Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

For my mother May 12, 2013

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My parents with my brother and me in a photo dated January 1957, but likely taken a few months earlier.

My parents with my brother and me in a photo dated January 1957, but likely taken a few months earlier at my maternal grandpa’s house.

I WONDER SOMETIMES what my mother’s life would have been like had she not chosen motherhood over career.

Not that long-term employment was truly an option for a young woman of the 1950s, unless you chose teaching or nursing, neither of which fit my mother’s professional talents or interests.

After graduating from Wabasso High School in 1951, as valedictorian no less, she attended Mankato Business College then landed a job with the state employment office in Marshall.

By September of 1954, she had quit her job and married. In July 1955 she gave birth to her first son. Within a dozen years, my mother and father would have six children.

Raising a family in rural southwestern Minnesota, in a cramped and drafty three bedroom house with no bathroom, could not have been easy.

I retain memories of my mother striking farmer matches to light the oil burning stove centered in the living room, heating a house wrapped in brown paper, straw bales snugged to the foundation.

I see her dumping buckets of hot water into the galvanized bathtub positioned before the kitchen stove on Saturday nights.

I feel her hands lacing through my stick-straight hair as I lie face-up on the kitchen counter, head draped over the sink, as she works shampoo onto my scalp.

I watch her dump cups of flour and sugar into the white bowl of her Hamilton Beach mixer, stirring up batches of bars too quickly consumed by six hungry kids. I remember, too, the treat of a few chocolate chips dropped into hands.

I smell the yeasty scent of her homemade bread pulled from the oven, remember the snippets of dough she parceled out for me and my sisters to shape miniature buns.

I hear the hiss of hot iron against cotton cloth she’s sprinkled with water.

I watch her grasp the iron ring on the kitchen floor trap door as she sends me down the creaky stairs to the dirt-floored cellar for a jar of golden peaches. Memories of summer days, of wooden crates lugged home from the local grocer, of peaches wrapped in pink tissue, of fruit slipped into boiling water, linger.

I can feel her strength as she stirs the clothes in her Maytag wringer washer with a grey stick propped always against a wall in the porch where smelly chore clothes hung.

She traded a career for all of this.

Was she happy? Did she regret giving up a well-paying and stable job for six kids and poverty?

I’ve never asked.

But I’d like to think she was happy raising a family, instilling in each of her children a strong faith in God and an appreciation and love of family, and of life.

The old farmhouse to the left, where I grew up with the "new house," built in the late 1960s.

The old farmhouse to the left, where I lived until about age 12, with the “new house” in the background. That’s my sister, Lanae, standing on the front steps leading into the porch. Was the house really that small? Apparently so.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling