but held the stories of Dakota ancestors and a way of life.

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on December 26, 1862. Wilson references the park, and the theme of forgiveness, in her novel. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2012)

The subject of this book holds personal interest to me because of its setting in southwestern Minnesota, site of The US-Dakota War of 1862. Wilson covers that war, including the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors in Mankato. As a native of Redwood County, I studied that war, even researched and wrote a term paper on the topic some 50 years ago. But I expect if I read that paper now, I would find many inaccuracies. My writing was shaped by the White (settlers’) narrative without consideration of the Dakota. I long ago realized the failings of that narrow-minded, biased perspective.

Even though I wasn’t taught the whole story, at least I was aware of The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. It was centered in my home region and in neighboring Brown County, where my maternal ancestors fled their rural New Ulm farm for safety in St. Peter. Many Minnesotans, I’ve discovered, are unaware of this important part of our state’s history.

The Seed Keeper, though fictional, reveals just how devastating this war was to the Dakota people in removal from their native land, in their imprisonment and in efforts by Whites to control and shape them. I found this sentence penned by the author to be particularly powerful: What the white settlers called progress was a storm of fury thundering its way across the land, and none of us were strong enough to withstand it.

This 67-ton Kasota stone sculpture stands in Reconciliation Park in Mankato. It symbolizes the spiritual survival of the Dakota People and honors the area’s Dakota heritage. The park is the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2019)

Still, strength sprouts and grows in The Seed Keeper through a riveting storyline that stretches back to Marie Blackbird in 1862 and then follows main character Rosalie Iron Wing through the decades to 2002. Even her name, Iron Wing, evokes strength and freedom. Rosalie marries a White farmer, births a son and her two worlds collide.

A photo panel at the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Center in St. Peter shows Dakota leaders photographed in Washington D.C. in 1858. The photo is from the Minnesota Historical Society. The quote represents the many broken treaties between the Dakota and the U.S. government. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013)

I was especially drawn to this statement by a Dakota elder in Wilson’s book: People don’t understand how hard it is to be Indian. I’m not talking about all the sad history. I’m talking about a way of life that demands your best every single day. Being Dakhóta means every step you take is a prayer.

Wilson writes with authenticity as a Mdewakanton descendant, enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation. She’s walked the steps of the Dakhóta.

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TELL ME: Have you read The Seed Keeper and, if so, what are your thoughts? I’d encourage everyone, Minnesotan or not, to read this award-winning novel.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on slavery & race on Juneteenth June 19, 2022

Photographed in August 2018 in a storefront window of a business in downtown Faribault, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018)

AS A WHITE WOMAN and writer living in rural Minnesota, writing on the topic of Juneteenth isn’t easy or comfortable. Yet, it’s important for me to do so, to publicly recognize the federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.

Why? Simply put, I care. I care that African Americans were treated with such disrespect, that they were “owned,” for no one should “own” anyone. Yet, these men, women and children were owned, used and abused by White slave owners who worked them, controlled them, imprisoned them, built our country’s early economy on their hardworking backs.

Artist Susan Griebel crafted this quilted art from fabric her mother-in-law, Margaret Griebel, acquired in Africa. Margaret’s husband served as a missionary in Nigeria. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert on slavery. But the very thought of it shakes me to the core. I can only imagine the emotions felt by those whose ancestors worked in servitude—in cotton and tobacco fields, in homes, in barns, on vast plantations…

Taking time on one June day to reflect on the freeing of slaves seems the least I can do. June 19th marks the date in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to ensure the freedom of all enslaved people.

One of many hearts incorporated into a sculpture, “Spreading the Love” by Geralyn Thelen and Dale Lewis, located in downtown Northfield, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

Beyond reflecting on this date in history, I’ve tried to educate myself by reading, a skill most slaves were denied. Reading, whether stories written by reliable media, nonfiction or even fiction rooted in history, opens my mind to understanding. And with understanding comes compassion and an unwillingness to remain silent.

Too many times during my 60-plus years of life I’ve seen (think Confederate flags) and heard the animosities expressed toward people of color. And while this doesn’t apply specifically to Black people and slavery, I will speak up if someone starts bashing our local immigrant population with false claims and other unkind words. I fully recognize that, because my skin is colorless, my life is likely easier without preconceived ideas/prejudices/denied opportunities.

Love this uplifting message posted along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I appreciate that thoughts in this country are shifting, that we as a people are acknowledging past wrongs, that we’re trying. On the flip side, I see, too, hatred rising in ways I would never have imagined possible.

I admit that I grew up in a household where my father occasionally used the “n” word. It hurts to write that. The “n” word was part of his rural vocabulary, of the time, of growing up among others just like him. White. I grew up similarly, totally surrounded by those of Scandinavian, German, Polish, Irish and other descent, none with roots in Africa.

But I moved away, grew my knowledge and experiences, grew my exposure to new ideas and people and places. I’ve also gained insights into the challenges Blacks face from a biracial son-in-law. Today I live in a diverse neighborhood of Americans who are White, Latino, African…and I’m thankful for that. They carry, in their family histories, struggles and joys, the imprints of those who came before them. Today I honor those African Americans in Texas who 156 years ago first celebrated their freedom from slavery with “Jubilee Day” on June 19, 1866. And I honor all those slaves forced into lives not of their choosing, without freedom, but determined to be free.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling