Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Barn memories February 28, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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MY APPRECIATION FOR and fascination with aged barns remains strong, steadfast, unwavering. That interest springs from childhood years of laboring in a southwestern Minnesota dairy barn.




As the second oldest in a family of six children, I was tasked early on with doing chores alongside my eldest brother. Dad needed the help and I never resented it. I only resented that my brother would steal the silage I’d tossed down from the silo. I suppose I can’t blame him. He had to carry silage across two gutters and a barn aisle to feed cows on the east side of the barn. I had only to step outside the silage room door to distribute chopped and fermented corn on the west side. But still.




Often I told my dad I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. He never encouraged it. But I loved working in the barn—maybe not the scraping manure part so much. Yet I always preferred farm work to anything Mom wanted me to do in the house.




So I pushed a wheelbarrow down the barn aisle, then scooped shovels full of ground feed before stanchions. I hoisted myself into the haymow to throw down bales of hay and straw. I shook apart straw with a pitchfork, separated alfalfa with gloved hands. I carried pails of milk, washed buckets, mixed milk replacer, fed milk and pellets to hungry calves…

I hold memories of Point of Law booming from WCCO, of hot urine splashing from a cow’s behind, of frothy milk poured into the bulk tank, of a yellow jackknife stuffed inside my pants pocket, of cats clustering around a battered hub cap brimming with still warm milk.




My dad was right. I never became a farmer, pursuing journalism instead. Only one brother farmed for awhile. He’s still in an ag-related industry as is my oldest brother. The rest of us, well, we left the farm. But I like to think that we’ve truly never left in the sense of a deep-rooted attachment to the place that shaped each of us. I write and photograph from a rural perspective. Another sister works as a floral designer. My youngest brother is an attorney in the Twin Cities metro, but maintains his connection to southwestern Minnesota through deer and pheasant hunting.

We were raised as the sons and daughters of a farmer. That remains, as part of our past and as part of who we became.

TELL ME: Did your childhood influence your direction in life, including career choices, where you lived/live, etc.?

FYI: These photos were taken in rural Rice County and in the Jordan/Prior Lake areas, not in my native southwestern Minnesota. This post honors my farmer father, Elvern Kletscher, who would have celebrated his birthday this week. He died 14 years ago in early April 2003.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


23 Responses to “Barn memories”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    Years ago, PBS aired a feature on the economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Talking about his youth, he spoke of growing up on a dairy farm and said, “after that, nothing seemed like work to me.”

    Point of Law on WCCO…..oh, that brings back memories.

    • Dairy farming was especially hard work during the time period I was on the farm. Updates in equipment have made the work easier. Still, you are tethered to those cows, the reason I went on a vacation only twice during my childhood. Dad always had to find someone to milk. When my brother and I grew older, we were the ones who stayed home to tend the farm while our parents and younger siblings vacationed.

  2. Marilyn Says:

    My favorites – barns, especially the old red barns. Grandpa’s barn was red, but the we grew to remember it as weather beaten, paint-stripped by the winds.

  3. Our 40 acre farm land remains in the family. I grew up on a hobby farm and then moved to the suburbs and then experienced urban living. Then moved cross country to a relative small town out west and then recently moved cross country again to a major metro area, however; I live within a smaller town and love having that sense of community and the access to pretty much everything I could ever need or want. I still think about the farm – the barn, the animals, the growing of your own food, etc. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  4. Liz Says:

    That is my county of birth. I left Minnesota 52 years ago. I miss the Grandfathers farm and all the farm kids I knew in my youth. Love to be in Minnesota in the late summer and see the crops ready to harvest.

    • Liz, I’m happy I can bring you back to Minnesota and your rural memories via this post. Late summer into fall harvest are great times to visit rural Minnesota. I love traveling back in those seasons to my native Redwood County.

  5. Valerie Says:

    I love seeing barns and photos of barns. I grew up in the city but my husband grew up on a dairy farm in Lancaster County Pennsylvania…beautiful countryside. I was glad our boys had experiences on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm. Gary has written about his experiences growing up on the dairy farm and has fond memories, but he had no desire to stay farming. He became a food engineer.

  6. I really enjoyed reading your reminiscing of the your youth on the farm and all of the activities that went on in and around the old barn. I would imagine you squirted milk into a cat’s mouth, while she stood up on her hind legs. I always loved the farm life, my parents sold the farm in 1947 and later got a divorce. We become town kids, in high school I got away to a uncle’s farm, happy, working hard again! I will always remember the early days on the farm, feel like I was truly blessed to start out my life that way. I used to listen to WCCO Boone and Erickson, as a regular for many years. I have seen barns in Michigan built with black walnut timbers.

  7. Raymond Larson Says:

    I was the last of 4 children and my father was 40 when I was born. So, when I finished high school he was 58 and thinking about retirement. It was a natural, take over the dairy farm; I concluded that I did not want to be tired down every weekend milking the cows so I went to college and seminary and became a pastor, TIED DOWN EVERY WEEK END! Now instead of milking the cows I am “Fleecing the flock!”

  8. Bernadette Thomasy Says:

    Loved the barn photos and your tribute to your father. Like you, my father did not encourage me to follow him in farming; just the opposite. He said “get your education and do something else.” He only had a fourth grade education so did not have a lot of options for his life’s work. I chose to leave the farm and become a journalist.

    But speaking of barns, in 2014 I had a short article published in Reminisce magazine, which featured a photo of me and my parents in the farm yard in 1962 as we loaded the car up for the trip to the University of Minnesota, where I was to be a freshman. The barn was a major part of the background. Thumbing through the magazine in 2014 a local resident said the photo caught her eye because she thought the barn looked familiar. Reading the article she realized she had driven by our farm many times and now recognized the Hondl barn in the photo. The barn was always the heart of the farm yard in more ways than one.

  9. Aaron Says:

    I love them too, I posted a pic of one a couple blogs ago, it was so cool on the inside, but you couldn’t imagine it from the outside

  10. Jackie Says:

    I lived in the country, not on farm, but with a pasture full of milk cows on the hill above our house. I envy anyone who grew up on a farm and always tell people, “In my other life I was a farmer”. I’ve been on a combine, helped my uncle milk a cow and was in 4-H as a child. Both parents grew up on farms, I’ve always been drawn old barns, farmsteads and “country”, but you know that don’t you. So I love to hear your stories of life on the farm, thanks for sharing the details of your childhood while on the farm, I find it fascinating (realizing of course It was hard work)

  11. Dorothy Says:

    Of course I grew up on a farm. It was certainly more work than I care to remember. I grew up knowing I did not want to live on a farm my whole life. So I am “the farmer’s daughter who married the doctor’s son.” Can’t beat that! And we will be married 50 years this fall. Guess that is great. I do love to see the photos you put into your writing. Farm life was peaceful to watch the stars at night and to be snowed in for a couple of days was fantastic. I have a photo of the farm I grew up on hanging in the hall way so I see it everyday. Great.

    Love to you

    • Aunt Dorothy, I’m so glad you married the doctor’s son because Uncle Robin is fantastic. No freckle-faced, red-haired Irishman, though. But I’m alright with that.

      I need to see that farm photo some day.

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