Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating the 80th birthday of a remarkable woman April 17, 2012

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My mother, Arlene, at her 80th birthday party.

THEY TRAVELED FROM AS far away as Arkansas to rural southwestern Minnesota to celebrate the life of an incredible woman.

They came from nursing homes and farms, retirement communities and apartment buildings. They came from the house two doors down and from several blocks away.

All ages—from 11 months to 100 years old—came to celebrate the 80th birthday of a remarkable woman.

The youngest guest, 11-month-old Sophia.

The oldest guest, my mom's aunt Gladys who recently turned 100.

She’s done nothing particularly remarkable in the sense of worldly accomplishments. But she—my mother—is kind and sweet and good. She’s lived a simple life, content as a wife, mother and grandmother and as an avid volunteer.

On Sunday afternoon, in the community hall of the place she’s called home for nearly 60 years, family and friends gathered to honor her. When I stood there surveying the crowd, my emotions threatened to spill into tears as I realized how much my mother is cherished.

Guests plate up food at the birthday celebration in the Vesta Community Hall.

She is one of the strongest, kindest women I know, someone who seldom speaks ill of another and who, on more than one occasion, has given her grown children this sage advice: “Never talk about anyone else’s children (in a negative way), because you never know what your own children may do.”

Many times I have considered those words of wisdom, opting not to repeat negative comments but rather choosing to uplift a young person in praise. My mother taught me to see the good in people.

She taught me to love God and family, to put them first. Above all.

My youngest, left, and my oldest with their grandma. My middle daughter, who lives in eastern Wisconsin, was unable to attend the birthday party.

She has shown me the definition of “strong” in the face of many health challenges. We nearly lost her more than 30 years ago to a viral infection of her heart. Later she would undergo open heart surgery to replace a leaky heart valve. She battled breast cancer. In recent years, when she nearly died again, the medical staff shared their amazement at how, surrounded by her children and other family members, she rallied to live.

My mother is determined—to live life to the fullest. Each Monday morning she still gathers with friends at the cafe for coffee. And, up until recently, she enrolled in senior college classes at a nearby university. She still volunteers at church whenever she can, although she finally gave up her role as head of the Funeral Committee. She attends a monthly craft club. Every month she visited the bookmobile when it stopped on Main Street, until bookmobile service to Vesta was ended in a cost-cutting move. She is an avid reader.

She doesn’t cook much anymore, but instead often eats her noon meal at the Vesta Cafe. When Mom tells me in a phone call that she’s eaten four times at the cafe in one week, I reassure her that’s OK. She can dine out in the company of others, getting a balanced meal for less than $5. She deserves it. Lord knows she spent enough decades cooking for her six children and her farmer-husband.

This is the woman we celebrated on Sunday, this remarkable woman who has blessed my life beyond measure as my mother.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling