Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The connection between a pony, Preparation H & a liquor store June 22, 2016

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I’M NO MARKETING EXPERT. But I did take advertising and public relations classes in college, a requirement of my Mass Communications degree. Yet, degree and media experience aside, I rely primarily on my initial emotional reaction to rate the success or failure of media campaigns.

I find myself most drawn to advertising messages that tug at my heartstrings or offer a bit of unexpected humor. Flashiness and celebrity endorsements don’t impress me. Simplistic and relatable do. Punch out a strong message, boom, and you’ve got me. Word choice matters, as do music and setting in TV commercials and radio spots.

I photographed these little ponies at Sibley Park in Mankato.

I photographed these miniature horses at Sibley Farm in Sibley Park, Mankato, Minnesota.

My husband will tell you I seldom pay attention to television commercials. For good reason. Most aren’t worth my time. But he’ll also tell you there are exceptions. When the Amazon Prime ad featuring a sweet little pony airs, I crank up the volume like I’m listening to a favorite rock band. I love everything about that commercial from the music to the horses to the pure cuteness factor. I am obsessed to the point of wanting to purchase a little pony for my granddaughter. Isabelle is only 11 weeks old. I’m not serious, of course. But if I lived in the country…

From ponies to Preparation H, a new hemorrhoid treatment commercial filmed in the small southern Minnesota community of Kiester also rates as a current favorite. I applaud the marketing genius who connected kiester to Kiester and came up with this humorous, thinking outside the box ad.

Small towns can be a hotbed for unique advertising. For example, I spotted this sign outside Wayside Liquor in Montgomery (Minnesota, not Alabama) on Sunday:

 

Wayside Liquor sign in Montgomery, 14

 

A quick Google search indicates Wayside Liquor staff didn’t create this message. But they clearly knew the humorous words would grab the attention of motorists traveling along busy Minnesota State Highway 13. The sign works in directing attention toward the liquor store. Boom.

How about you? Do you have a favorite TV commercial, radio spot, print ad, sign, billboard? What makes it a winner?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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In Faribault: More than a car cruise on Central June 21, 2016

Aged buildings, most restored, define Faribault's Central Avenue.

Aged buildings, most restored, define Faribault’s Central Avenue.

FRIDAY EVENING, AS I STROLLED along the 200 and 300 blocks of Central Avenue, I considered how lovely the downtown in this place I call home.

My husband and I would love an old pick-up like this, restored, of course.

My husband and I would love an old pick-up like this, restored, of course.

Perhaps it was the slant of sunlight upon historic buildings or the conversations with friends or this gathering of car enthusiasts which prompted such a contemplative mood. It really doesn’t matter.

A beautiful historic setting.

A beautiful historic setting.

What matters is that events like Car Cruise Night bring people together on a beautiful summer evening in the heart of an equally beautiful downtown. Faribault’s Central Avenue, with its historic buildings rising up, provides a lovely backdrop for the vintage and other vehicles showcased on the third Friday evening of the month, May through September.

A local restaurant set up its food trailer along Central Avenue.

A local restaurant, Bashers Sports Bar & Grill, pulled a food trailer onto Central Avenue.

The addition of food trucks this year and downtown eateries vending outdoors encourages folks to linger and to talk, to be neighborly, to claim community pride.

Consider the Plymouth ship emblem on the Plymouth. Thoughts of immigrants, past and present, filtered through my mind. The emblem is, in many ways, symbolic of downtown Faribault. Many of our town's newest immigrants live above businesses along Central Avenue.

Consider the Plymouth ship emblem. Thoughts of immigrants, past and present, filtered through my mind. The emblem is, in many ways, symbolic of downtown Faribault. Many of our town’s newest immigrants live above businesses along Central Avenue. In the background is the historic marquee of the Paradise Center for the Arts.

I appreciate signage both in English and Spanish.

I appreciated signage both in English and Spanish.

American pride inside a vehicle.

American pride inside a collector car.

We are a diverse community. As diverse as the vehicles angled to curbs on Car Cruise Night. I’m sensing more and more that we are growing more welcoming of one another. And that is a good thing.

One of Faribault's newest businesses, Bluebird Cakery, held a cupcake eating contest. I missed it as I was unaware.

One of Faribault’s newest businesses, Bluebird Cakery, held a cupcake eating contest. I missed it as I was unaware of the event.

It’s a good thing, too, that Faribault seems to be working harder to bring people into the heart of downtown. We’re no Stillwater or Red Wing or Wabasha, all southern Minnesota communities that draw lots of visitors to their historic downtowns. But we’re moving that direction—one Car Cruise Night, one brewery, one cupcake shop, one coffee and chocolate shop, one cheese shop, one arts center, one shoe store, one BBQ and arts fest…at a time.

BONUS PHOTOS:

I love love love this car. It helps that green is my favorite color.

I love love love this car. The color and style.

For awhile I watched this little guy follow the double center lines along Central. Oh, to find joy in such a simple action.

For awhile I watched this free-spirited little guy follow the double center lines along Central. Oh, to find joy in such a simple activity.

Details matter when you're a car collector. This Belvedere manual was laying on the dash.

Details matter when you’re a car collector. This Belvedere manual was lying on the dash.

I was naturally drawn to this car because, as a teen, my bedroom was painted lime green. I still love that vibrant hue.

I was naturally drawn to this car because, as a teen, my bedroom was painted lime green. I still love that vibrant hue.

Elvis was not in the house, but in the car.

Elvis was not in the house, but in the car.

A vintage Plymouth cruises onto Central.

A vintage Plymouth cruises onto Central. To the left, The Signature Bar & Grill vends food.

These snappy sports cars drew lots of admirers, including...

These snappy sports cars drew lots of admirers, including…

...this boy so intent on photographing the sports cars that he didn't notice me photographing him.

…this boy so intent on photographing the sports cars that he didn’t notice me photographing him. Car Cruise Night draws enthusiasts of all ages.

A graceful looking Bel Air Chevy.

A lovely Bel Air Chevy.

I always admire the shiny bumpers and the reflections therein.

I always appreciate the shiny bumpers polished to perfection and the reflections therein.

Probably the most unsual vehicle on display: the German Luftschutz motorcycle. I need to hear the story behind this.

Probably the most unusual vehicle on display: the German Luftschutz motorcycle. I need to hear how (and why) the owner acquired this bike.

So graceful, these sailing ships, a hood ornament on a Plymouth.

So graceful, this sailing ships hood ornament on a Plymouth.

The art on the hood of the Pontiac impresses.

The Pontiac hood art always impresses.

FYI: The next Faribault Car Cruise Night is set for 6 – 9 p.m. on Friday, July 15.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Make hay while the sun shines & the poem it inspired June 20, 2016

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Baling hay, 17 southern Minnesota

 

OF ALL THE TIMES not to have my telephoto lens attached to my Canon EOS 20D. But I didn’t, so I missed a close-up shot of three guys baling hay the old-fashioned way on Sunday afternoon in rural Rice County. No over-sized tractor, no round hay baler. Just a basic tractor, hay baler and hay rack.

As the farmer guided machines along a windrow, the baler compacted alfalfa into twine-wrapped packages. A team of two grabbed the rectangles, stacking them in a practiced rhythm of precise placement.

It’s a scene imprinted deep upon my memory. As I briefly watched the trio working the field, I remembered my father and Uncle Mike doing the same so many years ago some 120 miles to the west. I remembered taking lunch to them, sitting in the shade of the hay wagon, eating summer sausage sandwiches, breathing in the intoxicating scent of hay.

Make hay while the sun shines. It’s as true today as it’s always been. The trio laboring in the heat and humidity of Sunday afternoon understood they were racing against time, against the predicted rain that would come that evening.

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The scene I photographed reminds me of a poem I wrote several years ago. It was published in the 2012 edition of Lake Region Review. Enjoy this poem, based on my childhood memories from rural Redwood County, Minnesota:

 

Taking Lunch to the Men in the Field

Three o’clock. Lunch time.
My brother grips the tarnished handle
of the rusty red Radio Flyer as the wagon bumps
along the dusty dirt drive, dipping and curving
past the cow yard mucked with mounds of manure,
toward the stubbled alfalfa where the men are making hay.

Out mother has stowed sandwiches—
slices of coarse, yeasty homemade bread slathered in butter
with rounds of spicy summer sausage slid in between—
inside the tin tub next to chewy oatmeal peanut butter bars
wrapped in waxed paper, nudging brown beer bottles
that jostle and clank as the wagon rolls.

She’s packaged the lunch in a crisp white cotton dish cloth
embroidered with Wednesday Wash Day
and stitches of clothes clipped to a clothesline,
mimicking the laundry she’s hung out earlier,
now stirring in the wisp of a July prairie breeze.

My brother and I lag under the heavy heat of the afternoon,
straining toward the men working the field.
Dad, shaded by an umbrella, guides the International along the windrows
while our bachelor uncle heaves hay bales onto the flat-bed trailer,
his chambray work shirt plastered against his back,
his grimy DEKALB cap ringed in sweat
as he toils in an unbroken rhythm of labor.

We reach the edge of the field as the men finish their round
and the racket of tractor and baler ceases
giving way to our small voices which break the sudden silence:
“Lunch time. We are here with the beer.”

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Poem copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

With gratitude to my husband on Father’s Day June 19, 2016

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Randy walking along the shore of Lake Erie on a recent road trip to the East Coast.

Randy walks along the shore of Lake Erie on a recent road trip to the East Coast for his son’s graduation from Tufts University.

MY HUSBAND ISN’T ONE to get all gushy, to be right out there with his emotions. He’ll choose the humorous greeting card over the flowery one any day. A bit stoic even at times, not much rattles him.

He’s a great dad and grandpa, in his own reserved way. He’s the calm to a storm, the quiet in the noise, the light in the darkness.

Randy is a gentle spirit, steady and strong. I can count on him. So can his three “kids,” now grown. He’s always been there for all of us, as trite as that may sound. But it’s true.

He’s guided wobbling bikes down sidewalks, waited in hospital emergency rooms, played Monopoly way too often, read Sunday comics with kids sprawled on the living room floor, painted his young daughters’ toenails, repaired kids’ cars, toured college campuses, ironed his son’s college graduation gown…

For 30 years now, Randy has been a dad. A strong, steady and loving one. I am so appreciative of my husband as a father.

Today, when I watch Randy with his first grandchild, I see that same fatherly love extending to the next generation. He cradles baby Isabelle with such tenderness that my heart aches. She is deeply loved, just like her mama before her.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Joy pitches farm fresh eggs June 17, 2016

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Eggs

 

WHEN MY FRIEND JOY, whose name matches her joyful personality, approached me after church last Sunday about buying farm fresh eggs, I hesitated. I didn’t really need eggs. And if I did, I could buy them at the grocery store for half the $2 price Joy was charging.

 

Chickens, coop

 

But I bought the eggs anyway, because, well, Joy is a persuasive saleswoman. She touted the better taste, the yellower yolks, the free-range aspect of her primarily bug-eating and grass-munching chickens, and the reduction in her cholesterol from daily consumption of her chickens’ eggs. Sold. Yes, please, I’ll take a dozen.

 

Chickens, black chicken

 

I have yet to try the eggs, which come from varieties like Rock Island and Buff. I am certain Joy spoke the truth in her sales pitch. She’s no snake oil salesman. I can already predict what will follow. The farm fresh eggs will taste so great that I will no longer be able to eat mass-produced eggs packaged for mass public consumption.

 

Chickens, buff colored chicken

 

How about you? Have you eaten and noticed a difference between eggs direct from a small farm vs. those sold by major egg companies?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In a Minnesota cemetery: Oh, sweet baby, who were you? June 16, 2016

 

Emmanuel Cemetery, Aspelund 169 baby grave marker

 

I’VE TOURED MANY RURAL CEMETERIES. But never have I seen a grave marker that so saddened me as the one I spotted on the edge of the Emmanuel Lutheran Church Cemetery in Aspelund on Sunday afternoon.

 

Emmanuel Cemetery, Aspelund, 172 baby grave & flip flop

 

Smaller than the length of my size eight flip flop, the simple slab of concrete tilted barely above the earth. Inscribed thereon, in cursive, was a single word—Baby.

 

Emmanuel Cemetery, Aspelund 170 baby grave marker close-up

 

Certainly I’ve seen grave markers of many babies. But this one, because of its minimal size and placement under trees along the cemetery boundary and its simplicity of design, caused me to pause. I am a mother and a new grandmother. And I suppose in the humanity of that, thinking of my own love for my daughters, son and granddaughter, I empathized with the grief of such a loss.

A section of the cemetery that lies next to Emmanuel Lutheran Church and next to a field.

A section of the cemetery that lies next to Emmanuel Lutheran Church and a field.

Aged tombstones, which I assume once stood vertically, are now cemented flat into the ground.

Aged tombstones, which I assume once stood vertically, are now cemented flat into the ground.

The names reflect the ethnicity of the immigrant families who settled in the Aspelund area.

The names reflect the ethnicity of the immigrant families who settled in the Aspelund area.

Dates are missing from the in-ground marker of Hans, whom I believe to be an early immigrant.

Dates are missing from the in-ground marker of Hans, whom I believe to be an early immigrant.

A beautiful sheltered gravesite

A beautiful sheltered gravesite for John and Maren.

Love the immigrant names of Johannes and Engeborg. So poetic.

Love the immigrant names of Johannes and Engeborg. So poetic.

As I further explored the cemetery—reading the Scandinavian names, studying tombstones and admiring the meticulously kept grounds—I couldn’t shake the image of that baby’s gravestone. Who was he/she? Who were the parents? Why did he/she die?

Next to this list of rules is a graveyard directory, which we couldn't decipher.

Next to this list of rules is a graveyard directory, which we couldn’t decipher.

Hoping to find answers on a posted cemetery directory, neither my husband or I could figure out how to match names with platted marker locations. So I left, still wondering about this precious baby buried here beneath trees in rural Goodhue County, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Aspelund: More than a southern Minnesota ghost town June 15, 2016

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A lovely sprawling home in Aspelund.

A lovely, sprawling farm home in Aspelund.

TECHNICALLY, ASPELUND is classified as a ghost town by the Goodhue County Historical Society. There’s no longer a post office in this spot along County 1 Boulevard in west central Goodhue County, apparently the reason for the ghost town tag.

The community's church, Emmanuel Lutheran.

The community’s church, Emmanuel Lutheran.

But my observations, and thus definition, of Aspelund differ. People still live here—on at least two farms—and worship here and attend to local government business in the Wanamingo Town Hall.

The area around Aspelund is beautiful Minnesota countryside with a mix of fields and woods, flatland and hills.

The area around Aspelund is beautiful Minnesota countryside with a mix of fields and woods, flatland and hills.

Aspelund doesn’t appear ghost townish to me. Rural, yes.

Making hay on the outskirts of Aspelund.

Working an alfalfa field on the outskirts of Aspelund.

One of two barns in Aspelund.

One of two barns in Aspelund.

Traffic through Aspelund on Sunday afternoon.

Traffic through Aspelund on Sunday afternoon.

On Sunday afternoon, I observed farmers in fields, a youth group meeting in Emmanuel Lutheran Church, and a biker, motorists and farmers passing through this settlement.

Inside Emmanuel Lutheran Church.

Inside Emmanuel Lutheran Church. Local churches centered the community, especially during the days of early settlement.

Places like Aspelund impress upon me their historical and current value in rural Minnesota. Mostly Norwegians settled here to farm the land, to re-establish their lives in a new land of opportunity. I admire their strength and determination. They endured much—poverty, isolation, disease, homesickness and more. They persevered. Just like their descendants who remain 150-plus years later.

The old Wanamingo Township Hall, built in 1862, stands next to the church.

The old Wanamingo Township Hall, built in 1862, stands next to the church.

Aspelund’s ethnic roots are documented in family names on gravestones, in the records of churches like Emmanuel and nearby Holden Lutheran, and in current voter registration rolls.

The current town hall.

The current town hall.

Even the name of the settlement itself, Aspelund, comes from a town in Norway. Oh, how those early immigrants must have missed their homeland. And how their descendants still appreciate the Mother Land today.

Photographed in Aspelund.

Photographed in Aspelund.

FYI: Check back tomorrow as I take you into the Emmanuel cemetery. Click here to read yesterday’s post about Aspelund Winery and Aspelund Peony Gardens.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling