Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflections on my mom’s birthday May 24, 2021

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My sweet mom, featured on the Parkview Facebook page in May 2020.

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.

The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my brother, Doug.

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…

The old farmhouse to the left, with the “new house” in the background. That’s my sister Lanae standing on the front steps.

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.

The birthday cake booklet from which we chose animal cake designs. This copy was gifted to me by a friend.

We didn’t have much growing up. But, because of Mom, we didn’t realize that. On our birthdays, she would craft an animal-shaped cake design chosen from General Foods’ BAKER’S COCONUT ANIMAL CUT-UP CAKE booklet. There were no gifts. Not until I grew older did I understand our poverty. But we didn’t experience poverty in love. Even though this was an era when parents didn’t openly express love in hugs, kisses or words, I felt loved. Cherished. Cared for.

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.

Arlene’s 1951 Wabasso High School graduation portrait.

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.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling