Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Warning: Skip this story if you’re squeamish May 31, 2017

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Forty-eight hours after I broke my right shoulder, there was considerable swelling.

 

AT 6:20 p.m. Monday, his cell phone timer pinged. “Time to raise a toast,” he said, or something like that.

 

The arm is broken at the top of the shoulder (where it rounds). But the bruising is on the inside and spreading down my arm.

 

“I don’t want to,” I replied. But I should have humored him. At the marked time, exactly one week after I fell and broke my right shoulder, my husband wanted to celebrate a week of recovery with only 11 more to go (maximum).

 

A selfie of my arm on May 25.

 

But it was my eldest daughter who made me laugh after I texted her a current photo of my arm, morphing from a deep purple bruise to yellow and green. “Hope you’re not turning into the Grinch!” she replied.

 

Four days later, on Memorial Day.

 

Well, yes, I was feeling a bit Grinchy and very much looking the part on my right arm.

I’ve retold my missed-a-step-and-fell story a zillion times already; that’s OK, I appreciate that friends care. I’ve also stopped two friends from tapping me on the right shoulder as they naturally reached out to comfort me. I’ve dodged kids not watching where they were semi-running inside Walmart. I’ve evaded too many distracted shoppers at the grocery store and avoided crowds at public events.

I am overly protective of my right arm and ever so careful when I walk. My orthopedic doctor’s words of you won’t need surgery unless you fall or make your break worse replay warnings in my brain. I do not want surgery. I will listen. Mostly.

He probably should not have told me I can use my computer—if I move only the fingers on my right hand. He demonstrated on his computer mouse, not the keyboard,  in the exam room. Uh, yeah, I am a writer. The single finger pecking method with my left hand is way too slow for me.

But I learned the hard way that I cannot overdo it or the pain will increase. My pain is mostly minimal and handled with Tylenol, although immediately after the fall, I was crying from the pain.

What surprises me most is my fatigue. I feel tired nearly all the time. A friend reminded me my body has experienced trauma. She is right. Plus, my sleep is often fitful with part of the night spent lying on my back in bed and the remainder sleeping mostly upright in a recliner. I nap nearly daily and I am not a person who typically naps.

Along with fatigue comes the frustration typical for anyone dealing with a temporary disability or health challenge. I need assistance with showering and dressing, etc., and even cutting my thick Iowa pork chop. Everything takes longer. That gets exhausting.

I couldn’t do any of this without Randy. He’s been incredibly caring, loving and helpful, patient even when I’m not. We’ve fallen into a rhythm of movement. Even though he arrives home after a long, physically demanding work day, he still does what needs to be done around the house and also cares for me.

My eldest daughter, Amber, and her husband drove down on Saturday with meals and to help Randy plant flowers. I am so so grateful for their assistance and the visit from my one-year-old granddaughter whom I can no longer lift or hold. Sigh. But she still can make Grandma smile.

 

 

I am thankful to everyone who has expressed well wishes and offered prayers for my healing. From the comments here to the phone calls, cards, texts and emails, each word has uplifted me. In the scheme of possible injuries, mine is minor. I fully understand that. Yet, as I advised a friend who has endured many health issues and is currently on kidney dialysis, the challenges we each face should not be diminished by challenges others face.

In 11 more weeks (or less), I should be able to swipe antiperspirant/deodorant under my arms, blow dry my hair, hang laundry on the line, wash dishes, make a salad in 10 minutes instead of 30, use my Canon DSLR, hold my granddaughter…cut my own pork chop….

Until then, I may resemble the Grinch with my green right arm. But I don’t have to act like him.

TELL ME: If you’ve dealt with a health issue, how have you managed to get through it? How were family and/or friends especially helpful to you?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring the war dead in Cannon City May 30, 2017

Folks begin arriving for the 2 p.m. Memorial Day program at the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

VEHICLES LINED the narrow gravel driveway, angled into the grassy ditch on one side and edging the roadway on the other.

Randy pulled our lawn chairs from the van and I tucked a fleece throw under my left arm, umbrella in hand as we headed toward the crowd gathering at the Cannon City Cemetery gate. Clouds the color of bruises threatened rain on this 60-some-degree Memorial Day afternoon in rural southeastern Minnesota.

 

An art appropriate cannon marks a Civil War Veteran’s tombstone in the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But weather would not keep us from this annual commemoration honoring the war dead—a tradition begun some 100 years prior in this wind-swept rural cemetery bordered by fields and pasture. On this Monday, those here would also mark the sesquicentennial of this burial place where a year ago cows moved to the fenceline to watch my friend Lois bury her husband next to his parents and grandparents.

 

The program opens with singing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Steve Bonde is on the bugle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Randy and I have no family connection to this cemetery. But we have come here each Memorial Day for about the past five because we appreciate the grassroots simplicity of this event. Clustered under spruce and cedar among gravestones, attendees circle their lawn chairs to sing and to listen to patriotic and other readings and to the mournful playing of taps.

 

A bronze star marks a veteran’s grave. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As I sat there, snugged under fleece and wishing I’d worn a stocking cap, I considered that my temporary discomfort was nothing compared to war. I remembered the stories my Korean War veteran father, an infantryman on the frontlines, shared of bone-chilling cold. Yes, my ears hurt. But in a short time, I would be back inside my warm home.

I am an observer. To my right, I watched a teenage boy grip a military star, American flag and white carnation with his left hand, bugle in his other hand, as the fierce wind threatened to yank all three away. Earlier, some attendees distributed flowers, provided by the Cemetery Association, to soldiers’ graves. That flower-laying tradition began 100 years ago with students from the nearby Cannon City School marching with floral wreaths to the cemetery.

 

Song sheets are distributed to those in attendance. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This memorial service is so much about tradition—from recitation of The Pledge of Allegiance to singing of The Battle Hymn of the Republic to reading names of the 52 veterans buried here to recitation of In Flanders Fields.

 

Poppies have long been associated with honoring and remembering veterans. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As Jean Pederson recited the haunting poem of poppies blowing between crosses in a field in Belgium, long-time Cannon City resident Bob Lewis slipped a pot of poppies onto the grass next to Jean’s motorized scooter. He’d dug them from a patch in his yard. That symbolic gesture by this veteran nearly moved me to tears as I watched 10 orange poppies wend in the wind to words of war.

Near Jean, I noticed the word LOVE sparkling along the pant leg of a teenage girl. Love and war. War and love. We love our freedom enough to fight for it.

 

A message on a retro tray I own. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Yet, we always strive for peace, a message conveyed in a reading by two women: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with you.” Their words rose and fell with the wind, carried away—to the fields, the countryside, beyond, under a bruised sky.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
I apologize for the lack of current photos accompanying this story. I fell and broke my right shoulder recently so am unable to use my camera. I hope my words provide the visuals for you to see snippets of what I observed in Cannon City on Memorial Day.

 

In memory of Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe May 26, 2017

 

 

Ray Scheibe is pictured (to the left) in this May 1953 photo taken by my dad, Elvern Kletscher.

 

WHO WILL YOU REMEMBER on Memorial Day?

I will think of my dad’s Army buddy, Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe, killed by an exploding mortar on June 2, 1953, the day before he was to return home from war to his wife and new baby girl in Nebraska.

 

A story about Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe, published in the July 23, 1953, issue of The Wolbach Messenger.

 

I will think of this man who served his country on the battlefields of Korea.

 

 

 

I will think of this man who died a horrible death in a region where the threat of war still exists.

I will think of Ray’s daughter, Teri, whom I searched for and found seven years ago in southwestern Iowa but have yet to meet.

I will think of the grief and pain of so many whose loved ones never returned home from war. These are heavy, deep thoughts laced with patriotism and gratitude and conflict.

 

My dad carried home a July 31, 1953, memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe.

 

My dad came back to Minnesota, walking, living, breathing, yet suffering. Teri’s dad returned to Nebraska. Dead. On Monday, I will remember him and the ultimate sacrifice he made for country.

 

FYI: Please click here to read my 2010 story about Ray Scheibe and my efforts to find his daughter. 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A grassroots Memorial Day observance at a 150-year-old rural Minnesota cemetery May 25, 2017

The Cannon City Cemetery fence decorated for Memorial Day. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

IN A RURAL CEMETERY in unincorporated Cannon City some five miles northeast of Faribault, a chain link fence separates gravestones from fields.

 

A snippet of those gathered for a past Memorial Day program, including Jean Pederson, left, who recited “In Flanders Fields,” and others who led the program. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Here the wind blows strong among spruce and cedar trees branching over gravestones. For a century and a half now, mourners have come to this place of solitude and grace to bury, grieve and remember loved ones. The cemetery was founded 150 years ago, an occasion which will be noted during the 2 p.m. Memorial Day program here on May 29.

 

Song sheets are distributed to those in attendance and then collected at the end of the program. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I first discovered this place and this annual May tribute, in 2011. Nearly every year since, I’ve returned to sing “The Star Spangled Banner,” “America, the Beautiful” and other patriotic songs; to listen to the reading of “In Flanders Fields,” “The Gettysburg Address” and more; to appreciate the mournful playing of taps; to gaze toward the flag whipping atop the flag pole; and to walk among tombstones.

 

This shows a portion of those gathered during a past Memorial Day program. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I have no personal connection to this cemetery. But I am drawn here by the rural-ness of this setting, by the simplicity of the ceremony, by a desire to honor the war dead at a truly grassroots Americana Memorial Day observance among people rooted deep into this land. It doesn’t get much more basic than this informal and unpretentious gathering in lawn chairs, song sheets passed around with Don Chester strumming a rhythm on his guitar.

 

Memorial Day long ago in Cannon City.

 

The former Cannon City School, now the town hall.

 

A vintage newspaper clipping about Memorial Day in Cannon City.

 

Fifty veterans—including one from the War of 1812 and 20 from the Civil War—are buried here. Their names are read each Memorial Day. It was Civil War veteran Elijah Walrod who first suggested a Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) program to Cannon City School teacher Chloe Gagstetter Polson. She honored his request some 100 years ago when school children marched with floral wreaths from the schoolhouse to the nearby cemetery. That tradition, which included a picnic following the ceremony, continued until the school closed in 1970 to become part of the Faribault School District. The Cannon City Cemetery Board carried on thereafter.

 

Veterans graves are marked with flags on a previous Memorial Day. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This year the Cannon City Cemetery Friends will note the cemetery’s 150th anniversary by distributing flowers and flags to attendees for placement on veterans’ graves.  Typically those American flags are placed in advance of the commemoration. There will be no “Death March” from the old schoolhouse, now the town hall, to the cemetery. Rather, everyone will meet at the cemetery gates. And after the program, organizers will serve ice cream cones.

 

In 1973, the Cannon City Cardinals 4-H Club participated in the program.

 

The low-key anniversary observance seems fitting in a place where children dart among gravestones, birds trill and folks greet each other with the familiarity of growing up here. They know and value this place.

 

The program opens with singing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Steve Bonde is on the bugle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Tradition, says Cemetery Board Secretary Mel Sanborn, brings locals and natives back each Memorial Day “to honor veterans and loved ones buried here.” Sanborn has three aunts and uncles buried here and his own plot purchased already.

 

Bob sings as Don and Judy Chester lead the group in song. Bob attended Cannon City School and participated in Memorial Day programs here as a student. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Most who come here on Memorial Day share links of blood and/or roots. Not me. But I still feel at home here, comfortable in this rural cemetery where, on this day in late May, I am simply an American remembering those who died in service to our country.

 

FYI: The Cannon City Memorial Day program begins at 2 p.m. Bring your own lawn chair. The cemetery is located off Rice County Road 20. Look for the cemetery sign and follow the gravel road to the cemetery.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Vintage photos are courtesy of Mel and Mary Sanborn.

 

I planned to give blood, but… May 24, 2017

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THE BEST LAID plans don’t always work out. Case in point.

Monday evening my husband and I arrived at the local hospital to donate blood to the Red Cross. My rare AB positive blood is in high demand and I’m always willing to give when I can, the operative words being “when I can.”

With my Rapid Pass in hand, I was prepared to breeze through the check-in process and get down to the task of donating blood.

As we headed down the stairs toward the basement donation room, I observed how shiny and clean the stairs. This was a hospital, so I wouldn’t expect otherwise. And then it happened. I felt my legs stepping into air as I missed the final step on the stairway. I pitched forward toward the floor, door and concrete wall, apparently breaking my fall with my right shoulder. I lay there, stunned and hurting, until Randy helped me up.

At that point, I still thought I would be donating blood. But by the time we reached the donation site just down the hall, my pain was intensifying. I needed to see a doctor. Opting for the less expensive walk-in clinic rather than the ER, we headed next door. By then, the pain was so severe that I was crying.

You’ve likely determined by now that this story does not end well. X-rays showed a broken right shoulder.  As I’ve repeated my this is how this happened story to medical staff a half dozen times in the past few days, I consider how unbelievable that I would fall while at the hospital. This story is even better than fiction.

But this is reality, my reality of 8 -12 weeks of healing and physical therapy, when my body is ready. I’m currently in resting mode with my arm in a sling and instructions to ice as needed and to take Tylenol for pain. I’m starting a basic flex your elbow exercise today and will advance to the pendulum swing in 10 days. I am learning, adjusting and relying heavily on my husband for personal help and help with household tasks I typically do. He’s a great caregiver. He’s been through this with me before when I had my right hip replaced about 10 year ago.

I am not good at resting. I want to write and do photography and more. The photography won’t happen. I can’t hold my arm in the position needed to take photos. And this is prime photo season. Today is my first attempt at using my desktop computer. Typing with my right hand is a challenge. My blogging and other writing likely will be limited. Time will tell what I can and can’t do. I appreciate your understanding and hope you will remain in my readership.

When I start feeling sorry for myself, I consider how much worse my injuries could have been. I could have slammed my head into the concrete wall and suffered a concussion. I could have face-planted and broken by neck. I could have broken other bones that would have required surgery. My orthopedic doctor told me it I had to break a bone, I chose a good one to break. I’ll trust him on that.

So, dear readers, this is the situation I am in now. I am determined to do what I am told or risk additional injury and surgery. I don’t have to like that I am suffering this painful, limiting injury. But I will deal with it. There is no choice.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

 

The circus connection to a Massachusetts university May 23, 2017

A sculpture of Jumbo the elephant (in the background) looms over attendees at the Tufts University 2016 commencement. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

WHEN RINGLING BROS & Barnum & Bailey Circus performed its last “Greatest Show on Earth” in New York state this past Sunday, my thoughts immediately shifted to Tufts University in neighboring Massachusetts.

Why?

 

On graduation day 2016, students and others gather at a recently installed new Jumbo sculpture on campus. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

Because an elephant is the mascot at Tufts University in Somerville/Medford.

So what?

Well, there’s a connection to the circus. P.T. Barnum and Jumbo the elephant hold historic importance at this elite private research university. Barnum was an early Tufts trustee and benefactor who donated the stuffed hide of Jumbo to the college. For nearly 90 years, Jumbo was on exhibit at Barnum Hall until a fire destroyed both in 1975. Now the famous elephant’s ashes are kept in a peanut butter jar in the athletic director’s office.

 

Posted on an athletic field fence at Tufts University. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

Despite the loss of the original Jumbo and changing attitudes toward circuses and the treatment of elephants, this mighty mammal remains Tufts’ adored mascot. I’m good with that because this university has established the Tufts Elephant Conservation Alliance to save elephants and to educate on the topic.

 

The commencement ceremony begins at The School of Engineering, Tufts University in May 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

So why do I, as a Minnesotan, take any interest in this when I’ve never been to the circus or, up until a few years ago, had never heard of Tufts? Well, my son graduated from Tufts last May with a computer science degree and now continues to live and work in the Boston area.

 

Picnic lunches served after the 2016 commencement were bagged in Jumbo stamped bags. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

During his three years as a transfer student into Tufts, I fell hard for the Jumbo mascot, although not hard enough to purchase a spendy Tufts Mom t-shirt or sweatshirt. But when my husband and I attended Caleb’s college graduation at this time a year ago, I got my Jumbo fix on campus.

 

Caleb poses in front of the Tufts’ sculpture of Jumbo. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

I couldn’t help but consider that on Sunday, the date the circus closed out its 146-year history at that final show in New York, a new group of Jumbos was graduating from Tufts University and posing next to the iconic elephant sculpture on campus.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How to think like a one-year-old May 22, 2017

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EXAMPLE #1:

 

 

“That’s my baby!”

 

 

“My aunt never saw that coming. I got my baby back.”

 

EXAMPLE #2:

 

 

“You’d think Grandma would know how to use her smartphone by now. Guess I’ll teach her.”

 

EXAMPLE #3:

 

 

“Mommy is telling me to get my foot off the table. But then why are she and Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa laughing and taking pictures of me?

 

EXAMPLE #4:

 

 

“I really like this toy airplane. If I just drop it in the cooler along with the rhubarb and asparagus, no one will notice. Not Grandma. Not Mommy. Not Daddy. Last time I took a wooden block from Grandma’s house and Mommy didn’t find it until we got home.”

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling