Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Minnesota: Reflecting on small towns January 29, 2021

Buckman, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

RURAL MINNESOTA. For Randy and me, that represents our upbringing, the place of our roots, the land that is part of our personal geography.

A road grader grades the gravel road near Randy’s childhood farm southeast of Buckman. We pulled off the narrow road to allow the grader to safely pass by our van. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
A farm place between Buckman and Gilman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
In the small town of Gilman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

We both grew up on farms, in large families—his three kids larger than mine at nine. We both picked rock—he more than me as Morrison County in central Minnesota sprouts more rocks than Redwood County. We each labored in fields and barns and understood the value of hard work and our importance in the farming operation. Even at a young age. That carries through in our strong work ethics and our strong link to the land.

Pierz, a small town to the north of Buckman and bigger than Buckman, still has a hardware store. Randy attended junior and senior high school in Pierz. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
As we passed through Pierz, I photographed this updated community gathering spot. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
Genola, just to the south of Pierz, is home to the Red Rooster. BINGO is big in this part of rural Minnesota as is weekly Bologna Day (as noted in the banner on the building). Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

And, though we left our rural communities at age 17, we still hold dear the small towns—Buckman and Vesta—that were such an important part of our upbringing. Both have changed with familiar businesses long gone. Society changed and locals began driving farther for groceries and other necessities.

A nod to this area’s rich agricultural base outside Sev’s Food & Liquor in Buckman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

It’s easy to get caught in the memories, of the back then, of wishing nothing had changed. But it has and it does. And life goes on.

Housed in the old bank building, the Buckman Bank Tavern. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
Signs on Sev’s in Buckman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
Sev’s Food & Liquor along Buckman’s main street. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Returning to our hometowns, our home areas, causes me to reflect while simultaneously appreciating that which remains. Cafes and churches and hardware stores. Post offices and bars and grain elevators. These are the community gathering spots that still mark many of Minnesota’s smallest communities, those towns that span only blocks from east to west, north to south.

I often see can collection sites in small towns, like this one in Buckman. They offer insights into a community. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
On the door of a Buckman bar, a young man remembered. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
A warning sign posted on a house in Buckman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

But more than buildings, people form community. Even in Faribault, where Randy and I have lived since 1982, we’ve found our small town in a city of around 25,000. That’s in our faith family at Trinity Lutheran Church, the “town” that centers our lives. An uncle and I discussed this recently. He lives in Minneapolis. His neighborhood is his community, his small town.

A place to gather outside Sev’s Food & Liquor in Buckman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

No matter where you live, whether in rural Minnesota or New York City, the mountains of Idaho or the plains of Nebraska, I hope you’ve found your community and place of joy.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

10 Responses to “From Minnesota: Reflecting on small towns”

  1. Lovely photos, Audrey. Thanks for taking us along! ❤

  2. I had several “hometowns” growing up as the daughter of an itinerant minister and each one holds a special place in my heart even if I have not returned to most of them for many years. There is something that always pulls me into those pictures and memories from times gone by. Love your memories today.

  3. Gunny Says:

    I also have several “hometowns” and a high number I have never seen or visited before. Sarles is one as is Wales, ND as is May-Port (Mayville and Portland) ND . 50 years after my grandmother passing away, I was given to read 3 books, one was given to me at that time. 2 of the books are my sisters. The two I was given to read about about life in Wales, ND in 1917-1918. Both deal with life on the prairie in very small towns. The book I inherited is about life in Minnesota and the Dakotas. I have been online to see these towns. I know of one farming community of less than 500 residents (mostly in the surrounding area. I have been to Albert Lea which while a larger town, holds a special place in my heart as does Northfield, Warsaw, Sogn, Kenyon and Holden. Even the street, Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis holds a special place in my heart as does walking down 11th street in Moorhead, Minnesota. Places in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Texas, Maine, California, Alabama, Georgia and North and South Dakota – MANY places – hold special meanings for me. Just don’t ask me where I am from. Ask where I live and we can start off on the right foot. Then ask why I am where you are at. You might be surprised at the answer.

  4. Ruth Says:

    I always appreciate your small town reflections. You bring us right to their heart.


Leave a Reply to Gunny Cancel 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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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.