Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating family at the annual Kletscher reunion in southwestern Minnesota July 30, 2013

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Referees watch over the competition in which contestants filled cups, attached to their feet, with popcorn and raced to fill ice cream buckets.

Referees watch over the competition in which contestants fill cups, attached to their feet, with popcorn and race to fill ice cream buckets.

THIS YEAR THEY CALLED in the referees to control the competitors.

The competitors would be the descendants (and spouses) of Henry and Ida Kletscher, gathered on Sunday afternoon in the Vesta City Park for the annual family reunion. My aunts and uncles and cousins and their kids and their kids’ kids; my mom; four of my siblings and two of their spouses; and a single nephew.

P)lating food at the potluck meal spread across several picnic tables in the Vesta City Park shelter.

Plating food at the potluck meal spread across several picnic tables in the Vesta City Park shelter.

My first plate of food. I made sure to grab a piece of the blueberry dessert, which my Aunt Elaine brings each year. Wait too long and you miss out on a piece.

My first plate of food. I made sure to grab a piece of the blueberry dessert, which my Aunt Marilyn brings each year. Wait too long and you miss out on a piece.

Fueled by a potluck meal, preschoolers to my 90-year-old Aunt Elaine participated in an afternoon of organized competitive activities ranging from puzzle making to relay races to nail pounding to Kletscher family trivia.

In the flag race, contestants carry flags from one ice cream bucket to another.

In the flag race, contestants carry flags from one ice cream bucket to another.

Laughter erupted. Legs pounded the parched and hardened lawn. Good-natured kidding abounded.

Winners in the puzzle making competition celebrate.

Winners in the puzzle making competition celebrate. Contestants assembled 25-piece puzzles.

Teams cheered.

My cousin Greg cheats in the popcorn game in which contestants were supposed to fill cups. attached to their feet, with popcorn. He found his hands to work much better.

My cousin Greg cheats in the popcorn game in which contestants were supposed to fill cups, attached to their feet, with popcorn. He found his hands to work much better.

Cheating ran rampant, despite the two referees, who couldn’t possibly spot every rule infringement.

That would be my Aunt Janice helping to fill a squirt gun.

That would be my Aunt Janice filling a squirt gun.

In order to protect my camera, I keep my distance from the water balloon toss.

In order to protect my camera, I keep my distance from the water balloon toss.

I stepped back from the water balloon toss, dodged squirt gun fire, held my camera above the chaos to photograph the competition.

The games begin with assembling 25-piece puzzles.

The games begin with assembling 25-piece puzzles.

To a distant passerby, the goings-on may have appeared crazy and chaotic and perhaps worthy of a call to the Redwood County Sheriff’s Department.

In the nail driving contest, entrants had one minute to pound as many nails as they could into a section of wood.

In the nail driving contest, entrants had one minute to pound as many nails as they could into a section of wood.

But I observed fun—a family connecting and building memories.

Team Red poses for a photo.

Team Red poses for a photo.

In many ways, the reunion took me back to decades earlier and evenings of gathering at the farms of extended family members to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Then I was the kid, the girl racing across a pitch black farm yard playing “Starlight Moonlight” with my cousins—connecting, building memories.

In this game, competitors soak up water with sponges and race to fill ice cream buckets.

In this game, competitors soak up water with sponges and race to fill ice cream buckets.

Today I am the photographer, capturing those memories, reveling in the blessings of belonging to a family that cares enough to come together every July in a rural southwestern Minnesota city park a skip over gravel roads from acres of cropland.

My Aunt Jeanette holds one of her newest great grandsons, who traveled from near Milwaukee with his parents and twin brother to attend the reunion. I'm guessing this is 5-month-old Landon.

My Aunt Jeanette holds one of her newest great grandsons, who traveled from near Milwaukee with his parents and twin brother to attend the reunion. At five months, Landon (or Garrett, I’m unsure which twin) is among the youngest of Henry and Ida Kletscher’s descendants. This image was shot at the Saturday evening get together. In recent years the reunion expanded to begin on Saturday evening, resuming with the Sunday noon potluck. Games were also added within the past five years to keep the young people coming and to mingle the generations.

This the land of our forefathers, the home of our hearts, the place where family memories are rooted, here on the prairie.

CHECK BACK FOR MORE photos of family reunion fun.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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