SIXTY-EIGHT YEARS AGO on June 2, 1953, a 22-year-old soldier died on the battlefields of Korea. Blown apart by a mortar just the day before he was scheduled to leave, to return home to Wollbach, Nebraska. To his wife and six-week-old daughter.
He was Cpl Ray W. Scheibe, my dad’s Army buddy. Fellow soldier. Comrade.
My dad, Elvern Kletscher, witnessed Ray’s horrible death. Something he never forgot. The visual he carried with him from Korea back home to southwestern Minnesota. The trauma. The pain. The loss never left him. How could it? He and Ray were like brothers, linked by a bond unlike any other in the commonality of survival, of facing death, of shoot or be shot.
Today I honor Ray and all those brave men and women who died in service to our country. They left behind grieving friends and families and communities. Eventually, I would find and connect with Ray’s daughter, Terri. (Read that story by clicking here.) We have yet to meet in person, but continue to exchange annual holiday letters.
I hold close the memory my dad shared about Ray’s death. Dad seldom talked about Korea. I wish I’d asked more about his time there. It’s too late; he died in 2003. But I have a shoe box full of photos and memorabilia, including the memorial service bulletin Dad carried home from Korea. The one that lists Ray’s name among those soldiers who died in service to their country. The ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice—their lives.
GRATITUDE IS A CONSCIOUS CHOICE. Feeling grateful takes effort. If you disagree, that’s OK. Maybe gratitude comes naturally for you. But, for most of us, I don’t think that’s true.
That’s why I appreciate projects like The Gratitude Tree. Outside the Northfield Public Library, colorful tags sway in the wind on the branches of a small tree. The Gratitude Tree. And on those slips of paper, people have answered the question, “What are you grateful for?”
I paused to read the responses, which seemed mostly focused on thankfulness for family, friends and others. That doesn’t surprise me, especially after this past year of separation due to COVID-19. Most of us crave human connection. We’ve missed our families, friends, co-workers…
It’s important to acknowledge that. To say it. To write it. To embrace this feeling of longing to be with people.
I’m grateful we’re at a point in the pandemic where those of us who are vaccinated can reclaim our lives. It feels good. Really good. I can hug my second daughter now. I can feel comfortable being out in public among other vaccinated individuals. I feel grateful for that.
We can all learn from Nika, a role model for community service and positivity. She inspires. She uplifts. She causes us to pause and think. To focus on the good in life. To see the reasons to smile, to feel happy, to give thanks.
IF YOUR FRIEND was battling cancer, what would you do? Send an encouraging card? Deliver a meal? Offer a ride to the doctor’s office? Plan or support a fundraiser for her?
Now, what if that same friend was battling clinical depression? Would you do the same?
I’d like to hope we’d all answer “yes.” That we would respond in the same loving and supportive way whether someone was fighting cancer or dealing with a serious, debilitating mental illness.
But the truth is that most of us wouldn’t. And there are multiple reasons for our inaction. We are unaware. We don’t understand. We’re too uncomfortable. We’re at a loss as to what to do. We may even wonder why our friend can’t just get over it.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
Yet, those struggling with serious mental health issues need our support, encouragement, understanding, compassion and love. They can’t simply wish away chemical imbalances in their brains. They can’t simply take a pill and magically return to good health. The struggle is real. As real as cancer.
I’m hopeful that an increasing focus on mental health, especially during the pandemic, will shift thinking and reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. That’s a start. But so much more needs to be done.
We need more mental health professionals. In my area of Minnesota, the wait to see a psychiatrist can be lengthy. Some doctors are not even taking new patients. Psychiatric care is limited, especially in areas outside the metro. That’s how bad it is. Imagine being in a mental health crisis, the equivalent of a heart attack, and being told you can’t get medical attention for six weeks? That’s reality for way too many people.
We need more funding for research that will lead to new, more effective medications or other treatments for mental illnesses.
We need early intervention. Education. Heightened awareness.
We need to move this beyond buzz words and hashtags. We need to stop throwing out offensive words like “crazy,” “insane,” or “nuts” when talking about mental illness or anything, really.
YOU CAN HELP
I recognize we as individuals hold little power over changing most of those problems. But we do have the ability to, on a very basic level, acknowledge and support those in our circle who are dealing with mental health issues. Send a card. Deliver a meal. Offer a ride. Listen. Give a financial gift—individuals and families in the throes of a mental health crisis often face overwhelming financial challenges. There’s so much we can do. If only we choose to take action.
FYI: May marks Mental Health Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is an excellent resource for information on mental health. If you or someone you love is in crisis, seek immediate medical attention in your emergency room. That’s a starting point. Above all, please know that help is available and that you are not alone. The same goes for those who care for and love family members struggling with mental health. NAMI offers confidential family support groups.
THIS POST CELEBRATES my mom, who turns 80-something today. She likely will never read this. She can’t see well enough to read nor would she likely fully comprehend. But, none-the-less, I feel compelled to honor her with my words.
She’s proven such an inspiration to me. In my writing. In the way I live my life. In who I am. Her name, Arlene, is even part of my identity as her first-born daughter.
I recognize that, as time passes, our memories often skew and we see loved ones through rose-colored glasses. But my view of my mom remains consistent, unchanged. She is the definition of kindness. Of the mindset, “if you don’t have anything good to say about someone, then don’t say it.” Those weren’t just empty words. She followed them and advised us, her six children, to do the same.
Mom, as busy as she was with raising three sons and three daughters on the farm, always found time to serve. In church. In the American Legion Auxiliary. At Red Cross blood drives. Wherever she was needed. Her selflessness is admirable.
I sometimes wonder what dreams she gave up. She attended business college in Mankato and worked for awhile before marrying and then settling into her role as farm wife and mother. I know the six of us occasionally tested her patience. I know she worked hard—washing clothes in a Maytag wringer washer, tending a large garden, preserving food, endless cooking and baking…
And I also know of one particular dream which became reality for my mom in 1967. For years I watched as she paged through house-building plans printed in booklets procured from the local lumberyard. She dreamed of more space for her growing family. Space expanding beyond the 1 ½-story wood-frame farmhouse with three small bedrooms, an oil-burning stove in the middle of the living room, a dirt cellar and no bathroom. Eventually, my parents built a new house and I can only imagine my mom’s relief and gratitude.
It’s not that Mom really cared all that much about material possessions. But having more room and something like an indoor bathroom made life easier. More comfortable.
Today, as I reflect on my childhood, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for my mother and how she raised me to value faith and family. To respect others. To speak kindly. To serve.
I feel grateful to still have her in this world, even as aging and health have changed her. Many times, beginning with a viral infection of the heart nearly 40 years ago, followed by open heart surgery, we wondered if she would make it. Too many times we, her family, were called to her bedside when she was not expected to survive. During uncontrollable bleeding, pneumonia, a fall that broke her neck and landed her in a trauma unit. I recall her comment after one hospital stay. “I guess God wasn’t ready for this stubborn old lady yet.” She was right. There’s a reason Mom is still here, even while wheelchair bound, tethered to oxygen, fading before our eyes.
She is still here to love. To cherish. And, on this her birthday, to honor with words of gratitude.
While my beloved Uncle Mike is long gone, the memories of the lilac bush which grew on his farm remain. I think of him each May when Randy brings me clutches of lilacs. It’s a sweet tradition. Loving. Appreciated more than a dozen roses, although those are lovely, too.
When Randy walked through the back door a few days ago with lilacs, I was surprised. Not that I should have been. He does this every May. I appreciate his thoughtfulness. I appreciate that he takes the time to gather these flowers for me at the end of a long work day.
There’s something simply sweet and precious about his remembering, his recognition of how much I value this heartfelt gift of love.
Breathing in the heady scent of lilacs each May, I remember my bachelor uncle and the gnarled bushes, heavy with purple blooms, that embraced his front porch and held the promises of sweet love never experienced.
He invited his sister-in-law, my mother, to clip lilacs, to enfold great sweeps of flowers into her arms, to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table, romance perfuming our cow-scented farmhouse.
Such memories linger as my own love, decades later, pulls a jackknife from the pocket of his stained jeans, balances on the tips of his soiled Red Wing work shoes, clips and gathers great sweeps of lilacs into his arms.
ARE YOU STRUGGLING with everyday tasks? Unable to get out of bed? Feeling hopeless? Overwhelmed?
You are not alone. I think all of us have struggled during this past pandemic year. Maybe not to the extent of the challenges listed, but in other ways. It’s been a lot. I’m thankful that, if anything good comes from this pandemic, it’s an increased awareness of mental health issues.
I am grateful for writers like K.J. (Kristine) Joseph for opening up about her clinical depression in her powerful memoir, Simply Because We Are Human. The Minnesota author reveals her life-long struggles with an incurable disease caused by a chemical imbalance in her brain. And that’s important to note—that depression like hers has a physical cause that can be treated, not cured. Clinical depression is much deeper than the typical I’m-feeling-kind-of-down today.
“If only my pain and illness were visible to the world…then people would understand,” Joseph writes. She’s right. Mental illness needs to be viewed through the same lens as any other illness. Except we know it all too often isn’t. The stigma remains. The lack of understanding remains. The misinformation remains. Too many still think you can will yourself, or snap yourself, out of depression or other mental illness. That doesn’t work.
That’s why books like this are so important in changing perceptions, in educating, and in building empathy and understanding.
For Joseph, her first memory of the darkness which would enter her life occurred at age eight. At age 13, feelings of emptiness, non-stop crying, sadness and, for the first time, suicidal thoughts developed. In her 20s, she would once again contemplate suicide as she stood in her kitchen, knife in hand.
It was the death of a 17-year-old friend in high school that propelled Joseph to open up about her depression. I especially appreciate Joseph’s assessment of Matt’s depression-caused suicide: “Matt took his own life because he was sick, and that was how I saw it.” By writing that, she helps ease blame and guilt which often follow a suicide.
In telling her story, Joseph also writes about ways in which she manages her clinical depression. And that is via medication, hard work and taking care of herself. She is a runner, a life-long interest/activity tracing back to childhood. In high school, she ran on the track team, even competed in the state meet. Running helps manage her depression, putting her in a calm, meditative state.
Therein lie the additional strengths of Joseph’s memoir. She offers hope. She reveals how she navigates her depression, what works for her, including taking medication. She acknowledges the reality of her mental illness. And she is open about her struggles. I applaud Joseph for writing about her clinical depression, for her raw honesty, for sharing her stories. For it is through personal stories that we most connect. And begin to understand.
May marks Mental Health Awareness Month. I pledge to continue my efforts to raise awareness and to reduce the stigma of mental illness. Please read previous reviews I’ve written on books about mental illnesses by clicking here, then here, next, here, and, finally, here.
YOU DON’T NEED THAT, I remind myself as I covet the vintage mixing bowls, the floral apron, the whatever. I’m at that point in life when I feel the need to declutter, to downsize, to let go. Not acquire more stuff.
While I wandered among tables, pausing to chat with friends I haven’t seen in more than a year, I delighted in the beautiful spring day and the opportunity to be out and about among others.
With camera in hand, I documented some of the merchandise. I recognize that memories and personal interest draw me to certain items. Like the bag of Red Owl charcoal, a reminder of my brief cashier’s job at that grocery chain. Red Owl was also the “go to” grocery store when I was growing up.
An autograph book from the 1890s also drew me to flip through the pages, to read the messages written to Mary. I have an autograph book stashed in a closet somewhere. I ought to find it.
Print items and art and oddities focused my interest, too.
There was so much to take in at the flea market, before I moved on to the farmers’ market.
Given my farming roots, I admire and appreciate those who gather eggs, spin yarn, grow plants, harvest honey, cook jams and jellies, bake sweet treats and more for sale at farmers’ markets. Theirs is a labor of love. To share the bounty, the works of their hands, truly is a gift.
When I peruse market offerings, I also view products from a photographic, artistic and poetic perspective. The dark jewel tone of blackberry jam. The golden hue of honey. Both are beautiful to behold.
My final stop took me to the food vendors and the decision to purchase The Buffaloed Turkey Plate to share with Randy. Other food offerings were standard fair food. I appreciated the opportunity to order more creative, locally-sourced food from The Local Plate.
I love local events like this. They build community. And this year, more than ever, I appreciate local. And I appreciate community.
MORE THAN A YEAR into the pandemic and we all needed this—an outdoor event to bring us together, to reclaim our collective sense of community, to reconnect with friends we haven’t seen in way too long.
This event marked our re-entry into community life, now that Randy and I are fully vaccine-protected. It felt good, oh, so good, to experience a sense of normalcy again. And even though crowds were large and most attendees were unmasked, we felt comfortable given our vaccination status and the outdoor setting.
For a May day in Minnesota, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Sunshine. Blue skies. Warmth. Absolutely ideal for outdoor vending of treasures, selling of locally-grown/raised/made goods and indulging in fair food.
What made this gathering unique, though, was the overwhelming feeling of optimism. I sensed it. Felt it. Experienced it. An undercurrent of joyfulness.
I know events like this don’t happen without a lot of behind-the-scenes effort and hard work. So to all the volunteers, vendors, farmers and others who planned, showed up, set up, sold, engaged in conversation, welcomed us back to experience community, thank you. I needed this day. We needed this day. Saturday’s event reaffirmed for me just how much I value interacting with others. And just how much I’ve missed those connections.
Please check back for more photos from this event.
I love walking here in the evening, when the sun begins its golden descent. A paved path curves along the bank of the Cannon River.
I appreciate the gracefulness of the Northern Link Trail, how it winds around trees rather than tracing a straight line.
And I appreciate the power of the river roaring over the dam, over rocks. There’s something about churning water that mesmerizes me. The sound. The sight. The reminder that water, harnessed or unharnessed, is a powerful thing. It’s a bit terrifying.
Standing on the narrow dam walkway widens my perspective to include fishermen/women/children angling from the shoreline. This is a popular fishing spot, any time of year.
And then, if I look directly before me, I see the river flowing under the Second Avenue bridge. A short distance later the Cannon joins the Straight River at Twin Rivers Park.
THIRTY-NINE YEARS AGO on May 15, Randy and I were married at St. John’s Lutheran Church in my hometown of Vesta. The church sits about a half-mile north of the crop and dairy farm where I grew up. Since few people have a clue as to my hometown’s location, here are general directions: Go west of Mankato, west of New Ulm, west of Redwood Falls and follow Minnesota State Highway 19 half-way to Marshall. Vesta is a short distance from the first curve curving south.
When I reflect on that Saturday in 1982, I remember how the morning began with light rain, how I worried about my $82 wedding dress from Maurice’s getting dirty on the gravel farm driveway. Photos from that day show the sidewalk to the church dampened by rain before the 2 pm ceremony and after, when guests lined the walkway to toss rice.
That exit photo is perhaps my favorite from our wedding day. The joy on our faces and that of our guests is in-the-moment natural. Journalistic style. Slice-of-life. While I value the posed professional portraits, I especially value this celebratory image. When I study it, I see loved ones who are no longer living. My Grandma Kletscher back in the corner, daisy corsage pinned to her dress, snow white hair spilling from her red scarf. My bachelor uncle, Mike, dressed to the nines in a suit and tie and smiling broadly. And then my Aunt Sue, the beautiful and classy aunt of Italian descent, fashionably dressed, clutching rice, smiling. I miss all of them.
Detailed memories fade after nearly 40 years. But the highlights of that day remain. The joy in marrying the man I loved, and still love. The congregation singing my favorite hymn, “Beautiful Savior,” during the ceremony. The joy of celebrating with all those friends and family, including two of Randy’s soon-to-give-birth sisters. The joy of dancing across the old wooden floor inside the Vesta Community Hall. And, if Randy, could insert his memory here, he would remind me of the awful green hue of the punch my mom made. It was tasty; but he’s right about the color.
Our colors were green and yellow. Not John Deere green and yellow. Just green and yellow, my favorite colors. Randy didn’t care much about color choices, as I recall. I even stitched aprons for our waitresses from green and yellow gingham. Oh, how I’d love to have one of those ruffled aprons my younger cousins wore as they waited on tables.
I appreciate that we were married during a time when weddings were simple. Simple as in twisted crepe paper streamers running the length of bare wooden banquet tables. Tables where locals piled corn kernels to mark BINGO cards once a year during BINGO Night. Tables that were pushed aside to open dance floor space for the Bunny Hop and the Chicken Dance and modern dancing. Dances, too, with the bride and with the groom. Randy would insert his memory here of dancing with a cousin who asked if he was sure he really wanted to get married. We still laugh about that question. But then the liquor store was just a half-block away.
May 15 is certainly a day of reflection. But more important, it is a day of honoring our vows to one another. Of pledging to be there for one another. Always. Through the good times and the challenging times. And we’ve had plenty of both. It is a day also of celebrating what brought us together—love.
To my dear husband, Randy, thank you for loving me and for always being here for me and for our family. I appreciate you, cherish you, love you. In 40 years of knowing you and in 39 years of marriage, those feelings have only deepened. Happy anniversary! And I’m sorry about that green punch.