Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Grieving one gone too young July 31, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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Valley Grove cemetery - Copy

 

I’D NEVER MET THE PARENTS, only knew their son from company gatherings.

But on a recent Thursday evening, I waited in line at a funeral home to pay my respects to the 25-year-old, my husband’s former co-worker, who took his own life.

As Randy and I snail paced through the winding line of mourners, past countless photo displays, I observed. Never have I attended a visitation with such quietness. Barely a sound in this carpeted room where mostly young men stood, their eyes focused on images sliding across a screen. Their friend, once so vibrant and alive, now gone, his closed casket on the other side of the room.

It made me incredibly sad to witness this. This grief tucked inside these young men who should not be here but rather tooling around in their pick-ups on a perfect Minnesota summer evening. Never have I seen so many trucks parked, and young adults gathered, outside a funeral home.

It made me incredibly sad to witness this.

I watched as a twenty-something slipped his arm around his significant other when they paused at the casket. Her grief ran deep and I expect so did his.

Grief rose inside me, too, and threatened to spill into tears for a young man I barely knew. But he is around the age of my own children and, as a mother, I cannot imagine such a loss. This is not the natural order of life, to lose a child.

I wondered, as we edged toward the family, past the displays of caps and replica cars and framed certifications, what I would say. How do you comfort?

At times like this, words seem futile. I wanted, in some small way also, to console the 12-year-old brother who occasionally turned and sheltered himself into his towering father’s side. He appeared invisible to other mourners. But I noticed him and his pain.

When we reached the brother, I asked his name. And he spoke with such softness that the father had to repeat his name. And then I asked to hug the 12-year-old and he allowed me to do so. Twice. And I told him he was loved.

And then the story spilled out—how he had given his older brother his nickname because he could not, as a young child, pronounce his sibling’s name. And for a moment a smile flitted across the pre-teen’s face and the father and I laughed. And I told the 12-year-old that he will always have that special connection to his brother.

Sometimes grieving families need moments like this and only sparse words of sincere sympathy. I offered such words and hugs and held hands, too, and felt the clench of grief.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Celebrating an enduring love of 50 years July 30, 2014

THE PHOTO FROM FIFTY YEARS ago is priceless. Six cousins, all nieces of the groom, step ladder lined up on the steep steps of Rock Dell Lutheran Church, rural Belview, Minnesota.

I'm third from the top.

I’m third from the top in this 50-year-old image tucked into a photo album.

I wish I remembered that moment when newlyweds, Merlin and Iylene Kletscher, descended the stairs. But I was only eight then, snugged between cousins, on that beautiful early November day in 1964. Or at least I assume the weather was unseasonably pleasant as we’re dressed like it’s summer.

Historic Odeon Hall in Belview.

Historic Odeon Hall in Belview.

Fast forward fifty years and I’m back in Belview, this time at Odeon Hall, an historic 1901 community center next to city hall and the fire department and within a block of my aunt and uncle’s home. They recently moved back to Iylene’s hometown.

The crowd dwindles as the 50th anniversary party comes to a close.

The crowd dwindles as the 50th anniversary party comes to a close. The honored couple are to the left front.

I am there with my husband and hundreds of others celebrating the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary several months early.

Merlin and Iylene's wedding photo served as a table decoration.

Merlin and Iylene’s wedding photo served as a table decoration.

And I wonder, as I reconnect with cousins and other aunts and uncles, how fifty years have passed.

Dyed bridesmaid's shoes from the November 7, 1964, wedding.

Dyed bridesmaid’s shoes from the November 7, 1964, wedding.

It seems only yesterday I was an 8-year-old wearing cat eye glasses, hair pulled back with a barrette, dressed in my Sunday best button back green corduroy jumper and white blouse perched on those steps in my shiny black patent leather shoes.

Iylene's wedding dress (which she sewed) and veil and Merlin's suit.

Iylene’s wedding dress (which she sewed) and veil and Merlin’s suit.

Yesterday.

Cake to celebrate 50 years of marriage.

Cake to celebrate 50 years of marriage.

But yesterday was fifty years ago, when high school sweethearts Merlin, 19, and Iylene, 20, pledged their love to one another before family and friends in a small country church. Within six years, they had four children.

Merlin and Iylene today.

Merlin and Iylene today.

What a blessing to have a half century together.

A little lunch was served at the anniversary party.

A little lunch was served at the anniversary party.

Fifty years are worth celebrating.

Guests linger as the party ends.

Guests linger as the party ends.

And I was delighted to be there, as I was on November 7, 1964, to congratulate my aunt and uncle, this time fully appreciating the depth of their love for one another.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My crazy family reconnects at a rural Minnesota reunion July 29, 2014

My cousin Kirt leads his team in the first Kletscher Fear Factor competition by "agreeing" to a beauty make-over.

My cousin Kirt leads his team in the first Kletscher Fear Factor competition by “agreeing” to a beauty make-over.

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS Vesta stays in Vegas Vesta.

My cousin Kirt sports the family name on the back of his shirt.

Kirt sports the family name on the back of his shirt.

That mantra was repeated by several of my cousins on Sunday afternoon as my extended family gathered in my hometown for the annual Kletscher family reunion.

We gather in the Vesta park across the road from corn and soybean fields. Here a John Deere tractor drives past on Sunday afternoon.

We meet in the Vesta park across the road from corn and soybean fields. Here a John Deere tractor drives past on Sunday afternoon.

Every year I anticipate this weekend celebration which brings the descendants of Henry and Ida Kletscher to the small southwestern Minnesota prairie town of Vesta. The reunion kicks off with a Saturday evening campfire and then continues the following day with a noon potluck followed by games and visiting.

The playground proves a popular area for elementary-aged through high school.

The playground proves a popular area for elementary-aged through high school.

Laughter, play, competition, conversation and great homemade food define the weekend. I love my extended family and I love this reunion.

My mom, left, and several of the aunts line up to watch the afternoon games.

My mom, left, and several of the aunts line up to watch the afternoon games. Elaine, bundled in the fleece blanket, was the oldest attendee. She’s 91.

Since adding competitive games several years ago, the connectedness between generations has grown stronger:

Teams formed and then the make-up case was opened for beauty make-overs on three guys.

Teams formed and then the make-up case was opened for a beauty contest.

First, fairy wings for Lucas...

First, fairy wings for Lucas…

Prettying up Lucas...

…and then a little make-up.

Denver undergoes a make-over for his team.

Denver undergoes a make-over for his team.

Kirt, hamming it up for the crowd.

Kirt, who wanted what happens in Vesta to stay in Vesta, puckers up.

Kirt hams it up for the crowd, which voted by clapping and hooting and hollering. He won the beauty contest.

Kirt hams it up for the crowd, which voted by clapping and hooting and hollering. He won the beauty contest.

Just like my cousins and I hold dear our childhood memories of family get togethers in a time when we all lived near one another, now our offspring and theirs, are, once a year, experiencing a similar family closeness.

Dorothy, hands behind her, races to pluck raisins from rice cereal during a contest.

Dorothy, arms behind her, races to pluck raisins from rice cereal.

My cousin Terri, who co-hosts the Emmy-nominated television show, "Nature Adventures with Terri and Todd," brought a snake for part of the Fear Factor competition. She was attempting to get many family members to overcome their fear of snakes.

My cousin Terri, right, who co-hosts the Emmy-nominated television show, “Nature Adventures with Terri and Todd,” brought a snake for part of the Fear Factor competition. She was attempting to get family members to overcome their fear of snakes.

My cousin Sandy's grandson Keelan shows no fear of snakes. Some contestants kissed the snake to earn the highest number of points.

My cousin Sandy’s grandson Keelan shows no fear of snakes. Some contestants kissed the snake to earn the highest number of points.

My cousin Dawn apparently wasn't too fond of the tapioca pudding she was racing to eat during a competition.

My cousin Dawn apparently wasn’t too fond of the tapioca pudding she was racing to eat during a competition.

I can’t emphasize too much the importance of such reunions in this crazy busy world. Grandpa and Grandma would be proud to know their children and families still care enough about each other to gather every July in the place where my great grandparents, Rudolph and Mathilda Kletscher, put down roots.

The youngest attendee, 3-week-old Maddison.

The youngest attendee, 3-week-old Maddison, came with her parents from Lakeville, 120 miles away.

Henry and Ida’s offspring of all ages came to the reunion—from their oldest daughter, Elaine, age 91, to the youngest great great granddaughter, Maddison, born only three weeks ago.

Kids and families played together in the sand, too, building memories.

Kids and families played together in the sand, too, building memories.

And as for that Vegas mantra, I warned my cousins that I couldn’t keep what happens in Vesta, in Vesta. They just laughed and said they were OK with that.

But I’m not sure my cousin Bob was OK with unknowingly eating tofu in the chocolate cream pie I brought to the potluck. When I revealed the secret ingredient, he could not hide his disgust.

“I’m supporting the soybean farmer,” I told this farmer. That didn’t seem to matter. Another memory…

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In downtown Northfield: A garden respite July 28, 2014

THEY TERM IT “our respite in the city.”

An overview of the downtown Opera House garden.

An overview of the downtown Opera House garden. On the right, artist Judy Sayle-Willis displayed her jewelry, books and other art.

And that it is, a 200 square foot garden tucked behind the early 1900s Lockwood Opera House and former Jacobsen’s Family Store in the heart of downtown Northfield.

Today the historic building is home to several businesses and four luxury Lockwood Opera House Condos.

Streetside, you’d never know this garden oasis exists. But park in the city lot behind this block of downtown, and you’ll discover, if you look, this delightful respite recently featured in the Northfield Garden Club 2014 Garden Tour.

The gateway garden entry.

The gateway garden entry.

Inside this fenced space, Knecht’s Nurseries and Landscaping and Jean Wakely/Lockwood have transformed an area that once grew only grass and weeds into an inviting courtyard.

Suspended from a tree...

Suspended from a tree…

Here you’ll find an assortment of annuals and perennials from limelight hydrangea to Boston ivy, moss roses, petunias, blazing stars, hosta and more. Potted dogwood trees, a red bud tree and a firecracker ornamental crab also fill the area.

I was impressed by how thought, planning and creativity can transform a small space. Even the choice of varied walkway materials—flat patio blocks, pebbles, rock (real or imitation, I’m uncertain)—adds textural interest.

This small scale bubbler fountain is perfect for the space, impressing but not overwhelming.

This small scale bubbler fountain is perfect for the space, impressing but not overwhelming.

Functioning art, like a mini bubbler fountain and a trellis, surprise.

Although my visit here was brief, I can imagine settling in on a summer afternoon to read a book or lingering on a perfect Minnesota summer evening, sipping a refreshing beverage in the company of family or friends.

BONUS GARDEN:

Professor Max Gimse and  sculptor James Wilson pose for a photo next to the tree limb Wilson is carving. A model of the cross sits in the foreground.

Professor Emeritus Max Gimse, left, and sculptor James Wilson pose for a photo next to the tree limb Wilson is carving. A model of the cross sits in the foreground.

At the Northfield Retirement Center, Minnesota wood sculptor James Wilson is working with St. Olaf College Professor Emeritus Mac Gimse to create a cross sculpture in the “Pathways of Faith Garden.” This garden was also featured on the tour.

A garden tour sign photographed at the Northfield Retirement Center.

A garden tour sign photographed at the Northfield Retirement Center.

FYI: To read about other gardens featured in the Northfield Garden Club tour, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Waiting for the stoplight on a Saturday evening in Faribault July 26, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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Stop and go, red

STOP.

Stop and go, green

GO.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Northwoods style Northfield garden features eclectic art July 25, 2014

Bird art perched on a front yard rock.

Bird art perched on a front yard rock.

AFTER SLIDING MY FINGERTIPS into bird poop while photographing a bird sculpture duo perched on a rock, I determined to be more watchful.

But often I get so lost in what I’m doing that I don’t notice the obvious. Like poop. Bird or dog.

A portion of the shady back yard.

A portion of the shady backyard.

Yet, in a northwoods style yard situated along a quiet residential street in Northfield far from the wilds of northern Minnesota, it didn’t take long for me to determine property owners Barry and Kerry Cipra have created gardens that call for focus.

At first glance, I thought this simply a woman draped in beaded necklaces.

At first glance, I thought this simply a woman draped in beaded necklaces.

On a second focused look, I saw this sculpture is part woman, part cat, "The Cat Lady."

On a second focused look, I saw this sculpture is part woman, part cat, aka “The Cat Lady.”

Fail to focus and you may miss some of the eclectic art incorporated into a property defined by six mature white pines, boulders and rocks, but no grass.

Beautiful towering pines fill the property.

Beautiful pines tower over the property.

No grass. Rather, pine needles layer the ground, creating a cushy carpet.

The garden art includes original sculptures by Jennifer Wolcott.

The garden art includes original sculptures by Jennifer Wolcott.

I’ve never seen a yard quite as northwoods style unique as this one. Here the greenery of shade-loving plants like ferns and hosta provide a neutral backdrop for quirky and one-of-a-kind sculptures.

Art pops with color.

Art pops with color.

Art infuses color and interest.

Yes, that's a goat hiding in the greenery.

Yes, that’s a goat hiding in the greenery.

See for yourself, as viewed through my camera lens. Just remember to focus.

I had a little fun pairing my foot with garden art on the back steps.

I had a little fun pairing my foot with garden art on the back steps. Yes, I should polish my toenails.

Sea life in the backyard.

Sea life in the backyard. Maybe northerns or walleyes would be more appropriate for this Minnesota garden.

Washtub coleus add a spot of color in a sideyard space next to the house.

Washtub coleus add a spot of color in a sideyard space next to the house.

A rustic arbor and rocks define the front yard created by Switzer Landscaping.

A rustic arbor, Jennifer Wolcott sculptures and rocks define the front yard created by Switzers’ Landscaping.

BONUS PHOTO: Woodcarver Dick Zawacki was the featured artist in the Cipra garden. He created this life-like mountain lion:

Dick Zawacki says this is one of his favorite carvings, so realistic it stopped a dog in its tracks.

Dick Zawacki says this is one of his favorite carvings, so realistic it stopped a dog in its tracks.

FYI: The Cipras’ property was one of six featured on the recent Northfield Garden Club 2014 Garden Tour. Click here to read previous posts from the tour and check back for one final garden tour.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Garden art: In planting & in painting July 24, 2014

A rear view of Elizabeth Olson's house shows the steep hillside that defines her lot.

A rear and side view of Elizabeth Olson’s house shows the steep hillside that defines her lot.

I ADMIRE GARDENER ELIZABETH OLSON. She gardens on a property that I would term challenging given her home’s hillside location.

Hydrangea nestle a fence along a side yard stairway.

Hydrangea nestle a fence along a side yard stairway.

Numerous retaining walls and lots and lots and lots of stairs mark her south Northfield yard. Cautiousness proceeded my every step as I tread downhill, up more stairs to the backyard patio, then back down to side yard gardens and back up the hill during the recent Northfield Garden Club 2014 Garden Tour.

Yellow Columbine.

Yellow Columbine grow near the entry to Elizabeth’s home.

In between all that stepping, I stopped to admire the plants—156 of them tagged for identification. I suppose that’s a good plan if you’re participating in a public garden tour.

Sculpture art mixed with plant art.

Sculpture art mixed with plant art.

During a brief chat with Elizabeth, she claimed no artistic talent except in gardening. She creates art via plants. That, I think, makes her an artist.

Artist Marsha Kitchel paints on the patio.

Artist Marsha Kitchel paints on the patio.

On the backyard patio, another artist had set up an easel to create en plein air. I watched as Marsha Kitchel daubed oils, recreating one of Elizabeth’s hanging baskets.

Marsha was painting the basket in the background.

Marsha was painting the basket in the background, just to the right of her easel.

I love this concept of incorporating artists and their work into garden tours. It makes sense as an unassuming way to introduce artists to the public. Other artists in the Northfield Garden Club Tour were Derrin D. O’Connell, Judy Saye-Willis, Tom Willis, James Wilson and Dick Zawacki.

I failed to check Elizabeth's cheat sheet to identify these lovely peach flowers. Anyone know their identity?

I failed to check Elizabeth’s cheat sheet to identify these lovely peach flowers. Anyone know their identity?

BONUS PHOTOS:

This area features a raised vegetable garden.

This area features a raised vegetable garden.

Here's a close-up of the sculpture in the photo above.

Here’s a close-up of the sculpture in the photo above.

This turtle tucked next to a pot of ivy and other plants belonged to Elizabeth's mother.

This turtle tucked next to a pot of ivy and other plants belonged to Elizabeth’s mother.

FYI: Click here and here for previous posts from the Northfield Garden Club 2014 Garden Tour. And watch for additional posts.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling