Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Mother’s Day gratitude: In her words, my mom’s gift to me May 10, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Mom’s journals stacked in a tote. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

DAYS BEFORE MOTHER’S DAY, I slide a clear plastic tote from a closet in the bedroom where my daughters once slept. I unlatch the lid. An overwhelming musty odor rises from the spiral-bound notebooks layered inside.

These are my mom’s journals. The story of her life recorded on paper from 1947 until her final entry on March 4, 2014, with a few years missing.

Mom died in January 2022. She left this handwritten documentation of an ordinary, yet extraordinary, life. As her oldest daughter and as a writer, I cherish the words she penned. They are not flowery poetic or personal entries, but rather a record of life as a farm wife and mother to six. Days that revolved around family, faith and farm life.

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

With Mother’s Day only days away, I chose Mom’s 1955 journal, the year she became a mother, to begin reading. Mom invited her parents over for a Mother’s Day goose dinner that May, about two months before she gave birth to my oldest brother. I flipped ahead to July, reading her entries in the days right before Doug was born. Even at full-term, she kept working as hard as ever, freezing 24 boxes of green beans, canning a crate of cherries, pulling weeds in the garden and ironing clothes within days of delivering an 8-pound baby.

A page in an altered book crafted by my friend Kathleen. This page honors me and my mom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Fast forward to May 1956. Mom notes in her Mother’s Day and subsequent entries that her mom went to the “Heart Hospital” on May 10 and came home May 17. Some six months later, Josephine died of a heart attack. She was only 48. And I was only two months old. I cannot imagine the grief my mom felt in the unexpected death of her mother. But she never put those emotions on paper. Rather her diary entries are straight forward, almost of journalistic detachment. Notations of her mom’s December 1 death, a funeral and writing thank yous.

My mom saved everything, including this Mother’s Day card I made for her in elementary school. I cut a flower from a seed catalog to create the front of this card. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

On the next Mother’s Day in May 1957 and through 1961, there are no references to any special way in which my mom was honored. No gifts. No special meal. Only that I had a bad case of the measles as a nine-month-old. In May 1962, my brother had the mumps. But I did give Mom a paper flower at a school Mother’s Day program.

In entries in the years that followed, Mom always wrote of attending the Mother’s Day programs at Vesta Elementary School. I hold vague memories of standing on the stage, reading a poem about lavenders blue dilly dilly in verse that now eludes me.

And although I don’t remember, I gave Mom plants and, in 1967, “a fancy flower,” whatever that means. But most meaningful to me, a writer, was the gift of a writing pad to Mom in 1964. Now, in return, I have the gift of her words written in perfect, flowing penmanship.

In May 1963, Mom got a Whirlpool dishwasher. In May 1968, she redeemed Green Stamps for two lamps. She also got an automatic Maytag washing machine with suds saver for $300 from Quesenberry’s Appliance in Redwood Falls. I can only imagine how these Mother’s Day gifts of dishwasher and automatic washer eased her workload.

A section of a family-themed photo board I created for Mom’s January 2022 funeral. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

I wish I’d realized while growing up on the farm just how hard my mother worked. That would come later in life, when I became a mom in 1986, raising three kids, not six like her. In her final years, I thanked Mom many times for loving and caring for me, for raising me to be kind, compassionate, caring and a woman of faith. I hugged her and held her hand and cried whenever I left her care center, each time wondering if it would be the last time I would see Mom.

One of my favorite later photos with Mom, taken in 2017. (Photo credit: Randy Helbling)

Now, as I mark my second Mother’s Day without the mom I loved, still love, tears edge my eyes. I read page after page after page of her writing. Gratitude rises for this legacy she’s left, this story of her ordinary life on a southwestern Minnesota farm, this story of a mother who loved, labored, and lived a full and beautiful life.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Mother’s Day gratitude: In her words, my mom’s gift to me”

  1. beth Says:

    A priceless treasure trove

  2. Such a precious gift of her and her legacy to have and to read and reflect on 🙂 Mother’s Day is going to be bittersweet but the people who have left us would want us to live and celebrate life. Take care

  3. I understand your Mother’s Day emotions. Not looking forward to it. But how special to have her journals! My mom’s are still at my Dad’s house…not ready to take those yet, but I know it will be a treasure trove when I do.

    • I know this Mother’s Day will be especially difficult for you, Gretchen, as it’s the first without your dear mom. I’m so glad you have her writing, too. When the time is right, you will get those journals from your dad and read them. It took me awhile to crack the first notebook open.

  4. Ruth Says:

    How wonderful to have these tangible memories of your lovely mother. ❤️

  5. What a treasure to have those journals and those memories of your mother. ❤

  6. Rose Says:

    I love your card with the flower from the seed catalog! This will also be the second Mother’s Day without my mom, she passed away Nov. 2021 with Covid. Even though our relationship was ‘up and down’ because of her many issues, I truly wish she had left me something like your mother left, of her thoughts or of her life. I have no treasure to hold in my hands to remember her by. I’ve had to collect my own memories and write her story as best as I can. Her words would’ve have been so much more interesting to hold onto.

    • I’m sorry you lost your mom to COVID, Rose. My mom did not die of COVID, but during the absolute worst of the virus. Her funeral was really hard for me given the lack of masking by nearly everyone in attendance (except for perhaps a dozen of us). Anyway, yes, I feel thankful to have my mom’s written words. Good for you to record those memories of your mom.

  7. I have my box of my mom’s journals and I have yet to look at them. I guess I am just not unite ready yet but knowing they are there is a balm.

  8. Jaaberg Says:

    And look what wonderful things you are planting for your children… and so generously sharing with all of us!

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