Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Published in Oakwood: My latest rural-rooted poem honors my farm wife mom April 28, 2017

An abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta, my hometown. The house is no longer standing. This image represents my rural heritage and looks similar to the house I called home for the first 11 years of my life. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MORE THAN 40 YEARS removed from the farm, my creative voice remains decidedly rural, especially in the poetry I write.

My latest published poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” honors the woman who raised me, alongside my father, on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm. My parents were of good German stock, a hardworking couple who believed in God, in family and in the land. I carry that heritage with me, ever grateful for my rural upbringing.

 

Dad farmed, in the early years with a John Deere and Farmall and IH tractors and later with a Ford. (Photo by Lanae Kletscher Feser)

A photo of my dad, Elvern, taken in 1980.

 

Life in rural Minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s was hard. I see that now from the perspective of an adult. My dad worked long hard hours in the barn milking cows and equally long hard hours in the fields. Farming was much more labor intensive then.

 

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

 

Likewise, my mom’s job of caring for our family of eight required long hard hours of labor. She tended a large garden, preserved fruits and vegetables to stock the freezer and cellar shelves, baked bread from scratch, washed clothes with a wringer washer, did without a bathroom or telephone or television for many years, and much more.

 

My parents, Vern and Arlene, on their September 25, 1954, wedding day.

 

Sometimes I think how much easier my mother’s life would have been had she not married my dad and stayed at her town job in Marshall.

 

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That’s me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings. I write about this red-and-white checked floor in my poem.

 

But then I remind myself of how much family means to my mom and I could not imagine her life without any of her six children. She centered us, grounded us, taught us kindness and gratitude, instilled in us a loving and compassionate spirit.

 

Arlene’s 1951 graduation portrait.

 

She has always been mom to me, a mother now nearing age 85. But there was a time when she was Arlene, not somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother. There was a time when she and my dad danced away a Saturday night in a southwestern Minnesota dance hall. They met at a dance.

 

The promo for Oakwood 2017 features “Dancing with Fire,” the art of Samuel T. Krueger. Promo image courtesy of Oakwood.

 

Those thoughts inspired me to write “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” published last week in South Dakota State University’s literary journal, Oakwood. I am honored to have my poem selected for inclusion with the work of other writers and artists from the Northern Great Plains. It’s a quality publication that represents well those of us who call this middle-of-the country, often overlooked place, home.

 

Ode to My Farm Wife Mother

Before my brother,
you were Saturday nights at the Blue Moon Ballroom—
a bottle of Jim Beam whiskey in a brown paper bag,
Old Spice scenting your dampened curls,
Perry Como crooning love in your ear.

Then motherhood quelled your dancing duet.
Interludes passed between births
until the sixth, and final, baby slipped into your world
in 1967. Thirteen years after you married.
Not at all unlucky.

Life shifted to the thrum of the Maytag,
sing-song nursery rhymes,
sway of Naugahyde rocker on red-and-white checked linoleum.
Your skin smelled of baby and yeasty homemade bread
and your kisses tasted of sweet apple jelly.

In the rhythm of your days, you still danced,
but to the beat of farm life—
laundry tangled on the clothesline,
charred burgers jazzed with ketch-up,
finances rocked by falling corn and soybean prices.

Yet, you showed gratitude in bowed head,
hard work in a sun-baked garden,
sweetness in peanut butter oatmeal bars,
endurance in endless summer days of canning,
goodness in the kindness of silence.

All of this I remember now
as you shove your walker down the halls of Parkview.
in the final set of your life, in a place far removed
from Blue Moon Ballroom memories
and the young woman you once were.

                                         #

Four generations: Great Grandma Arlene, Grandma Audrey, mother Amber and baby Isabelle, all together for the first time in July 2016 in rural southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

I took some liberties with my poem. I doubt my mom ever drank whiskey. But back in the day, folks brought booze bottles in brown paper bags to dances for set-ups. She didn’t dance in the Blue Moon Ballroom, although one once stood in Marshall. Arlene went to dances in Ghent, in a dance hall whose name eludes me. Blue Moon sounds more poetic. But the rest of the poem is factual right down to the Naugahyde rocker and my mom shoving her walker down the hallways of Parkview.

FYI: You can view my poem on page 78 of Oakwood, found online by clicking here. My bio is published on page 89, listed among the other 40 contributors’ bios. I am grateful to SDSU in Brookings for the opportunity to be part of this magazine which showcases the creative voices of Plains writers and artists. I shall always feel proud of my rural upbringing, the single greatest influence on me as a poet, a writer, a photographer.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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34 Responses to “Published in Oakwood: My latest rural-rooted poem honors my farm wife mom”

  1. Marneymae Says:

    Beautiful telling.
    Lovely poem.
    Congratulations on the publication.
    No doubt, this poem will speak to many.

  2. bev walker Says:

    You took me down memory lane with your pictures and poem! Life really was hard, but simpler when we were growing up! Would not trade those wonderful times. Thanks Audrey!!

  3. Susan Ready Says:

    Great poem that captures the times and sentiments of rural life. Posting a photo of 4 generations is a treasure beyond words.
    Congratulations on being published.

  4. Littlesundog Says:

    This reminds me of my mother also, and my own upbringing. The bond with the prairie is in our blood.

  5. Almost Iowa Says:

    Wonderful poem – and that photo of four generations… I hope one day your grand-daughter looks at it and says to herself, “I need to call mom and grandma and…”

    • I hear you. Keeping those connections is so vital. As I age, what I wish for more than anything is time with my grown children, and now my granddaughter. Even a phone call would suffice. My “girls” are much better than my son in keeping connected. He is the one who lives most distant, in Boston. Perhaps as he ages (he’s only 23), he will understand the importance of calling Mom, or at least answering her emails and texts. Sigh.

  6. Laurine Jannusch Says:

    More memories of life in Vesta. Wish my husband could have seen them, too. Congratulations on this new publication. One question: who is the fifth sibling? I remember you , Doug, Monica, Brian and Bradley.

  7. Caryl Larson Says:

    Beautiful!

  8. Bernadette Thomasy Says:

    Lovely tribute to your mother and all farm wives/mothers of their generation – the photo story is a treasure too. Enjoyed it all.

  9. Virgil Says:

    Congratulations on another winning poem Audrey! You help us through your writings in refreshing our memories of past special times. You reminded me of my hard working parents and many farm relatives. They worked hard and did without many things we take for granted. They spent much time preparing and preserving food we easily get at stores now. And they had fun dancing, at picnics, at harvest times and enjoying many family gatherings. We are blessed by your writings. Thank you!

  10. DeLores Johnson Says:

    Beautiful, Audrey. I am honored to know you.

  11. Don Says:

    Reminiscing, ah one of my favorite pastimes! Your blog always helps me to enter this state of mind, for this I thank you………

  12. Janet Hanf Says:

    I enjoy reading these posts about other peoples lives. I was raised on a farm n know the work was hard.

  13. ****Your skin smelled of baby and yeasty homemade bread
    and your kisses tasted of sweet apple jelly****

    I love this so so so much, Audrey.

    …pure gorgeousness. This truly moved me.

    Thank you for your words. xx

    PS. it doesn’t matter about the whiskey. It was apt and sweet in that space. And this is exactly what “Poetic License” means.

    • For your ever present support and encouragement and appreciation, dearest Kim, I am most grateful. You hold an incredible gift for uplifting others.

      You are correct on “poetic license.” I was thinking, though, of family members who might read this and question why I would include whiskey, thus the P.S.

  14. Jackie Says:

    Oh Audrey, I just love this poem, how sweet, an abieviated story of your dear mom. I especially like this line…
    “In the rhythm of your days, you still danced, but to the beat of farm life”. I think I had a little tear. I so love hearing about your days on the farm, even better through your poems. Congratulations on your publication, loved it!

  15. DeLores Johnson Says:

    No, both of them are gone. We also went a few times to the Gladies Ballroom at Montevideo. We went there to see the Everly Brothers when they were first starting their career. I can remember we danced when they were singing. It is also closed.

  16. Love this. Congratulations on another published work of art.


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