Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Saturday evening at the Black Stallion in Hampton January 11, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:03 AM

FINALLY, AFTER 20 MILES, my legs have warmed to the point where I no longer complain about the cold.

Now I can actually focus on my surroundings, if only I could see more than the faint outlines of farm buildings, snow-plastered road signs and the big dipper suspended above this expanse of flat land that stretches seemingly forever. I would prefer to drive this area in daylight, with camera in tow. But…, we are on our way to a company Christmas party on Saturday evening.

“Are you sure we’re going the right way?” I ask my husband, who assures me that Dakota County Road 47 leads to Hampton and the Black Stallion.

Eventually, we reach Hampton. Stop by the church, drive several blocks, turn right, drive through downtown, past a bar with “Lucky” in its name, turn left, then right again into the Black Stallion parking lot, next to busy U.S. Highway 52.

The name of this place, Black Stallion, intrigues me. My imagination can spin a fanciful, fictional story that probably resembles nothing close to the historic reality of this place. However, I suspect that in the heyday of supper clubs, the Black Stallion likely drew a crowd of well-dressed diners on Saturday nights. Most of those supper clubs, like the Lavender Inn and the Evergreen Knoll in Faribault, Jerry’s Supper Club in Owatonna and the Cat and the Fiddle between Mankato and New Ulm, have closed. I forget later to ask a waitress about the history of this long-time eating establishment.

I forget too to look for the black stallion statue that, from atop a towering sign, has become a roadside icon here.

Inside, I hang my coat in the coat check room, a supper club nicety I’ve long forgotten. In the large room reserved for the Parts Department, Inc., Northfield (NAPA), party, I try to find a warm spot away from the blast of frigid air that sweeps in every time someone enters the restaurant.

Later, much later, we settle in at tables linked together—one group of us on one side of the room, the others on the opposite side, a round table in between. I find myself placed at the joint of two tables, my back to a red wall.

Behind that wall, laughter erupts and spoons clink against glasses. “A wedding?” I ask.

“An anniversary,” answers Kathy, whom I’ve just met and who is seated across from me next to her husband, Marv.

Beside Kathy sits Turbo. He’s a high school senior and a 130-pound wrestler, a teen with energy that matches his nickname. By the end of the evening, he and my husband, whom he calls Rudy, are planning an October trip to a cranberry fest in northern Wisconsin. They intend to camp in our hail-battered 1988 Plymouth Grand Voyager van. I’ve decided I’ll bunk out in Turbo’s Superior, Wisconsin, dorm room rather than travel with this duo. And to think this road trip talk evolved after Randy, AKA Rudy, ordered a piece of cheesecake.

“I have cranberry cheesecake in my refrigerator,” Kathy says and tells us it came from Eagle River, Wisconsin, home to an annual Cranberry Fest that includes cranberry beer, cranberry meatballs, cranberry cheesecake,  cranberry brats and more.

“Let’s go,” my husband says upon hearing “brats and beer.”

So the conversations go. We talk, in the course of the evening, about kangaroos in Australia; veterinarian school; a $400 dog bought at a campground; a trashed, foreclosed home; the difference between Bohemians and Czechoslovakians; H1N1: snowdrifts (that from a Chicago native who knew nothing of snowdrifts before moving to Northfield); closet-sized dorm rooms; losing 12 pounds in four days to meet wrestling weight; how Turbo looks just like his dad, Calvin, whom he calls Calvin and not Dad; heart health (Roger) and hip health (me); treacherous roads; forecast 40-degree temps (where did you hear this, Elaine?); frozen ponds in Florida; *snow homes; and whether Randy’s middle name is Alexander because I am drinking a Brandy Alexander.

Sometimes it’s just crazy talk. But that’s OK, because we’re laughing, enjoying each other’s company, here at the Black Stallion. Here, where the food tastes supper club good and the powder room is wall-to-stall princess pink.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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*How do I explain “snow home?”  When I was growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, rural students needed to choose a designated home to stay in should they become stranded in town during a snowstorm. This was a “snow home.”