Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota Faces: My mom, Arlene May 8, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Portrait #20: Arlene


My mom counts jars of horseradish with my sister-in-law after a family gathering to make horseradish.

My mom counts jars of horseradish with my sister-in-law after a family gathering to process horseradish. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

We sometimes call her Ma Cat. With fondness. It’s a fitting pet name for a woman who sing-songed The Three Little Kittens Have Lost Their Mittens while rocking wee ones in a cranberry-hued Naugahyde rocker in an aged woodframe farmhouse on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my brother Doug.

The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my brother Doug.

Mom devoted her life to raising her three sons and three daughters, born between 1955 and 1967. I am second oldest and the oldest girl.

I love my mom and I understand that her life was not always easy. She lost her own mother within months of my birth. Life as a young wife and mother on the farm, without a bathroom, no phone, a Maytag wringer washer to wash filthy barn clothes and little money, had to be challenging.

We were poor. But I didn’t know that, which is an absolute testament to my mom. She kept us fed with garden produce, baked goods and beef from our own cattle. She, somehow, managed to keep us clothed. We never got birthday gifts. We never knew to expect them. Instead, each birthday Mom baked a special animal-shaped cake for the birthday celebrant, the cake design chosen from a booklet she pulled out only on birthdays.

Mom instilled in all of us a deep faith in God. We attended church and Sunday School every week. We prayed. And, even more important, Mom has always lived out her faith in kindness and compassion shown to others. She once advised me, “Don’t talk about anyone else’s kids because you never know what your own kids will do.” In other words, do not gossip and keep your mouth shut if you have nothing good to say. And when others tell you something in confidence, keep it to yourself. I’ve tried to follow that advice throughout my life.

The past year has been a difficult one for my mom. In early 2014, physical problems forced her into a nursing home. Eventually, she grew strong enough to move into assisted living. But then, on a Sunday morning in August, she fell and suffered severe injuries that landed her in an ICU Trauma Unit. Eventually, Mom recovered and is now back in her apartment. But she knew she could never return to her home and the decision was made to sell her house.

Through it all, Mom has not complained. That is so typical of her, to adopt a positive attitude and make the best of whatever happens in her life. Because of that, and more, people love her. Her positivity shines as does her faithfulness.

She is a survivor of open heart surgery and breast cancer and a multitude of other medical emergencies and surgeries that should have killed her. But she always fought to survive and medical teams often marveled at her rallying. Sometimes I think of her as the cat with nine lives.

But mostly, I consider every day we have her to be a blessing.


This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

To all of you mothers, Happy Mother’s Day.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


27 Responses to “Minnesota Faces: My mom, Arlene”

  1. She has left you a legacy of kindness and compassion for others. It shows, Audrey, it shows.

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    It is amazing how our parents took in stride all the things we gripe about.

  3. What a beautiful post today, Audrey. Your mom must be very proud of you for continuing her legacy of kindness and compassion. And Happy Mother’s Day to both of you. I’ll think about your mom when I do the breast cancer walk this Sunday with my own daughter and my friend Luann who, like your mom, is a breast cancer survivor.

  4. When you said your mother was counting jars of horseradish after a family gathering, I wondered if it was to see if any were missing. Sometimes you can’t even trust family you know? lol.
    Nonetheless, beautiful memories for you and your family I’m sure Audrey.

  5. Great post about an amazing women. Happy Mother’s Day to you both.

  6. Thread crazy Says:

    Loved your post toady and yes, you are so blessed each day to have your Mom. I pray you both have a wonderful day this Sunday, one you will always remember. Happy mother’s Day.

  7. Marilyn Says:

    Regarding the counting of jars – counting of anything: my Grandmother was a counter. It mattered to her and she knew how many jars of raspberry jell and how many of raspberry-apple were done every year as well as every other kind of provision: jells, jams, conserves, vegetables, fruits, meat, juices (both frozen and canned). And I suppose most every housewife of her era did the same, keeping track in a book, diary or such.

    Dad & Mom lived with my Grandparents early in their marriage while their house was being built. One day Dad saw her standing at the kitchen sink with the binoculars. He found out she was counting the number of times a cow out in the field chewed her cud before swallowing.

    • I love that last story about counting how many times a cow chewed her cud. The stuff of family lore. Thanks for sharing that and your insight as to why my mom may find it important to count jars. It makes total sense.

  8. dalmatianangel Says:

    My life growing up was much the same as yours. We did not have a bath tub nor water heater. So on Saturdays the oval galvanized tub was brought into the house, and Mom heated the water for the tub.
    Starting with the oldest we all took our baths. Usually several of the smallest children at once. Funny thing, I don’t remember the water being changed. I remember when we finally got a bath tub, shower and water heater about 1961. It was heaven! Thank goodness Mom had the smarts to ask for those items as part of my parents divorce settlement.
    It just occurred to me that she also had to heat water for doing the laundry in the old Maytag washer! Oh my gosh! I can’t imagine doing that with 3 children let alone 11. No wonder the laundry wasn’t always done so quickly!
    I know that laundry at the bottom of the basement steps saved me when I fell down the basement steps a couple of times as a toddler.
    Everything happens for a reason!
    I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for anything, but I sure miss my mom. Cherish yours while she is still here.
    Happy Mother’s Day, Audrey!

  9. Sue Ready Says:

    Audrey your post topics are always a pleasant surprise each day.You have a knack for finding a story in in everyday moments and in everyday people, much like poet Billy Collins. Your tribute to mom is timely with Mother’s Day right around the corner. Your words are touching and a great testimonial to your upbringing. And peering through the lens of a family photo posted I see a your face in your mothers.

  10. bev walker Says:

    I was in Mn last week and got to spend time with Mom as well. She is amazing at age 92! She related to my sisters and me that she woke up one morning and had pain in her toe. Being she spent a fair amount of time home bound or in the hospital this winter, she said she was so mad about the pain that she went outside and trimmed bushes!! She is on gout medicine now and feeling better. Just another Kletscher thing to deal with in the future. Have a great Mothers Day!

  11. hotlyspiced Says:

    Happy Mother’s Day to you, Audrey. I do hope you had a special day. Your mother sounds like an amazing woman and yes, it does sound like she had her share of challenges. But she brought you up so well and I love her advice about not speaking badly of anyone’s children because you never know what your own might get up to. One of my nightly prayers is, ‘Please God, don’t let my children do anything foolish’! xx

  12. Beth Ann Says:

    What a lovely post but not surprising knowing you. Your mom was and continues to be an inspiration and what a lovely tribute to her. Perfect timing with Mother’s Day which I am sure you planned. Thanks for sharing your sweet mom with us.

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