Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Conversation hearts February 14, 2023

Not candy conversation hearts…but a collection of my mom’s vintage valentines which can also be conversation starters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

CANDY HEARTS. I’ve never liked their chalky texture and taste. But these hard pastel candies are as much a part of Valentine’s Day history as valentines, red roses and chocolates. And they are a starting point for conversations: Be mine. Hugs. Love.

What exactly is love? It’s not a word completely defined without context. Yet, there is a basic understanding of romantic love, of love within a family, of love between friends. But what about the everyday love that we can express in words, especially towards those not in our friends and family circles?

Let me explain as I reflect on several conversations with strangers over the weekend. There’s nothing particularly dynamic about these brief encounters. Still, they are worth noting given each exchange reaffirms the importance of connecting with others as we go about our daily lives, sort of like handing out candy conversation hearts. I should note that I am comfortable initiating conversations with people I don’t know, if it feels right.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


So there I was, in the check-out lane at a local grocery store when I noticed the man behind me with a shopping cart full of healthy foods. (Yes, I do notice what others are buying.) “You eat oatmeal, too,” I said, nodding toward the two cylinders of old-fashioned rolled oats standing side by side in his cart.

“Ever since I had my heart attack 13 years ago,” he said.

While I don’t remember my exact rambling reply, it went something like this: “Oatmeal’s supposed to be good for your cholesterol and the first time I ate it I thought I can’t do this every morning and then I added fruit…”

“Lots of fruit,” he qualified, when my run-on sentence ended. We fully agreed on the need for lots of fruit.

“Good for you that you’re eating healthy.” And then I wanted to tell him about how my father-in-law hated oatmeal and stuffed it in his pockets at Catholic boarding school in North Dakota but then I ran out of time because my groceries were being scanned and I had to move on, minus any old-fashioned oats in my cart.

Heart-shaped cut-out cookies I baked on a previous Valentine’s Day. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


That same morning, I popped into the post office to mail homemade M & M cookies to my son in Indiana. He’d celebrated his birthday only days prior and I’d failed. I failed to mail him a box of goodies. He obviously expected one. The day before his birthday, Caleb texted to ask if he should be expecting a package. Uh, no. My mom guilt kicked in big time and the next morning I was in my kitchen baking cookies.

Waiting in line at the post office, I wondered how long it would take those sweets to arrive in Lafayette. I once shipped homemade cookies that somehow ended up in Montana, arriving 10 days later in Indiana. So you can understand my apprehension. As I stepped up to the window, the postal clerk asked the usual “anything liquid, hazardous, perishable…?

“Are cookies considered perishable?”

I expected the usual no, but instead got a yes. The clerk clarified by asking if I baked the cookies. When I confirmed I had, she advised me to touch “yes” on the screen, further clarifying that this didn’t mean the cookies would arrive any earlier or that they wouldn’t be diverted to Montana. But I am happy to report the package arrived in Lafayette on Monday, unbelievably fast. I appreciated that the postal clerk appreciated that homemade cookies lack preservatives and are, indeed, perishable or at least capable of going stale. I have to think that conversation with her factored into the swift delivery.

Red roses from my husband for a previous celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


On to another grocery store, once again waiting in line, this time on a price check for the customer ahead of me. I decided to guess the price of the mixed bouquet of wrapped flowers he held. “I’d pay $7.99 for them,” I said. “But they’re probably lots more because of Valentine’s Day.” I was way off. They were nearly $17.

“You should have guessed higher,” he said.

“Whoever they’re for, she’ll appreciate them.” The cashier concurred.

“They’re for my daughter, for her dance recital.”

That simply made me smile in the sort of way that filled my spirit with happiness and joy. The love of a father for his daughter. Had I not initiated a conversation, I never would have experienced this everyday, love-filled dozen roses moment.

A fused glass heart created by Northfield artist Geralyn Thelen for the “Spreading the Love” sculpture, public art installed in downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


As I moved ahead, waiting for a teenager to bag my groceries, I noted her long hair cascading in ringlets. “I love your hair. It’s beautiful. How do you get it to curl like that?”

She explained how she rolls curlers into her hair and sleeps in them overnight. Her wide smile revealed to me just how much she appreciated my sincere compliment. As she pushed my shopping cart across the grocery store parking lot toward the van, this bubbly young woman commented on the sunny day and asked how mine was going. Her very being radiated warmth like the February sunshine. It was as if we were exchanging conversation hearts when she wished me a wonderful day and I reciprocated.

Life is filled with opportunities like this. Maybe not to talk about oatmeal or cookies or flowers or curly hair or sunny mornings. But to interact, to connect, to show others that we value them, that they matter to us in the everyday moments of our lives.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling