Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Making memories at a Minnesota family reunion with red Jell-O and, um, underwear July 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:41 AM
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UNDERWEAR AND CHEWING GUM, packets of Jell-O and Kool-Aid, a jar of pickles and even a bag of flour—all were part of the annual Kletscher family reunion held last weekend in Vesta.

First a little background. Vesta, a town of about 300, lies in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota along State Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and Marshall. Every July descendants of Henry and Ida Kletscher, my grandparents, gather at the park in our ancestral hometown. I didn’t take a head count, but I estimate that 150 relatives attended this year’s reunion.

This shows a small section of the Kletscher family gathered for a trivia contest at the annual reunion in Vesta.

But back to that underwear and the other listed items. As a co-coordinator of this year’s reunion, I organized a family trivia contest complete with give-aways. To win prizes, audience members had to quickly shout out answers.

Now, I’m certain you’re wondering what I could have asked that prompted me to offer underwear as a prize. Well, here’s the question: “At family gatherings, the girl cousins played Chinese jump rope, which was made from what material?” The answer: recycled underwear elastic. Yes, because we were poor, we had to be resourceful. Rather than buy an elastic Chinese jump rope, we improvised by cutting elastic from worn-out undergarments and tying the pieces together.

I’m quite certain my niece Tara wishes she hadn’t been the first to respond to that Chinese jump rope question. She appeared shocked, maybe horrified is a better description, when I pulled out over-sized striped underwear and then tossed the panties her way. Later I would discover that she left her panty prize behind (on purpose, I’m sure). Big mistake. Big, big mistake.

Here’s another trivia question: “What was a popular food prize awarded to winners of Kletscher bridal shower games? This food was also served at family birthday gatherings.” As any good Minnesotan knows, that would be Jell-O, specifically red Jell-O. Naturally, I tossed out boxes of strawberry gelatin.

Then, the question that generated the most interest from the young girls: “Who made gum wrapper chains and strung them in her bedroom?” That would be my cousin Diane who carefully crafted discarded gum wrappers into chains. And, here’s the incredible part. Diane still had one of those decades-old chains and, per my request, brought it to the reunion. This intrigued the preteens and teens. And, as you would expect, I gave away packages of gum.

Aunt Iylene shows off the gum wrapper chain made by my cousin Diane decades ago.

Trivia contest winners, Diane, my mom and my niece Tara, pose with their "medals." The trio also received Smarties candy for being so smart. The losing teams received Dum Dum suckers.

So our reunion went…beginning with several families attending the Laura Ingalls Wilder pageant, “Fragments of a Dream,” in Walnut Grove on Friday evening. (Read my July 27 post on the memorable ride home. My cousin Ronda’s daughter Emily wrote a song, “The Unforgettable Storm,” performed on Sunday.)

Saturday evening we gathered at the Vesta Park for a campfire, wine tasting, singing, a texting competition, an outdoor movie and old-fashioned games like gunny sack and three-legged races. I laughed until my stomach hurt and then laughed some more.

Sunday brought the usual potluck followed by an afternoon of activities. Typically we eat and just sit and visit. But in an attempt to generate enthusiasm and more interest in the reunion, especially among the younger generation, we added planned events.

We themed this year’s reunion to the celebration of my cousin Jeff’s 20th wedding anniversary. Unfortunately his wife, Janet, could not attend as she was working, or so Jeff told us. More likely, Janet did not attend because she is not real. Twenty years ago Jeff pulled off an April Fool’s Day prank by announcing a marriage that was totally fraudulent/made-up/imaginary. Jeff, good sport bachelor that he is, allowed us to celebrate his “anniversary” in style. I’m not sure he expected a garter and bouquet toss, anniversary cake, crepe paper and bells, and a pile of gifts.

My husband and I and a handful of young girls decorated the park shelter and a screened tent with bells and crepe paper in honor of Jeff and Janet's 20th wedding anniversary.

My cousin Dawn, with the help of daughter Megan, made two beautiful anniversary cakes for her brother. My Uncle Wally and Aunt Janice made and decorated the less attractive cake with the beanie baby bridal bears.

Other afternoon events included a rock-paper-scissors tournament, a cupcake walk, a scavenger hunt, a memory game, and bean bag toss.

Oh, and I can’t forget the bridesmaid dress judging. Family members hauled their dresses to the reunion, where the garments were hung on a rope strung between two trees.

Family members selected their favorite and least favorite bridesmaid dresses that were hung between the trees.

The black-and-white dress was voted as the prettiest. The green one next to it is from my May 1982 wedding.

Relatives voted for the “prettiest” and the “ugliest.” Pre-teens, teens and my oldest daughter then modeled several dresses—fabric falling from their shoulders and dragging in the grass—before we crowned the winners with a beautiful tiara and a gaudy, flower-bedecked cap.

Later my cousin Terri would share that she felt vindicated as the bridesmaid dress worn in her wedding was voted the “prettiest.” (She claims to have gotten the “young” vote.) When she was married in 1989, Terri’s sisters teased her about the black-and-white bridesmaids’ dresses, saying they made them look like (Holstein) cows. Terri, now a model, actress and co-host of a public television show, Nature Adventures (airing soon in Minnesota), proved even back then that she had style. So there, sisters of hers.

Now, as I reflect on this weekend gathering with my mom, siblings, nieces, nephew, cousins, aunts and uncles and other family members, I have such good memories. I hear the laughter, the engaging conversations, our voices united in song. I feel the hugs, see the smiles. Bonds have been strengthened, new memories made, old ones rekindled. For me, that makes the hours and hours and hours of planning and hard work during the past year worth my time and energy.

I love my family and I would do this again for them in a heartbeat (just give me a few years to recover).

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos by my daughter Amber (because I had absolutely no time to shoot photos).


15 Responses to “Making memories at a Minnesota family reunion with red Jell-O and, um, underwear”

  1. Miranda Says:

    Ha ha I would have loved to see the look on Tara’s face when you threw the huge underwear at her! Why did you leave them behind, Tara? Didn’t you want them?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I had so much fun coming up with these memorable prizes. I really wanted my sister Lanae to win the underwear. But since her daughter won these, I’m happy.

  2. Lanae Says:

    I am so glad that we co-chaired the reunion!! I had the best time that I have ever had at a family reunion. I’m looking forward to next year!!!!! Who knows Christmas in July, German Fest, Hawaiian Luau, Western or ????? I know that I’ll help with something as we want to keep the young people interested in coming.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Lanae, you were a great co-chair. Even though I was totally exhausted after the weekend, I don’t regret taking on this task for one minute. The kids had the time of their lives. Adults were mingling and laughing and just generally enjoying themselves. I, too, will pitch in and help as needed. I want to see this new way of doing things continue for years to come. We’re keeping the generations involved and connected and, for me, that’s absolutely, undeniably, important.

  3. Virgil Says:

    Wow, that sounded like a great reunion. Are there always that many present? You ought to write a book on how to do reunions. Our family reunion is very small but some ideas like yours might revitalize it. Do you have this all written out?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      This is the first time we’ve selected a theme and added activities to our family reunion. As you mentioned with your family, we needed to do something to revitalize the event and keep the younger generations coming.

      I have a lot of Kletscher relatives, meaning by most standards that we have many attending. This year, however, was the best attended reunion I can recall. Several cousins who have not been there in years came and one told me it was specifically due to the added activities.

      I like to organize, create and plan. This was fun for me, but also a lot of work. Many, many family members helped, though, making this doable. The only thing I have written down are my lists.

      The easiest way to approach this is to choose a theme, brainstorm, seek input from others and then delegate, delegate, delegate. Oh, and communication is also a key.

  4. Audrey, I just came into the house from cleaning and decorating the shed for the Schoenecker family reunion that I am hosting here on Saturday and I decided to sit down, take a quick break, and read your Blog. Wow! how appropriate. Yes, I understand completely how much time, effort, and fun planning a family reunion can be. I hope our reunion will be as successful and as much fun as yours was. There is only one problem with the pictures….since you didn’t take the pictures – where are you on these pictures???? Thanks for the great Blog. Now I will get up and get back to work! Nancy F.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Ah, you caught me, Nancy. But when you’re the editor of the blog, you can choose not to post images of yourself. I hope your reunion this weekend goes well. I’ll expect to read about it on Gordon’s blog.

  5. Kristin Says:

    What fun! Good job, Audrey. Well done.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Planning and carrying out the reunion activities was fun! A lot of work, but rewarding to see everyone enjoying themselves.

  6. bevalker Says:

    thank you and your family for all the time and love you put into the kletscher reunion. I had a blast and hopefully i can attend in years to come. I will get the pictures i took sent to you as soon as i have my sons show me how!! thank you again!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You’re welcome, Bev. Lanae and I had so much fun planning the reunion. But we couldn’t have done it alone. So many other families members pitched in to make it an absolute success.

      We hope, too, that this is just the beginning of many more such memorable reunions. Come next year, bring your boys and their spouses AND your grandchildren!

  7. Janelle Russenberger Says:

    We had great fun at the reunion. Thank you Audrey and Lanae for all your hard work and planning! The bonfire, games, singing, and wine/beer tasting were a bit hit Saturday night – and I’m glad we didn’t roll in too late after Carli’s softball tournament. Sunday was perfect for reminiscing and catching up, although I didn’t make it around to everyone there – maybe next year.

  8. Lori Says:

    Just looking back again at your reunion blog and I finally have a few minutes to comment. It was so much fun and many good memories were had by all. What a treat to see such talent within our relatives (singing, guitar playing, wine makers, etc.). It is nice to know that we have a close family and even though we don’t see each other very often we can have alot of fun catching up with what everyone is doing. God has truly granted our family many blessings.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I agree, Lori. We Kletschers are blessed to have such a large extended family. I have such fond childhood memories of all of us gathering for birthdays and anniversaries. I want to keep those connections and pass them on to the next generation.

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