Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thoughts from Minnesota June 1, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:26 PM
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These porous stacked rocks represent the heaviness layered upon my heart. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A HEAVINESS RESTS upon my heart.

I feel unsettled, overwhelmed, sad, heartbroken. As if pain and angst and worry have collectively landed. Upon the people in this place I call home. Minnesota.

Certainly, I am physically removed from the epicenter of unrest in the Twin Cities metro. But many friends and loved ones live there. And the reason for the protests—the death of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police—touches me in a profoundly human way. The senselessness of his death… I understand the outrage, the anger, the desire for justice and change. I don’t understand the looting, the rioting, the destruction, the burning of businesses and government buildings, the threats…

 

The Faribault Police Department building photographed Saturday morning.

 

My community of Faribault has not gone untouched. Protesters gathered outside the police station Friday evening. Peaceful by media accounts, for which I am thankful. Still, it’s unsettling to see concrete and other barriers and a police vehicle protecting the local law enforcement headquarters.

Sunday evening Faribault joined other Minnesota communities in implementing a curfew beginning at 8 pm and continuing until 6 am Monday. The typically busy street past my house grew eerily quiet by 8:30 pm. I awoke several times during the night to silence.

Thankfully this past weekend I had the distraction of grandchildren to focus my attention, to love on, to hold close. I blew bubbles, chalked hearts on the sidewalk, read books, cuddled, played hide-and-seek. And when my eldest daughter, my son-in-law and those two precious grandchildren left at 5:30 pm Sunday with plenty of time to reach home in the north metro before curfew, Randy and I stood in the driveway waving the long Minnesota goodbye.

 

A protected police department, up close, on Saturday morning.

 

Minutes later, the daughter texted, “Better stay home tonight” with a screen shot about curfews in Faribault, Northfield and Dakota County.

Twenty minutes later, she texted, “They closed the freeways at 5 tonight. So we have to go a longer way.” Then the worry kicked in as I prayed for my loved ones to get safely home. We had no idea the interstate closings were moved ahead three hours.

But they found their usual route open and arrived home without delay. And this mother and grandma breathed again, although a heaviness still presses upon my heart.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A child’s perspective on face masks with notes from Grandma May 28, 2020

Some of our face masks, crafted by a friend in Texas.

 

“I like your face mask, Grandma.”

Her words nearly broke my heart. But I didn’t let on to 4-year-old Isabelle who sat behind me, buckled in her car seat, waiting for Grandpa to exit the convenience store with a gallon of milk.

My cotton print mask, dangling from the cup holder, was in her favorite color, pink. I grabbed the mask and pointed to the colored circles thereon—yellow, green, white, pink, blue, orange.

“Mine has lady bugs,” Izzy said. “And the other is brown.”

I knew about the masks, which had just arrived in the mail from my granddaughter’s great aunt in New Jersey. I was grateful for that gift. But, still, the thought of a preschooler aware of face coverings made me profoundly sad. Her parents had already talked to Izzy about COVID-19 in terms she could understand—that people are sick. She accepts that as the reason she can’t see her friends, go to the library, visit Como Park or the Minnesota Zoo and much more.

 

Izzy rides her scooter along the trail in North Alexander Park in Faribault.

 

I followed that same simple explanation when we were at a Faribault park with Izzy. I kept a watchful eye as she zoomed ahead of Randy and me on her scooter. When I saw others approaching on the trail, I called for her to stop. She listened. We moved to the side and I formed a barrier between myself and passersby. I feel an overwhelming need to protect my sweet granddaughter.

Isabelle never once asked to play on the playground. She understands that, for now, for her safety, she can’t.

 

Baby ducks are so so cute.

 

Mama duck watches her babies.

 

The drake swims nearby.

 

We tried to make our park visit as ordinary as possible, pausing to watch a family of ducks along the shoreline. It was a moment of grace, observing downy ducklings guarded by their mother. Not unlike me with Izzy. We listened to their incessant cheeping and I wondered what they were communicating to one another. Warnings perhaps.

 

A long row of lilacs in various shades grows in North Alexander Park.

 

We stopped also so Grandpa could clip a spray of lilacs.

 

There are plenty of picnic tables alongside the Cannon River.

 

And we picnicked beside the Cannon River, listening to the noisy chirp of birds. Izzy nibbled at her turkey sandwich, ate too many grapes, tried a few of Grandpa’s chips and enjoyed a chocolate chip cookie we’d baked the day prior. When she was done, I wet a napkin with an ice cube pulled from the cooler and wiped away the melting chocolate circling her lips. I love that sweet little face.

On our way home, we stopped at the convenience store. And had that conversation about face masks. When Grandpa pulled open the van door to set the jug of milk and bananas inside, Izzy watched as I squirted hand sanitizer into his open palm. “I don’t like your face mask, Grandpa,” she said. His is black-and-white checkered like a racing flag. No pink anywhere on the fabric.

Preschoolers are, if anything, honest.

And they need us to protect them and those they love. Like their parents. Their siblings. Their grandparents. Their aunts and uncles and cousins. Their friends. They need us to wear face masks.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memorial Day 2020, adapted, from southern Minnesota May 26, 2020

A star marks a veteran’s grave in the Cannon City Cemetery, rural Faribault.

 

THE RADIO PLAYED in the background as I washed dishes Memorial Day morning. I listened to honored veterans speak of the war dead and freedom and why the American flag is folded 13 times. I listened to the local Legion leader read the names of all county veterans who died in the past year. Well over one hundred. And I heard, too, the honking of horns as attendees at my community’s annual Memorial Day program in Central Park “applauded.”

 

This flag pole sits just inside the entrance to the Cannon City Cemetery.

 

COVID-19 changed so many traditions this year—including here in Faribault. There was no parade, no ceremony at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial, no lunch at the Legion. Only the traditional program continued in the park, but with attendees sheltered inside their vehicles. Others, like me, listened at home to the live broadcast on KDHL radio.

 

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea, Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 1952.

 

And, as I listened, I thought of my dad, an infantryman in the Korean War. I thought, too, of his buddy Ray, killed by a mortar. Dad saw his friend die. Dad, who died 17 years ago, carried that grief and the horrors of war with him. He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, undiagnosed until decades after he left Korea.

 

Flags decorate veterans’ graves in Cannon City.

 

I continued washing dishes while the radio played. But when taps sounded, I stopped. To cry. Thinking of my dad. Missing him. The playing of taps often moves me into a place of grief for all the lives lost in war.

 

A past Memorial Day gathering at the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Later, Randy and I drove to the Cannon City Cemetery where, on a typical Memorial Day, we would attend a program under the cedar trees. We’ve grown to love this grassroots gathering of rural folks who honor the war dead with music and poetry and inspirational readings. But, because of COVID-19, that event was canceled, too.

 

Rhody Yule’s grave marker.

 

The tombstone of a Civil War soldier buried in the Cannon City Cemetery.

 

And so we roamed among the tombstones, pausing at the flag-marked graves of soldiers, including that of our friend Rhody.

 

I love this serene scene of a bird on a simple woven fence edging the cemetery.

 

Birds chirped.

 

One tombstone features a barn on one side, a tractor on the other.

 

Such beauty in this rural cemetery, from setting to nature’s details.

 

Inside and outside cemetery boundaries, the rural-ness of this place prevails in art. Natural and man-made. I delighted in that.

 

A dove on an aged tombstone brings thoughts of peace.

 

A single white rose, signifying everlasting love, lies on the bench marker for Kevin Kanne. Beautiful.

 

Tombstone art that drew my eye and reminded me of Psalm 23.

 

And the wind, which typically whips on this hillside cemetery, remained still, as if it also understood the need for calm, for reflection, for peace in the storm of COVID-19.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memorial Day 2020 observances, abbreviated May 22, 2020

A veteran salutes during the Memorial Day Program at Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

NEARLY EVERY MEMORIAL DAY, Randy and I honor our war dead in the same fashion. We head downtown Faribault to the parade and then go to Central Park to watch the Memorial Day program. Little changes from year to year with American flags waving, men and women in uniform marching, Scouts handing out flags, patriotic music playing, speeches given, wreaths hung by members of the American Legion Auxiliary…

 

The Rice County, Minnesota, Veterans’ Memorial in Faribault, located on the courthouse lawn.

 

There’s comfort in the familiarity of tradition.

 

Memorial pavers surround the monument, like this one honoring a fallen soldier.

 

KIA, Sgt Donald E. Ponto.

 

Another loss…

 

But this year, because of COVID-19, there will be no parade, no ceremony at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial and no crowd gathered at Central Park. This saddens me. I always look forward to these public ways in which we show respect and gratitude for those who lost their lives in service to country. But I understand. These are unprecedented times and we need to keep each other safe. The Central Park program will go on, but without audience members gathered on lawn chairs. Rather, the ceremony will be broadcast at 10 am over local radio station KDHL, 920 AM.

 

An overview of the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial.

 

Eagle and dove details.

 

Stone slabs honor branches of the military.

 

My attendance at Memorial Day events traces back to my childhood in rural southwestern Minnesota. My dad, a veteran of the Korean War and a recipient of the Purple Heart, was active in the local American Legion. Every Memorial Day our family attended—and often participated in—the program at the Vesta Community Hall. Several times I read the poem, “In Flanders Fields.” I also sold poppies. Afterward, we piled into the Chevy for the short drive north of town to the cemetery and the gun salute and mournful playing of taps. From early on, the importance of Memorial Day imprinted upon me.

 

A Civil War monument is part of the Veterans’ Memorial.

 

I carried that tradition in raising my three children. Each Memorial Day we attended the parade along Central Avenue in Faribault. And sometimes the program in the park. Some day I hope to take my grandchildren downtown to watch flag-carrying veterans, high school bands and Cub Scouts honoring those who died in service to our country. But not this year. Not during a global pandemic.

 

A story about Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe, published in the July 23, 1953, issue of The Wolbach Messenger.

 

THIS POST IS DEDICATED to the memory of Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe. Ray, 22, was killed by an exploding mortar on June 2, 1953, in Korea, the day before he was to return home to Nebraska, to his wife and baby daughter. He was my dad’s Army buddy.

 

Honoring fallen soldiers with a special monument at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial.

 

Blessed be Ray’s memory. And blessed be the memories of all those who have given their lives for this country.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The sounds of silence at Rice Lake State Park May 21, 2020

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A lengthy dock takes visitors to expansive views of Rice Lake.

 

IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME since I’ve experienced such silence, broken only by the occasional music of songbirds, the honking of geese, the rustling of wind. Nature’s sounds. I heard, too, other sounds. Of voices, of a child crying, of steel ringing against steel to set a fence post.

 

Rice Lake State Park is known for its birds and waterfowl.

 

But mostly, between the trill of red-winged blackbirds, I heard nothing at Rice Lake State Park east of Owatonna. Randy and I arrived there around noonish last Friday with plans to hike and picnic in celebration of our 38th wedding anniversary.

 

I aimed my camera upward to the canopy of greening trees.

 

Lake and sky meet at Rice Lake State Park.

 

Randy reads signs about waterfowl posted by the lake.

 

Morning broke in sunshine, warming the air as the day advanced. Blue skies stretched wide above greening trees and over Rice Lake. At water’s edge, dried rushes and grasses showed new spring growth.

 

We waited for this group to clear the dock before walking onto it.

 

It was, in every way, the loveliest of May days. I mentally prepared myself for crowds at the park as the DNR website warned possible. But Rice Lake proved an uncrowded destination. We waited only once for several people to leave a dock before walking there to view the lake.

 

This sign is posted by the path to the dock.

 

Another social distancing reminder at the picnic shelter.

 

No camping is allowed yet, so sites like this one sit empty. Phased reopening of campgrounds begins June 1.

 

Social distancing signs reminded us of the realities of COVID-19. And empty camping sites did likewise.

 

Spring wildflowers abound in the park.

 

We followed this narrow lakeside trail, which Randy termed a “cow path.”

 

Another lake perspective, photographed from the dock.

 

But we were not there to camp, only to walk the trails, eat our picnic lunch lakeside and simply enjoy being outdoors. The bonus came in the quiet of this park, a quiet I needed. I live along a busy city street where the sound of traffic rarely stops. In the noise of today’s world—the noise of COVID news and COVID concerns and COVID always running in the mind’s background, this nature respite soothed, calmed, gave me peace.

 

This chipmunk paused just long enough for me to snap a photo.

 

Walking into the woods.

 

The water kept drawing me back.

 

I didn’t realize how much I needed this quiet until I heard it.

 

© Copyright 2020 Minnesota Prairie Roots

 

One Minnesota family’s emotional story: Graduating during COVID-19 May 20, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2016.

 

FOR WEEKS, WE’VE HEARD and read news stories about the Class of 2020 and the disappointment students feel in missing out on so much of their senior year due to COVID-19. It is the tradition of the graduation ceremony, complete with caps, gowns, speeches and “Pomp and Circumstance,” that seems the greatest loss. And the gathering of family and friends afterward to celebrate.

 

Graduates toss their caps following a past graduation ceremony at Faribault High School. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

All of that said, schools are getting creative with their celebrations. Faribault High School is planning a Graduation Drive Thru to award diplomas. That includes inviting students, over the next two weeks, to walk across an outdoor stage and pose for photos with cut-outs of the school superintendent, principal and others. This will be pulled together in a video for a virtual graduation ceremony.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School graduation in 2010.

 

Down in the extreme southwestern corner of Minnesota, Worthington High School is also planning a virtual graduation ceremony followed by a car parade. One vehicle per graduate and family. Rural Nobles County is among the hardest hit in our state by COVID-19 following a virus outbreak in a meat-packing plant. In a county of just under 22,000, there have been 1,394 confirmed cases of the virus (as of Tuesday).

But this isn’t just another list of statistics. My friend Gretchen and her family live in Worthington. And eldest daughter, Katie, graduates this month as valedictorian of the WHS Class of 2020. She is heartbroken. Her mom also feels the emotional let-down of this long-anticipated day.

Gretchen is also an exceptional writer. When I asked her to write about graduation for the blogging ministry I lead at Warner Press, she quickly agreed. The result is a powerful post that tells her family’s story with uncut, raw emotion. I invite you to click here and read through the pain, the disappointment and then, the words of a high school grad wise beyond her years. I promise, you will feel moved by this family’s story. A story that personalizes the challenges for the Class of 2020 in a way you will remember.

 

A Tufts University graduate decorated her graduation hat in 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. There will be no high school or college graduation ceremonies like these this year.

 

I encourage you to leave a comment for Katie and Gretchen on the Warner Press blog post or on the Warner Press Facebook page in addition to here. I am grateful to my friend and her daughter for sharing their thoughts. It is stories like theirs that reveal how COVID-19 is affecting the Class of 2020 in a deeply heart-wrenching way.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Picnicking in the park on a perfect May evening in Minnesota May 19, 2020

From our riverside picnic table in North Alexander Park, a view of the Cannon River last Friday evening.

 

WHAT A GIFT, THIS BEAUTIFUL Friday evening in May in southern Minnesota. The entire day, our 38th wedding anniversary, proved one of the best anniversary celebrations ever. Even in COVID-19.

 

Kayaking in the Cannon River, Faribault.

 

Randy and I took the day off work and spent it together. Outdoors. In the sunshine. In the warmth. In nature. I needed this. The quiet. The surrounding myself with nature. No news. Thoughts focused on the joy of May 15.

 

Another couple brought pizza to the park for a picnic.

 

We ended our anniversary celebration with smoked bbq pork dinners picked up curbside from The Depot Bar and Grill, a favorite Faribault restaurant. Ribs for Randy, pulled pork for me. Sides of mixed baked beans, coleslaw and a bun. And extra orders of fries and onion rings. Too much food, but absolutely delicious.

 

A mallard swims the Cannon in the golden hour before sunset.

 

We enjoyed our meals along the banks of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park, the evening sun glowing golden upon the water, across the landscape.

 

Part of a kayaking trio.

 

Others picnicked, too, fished, kayaked. All delighting in the outdoors and the calm that brings especially during a global pandemic.

 

Pausing to watch a family of ducks pass by on the Cannon River.

 

Ducklings trailed their mama across the river while the kayakers paused to appreciate the family. As did we.

 

Orange fences surrounding playground equipment and park shelters are gone, opening both up to public use.

 

Across the park, youngsters played on the re-opened playground.

 

I’ve noticed more hammocks in public places.

 

And a person and dog relaxed in a hammock suspended between trees.

 

Lilacs are beginning to open.

 

After dinner, we walked for a bit, stopping to breathe in the scent of lilacs perfuming the air. Randy clipped a few sprigs for me and carried them back to the van. Days later, those lilacs droop in a vase. But I hesitate to toss them, a sensory reminder of a lovely day in May when we celebrated 38 years of marriage.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling