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


37 Responses to “My “farm wife” mother inspires my winning poetry”

  1. cecilia Says:

    How wonderful. Your work is always so deeply grounded and accessible to the reader. You put us in the seat next to you.. Lovely. You look a bit like your mum.She loved her babies by the look of her.. c

    • Thank you, Cecilia. That is my aim, to connect with my readers, just as you do.

      I’m glad you commented on my mom’s love for us. I see it in the way her hands/arms are crossed in front of me in a show of protection and love. I believe this is the only photo I have of my mom holding me as a baby/child. She was always the one behind the camera and few photos were actually taken given the cost of film and printing.

      • cecilia Says:

        Also the way she has you in her lap looks deeply comfortable. As though you were an extension of herself in a complete and ordinary way. Plonked into her lap, up against her belly. No pretense.. and distracted (probably by some pot on the stove or another child) ..safe.

      • You say it so well. This photo was actually taken at my maternal grandfather’s home, so no distractions for Mom. That would also explain why she and Dad are dressed in their Sunday best, although I don’t know the occasion.

  2. Bev Walker Says:

    I can just hear your Mom say she didn’t know she lived such an interesting life! I remembering looking at that pic of your folks , you and Doug many times Love the memories!! Can’t wait to read your poem!

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    So lovely!!! That photo is marvelous and I can see the family resemblance so strongly in all you gals!!!!!!! CanNOT wait for the printing!!!!! Hugs and congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Sue Ready Says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your mother in the blog posting! Congratulations to have your work incuded in this anthology.

    • Thank you, Sue.

      Everyone who knows/meets my mom loves her. She has been telling me recently how, each day, she thinks of one kind thing that is done for her. It’s never difficult. The kindness can be as simple as a stranger helping her reach merchandise on a high shelf at the store or a neighbor picking up her mail or my Aunt Jeanette driving her to the doctor’s office. My mom is surrounded by family and friends in my hometown who look after her and for that I am grateful, especially since I live 120 miles away.

  5. Beth Ann Says:

    Congrats on yet another well deserved honor! What a lovely tribute to your mom and to all farmer’s wives everywhere. Love the picture. I am sure it is a treasured one. Can’t wait to read this one when it has debuted!!!! Congrats again, my friend.

  6. Jackie Says:

    I can not wait to read this poem, something tells me I’m gonna love it. Congrats on being selected, such an honor for you Audrey. How long do we have to wait????? I’m sure in your mom’s humble little heart, she is beaming with pride 🙂 It’s so great that you get to share this poem with her!

  7. Congratulations on a well-deserved achievement. You have rekindled my interest in poetry. The world is a better place because of your distinct rural voice and the inspiration you draw from the land and people you love.

  8. Audrey, this is a wonderful post. Congratulations on the anthology piece and on recognizing that ordinary lives are extraordinary in their details.

    • You totally “get it,” Kathleen. Thank you. It’s all about the details in writing poetry, isn’t it? Oh, and also the emotional and personal connection. I can’t wait to share this poem here. But I must wait until it publishes.

  9. Clyde of Mankato Says:


    • Thanks, Clyde. If you get a chance, check out “The Image and the Word” exhibit at the Emmy Frentz Gallery in Mankato. Several of my poems are posted there in this exhibit which features poetry inspired by photos. The reception was last evening. I missed it, though, because I didn’t feel like driving the 45 minutes to Mankato and back on such a frigid evening. Sigh.

  10. How Exciting – Way to Go – Congrats – Time to Celebrate!!! I found my grandparent’s farm pretty interesting at a young age and was excited to grow up on a hobby farm in my teenage years. The exploring and adventuring I did on those many acres growing up – so much FUN! Happy Weekend:)

  11. hotlyspiced Says:

    That’s so lovely of you to honour your mother in that way. I’d say she must have had a fairly difficult life especially with no internal bathroom – how do you survive in the winter? I’ve seen those washing machines and they work well but they require a lot of effort. It’s amazing how much more convenient our lives are but we still find plenty to whine about. Lovely post, Audrey and congrats on doing so well with your poetry xx

    • Thank you, Charlie.

      In the winter, we had a pot on the porch, literally a pot with a lid so that we did not have to venture to the outhouse. Of course, one of my parents had to empty that pot into the outhouse.

      When I was about 12 or so, my parents, with the help of many relatives and a local carpenter, built a new house. It was a blessing to have an indoor bathroom and three bedrooms for the eight of us.

  12. Dorothy Bowman Says:

    Oh yes, growing up on a farm, espically with no bathroom is something else. For me it was a treat to move to Minneapolis where of course we had that bathroom. Shared by four or five girls. But a great thing for me. Life has so many changes and of course our children must find things different too.

    Can’t wait to see the writings on your mom, MY SISTER!!!!

  13. Thread crazy Says:

    Congratulations on such a wonderful achievement. I so enjoy your posts as you make them so personable. I’m anxious as the rest, to read your
    poem. Both your Mom and Dad look so at ease in the photo while your brother appears to be squirming,..lol!

  14. Vivian Says:

    Congratulations, Audrey!

  15. Congratulations! How lovely for you. And for your dear mother!

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