Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Back in Vesta for the annual Kletscher Family Reunion July 31, 2018

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This sign once marked my hometown. It’s gone now, replaced by a different sign. I prefer this vintage familiar one. It has character. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

AS WE SWEPT THE PARK SHELTER and washed picnic tables in preparation for the annual Kletscher Family Reunion in my hometown of Vesta on Sunday, a woman passed by with a cluster of children. A petite woman in an Asian rice hat and authentic attire from her Vietnamese homeland.

I never saw her face, only heard that she is married to a college professor and lives in a house a ball field away. And sometimes sells egg rolls downtown.

 

The prayer I wrote and read before our noon potluck.

 

The moment imprinted upon me. When I grew up in this rural Minnesota small town in the late 50s, 60s and early 70s, we were all the same race. White. Only our religions separated us—lots of Lutherans and Catholics with some Brethren and Presbyterians thrown in the mix.

 

A snippet of the Kletscher family lineage, my grandfather being Henry.

 

To see diversity all these years later in this prairie town pleases me. Change doesn’t always come easily in a place where generations of families are rooted.

Family brought me back to Vesta, to reconnect with aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and their families. And a few significant others. I appreciate that we still value each other enough to gather every year in the city park located along gravel roads and across from cornfields. This year my siblings and I hosted.

 

Food for the potluck meal spreads across several picnic tables in the Vesta City Park shelter during a previous reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Good food and conversation mark the reunion. I always make a point of moving from lawn chair circle to lawn chair circle so I can talk with nearly everyone. Conversations this year ranged from babies to flooding to a cousin getting out of an emotionally abusive marriage. He’s happy now, happier than he’s been in a long time. “Love is blind,” he noted. I encouraged him, told him how glad I am that he is now free.

 

Cards full of information used in the family jeopardy competition.

 

While that conversation ran deep, there were many light-hearted moments. Like those that came during the first-ever Kletscher Family Jeopardy Game which I planned and hosted. Team Sauerkraut (or Sour Kraut) easily defeated Team Hot Dish in a competition that sometimes seemed more like Family Feud than Jeopardy. All in good fun.

In the shade of towering trees on a July afternoon of perfect Minnesota weather, we laughed. We remembered. And we, the descendants of German immigrants, built new memories in a town where diversity once applied only to differences in religion.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Joyful in service: Supporting a Faribault family at a breakfast & silent auction fundraiser July 26, 2018

WHEN MY FRIEND LISA’S HUSBAND died from complications related to cancer while traveling in Sweden nearly two months ago, I was heartbroken. Heartbroken for my friend and her daughters. But also heartbroken for myself because Michael was my friend. And pastor.

 

A story I wrote about the fundraiser which published in the Faribault Daily News.

 

From 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. this Sunday, July 29, my faith family, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, is hosting a breakfast and silent auction fundraiser for the Nirva family. Proceeds will help cover medical and other expenses related to the unexpected death of their husband and father.

We are all called to serve others. I firmly believe that. I am honored to be on the team planning and implementing this fundraiser by handling the publicity and by coordinating the silent auction. The generosity of people donating primarily handcrafted and homegrown items humbles me. I purposely sought donations from creatives at Trinity rather than hit up local businesses. From garden art to garden-fresh bouquets to quilted items, woodcrafts and much more, the variety of auction items showcases a wide range of gifts.

Gifts. That’s an important focus in helping others. Not only will this benefit yield financial gifts. But, perhaps more importantly, it represents a show of love and support for a grieving family. And that is the real gift.

 

Thrivent Financial is providing seed money for the fundraiser through its Thrivent Action Team Project.

 

If you live close enough to attend and are moved to help this family, please come for the breakfast of pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausages, fresh fruit and beverages prepared by a caring crew of Trinity folks. (Unfortunately I can’t be there given a previous commitment.)

Give as your compassion moves you and your finances allow. There’s no set price for the meal, but rather a free-will offering.

 

 

I also encourage you to check out the silent auction, which opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 11:45 a.m. All 50-plus items will have a cash-and-carry option, meaning you can pay a preset price and the item is yours, no bidding necessary.

In a few days, our crew will be in full pre-fundraiser work mode. Even with use of only one hand, I can write and organize. We each have gifts that we can use in serving others. That’s so important to remember in a time when the world too often seems self-centered and angry and just plain mean. We need to refocus on kindness and goodness and being there for one another.

In the words of Mother Teresa:

Faith in action is love—and love in action is service.

And one more great quote:

Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.

Who can you help today?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About that wrist splint… July 24, 2018

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A close-up of my thumb, held in place by a wrist splint and the underside of my swollen and scaly hand. There’s a reason I’m not smiling. Read on.

 

I’VE BEEN ABSENT FROM THIS BLOG for a stretch of days, which is atypical of me. But life, freelance work, volunteering, and my broken wrist, have interrupted my usual pace of blogging.

I saw my ortho doctor today, four weeks and one day after surgery to implant a plate. He’s happy with the healing and with my progress in occupational therapy five weeks out from my fall and subsequent bone break.

But I am not happy with the news my doctor delivered. I need to wear my restrictive brace for two more months. That’s a month longer than I expected. I could have ripped the Velcro trap off my arm and thrown it at him. But I like Dr. Armitage. He is a skilled and compassionate surgeon who truly knows me and cares that my bone heals properly.

Thus I will listen. I will continue to do my exercises, now upped to three times daily by my wonderful and compassionate occupational therapist, Annie. Yeah, more time out of that vise grip brace. I will continue to follow the rules of no lifting, no pulling, no nothing with my hand except to type and do my exercises.

The good doctor, though, picked up a small paper desk calendar and said I could lift something of that weight. I think he did that to appease me. He also praised me for excelling in breaking my wrist. When I break something, I do it well, he noted. Yes, he holds a great sense of humor. I envisioned a smiley face or an A+ on my medical records for breaking my wrist into so many pieces that 10 screws now hold it onto a metal plate.

Given the severity of the break, healing takes time. Time. I am not a patient person. I wanted to be fully healed yesterday. I hope, too, that my husband’s patience continues given the added duties of personal care assistant, chief cook and primary housekeeper. I have not convinced him to add gardening, thus the weeds grow.

Meanwhile, the medical bills continue rolling in as I pay my $3,600 deductible on a health insurance plan that costs me $1,000/month (and another $500/month for Randy) in premium. (Tell me that’s affordable? It’s not.)

I know I have nothing to complain about given many people are dealing with health, financial and other issues much more difficult. Still, this is my challenge…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The kindness of a faith community July 20, 2018

 

CHOCOLATE MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER, right? Or at least it helps.

Chocolate lifted my mood recently following the death of my friend and pastor, the Rev. Dr. Michael Nirva. He died June 9 in Sweden from complications related to cancer. His unexpected death while traveling with family hit me, and our congregation at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, hard.

 

 

From across town, First English Lutheran Church reached out, gifting Trinity with a basket of hugs and kisses. Of the Hershey’s chocolate variety. The congregation’s act of Christian love and sympathy touched me and many others. How thoughtful and kind and caring.

 

 

Likewise, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church sent a plant to honor Pastor Nirva at a celebration of life service last weekend. What a blessing to live in a town where such grace is extended to a faith family grieving the loss of its senior pastor.

Thank you, First English and Our Savior’s.

 

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In this season of ongoing grief, I hold hope July 18, 2018

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of Valley Grove Cemetery.

 

THESE PAST SIX MONTHS have marked, for me, an unprecedented, extended period of grief.

Jan. Carl. Harold. Elaine. Deb. Michael. And, yesterday, news of Ruth’s death. Whether family by blood, by faith and/or by friendship, each of these individuals held a place in my heart. I grieve their deaths.

But I grieve in hope, because I am a woman of faith. I believe in heaven, in eternal life. Therein lies my comfort.

On Saturday, that hope rose in familiar hymns like “Crown Him with Many Crowns” at the celebration of life service for my friend Michael, also my (senior) pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault. He died on June 9 from complications related to cancer, diagnosed only months earlier. He died while traveling in Sweden, far from his Minnesota home.

 

A snippet of Jesus’ face in a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

At the service, Michael’s pastor friend the Rev. Mark Noren advised us all to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart…and He will make your paths straight.” We repeated those words aloud from Proverbs 5. Words of strength and promise in a difficult time. He urged us to love our neighbors, to be there for others in prayer, support, encouragement and companionship.

I witnessed that care throughout the service. When a Sudanese choir of six sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” in an upbeat tempo of unrestrained joy, I observed one singer gently wipe away the tears of another with her open palms. Such tenderness.

I watched, too, as a friend leaned into Michael’s youngest daughter, shoulder to shoulder, compassion in the closeness of two grieving young women.

More compassion came in the caring words of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Minnesota South District President, the Rev. Dean Nadasdy, who spoke of the mutual love between pastor and congregation.

 

The Good Shepherd stained glass window at Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I felt that love in a tangible way at the visitation when I grasped the handle of the shepherd’s staff Michael received last year at a celebration of his 25 years in the ministry. At that event, I was honored to read a poem Michael wrote. He held an MA in English with a focus on poetry. We both loved language and words and penned poetry. He excelled in preaching. And he excelled in humor with a dry wit that often caught me by surprise. I marveled at his quick comebacks, his ability to unleash a humorous line with seemingly no effort. It was a gift.

But he sucked at gift-wrapping. Forgive me if you find that word inappropriate to connect to a pastor. Last December I was paired with Michael as our bible study group wrapped Christmas gifts for the Angel Tree ministry at our church. My efforts to teach him how to properly fold paper and wrap a gift failed. I finally gave up and suggested he dispense and attach the tape. I think he was relieved. Oh, how we laughed as we wrapped those gifts, extending love to our neighbors in need in the community.

I shall hold dear the memories of a man I valued not only as a pastor but as a friend. Life will always bring us grief as long as we choose to love. I accept that part of loving. For I have hope. Always hope.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling.

 

Learning patience as I start occupational therapy July 16, 2018

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I got this smaller removable splint about two weeks ago. It stays on 24/7 except when showering and for therapeutic exercises. The thumb lock bugs me the most. Many times I’ve just wanted to rip the splint off my arm. My fingers and the top of my hand are still noticeably swollen.

 

FEW WOULD LIKELY TAG the virtue of patience to me. I am not particularly patient. That is evidenced by my response to a question about my goal for occupational therapy, which I started last Thursday. On the questionnaire, I wrote: To regain use of my left hand ASAP.

 

Look on the right side of my wrist to see the surgically implanted plate, shaped like an ice scraper, in my opinion. How Minnesotan is that observation? The x-ray was taken through layers of bandages wrapped around my arm/hand.

 

Exactly the type of response you would expect from someone like me who wanted my broken left wrist healed yesterday. It’s been four weeks since I slipped on rain and moss-slicked wooden steps, fell, broke my radius and underwent subsequent surgery to insert a plate held in place by 10 screws.

After meeting with my therapist for the first time, I realized just how much muscle strength and range of motion I’ve lost. A lot. That should come as no surprise given last summer I had a broken right shoulder and weeks of physical therapy. The success of that therapy confirms that eventually I will have a healthy left hand/wrist that works like it should.

 

Four of my first exercises. If you think I can do these with any ease, you would be wrong. The “making an o” exercise and wrist circles are especially difficult. I can barely touch my thumb and pointer and index fingers. Forget the other fingers. My circles resemble minimal wrist movement nothing like circles. 

 

I am determined to get there. But on my therapist and ortho doctor’s timetable, not mine. Last summer I got in trouble for doing too much too soon. Now I need to check myself, to do only those exercises assigned to me at the mandated frequency. Patience.

My therapist approved typing with my left hand. But not for two hours, she qualified. Ah, she’s already got me pegged. It felt wonderful to have both hands back on the keyboard. For maybe 10 minutes. My body told me to stop and return to the solo finger pecking method.

After two summers recovering from broken bones, I’m learning patience. Maybe.

TELL ME about something in your life which taught you patience.

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Laura fans: Walnut Grove pageant needs financial help after flash flooding July 13, 2018

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of the pageant site along the banks of Plum Creek taken several years ago..

 

WALNUT GROVE AND LAURA INGALLS WILDER. The two are synonymous. Wilder brought notoriety to this small southwestern Minnesota prairie community with her Little House books. The town embraces the author in its summer-time productions of The Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant. Staged in an outdoor amphitheater along the banks of Plum Creek, the pageant brings Wilder’s prairie stories to life. It’s a top-notch show that I’ve seen twice.

 

Plum Creek floods the pageant grounds following torrential rain. Photo source: Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant Facebook page.

 

But now the Wilder Pageant Committee needs financial help to deal with damage caused by early July flash floods that ravaged southwestern Minnesota, including the creek-side performance site. Shows were canceled because of the flood. Volunteers worked hard to clean up the mess so the show could reopen on July 12 with added performances.

 

Native prairie plants, like black-eyed Susan and coneflowers, are featured on a mural in the heart of Walnut Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I love that about small towns—the coming together to get a job done. The people of Walnut Grove understand the value of Laura Ingalls Wilder to the local economy. And they are determined that the Big Flood on the Prairie will not stop the show despite damage to sets, costumes, sound and light equipment, and site access roads.

 

Flood clean-up. Photo source: Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant Facebook page.

 

A gofundme page has been set up to help pay for maintenance to aging and flood-damaged facilities. The goal is $30,000. Please consider donating and spread the word.

 

Photo source: Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant Facebook page.

 

I am a mega fan of Wilder’s descriptive writing. That she lived in a dugout on the banks of Plum Creek in my native Redwood County, on my beloved prairie, endears me even more to this author.

 

Laura Look-A-Like contestants gather for a group shot in the park several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

To all the wonderful folks in Walnut Grove and surrounding area, thank you for your tireless efforts to welcome Laura fans from around the world to your community. Even after a devastating flood.

 

Period attire is common among young Laura fans visiting Walnut Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

CLICK HERE to reach the gofundme page and learn more.

NOTE: The Ingalls dugout site is temporarily closed due to flooding.

BUT the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove is open.

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling