Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Brainerd memories November 20, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,


Life could be compared to a beaded necklace, each bead representing a memory. Together the beads form a necklace, an accumulation of our life stories. Artist Cyrus Swann created this necklace with handmade porcelain beads and displayed at Crossing Arts Alliance in downtown Brainerd as part of the recent “ART TO WEAR, TEXTILES AND BEYOND” exhibit.


MORE AND MORE THESE DAYS, the quickness of time catches me by surprise like the first brisk wind of winter stinging my face.


Like the varied art in the “ART TO WEAR, TEXTILES AND BEYOND” exhibit, we each hold unique qualities, shaped by our experiences, our personalities and more. The center showcased garment is the work of Carolyn Abbott and is titled “Missus Carolyn Quite Contrary.”


I pull my wool jacket closer, tighten my scarf, wrap my hands in the warmth of gloves. Those actions won’t stop winter. But they keep me warm, comfortable.

So do positive memories.


This art by Lisa Jordan seems to hold years of memories.


Many decades of memories—difficult and joyful, mundane and remarkable, everyday and extraordinary—crowd my brain. Some seem so distant, as if another person lived that life in another place in another body.

In reviewing my life, I page through the chapters of growing up, of college and jobs and then marriage and family and, finally, today, the reality of a house now empty of children with Randy and me back at start.



We brought to our marriage those years when no connection existed between us. And those are the 25 years that still yield discoveries. On a recent trip to central Minnesota, we stayed two nights in Brainerd. Randy attended vocational school there more than 40 years ago. He knows the town. I don’t.


Chain businesses, and homegrown businesses, edge main routes in Brainerd. Many are new since Randy lived here in the mid 1970s.


But in four decades, things change. That proved the resounding theme. “That wasn’t there. That’s gone,” Randy repeated. And on and on. In the context of revisiting a community you left long ago, the reality of aging strikes hard.


I always appreciate public art, including this sculpture of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox on a downtown Brainerd street corner.


One of my favorite discoveries: this gathering space for knitters inside Utrinkets, a yarn, antiques and boutique shop along Laurel Street. Loved the place and the people.


It was nice to see this locally owned bridal and formal wear shop downtown.


Downtown carried a sense of emptiness, surprising us both as we pulled into Brainerd on a late mid-week afternoon in September. I held a preconceived image of a city crammed with mom-and-pop shops. Sure, they exist. But not as in you can’t find a place to park and we’ll never have enough time to get to all these shops (like in Park Rapids or Stillwater).

As a side note, while writing this post I learned that Brainerd is among two Minnesota cities recently selected as one of 20 finalists competing for the coveted spot of featured town in Small Business Revolution–Main Street, Season Three. The other is Owatonna, just a dozen miles from my home. The winner garners a substantial monetary prize and a Main Street revitalization plan.


No photo ban at the bridal shop, but a shoe ban instead, which makes sense.


But back to my Brainerd visit, where, after our stop downtown and a long day of travel, I wanted a craft beer. Much searching and many wrong turns, later, we eventually found Roundhouse Brewery in a railroad yard posted with signs forbidding photography. Photo bans irk me when I view so much visual storytelling potential. So I drank my beer, chatted it up with locals and simply enjoyed the evening before we headed to a hotel and dinner out.


I laughed at this sign outside Hockey House Minnesota in downtown Brainerd.


The next day we aimed north to Nisswa and Pequot Lakes, returning to our Brainerd hotel and a second town tour as the sun edged evening toward night. I tried to be patient while Randy wove the van down street after street, even snailing by Granny Growler’s house where he and two friends rented rooms and strained spaghetti in the bath tub. (The upstairs lacked a kitchen.) I’ve heard the tale too many times not to believe its truth.


The Crow Wing County Courthouse.


Randy talked of walking to the nearby vo-tech, now part of the high school campus, and reminisced about working in the tire shop at JC Penney. Or was it Sears? His words blurred, the memories he spoke holding much more meaning for him than for me.


The historic water tower, photographed as we drove by it.


The landmark Lions head drinking fountain, here since 1968.



Still, in the decades of change, some things remain unchanged in Brainerd—like the water tower and the lion’s head drinking fountain. There’s comfort in that, in tangible places that endure time, that still hold seasons of memories.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


24 Responses to “Brainerd memories”

  1. Littlesundog Says:

    It has been a few decades since I’ve visited Brainerd and I remember very little of it. Back then I would have viewed it from a twenty-some-year-old’s perspective – quite different than how I would see it today. I loved this tour and appreciate your candid perspective of so many MN communities.

    • You’re right about age influencing how we view a community. My adult children see Faribault as small and boring since their moves to much larger cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Fox Valley region of Wisconsin and Boston). But I don’t feel the same given my rural, small town background. Experiences also affect our viewpoints.

  2. Caryl Larson Says:

    What other Minnesota town has a water tower like Brainerds’?

  3. Beth Ann Says:

    Looks like another great little place to visit and I am glad Randy had some of his memories to share with you. Places do tend to change but it is all the cycle of life, right? Places come and go but memories will hopefully always be with us.

  4. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    I’ve never been but my grand parents have visited a few times. I love that they have a cozy place for knitters too. 😂

  5. Valerie Says:

    Looks like you got to see a good portion of Brainerd. Utrinkets sounds like a fun place to visit on my next time up north.

  6. Don Says:

    My experience with children is that they all think (at least most of them do) that whatever town they grew up in, and when I say town I mean a town of 20,000 or less population that it is just a town to someday get out of and live in a city, blah! Then when they do live in a city they find out that it is not as great a place as they thought it would be and end up longing for a smaller town once again. My son and his friends all were looking forward to leaving for the BIG CITY and now in talking with them they almost always wish to live in a smaller town again but careers and jobs are unfortunately better in the city.

    My relatives used to live in Pipestone Minnesota and if memory serves me correctly they had a water tower much like Brainerd’s.

  7. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Isn’t it interesting how a little visit can unleash so many memories and make us feel so keenly aware of the passage of time? But you’re not exactly back at “start” now that your kids are moved out into their own lives. You are at what I call “renegotiate”!

  8. Sheila Ehrich Says:

    Beautiful. Brings back so many memories of other places and other times, but thankfully, all in Minnesota. Yes, time does go by way too quickly.

  9. Jackie Says:

    As a kid we often visited friends who lived near a lake in Motley MN only about 25 minutes from Brainerd. On occasion we went into Brianerd to shop. I Remember well the Lion drinking fountain, being kids we just thought it was the coolest thing ever 🙂

  10. Bryn Says:

    “MORE AND MORE THESE DAYS, the quickness of time catches me by surprise,” you say, then reminisce about the days you and Randy began a life together. You put me in mind of this passage from my morning reading by English poet John Dryden:

    Love and Time with reverence use,
        Treat them like a parting friend;
    Nor the golden gifts refuse
        Which in youth sincere they send:
    For each year their price is more,
    And they less simple than before.

    Dryden sounds a theme you plumb, as well. How fleeting is time and our opportunities for love, how much more precious our appraisal of these as we age.

  11. Susan Ready Says:

    Great photos and that with your words capture the spirit of an up north town, Also would like to add Brainerd is a vibrant literary community of talented authors, poets and writers. Crossing Arts Alliance does a wonderful job supporting and showcasing their talents with a variety of events.
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.