Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Memories shared, memories made at a rural Minnesota family reunion July 31, 2012

Old-fashioned games like a gunny sack race, a three-legged race, and running with eggs on a spoon have been popular activities at recent Kletscher family reunions.

MY COUSIN LYNN doesn’t realize it, I’m sure. But when she repeated to me several times at this past weekend’s Kletscher family reunion that we need to keep this going, that not all families are like ours, gathering every year, remaining connected, sharing memories of the past, I knew that she was absolutely right.

The reunion originated many, many years ago as an annual summer picnic for descendants of Rudolph and Mathilda Kletscher, my great grandparents. As their son Henry’s family grew, a reunion for the family of Henry and Ida, my grandparents, was established.

In my 55 years of life, I bet I’ve missed only a handful of Kletscher reunions. It’s that important to me to attend this yearly gathering  in my hometown of Vesta. These aunts and uncles and cousins (and my grandparents, long ago deceased) were very much a part of my life when I was growing up as we all lived in close proximity to one another.

Saturday evening, circled around a campfire in the Vesta City Park, we shared memories of the many, many times our family celebrated birthdays and anniversaries. While the uncles clustered around card tables to swig beer and play cards so many decades ago and the aunts visited, we cousins raced in the dark shadows of farm yards in raucous games of “Starlight, Moonlight.” And then, when the wooden crate of pop bottles was pulled out, we swarmed to grab the rare treat of bubbly beverages.

Such were our memories (some best kept within the family) shared as darkness settled upon the prairie. Campfire flames flared and sparked while conversation ebbed and flowed as only it can in the comfortable familiarity of family.

Despite the feelings of closeness evoked at a reunion, the reality is that we are connected now primarily by memories and blood, not by the intertwining of our lives today. For the most part, we’ve moved away from the prairie and see each other only at the reunion or at the funerals of family members.

Several years ago, my sister Lanae and I decided we needed to infuse new energy into the reunion if we were to keep the next generation interested in remaining connected. That meant offering activities which would create memories. And so we, and other family members, have planned games. This year was no exception.

The cupcake walk, a popular activity two years ago, was brought back.

Elle, one happy little girl with a cupcake. She’s also an excellent hula hooper.

Already we can see our hard work and efforts effecting a change. The younger generation wants to come to the reunion now as opposed to “having” to tag along with mom and dad and being bored to death because “there’s nothing to do.”

I need only see the excitement in the faces of my cousins’ kids and grandkids’ and the smiles on my cousins’ faces to realize we’re on to something with offering organized activities. These descendants of Henry and Ida Kletscher are bonding and building memories.

It didn’t take much persuading to get the young adults participating in the Tacky Tourist Relay, helping each other slip into Hawaiian garb and more during our Hawaiian Luau themed reunion.

Perhaps 15 – 20 years from now they will circle around a campfire in the Vesta park remembering those gunny sack races or the time they hula hooped or Audrey insisting they join in the Tacky Tourist Relay Race.

Teams compete in the Tacky Tourist Relay.

I hope they will smile at the memories and realize how very blessed they are to be part of a family that has loved one another for generations.

Even my generation (OK, they’re a wee bit younger than me) formed a Tacky Tourist Relay team.

My sister Lanae and cousin Kirt assist each other in the hula hoop competition. I’m pretty certain they did not win.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling