Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Rural roadside surveillance May 18, 2016

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Roadside stand, 93 side view

 

ALONG U.S. HIGHWAY 14 at its intersection with the road to Wanda, just east of Lamberton, I spotted a roadside stand advertising rhubarb and asparagus. I had rhubarb back home in my refrigerator. But I didn’t have asparagus and I love that spring-time vegetable.

So Randy pulled our van off the highway, turning onto a farm driveway next to a green trailer. I asked if he had $3. He did. I had only larger bills. I grabbed the money and my camera, bracing myself against a fierce prairie wind to snap a few photos.

 

Roadside stand, 95 close-up of coolers

 

Then I headed for the trailer. I lifted the lid on a red cooler, noting the instructions to “Please close tightly.” I did after finding that cooler empty. Then I opened a blue cooler with the same results. Empty. No asparagus for me.

 

Roadside stand, 97 camera

 

Discouraged, I took a few more photos and headed back to the van. Randy was already backing up, which I found odd. “Is that a wildlife camera?” he asked, indicating a camera inside a wooden box mounted to the trailer. Could be.

 

Roadside stand, 94 trailer next to driveway

 

I slammed the van door, handed the money back to Randy and buckled up as he resumed backing toward the highway. About that time, a white vehicle started heading down the driveway. “We’re being watched,” I observed, which should have been obvious to me given the camera and sign noting “Protected by security system.”

Soon the vehicle curved back onto the farm site.

 

Roadside stand, 96 close-up of sign

 

I left not only without the asparagus I craved, but also a bit disillusioned. I’d like to think unattended roadside stands don’t need security systems or chains or locks. But who am I kidding? Apparently myself.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Inside Sleepy Eye Stained Glass, Mike’s passion May 17, 2016

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A customer leaves Sleepy Eye Stained Glass with a refurbished window.

A customer leaves Sleepy Eye Stained Glass with a refurbished window.

FROM THE EXTERIOR, the brick building along Sleepy Eye’s main drag, US Highway 14, doesn’t make much of an impression. Weathered windows need replacing. Facade needs updating. Vines creep tendrils into a corner of the structure. And over the front door, a simple sign marks this as the home of Sleepy Eye Stained Glass.

My initial view once inside the retail portion of the business.

My initial view once inside the retail portion of the business.

Many times my husband and I have passed this business on our way to visit family in southwestern Minnesota. Last Saturday, we finally had time to stop. And we met proprietor Mike Mason and his sole employee, Linda.

Mike cuts salvaged stained glass to sell.

Mike cuts salvaged stained glass to sell.

As I roamed the store packed with stained glass supplies, sheets of glass, how-to books, finished stained glass art, lamps and more, Mike salvaged pieces of stained glass. He measured and cut with the precision of 35 years of experience. He’s a self-taught artist. Stained glass art began as a hobby for him “that got out of control,” he says.

Row upon row of stained glass fill the business.

Row upon row of stained glass fills the business in a stained glass lover’s paradise.

Sleepy Eye Stained Glass is known for repair and restoration work, for custom stained glass art and as one of the largest suppliers of stained glass and related products in the Upper Midwest.

A corner in the workshop section of the business.

A corner in the workshop section of the business.

Mike’s love for stained glass is obvious. Although he didn’t tell me how often he’s here working, I expect a lot. He lives only a few doors down, above an antique shop. It’s clear his life’s work (at least for the past 30-plus years) is his passion.

A commissioned work in progress.

A custom work in progress.

When I ask what he’s most proud of, Mike leads me to a television and starts a video showing an interview with Jason Davis of KSTP-TV and his “On the Road” segment. Much to my delight, the story includes images of refurbished stained glass windows at Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland. It is my mother’s home church. Now I have a personal connection to Mike and his restoration work.

In his workshop, Mike talks to customers who've stopped by to pick up their restored light shade.

In his workshop, Mike talks to customers who’ve stopped by to pick up their restored light shade.

Giddy with excitement, I rush over to tell Mike. He is back cutting glass, drawing blood this time, an occupational hazard.

Daisy the shop cat.

Daisy the shop cat sits below glass sheets sorted by color.

We talk a bit more and I ask about the shop cat, Daisy. She was a stray, well-loved now by this artist who brings her to work daily, feline riding on his shoulder as he walks from his apartment to the shop. Mike instructs me to watch as he throws a tin foil ball for Daisy to chase.

Tools of the trade in the workshop.

Tools of the trade in the workshop.

This place is so unpretentious. Nothing fancy. It’s a working studio with a jumble of tools and glass bits on the floor. Projects in the works. Projects finished. Yet, there’s a certain orderliness to everything, to the sheets and sheets and sheets of glass slid into compartments and the organized displays of how-to books.

Finished stained glass art hangs in a front window.

Finished stained glass art hangs in a front window.

I met a man who holds a piece of stained glass to the light and is struck by its beauty. It’s that simple for Mike. A pane of salvaged stained glass makes him happy. If we could all only experience such simple joy in a day’s work.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Mike also collects and sells lamps like these showcased next to his photo.

Mike also collects and sells lamps like these showcased next to his photo.

I loved this stained glass art on display.

I loved this stained glass art on display.

Salvaged glass.

Salvaged glass.

A sign in a window offers a creative option in stained glass.

A sign in a window offers a creative option in stained glass.

More beautiful stained glass, spotted on a table in the workshop.

More beautiful stained glass, spotted on a table in the workshop.

I also spotted some gorgeous tabletop clocks.

I also saw some gorgeous tabletop clocks.

Hanging in the front window, sunlight really showcases the stained glass art.

Hanging in the front window, this stained glass art shines in natural light.

More beautiful art...

More beautiful art…

 

Stained glass, 75 signs on door

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The “Jesus Saves” house May 16, 2016

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Jesus saves house in Owatonna

 

I DON’T KNOW THE REASON behind the sign.

I don’t even know who lives in this house along Rose Street in Owatonna.

I don’t know the story. I wish I did. But if I stopped every time I wanted to hear a story, I would get nowhere.

A decorative rock, inscribed with these words, sits at the base of the cross:

Those we love don’t go away, they walk beside us everyday. Unseen, unheard, but always always near, so loved, so missed, so very dear.

And that is all I know. A dear loved one is missed by someone inside the “Jesus Saves” house.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts after 34 years of marriage May 15, 2016

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Wedding guests toss rice at Randy and me as we exit St. John's Lutheran Church following our May 15, 1982, wedding.

Wedding guests toss rice at Randy and me as we exit St. John’s Lutheran Church following our May 15, 1982, wedding. That’s my mom in the pinkish dress standing next to my bachelor uncle Mike. My paternal grandma, in the red scarf and blue coat, is just behind me. That’s my sister Lanae, my maid of honor, in the long green dress. I love this photo. It captures a moment and portraits of loved ones, some no longer with us.

THIRTY-FOUR YEARS AGO TODAY, I married the man I love.

Our wedding day began with drizzle and clouds. But by the time of the reception and dance, skies cleared to a beautiful May evening in rural southwestern Minnesota. Family and friends celebrated with us in the Vesta Community Hall, where veterans’ uniforms hang in cases along walls. We polkaed and waltzed and bunny hopped and swung across the worn wood dance floor. I kicked off my toe-pinching ballet flats to dance barefoot.

There was nothing fancy about our wedding or the reception. Crepe paper strips running down tables and single carnations in vases. A meal catered by HyVee. Gingham aprons, stitched by me, for the waitresses. Green punch prepared by my mom. To this day, Randy remembers the not-so-appealing hue of that punch.

There are memories, too, of the trickster brother-in-law who let air out of our truck tires, necessitating a drive several blocks west to my Uncle Harold’s gas station.

While some of the memories have faded, others have not. Nor has our love. I love my husband as much today as the day I married him.

Admittedly, it’s a different kind of love, one shaped by years together, by a shared history, by the comfort that comes from being with someone for this long. Our experiences—good and bad—have made us stronger as a couple. Life isn’t always easy. But it’s easier with a loving partner beside you.

Randy isn’t the most demonstrative man. It’s just not in his nature or his genes. But he’s always been here for me and our three children, now grown.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the little things he does for me, which aren’t really little things. Every Sunday he prepares brunch. And nearly every weekend, even in the winter, he grills. I appreciate the break from cooking.

Occasionally, he buys me flowers for no reason other than he knows I need them. Each spring he brings me a bouquet of lilacs cut with a jackknife pulled from his pocket.

He works hard, sometimes too hard. I was grateful when he stopped working Saturdays a few years ago.

On Sunday mornings, he’ll sometimes slide his arm across the back of the church pew, his fingers lingering on my left shoulder. I feel so loved by that simple gesture, by having this man beside me as we worship.

Randy has also accompanied me to many poetry readings, supporting me in this writing venture. He’s a grease rimming his fingernails hard-working automotive machinist, certainly not the type you would envision ever listening to his wife read poetry. But he does, because he loves me.

I am blessed.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Turning one May 13, 2016

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Birthday, 5 blowing out candle

 

BIG BROTHER BLEW out the candle. But one-year-old Evelyn didn’t care. She seemed more focused on the flame. And then the cake. Smart girl.

 

Birthday, cake 1

 

Her mom baked a homemade chocolate cake layered with homemade raspberry preserves and frosted with more chocolate. The cake looked like something out of a food magazine. And it tasted like something out of a master baker’s kitchen.

 

Birthday, 15 eating cake

 

Once the prerequisite candle blowing was complete, Evelyn proceeded to dig into all that chocolatey goodness while grandmas and aunts laughed and snapped more photos.

 

Birthday, 17 eating cake

 

When a child turns one, we celebrate with exuberance. It is a joyful and memorable occasion. A first. First year. First cake. So many firsts during those first 12 months of life.

I wonder what lies ahead for my sweet great niece. I look forward to watching her grow under the care of loving parents. She is much-loved, too, by extended family. And I can’t think of anything better for a one-year-old than to be so loved.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A rural Minnesota teacher takes action when her students need books May 12, 2016

This prairie chicken statue celebrates the real prairie chickens which reside in the Rothsay area.

This prairie chicken statue celebrates the real prairie chickens which reside in the Rothsay area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2013.

FORTY MILES EAST of Fargo, an 18-foot tall, 9,000-pound statue marks Rothsay as The Prairie Chicken Capital of Minnesota. Without the kitschy roadside attraction, travelers likely would consider this just another small town along Interstate 94.

Downtown Rothsay is ag-oriented. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Downtown Rothsay is ag-oriented. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2013.

A few years ago, I popped into Rothsay. It’s your typical Minnesota farming community with a farmers co-op, hardware store, a bank, automotive body and repair shop, and such. And, if it’s lucky, as Rothsay is, a still surviving public school.

From what I observed, this is an historic blacksmith shop, not a working one. Note the bikes in the background parked outside the public school.

When I visited Rothsay three years ago, the school sat behind this historic blacksmith shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2013.

In the three years since I visited this Wilkin County community, a new school has been built. But there’s a problem, specifically in the Media Center. A shortage of books exists for high school students.

This graphic comes from the gofundme page.

This graphic of book covers comes from the gofundme page.

Now Kristie Sullivan, an English Language Arts teacher who returned to her hometown to teach, has established a gofundme page to fund the purchase of books for high schoolers. She’s seeking $5,000 for titles ranging from classics like The Catcher in the Rye to the current-day popular The Hunger Games.

I can’t think of anything in education more important than books. They are the foundation tool of learning. If you can read, you can learn.

I understand the situation Ms. Sullivan faces. Years ago, when my children were attending a Christian day school in Faribault, I volunteered in the library. There was no funding for library books. So I had to get creative. New books came through cash gifts, a birthday book program, rewards from an annual book sale and from a used book drive. I also purchased many books at garage sales. I’d like to think I made a difference in getting books to students.

Kudos to this young teacher for caring so much about her students that she set up this gofundme page. Such action shows me she is passionate about teaching. And when a teacher is passionate, kids learn. Really learn.

FYI: If you are interested in supporting this gofundme project to buy books for Rothsay High School students, click here.

(h/t Fargo Forum)

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dog gone happy May 11, 2016

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Waiting at a stoplight on Cedar Avenue in Apple Valley Sunday afternoon.

Waiting at a stoplight on Cedar Avenue in Apple Valley Sunday afternoon.

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT A DOG sticking its head out a vehicle window that makes me smile as in, gosh, look at that happy canine.

Still waiting...

Still waiting…

Such behavior also exhibits a carefree spirit. I wish life for humans was as simple as the rush of wind on our faces, the freeing of worries to the wind.

The light changes and, oh, the exuberance of all that rushing air.

The light changes and, oh, the exuberance of all that rushing air.

Why do dogs stick their heads out vehicle windows? I wanted a scientific answer, not just my poetic perspective.

Enjoying the ride...

Enjoying the ride…

My unscientific research (aka google the question) reveals that dogs exhibit this wind catching behavior not to observe the world around them or to cool off, but rather to take in the overload of scents rushing over them. The higher the air flow, the more they can smell. And that, apparently, makes for one happy dog.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling