Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating my daughter on her birthday November 16, 2018

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Miranda. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

LOVE HOLDS MEMORIES. So many. And today I remember my second daughter, celebrating her birthday 265 miles distant in south central Wisconsin. I wish I could be with her, embracing her and telling her how much, how deeply, I love her.

But time passes and kids grow up and become adults and move on and celebrate birthdays without us. That is the reality of life. I wonder sometimes why some kids choose to stay in the place of their roots and some choose to leave. Mine left, although one daughter lives only an hour away, for which I am thankful.

Today, on Miranda’s birthday, I remember her entry into the world—on her timeline, not mine. She awakened me in the early morning hours of November 16, days before her scheduled delivery by C-section. She sent Randy and me scrambling to find someone to watch her 21-month-old sister so I could get to the hospital. I shall be forever grateful to my neighbor Cheri.

This launch into life set the tone for Miranda. She is her own person, not one who feels the need to follow the crowd. She has stood strong among bullies and strong through treatment for scoliosis and strong under administration fire as a co-editor of her high school newspaper many years ago. She stood strong through a mugging in Argentina. She stood strong while volunteering with Hurricane Katrina clean-up.

She’s compassionate and kind and loving. Miranda works in a profession that requires compassion. She is a Spanish medical interpreter. From birthing rooms to emergency rooms, she offers a calming presence to patients and their families. I admire her ability to handle whatever situation with professionalism and grace. I could not do what she does. But I appreciate that she is there for people both in moments of joy and in moments of crisis.

Miranda is also a woman of faith, of a gentle spirit. She is quiet, yet bold. Creative.

There’s so much I love about this girl of mine, who really is not mine in the sense of ownership. No one owns anyone. But the bonds of family connect us, hold us close in the infinite love of a mother for her daughter. Today my love overflows as I think of the sweet baby girl I welcomed all those decades ago. On her timeline, not mine.

Happy birthday, Miranda! I love you. Always.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Escape to the tropics in Minnesota at Como November 15, 2018

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The Sunken Garden at the Como Park Conservatory.

 

WHETHER HE SOUGHT A RESPITE from single digit temps or whether he wanted to see the bonsai trees, I’m not sure. But the son wanted to visit Como Park Conservatory before his return flight from Minnesota to Boston on Monday.

 

A section of the conservatory features bonsai trees.

 

So after an early lunch, we loaded his luggage and that of his girlfriend into our van and headed north an hour to the Twin Cities metro. Our oldest daughter and granddaughter joined us at this St. Paul site they frequent. Izzy’s comfortable familiarity showed as her two year old legs ran more than walked. On a slow day at Como, no danger existed of separation from the five adults.

 

 

I could take photos at my leisure without worry of stalling foot traffic winding through lush greenery inside the balmy conservatory. It was a luxury not to feel hurried or pressed by crowds at Como, which ranked as the third top tourist attraction in Minnesota in 2017 with 5.3 million visitors.

 

Heading to the animal exhibits.

 

And it was a luxury to escape temporarily from the cold and snow of Minnesota. With temps dipping to six degrees overnight, winter has arrived way too early. We have a brief respite this week with the temp pushing back up to 40 degrees during the day.

 

A close-up of a mum inside the Sunken Garden where flowers are changed out seasonally.

 

Yes, we dwell on the weather here in Minnesota. My son claims everywhere. He’s probably right. Conversations too often begin with weather. If they stick on that topic, then I’m concerned.

 

 

 

While inside the conservatory, I pulled off my winter garb and focused instead on the florals,

 

 

the greenery,

 

 

the art, the water.

 

 

Anything but the weather.

 

Lovely orchids.

 

These tropics offer an ideal escape if you can’t afford a real escape to warmth or the tropics.

 

As I photographed this bird, I was cognizant of the possibility of mice.

 

When the daughter warned me about mice inside one section of the conservatory, I hurried. I wish she hadn’t told me about the varmints I detest. “I didn’t want you to scream if you saw a mouse,” she explained. Alright then, that makes sense.

 

Art outside the primates building set against a backdrop of snow.

 

And later, when I commented on the stench of manure in the Como Zoo primate and giraffe buildings, she said, “You grew up on a farm.” Yes, I did. A dairy farm. But, in my memory, cows don’t stink.

 

 

Cold temps and construction shortened our time at the zoo. And that was OK by me. I could see the son wasn’t thrilled with viewing caged critters. I, too, felt a certain sadness for these animals. Izzy kept telling us she didn’t like the monkeys, then stood watching them. Next week she might love monkeys. I admired the mama gorilla who turned her back on me when I stepped up to the viewing window.

 

 

Soon enough, we exited the zoo and conservatory complex, bending into the frigid wind on our way to the parking lot. For a short time we’d escaped winter. And now, as warmer temps ease into Minnesota for several days, the cold air moves east, toward Boston.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The joy of time with family-plus November 14, 2018

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I TOLD MYSELF I wouldn’t cry. And I didn’t. Not until they had exited the van, scooped together their luggage, hugged me tight and entered Terminal 2 at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport.

Then, even before Randy pulled away from the curb late Monday afternoon, the choke of parting sadness erupted for a brief moment. Until I refocused on the joy of seeing my son, of meeting his girlfriend. Of the hours during their 2 1/2-day visit from Boston that filled my mama’s heart to overflowing with love.

 

Siblings together for the first time in 15 months. My eldest is due with her second child in less than two months.

 

Caleb’s sisters joined us from an hour away and from four hours away in Madison, Wisconsin, as did the 2 ½-year-old granddaughter and a son-in-law. This marked our first time together since August 2017. Too long.

We spent most of our time just hanging out at home, gathering around the dinner table, cozying on the couch, viewing images from Paris and delighting in the novelty of a Polaroid camera. Preschooler Izzy now has a stash of photos. We celebrated my second daughter’s birthday early with gifts and well wishes and birthday candles—one on her mint bar, one on Izzy’s piece. When you’re the granddaughter, you can have a candle to blow out, too.

 

Our friendly waitress offered to take our photo before we ate our pizza.

We talked and laughed and ate too much—including the requested mint bars and potato soup and delicious meals grilled by Randy and lots more. I made hotdish, albeit not tater tot, but Amy Thielen’s Classic Chicken and Wild Rice Hotdish. You can’t host a first-time visitor to Minnesota without serving hotdish (not casserole). One evening we ate out, enjoying Caleb’s (and our) favorite Italian sausage pizza at The Signature Bar & Grill.

We toured Sunny around Faribault, showing her the places of Caleb’s youth—his schools, church, the hospital of his birth. Disappointment showed when I told Caleb the library, where he spent a lot of time while growing up, was closed on Sunday. Likewise, we couldn’t hike at River Bend Nature Center. No one wanted to risk a walk with archery deer hunting happening there. But we walked the new Virtue’s Trail, fighting a brisk wind and abnormally winter cold temps to do so.

I tried to think like someone who’d never visited Faribault. We stopped at the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store and downtown (unfortunately little is open on Sunday), drove past historic Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and pointed out the sliding hill near our home. Sunny delighted in all of it and expressed her desire to attend a county fair as we drove through the Rice County Fairgrounds. I jumped on that and invited her back. Any time.

 

Before going to the airport, we met our eldest daughter and granddaughter at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

 

It was a joy to have Sunny here. To see southern Minnesota through her eyes—to appreciate her appreciation for cozy homes, the quiet of the night, the darkness of the night sky pinpointed by stars, the spaciousness of open land, even cattle glimpsed from Interstate 35.

But mostly, it was a joy to have my house full. To be with those I love, to widen the circle of that love to include Sunny.

My mama’s heart overflows with happiness at the memories.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on Veterans Day November 11, 2018

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U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea.

 

IT’S EASY ENOUGH to write words of praise on Veterans Day. Those are words we expect. And they should be spoken, written.

But there are other words which also need exposure. Like sacrifice, pain, guilt, suffering. I saw all of those in my dad, who fought on the front lines in the Korean War. Kill or be killed. He shared little of his experiences, but just enough that I understood the horror he saw, the horror he endured, the pain he would carry with him throughout his life. Peace eluded him. I felt helpless to help him. And I don’t know that I could have, never experiencing war as he did. Eventually he joined a veterans’ support group decades after the war, when post traumatic stress disorder was finally recognized. It helped him to talk to those who understood.

Please take time today to reflect. Reflect on those who served and who still serve.

Be thankful for those who are working hard to keep America safe. Freedom is never a guarantee and today, more than ever, I am fully cognizant of that.

To my many family members and friends who have served in the U.S. military, to my readers who have done likewise, thank you for your service. Because of you, I have the freedom to write this post, to continue to write, to live in a nation where I can go to the polls and vote.

Thank you, veterans, for the personal sacrifices you made for your country. Today I honor you.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happiness November 9, 2018

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This photograph was taken at a Helbling Family Reunion in August 2017, the last time our three adult children were all back home in Faribault. Here my husband and granddaughter play bean bag toss. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

TWO FLY IN from Boston. One drives 260 miles from Madison, Wisconsin. Three arrive from an hour away.

They will all be here on Saturday. In my southern Minnesota home. It will be the first time in 15 months that we have all been together—our once nuclear family plus a son-in-law, a granddaughter and the son’s girlfriend.

I cannot wait.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Ulen: Ole & Lena would feel right at home in this Minnesota town November 8, 2018

The ethnicity of Ulen displayed on a business sign. I absolutely love the artistry of this signage.

 

I’D NEVER BEEN TO ULEN, a decidedly Norwegian-American community of some 600 in northwestern Minnesota. But it was on our route from Hendrum back to Detroit Lakes last week Thursday.

 

 

Ulen looks like many other small towns in this remote agricultural region. There’s a school, a grain elevator, a few businesses downtown. Typical.

 

Approaching the grain elevator complex, we notice the rising dust.

 

But then Randy and I observed something not so typical—the demolition of an aged grain elevator. Back in their heyday, these rectangular buildings rose like cathedrals on the prairie, visible for miles. They centered communities, held the harvest. Now many sit empty, replaced by massive grain bins and towering grain silos that hold no aesthetic appeal.

I don’t know the story behind the removal of the vintage elevator in Ulen. I can speculate. But speculation isn’t truth.

 

 

I know only that I felt a sense of sadness as Randy and I sat in our van watching the dust fly while demolition equipment chomped away chunks of this historic building. We missed seeing the elevator in-tact given our late arrival.

 

 

After a bit we drove back through town, past the Ulen Museum, formerly the Viking Sword Museum (the Viking sword found near Ulen has been proven a legend, not truth), then past the Top Hat Theatre.

 

 

When we spotted a vintage house for sale on a corner lot, Randy stopped to pick up a flier. He asked me to guess the price. “$47,000,” I said. Oh, how wrong that guess. The five-bedroom, two-bath house of 3,088 square feet and with four garage stalls is priced at $179,900. No, we’re not interested in living in Ulen, home to a Turkey BBQ going on its 58th year.

 

 

As we exited town, a plain green poleshed caught my eye. Lena’s Lefse, the sign thereon read. Now I know a lot of people who love lefse, who make lefse each holiday season. I’ll eat it just to be polite. I’m convinced the appeal of lefse is more about family tradition and heritage than taste. But then I’m not Norwegian. And I’m not from Ulen. Nor do I know a good Ole and Lena joke to share right now.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The humor of Hendrum November 7, 2018

The Hendrum welcome sign is posted next to the dike.

 

WHEN MY FRIEND Tammy gave me directions to her family’s home in Hendrum, she failed to give me the exit number. Not that I expected multiple exits into this community along U.S. Highway 75. But there, on the sign welcoming me into this Red River Valley town of some 300, I read Welcome HENDRUM MINNESOTA Next 9 exits.

 

 

I laughed. Simply laughed at the absurdity of nine exits. Already I appreciated the humor of Hendrum, further expounded in the message If You Lived Here You’d be Home Now! Indeed, I would. But my home lies about five hours to the south and east in southern Minnesota, far from this community 30 miles north of Fargo-Moorhead.

 

Entering Hendrum from the south.

 

Exits into Hendrum are not exits in the sense that most would think of exits. Rather, Hendrum’s exits are the streets spoking off Highway 75 with the grain elevator, Red River and North Dakota to the west

 

 

 

 

and the business district, school, Lutheran church and residential neighborhoods to the east.

Tammy told me if we passed the dike protecting Hendrum from Red River flooding, we’d driven too far north. Only a line of trees separates my friend’s backyard from the grassy earthen dike ringing this small town. Her kids use the dike as a sledding hill. Good luck finding a natural hill anywhere near here. This place is flat.

 

Inside the entry into my friend’s house stands this statue of Bigfoot. It was a gift to her husband, who appreciates this creature that may or may not have been sighted in the area. I saw Bigfoot art on a nearby farm site. Whatever the truth, this Bigfoot art fits well with the humor of Hendrum.

 

But what Hendrum lacks perhaps in landscape appeal, it makes up for in appealing to those wanting a quiet place in which to raise a family. The median age of Hendrum residents is 37. I was delighted to see that my friend’s younger children built stick and log forts and tended chickens in a backyard coop. They’re actually outdoors, using their imaginations, playing, having fun.

 

 

This family of seven could be the poster family of Hendrum, fitting the demographic target market. The town’s website, banners EVERYTHING YOUR FAMILY NEEDS TO SHINE. That would be a low student-to-teacher ratio (although my friend’s kids are homeschooled), a strong and loyal local economy, and no traffic. I can vouch for that lack of traffic congestion.

The creative who put together the city’s website recognizes the strengths of this town:

Our commuters bask in their own quiet retreat, leaving the traffic and hustle in the rearview mirror every day as they head home.

Unlike other small communities surrounding Fargo-Moorhead, Hendrum resides on a quiet MN highway—not a thoroughfare of hurried weekend traffic.

We’re a small community of farmers, bankers, teachers and friends, and we’d love to show you around our neighborhood. We’re the first town with a speed limit north of Moorhead on Highway 75. Come take a tour… you’ll be home before you know it.

Just take one of the nine exits into town…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling