Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My “farm wife” mother inspires my winning poetry February 28, 2014

MY 81-YEAR-OLD MOM inspires me.

She inspires me to live my life with the same positive outlook, grateful heart and kindness she’s exuded her entire life.

And she inspires my poetry. In recent poetry writing endeavors (click here and here), she has been the subject of my poems. This surprises her.

When I informed Mom that my poem, “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960,” had been selected for inclusion in Poetic Strokes 2014, a regional poetry anthology published by Southeastern Libraries Cooperating, she responded with a humbleness that truly reflects her character.

“I didn’t know I led such an interesting life,” Mom said.

To most, she likely hasn’t. She grew up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, attended Mankato Business College after high school, then worked at a government office in Marshall until marrying my father shortly thereafter and settling onto a farm near Vesta.

My parents holding my older brother, Doug, and me in this January 1957 photo.

My parents, Elvern and Arlene Kletscher, holding my older brother, Doug, and me in this January 1957 photo. Rare are the photos of my farm wife mother.

There she assumed the role of farm wife, the title given rural women long before stay-at-home mom became a buzzword. She no longer lives on the farm, having moved into my paternal grandmother’s home in Vesta decades ago.

As an adult, I now understand that her life as a farm wife was not particularly easy—raising six children on a limited income; doing laundry with a Maytag wringer washer; tending a garden and then canning and freezing the produce; doing without an indoor bathroom…

I sometimes wonder how her life would have unfolded
had she not locked eyes with my father on the dance floor…

–Lines one and two from “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960”

Although I’ve never asked, I expect she dreamed of time just for herself. On rare occasions she and my dad would go out on a Saturday evening.

With those thoughts, I penned “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960.” As much as I’d like to share that poem with you here, today, I cannot. That debut honor goes to Poetic Strokes, a copy of which will be gifted from me to my mom, the woman who has led an extraordinary life. Not extraordinary in the sense of great worldly accomplishments, but rather in the way she has treated others with kindness, compassion and love. Her depth of love for family, her faith and her empathy and compassion have served as guiding principles in my life.

I am proud to be the daughter of a farmer’s wife.

The cover of Poetic Strokes/Word Flow. Image courtesy of SELCO.

The cover of Poetic Strokes/Word Flow. Image courtesy of SELCO.

I AM HONORED, for the sixth time, to have my poetry published in Poetic Strokes, a Library Legacy funded project (through Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund) that promotes poetry in southeastern Minnesota and specifically in SELCO libraries. Each library will have a copy available for check out near the end of March or in early April, National Poetry Month.

This year my county of Rice joins Winona County with the highest number of poets, six from each county, included in the Poetic Strokes section of the anthology. I am the sole Faribault poet with five from nearby Northfield.

Twenty-three poems from 21 poets in five of SELCO’s 11 counties will be published in Poetic Strokes 2014.

There were 196 poems submitted by 112 poets. Two published poets with PhDs in English literature and a third poet who is a former English teacher, fiction writer and contributor to the League of Minnesota Poets judged the entries.

Says SELCO Regional Librarian Reagen A. Thalacker of the judging process:

The general sense I received when the poems came back is that our judges felt that there was a great variety in subject matter and skill and that they were impressed with many of those that were submitted. There was also the overwhelming sense of having enjoyed thoroughly the opportunity to read the works submitted.

Additionally, the anthology includes 28 poems penned by youth ages 14 – 18 (or in high school) residing within SELCO counties. Twenty-eight poems chosen from 111 submissions will be featured. What an encouragement to young poets to be published in the Word Flow portion of this project.

For me, a seasoned poet, selection of “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960” encourages me to keep writing in a rural voice distinctly mine, inspired by the land and the people I love.

FYI: Click here to read a full report on Poetic Strokes/Word Flow 2014, including a list of poets selected for inclusion in the anthology.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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“Sold, to bidder number…” February 27, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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Turek's Auction Service, 303 Montgomery Ave. S.E. (Highway 21), Montgomery, has been "serving Minnesota since 1958." Daniel Turek, Sr., started the third-generation family business now operated by Dan, Jr. and Travis Turek. They sell everything from antique vases to real estate.

Turek’s Auction Service, 303 Montgomery Ave. S.E. (Highway 21), Montgomery, has been “serving Minnesota since 1958.” Daniel Turek, Sr., started the third-generation family business now operated by Dan, Jr. and Travis Turek. They sell everything from antique vases to real estate.

YEARS, MAYBE EVEN A DECADE or more, have passed since I attended an auction.

But once upon a time my husband and I frequented auctions, bidding mostly on furniture. Our prized dining room table came from a neighbor’s household and farm auction back in my hometown of Vesta. The matching chairs were from a sale near Morristown.

Auctions appeal to me for many reasons. There’s a certain camaraderie yet competitiveness, friendliness yet aloofness, thrill yet disappointment.

When you outbid someone or snare merchandise at a bargain price, it’s a heady feeling.

But it’s more than that. The rhythm of an auction, the mesmerizing cadence of the auctioneer’s voice, the slight nod of the head, the closeness of the crowd, the commonality of community, Styrofoam cups brimming with steaming coffee, all create an unforgettable experience.

Perhaps it’s time I attend an auction again.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Small town patriotism February 26, 2014

American pride along First Street, Montgomery, Minnesota.

American pride along First Street, Montgomery, Minnesota.

EVERY MORNING as an elementary school student in rural Minnesota, I joined my classmates in facing the corner of the classrooom to gaze upon the American flag. Hands across hearts, we recited the pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United State of America
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one nation under God, indivisible,
with Liberty and Justice for all.

The same photo, edited.

The same photo, edited.

Those words imprinted upon my memory, instilled a sense of pride in my country and a realization that I live in a nation blessed.

And edited again...

And edited again…

Precious words. Somewhat muddied now. But still, ever so dear.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, the stories this tow truck could tell February 25, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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A Montgomery Oil Co. tow truck photographed recently along a residential street in Montgomery, Minnesota. Is this parked at the site of the former service station?

A Montgomery Oil Co. tow truck photographed recently along a residential street in Montgomery, Minnesota. Is this the former site of the service station?

DO YOU EVER WONDER, like I do, about the stories a vehicle could tell?

Why is this face painted on a door of the building where the tow truck is parked? And whose face is this?

Why is this face painted on a door of the building where the tow truck is parked? And whose face is this?

I suppose it’s the former news reporter in me or that natural curiosity I’ve always possessed that fuels my mind to frame questions.

Vintage lettering...

Vintage lettering…

How often did this truck travel, after bar closings, to tug a vehicle from a ditch near Montgomery, Minnesota?

And how many tragic scenes—shards of glass scattered across the highway, crushed metal, flashing lights—has this tow truck viewed?

Has this truck’s driver cursed when the phone rang in the wee hours of a brutal winter morning?

It appears, from the snow locking in and blanketing this truck, that it hasn’t moved in awhile from property along a residential street in Montgomery.

park

West Side Park sits right across the alley.

Is this tow truck the planned project of a restorer or simply abandoned, destined to rust away in this spot an alley away from a small town Minnesota city park?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault’s connection to Sochi February 23, 2014

NO MATTER THE SEASON, no matter how many times I’ve viewed Shattuck-St. Mary’s School through its arched entry, I remain impressed by the incredible beauty and strength of this place.

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minnesota.

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota.

Tucked into Faribault’s east side, Shattuck’s campus seems more Ivy League college or an American version of Hogworts than an historic private boarding school in Minnesota.

But it is here from whence eight 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics hockey players graduated: Brianna Decker, Amanda Kessel and Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux playing for Team USA; Zach Parise and Derek Stepan on the men’s Team USA roster; and Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews competing for Team Canada.

Right here, in southeastern Minnesota, many a hockey great has skated…

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

No smelling the lilies today February 22, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:48 PM
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TODAY MY HUSBAND AND I had these wonderful plans for a one-day respite from winter.

We intended to drive to St. Paul, tour the Como Park Conservatory and then have lunch with our eldest daughter and son-in-law at their Lowertown apartment.

But that all changed after we decided to heed the Minnesota State Patrol’s advice to avoid unnecessary travel this weekend.

In the aftermath of Thursday/Friday’s blizzard, roads remain treacherous. Rain followed by snow caused a layer of ice to form under the now snow-packed roadways. Yesterday’s traffic situation in the Twin Cities metro was awful with thousands of spin-outs, nearly 700 crashes, almost 1,000 stalls and over 50 jackknifed/stuck semis, according to numerous news reports. The situation in areas of outstate Minnesota has been equally as challenging.

Conditions have been termed the worst in 25 years.

Minnesota Highway 60 just outside of Faribault Saturday morning shows a mostly snow-packed highway with a few patches of pavement showing.

Minnesota Highway 60 just east of Faribault Saturday morning shows a mostly snow-packed and icy highway with a few patches of pavement showing.

In the cold that followed the storm, salt and chemicals are not melting the snow and ice. Roads will improve only with time and we’re told that could be days. A short drive east of Faribault along Minnesota Highway 60 this morning showed us just how bad roads are.

We did not want to be part of the metro mess, thus the decision to postpone the St. Paul outing until another weekend.

And, as our eldest daughter reminded us, we did not want to be the second Helbling to go in the ditch this week.

Monday morning our second daughter’s vehicle hit an icy patch on a rural Wisconsin roadway, spun around twice into the oncoming lane and landed in the opposite ditch facing the opposite direction from which she’d been traveling.

Thankfully, she was not injured nor her Chevy damaged. There was no oncoming traffic. Her car did not roll (as she suspected it would) and it landed in the opposite ditch away from telephone phones.

She did, however, have to crawl out the window as snow was banked against the door.

Yes, this has been quite the winter here in the Midwest.

Preparing to shovel snow from the garage roof. Trees in my neighborhood are still laden with ice and snow.

Preparing to shovel snow from the garage roof. Trees in my neighborhood are still laden with ice and snow.

So, today instead of meandering among fragrant lilies, beautiful pansies and more in the balmy warmth of the Como Conservatory and then lunching with our daughter and her husband, we’ve been dealing with snow. My spouse has been shoveling snow from the house and garage roofs and from ours and the neighbor’s driveways.

Ravine Street in Faribault this morning.

Ravine Street in Faribault this morning.

We may head downtown again later. But we’re not leaving town.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Digging out in Faribault from our latest winter storm February 21, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:18 PM
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THERE’S NO DENYING the beauty of Minnesota’s latest snowstorm blizzard, which dumped perhaps eight inches of snow on Faribault. I’m never good at judging snow totals.

Trees are iced with snow.

Trees iced with snow.

Heavy, wet snow layers upon trees and power lines, creating a surreal world of incredible beauty contrasted against a cobalt sky.

The  snow-coated woods behind my house are beautiful this morning.

The snow-coated woods behind my house are beautiful this morning.

But beauty will take winter only so far.

From my fenced backyard, I photographed my neighbor, Bob, blowing snow this morning.

From my fenced backyard, I photographed my neighbor, Bob, blowing snow this morning.

Faced with snow removal, I find that beauty quickly fades.

As much as I appreciate the hard-working snowplow drivers, I don't like digging out the snow they plow onto the ends of sidewalks (shown here) and driveways.

As much as I appreciate the hard-working snowplow drivers, I don’t like digging out the snow they plow onto the ends of sidewalks (shown here) and driveways. Sometimes it can be blown out, oftentimes not.

This storm, my husband and I took a two-step approach to getting the snow off our and a neighbor’s driveways and sidewalks. I initiated the plan Thursday afternoon when I realized Randy would never get the car through the snow at the end of the driveway upon his return home from work. The snowplow had gone by, creating a wall of ice and snow chunks.

Miracle of miracles, Randy actually arrived home at 5 p.m., 45 minutes earlier than usual. The boss said if he had to leave early, he could. He commutes to Northfield, 22 minutes distant, on a good day.

Randy opened the garage door this morning to begin the task of snow removal, phase II.

Randy opened the garage door this morning to continue the task of snow removal, phase II.

I had been shoveling for 30 minutes already when my spouse pulled out the snowblower. Our goal was to keep ahead of the storm somewhat. Shovel and blow Thursday and then again Friday morning.

Nearly done clearing our driveway Friday morning.

Nearly done clearing our driveway Friday morning.

And so here it is, nearing noon on Friday. The driveway and sidewalks at our home and our neighbor’s place are cleared, were cleared, by 9 a.m.

A scoop shovel worked best for removing this snow. I shovel where the snowblower can't go.

A scoop shovel worked best for removing this snow. I shovel where the snowblower can’t go or can’t handle.

My back, leg and arm muscles feel it. I’ve shoveled way too much snow this winter.

Snow flies as Randy works the snowblower down the driveway. Fortunately we are not without power, although the lights flickered numerous times Thursday evening.

Snow flies as Randy works the snowblower down the driveway. Fortunately we are not without power, although the lights flickered numerous times Thursday evening.

How about you?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling