Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Faribault: A creatively moving production of “A Christmas Carol” December 2, 2022

A scene from “A Christmas Carol,” now on stage in Faribault. (Photo courtesy of director Sam Temple)

ON THE MORNING OF OUR GRANDSON’S preschool holiday party, Randy took time off work to watch a group of preschoolers perform an unrehearsed version of the Christmas story. The little ones eagerly donned swatches of cloth, transforming into multiple Marys, Josephs, angels and shepherds. My eyes focused on Isaac, brown tunic slipped over his plaid flannel shirt, shepherd’s staff in hand. I worried he might bonk a classmate over the head. He never did. In the end, the pastor-directed impromptu play proved entertaining and joyful, a blessing to all.

Later that evening, after he returned from a half day of work, Randy joined me at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault to watch an invitation-only final dress rehearsal of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol performed by The Merlin Players. Well-rehearsed, directed, staged, acted and presented, this play contrasted sharply with the one we’d seen earlier that day. Yet, the messages of peace, love and good will (among others) repeated. The Dickens’ play ended with the line: “God bless us everyone!”

Two plays in one day—one familiar to me, the other not. One faith-based, the other centered on choices one makes in life. Both powerful in their own way. One loose and unstaged, the other professionally done.

The promotional poster for “A Christmas Carol.” (Courtesy of Sam Temple)

That I’ve never read or seen A Christmas Carol is something I hesitate to admit. I am, after all, an English minor, an avid reader, a writer. Of course, I knew the basic story line of main character Ebenezer Scrooge visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. But that’s about it. So I walked into the theater Thursday evening not quite knowing what to expect, although I anticipated another outstanding performance by The Merlin Players. Fifteen years ago they presented this same play at the Paradise. Now the theater company is disbanding, choosing to end with a repeat of A Christmas Carol, albeit different in presentation.

Posted in a window of the Paradise Center for the Arts, a quote by Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2022)

As I sat in my theater seat listening and watching, central themes began to emerge. “There’s more to life than work,” Mrs. Fezziwig (Alane Bendtsen) states as Ebenezer Scrooge faces the Ghost of Christmas Past. I thought of my husband who just that morning missed work to attend our 3-year-old grandson’s preschool party and pageant. I felt grateful for his decision. Age has a way of shifting priorities. And in this theatrical production, a story has a way of exposing regrets. Scrooge focused his life on work, on making money, on getting things and, in the end, gave up so much, including love.

I expect we have all experienced many Scrooge moments, when we stand at a crossroads and make choices that aren’t the best, that, in the end, hurt us, those we love, even strangers. Choices that are self-serving and unkind. I expect we have all turned away those in need, like Scrooge did in a brief interaction with a child caroler (Ella Boland) in a moment I found especially touching.

Sam Temple, who directed the play, notes that “through this story, Dickens sought to solidify Christmas as a season for charity, kindness, and compassion for the downtrodden.” That carries through in the unfolding plot and dialogue with a message as timely today as in 1843 when Dickens penned this story.

Another scene from The Merlin Players’ production of Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic. (Photo courtesy of Sam Temple)

From the youngest to oldest, these 26 performers (all playing multiple roles except Steve Searl/Scrooge) pour their hearts and souls into retelling Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I cannot imagine trying to direct a cast of this size; Sam Temple proved he was up to the task. The lines. The movement. The dancing. The costuming. The technical aspects. The music and singing—Jingle Bells, Silent Night, O Tannenbaum… The festive spirit of the season emerges. Everything comes together seamlessly.

That I came into this performance with no preconceived ideas, no comparisons to other productions, allows for an unbiased review. I sat back. Took it all in, appreciating the dramatic special effects which include the banging of chains, globes of floating light, a towering and menacing black Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and more. I’m intentionally not revealing details. Technical Director Matthew Boyd and crew outdid themselves in creatively enhancing this theatrical version of Dickens’ Christmas classic.

A second quote by character Jacob Marley posted at the Paradise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2022)

I exited the theater feeling reflective and uplifted by the transformation of Scrooge from money-focused and miserly to kind, caring, compassionate. “I am not the man that I was,” he declares. He stood at a crossroads and, in the end, chose good will, kindness, love. He experienced what I would term A Christmas Awakening.

FYI: A Christmas Carol opens at 7:30 pm Friday, December 2, at the Paradise Center for the Arts along Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault. Other 7:30 pm performances are on December 3, 8, 9 and 10. Two afternoon shows are set for Sunday, December 4 and 11 at 2 pm. If you plan to attend, I highly encourage you to reserve tickets now or you may not get a seat. Tickets are selling quickly. Click here for more info.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on Alexander Faribault, connecting past & present

The home of town founder Alexander Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

ON SATURDAY, THE HOME of Faribault’s founder, Alexander Faribault, opens for its 15th annual Christmas open house. The event features the 1853 house decorated for the holidays in the French-Canadian style. Faribault was of French-Canadian and Dakota descent.

The Faribaults’ dining room set for the holidays during the 2017 Christmas open house. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

To walk through the rooms of this historic home is to feel the presence of the Faribault family, including wife Mary Elizabeth Graham and their children. The Faribaults lived here only a few years before moving to a large brick mansion on the bluffs overlooking the Straight River. With 10 children, I expect they needed more space than the wood-frame house provided.

An overview of Alexander Faribault’s gravesite at Calvary Cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2020)

Across town several miles to the west atop a hill overlooking the countryside on the edge of Faribault, the life of Alexander Faribault comes full circle. It is here, in Calvary Cemetery, that this fur trader, this friend of the Dakota, this town founder, this family man, is buried.

A memorial to Alexander Faribault stands at the Calvary Cemetery entrance. The birth date here differs from the one on Faribault’s tombstone. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2020)

In April 2020, I visited this cemetery for the first time specifically looking for Faribault’s gravesite. I found it along with a memorial marker honoring him at the graveyard’s entrance.

Memorial marker words up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2020)

Race or creed did not color his judgments, the marker states in part. That seems to match what I’ve read about Alexander Faribault. Both his mother and wife were of Dakota heritage, thus he and his children were, too. Alexander, who traded with and befriended the Dakota, later sheltered some of them on his land. Government treaties removed indigenous peoples from their land, including in current-day Faribault. Alexander Faribault served as an interpreter in the signing of regional treaties given his knowledge of the Dakota language and culture. I wonder if he felt conflicted by how the government treated the Dakota.

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault and a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Today, 216 years after Faribault was born on November 28, 1806, an awareness and acknowledgment that indigenous peoples were the first inhabitants of this area is rising. Long before fur traders like Faribault set up trading posts in the region, the Dakota lived here, hunted here, fished here, raised their families here, called this place home.

This shows a portion of an in-ground marker for Alexander Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2020)

When I consider the friendships forged among fur traders and the Dakota, I think of the Faribault community today and those who call this place home. This city truly is a melting pot of cultures and peoples. I celebrate that. Some day I hope we can all, like our town founder, view each other through a clear lens without the filter of race or creed coloring judgment.

A holiday greeting from Alexander Faribault displayed at a past Christmas open house. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

FYI: The Alexander Faribault House Christmas Open House is from 11 am- 3 pm Saturday, December 3, at 12 First Avenue Northeast, Faribault. The event is free and is part of this weekend’s Winterfest celebration in Faribault.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Gaslighting, beyond “word of the year” December 1, 2022

Words like strong, beautiful, hopeful and more are incorporated into “Love Remains,” a memorial mosaic honoring Barb Larson. The Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism employee was shot to death by her ex-husband on December 23, 2016, at her workplace. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

IN MY FOURTH EDITION hard cover copy of Webster’s New World College Dictionary published in 2000 and shelved on my office desk, you won’t find the word gaslighting. But today, gaslighting has been chosen as the 2022 word of the year by Merriam-Webster, America’s oldest dictionary publisher.

In many ways, I’m not surprised by the choice given the widespread manipulative use of language in today’s world. Gaslighting is exactly that, “the art or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one’s own advantage.”

Merriam-Webster reports a 1,740 percent spike in searches for the word gaslighting in 2022. Again, this doesn’t surprise me in today’s political climate, especially.

Yet, the term gaslighting is nothing new in the context of domestic abuse and violence. That tactic is often used by abusers to manipulate and control. The word traces to the 1944 film, “Gaslight,” (or the 1938 play, “Gas Light”) a psychological thriller in which the husband convinces his wife that the noises she hears, the dimming of gaslights and more are in her head and not real. His gaslighting is full-blown emotional and psychological abuse.

Information shared at a public forum following Barb Larson’s murder. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The reality is that abusers use gaslighting to effectively flame doubt in their partners, who begin to question themselves, their thoughts, actions and feelings. Confusion, anxiety, self-doubt, isolation, depression, hopelessness and so much more can flare. And in the end, the abuser gets exactly what he/she planned—power and control.

So, when I hear or read the word gaslighting, I think of domestic abuse and violence, of all those individuals being emotionally and psychologically abused by partners. I think of the put downs, the false narratives, the twisting of reality, the lies, the excuses…

Reasons she stays, from page 18 of the book, “She Stays” by HOPE Center (Faribault) Director Erica Staab. Advocates like Staab bring hope and help. (Text copyright of Erica Staab)

My 20-year-old dictionary may not include gaslighting. But it does include the word advocate, defined in 2000 as “a person who pleads another’s cause.” For those gaslighted and otherwise abused, advocates are available to listen, to support, to help. To advocate. That singular word brings hope. Gaslighting may be the 2022 word of the year. But hope remains. Always.

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help. A good starting place is the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which provides information and resources. Or, if your community has a center focused on domestic abuse and violence, reach out locally. If you know someone in an abusive relationship, listen, support, encourage and advocate. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Signs say a lot about small towns like Pine Island November 30, 2022

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Photographed in the window of a downtown Pine Island business, a locally-focused message. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

SIGNS, WHETHER PROFESSIONALLY-CREATED, handcrafted or handwritten, provide insights into a community beyond simply identifying information.

Like many small towns, Pine Island has a hardware store. I’ve always liked the iconic Hardware Hank signage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I find myself drawn to signs, especially when exploring small towns. Three months ago my attention focused on signage in downtown Pine Island. This community of nearly 3,900 some 15 miles north of Rochester in Goodhue County provides plenty of signs to catch my interest.

A snapshot of historic architecture in downtown Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Likewise, I am drawn to the town’s historic architecture.

This banner hangs in the heart of Pine Island, where the Douglas State Trail runs through. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

This was not my first visit to Pine Island. I’ve dined here, picnicked at Trailhead Park, followed the Douglas State Trail a short distance, popped into an antique shop and more. I wonder how often motorists traveling along busy US Highway 52, if they have no connection to the community, pull off the four-lane to explore. Pine Island, along the Zumbro River, is worth a stop, a walk, a close-up look, as are most small towns.

My favorite signage find in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

As historical accounts go, the Dakota sheltered here in tipis during the winter months, thick pine boughs protecting their temporary homes from the wind and snow. A stand of pines once stood here, like an island in the prairie. The town’s name comes from the Native word wazuweeta, translated to “Isle of Pines.”

Such a welcoming message on the window at Miss Angie’s Place. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

My brief walk through the heart of Pine Island revealed none of that Indigenous history. However, I spotted community pride, diversity, entrepreneurship, compassion and more in signs. Signage says a lot about what people value, about a business community, about communicating in a succinct and eye-catching way.

Entepreneurs posted their services in a business window in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
The smiley face drawn on this “Closed” sign shows a positive and appreciative spirit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Some of my favorite finds are handwritten or homemade notes posted in shop windows. I appreciate these messages in our fast-paced, technology-based world. A dash of writing, perhaps added art, combine to create meaningful, connective communication that feels decidedly personal.

Words and art make it clear this is a restaurant that serves tacos and more, perhaps with some heat. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
I especially like the graphics on this sandwich board with the “O” doubling as a head.
The comb and scissors back up the words for this Pine Island hair salon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

My interest in signs traces to my love of words and of associated graphics. Both matter to me. I even make product decisions sometimes based solely on either. In Pine Island I noted the art on Taqueria Let’s Go Tacos signs and how that connects with the restaurant’s heritage and food. The same goes for The Little Hair Salon with comb and scissors graphics on signage.

Letters mark the location of the IOOF. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In another location, I needed to sleuth online to decipher the meaning of I.O.O.F. and three other faded letters, FLT, linked in a link on a dirty window pane. The letters stand for Independent Order of Odd Fellows and their mission of Friendship, Love and Truth.

Potted mums and a sign draw customers to the lower level Henry’s Hair Designers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

These are the things I discover in small towns, those places often passed by as people hurry from one destination to the next. Each community is unique. I discover individuality in words and art bannered upon buildings, taped on doors and windows, printed on sandwich boards…

In this touching scene near Pine Island’s Hardware Hank, the bold yellow sign to the left summarizes the subject of this post. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

I glimpse a town’s personality through signage as I explore places like Pine Island.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Still missing: Daryl “Dice” Budenski of Northfield November 29, 2022

I photographed this missing person sign along a Northfield city street in August. Daryl “Dice” Budenski remains missing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

IF YOU’VE EVER EXPERIENCED the panic of a loved one temporarily gone missing, then you hold insight into a loss that extends beyond minutes to hours to days, then weeks, months, years. That is reality for too many families across this country, including right here in Minnesota and right here in my county of Rice.

Slightly over a year ago, 71-year-old Daryl “Dice” Budenski vanished, last seen around 3:30 pm October 1, 2021, near Koester Apartments in Northfield. His baseball cap and money clip were found during subsequent searches, according to media reports. But nothing else. Dice, who has brown hair and brown eyes, stands 5-feet 9-inches tall and weighs 145 pounds, remains missing.

Photographed in the window of a downtown Northfield business several months after Daryl Budenski disappeared. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

Entering year two now of his disappearance, those who know and love Dice are resolute in their desire to bring him home. A Search for Daryl Budenski Facebook page centers those efforts. Missing persons signs are still posted in Northfield.

In a recent Facebook post, childhood friend David Johnson wrote the following poignant memory about Dice:

He was my first friend in 1955. Along with his brother Steve, we did everything together. Collected baseball cards, stamps and coins, rode bikes, attended church school, built snowforts…we ruled Division and Woodley Sts. He gave his best effort in High School sports and was a teammate of my first tournament softball win. A Northfield lifer, he loved his sports.

From David’s description, I can almost picture the two young boys racing their bikes through the neighborhood, rolling and hoisting gigantic snowballs into snow forts, huddling together over coveted baseball cards pulled from bubblegum packs. Because of David’s stories, I now feel an emotional connection to Dice (whom I don’t know). Dice is a friend. Dice is someone who loves sports. Dice is a part of the fabric of Northfield. He is rooted there. He is not just another missing person in Minnesota. He has a community of family. He is loved.

I read urgency, frustration, concern and more in the Facebook posts and comments all aimed at finding Dice. Those feelings are justified. Recently, $2,000 was raised through GoFundMe to place a memorial bench honoring Daryl “Dice” Budenski in downtown Northfield. That is telling. The initial hopeful mindset of finding Dice alive leans into bringing him home. What hasn’t changed is the depth of love and care so many hold for him.

IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION on the disappearance of Daryl “Dice” Budenski or his where-abouts, contact the Northfield Police Department, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or the nearest law enforcement agency.

I photographed this missing person bulletin posted in a Redwood Falls convenience store in 2018. Mato Dow was last seen on October 13, 2017, in Redwood Falls. If you know of his whereabouts or have any information related to his disappearance, contact the Redwood Falls Police Department. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2018)

CURRENTLY, 101 INDIVIDUALS are listed as missing on the Minnesota Missing and Unidentified Persons Clearinghouse website. That includes nine missing in southeastern Minnesota, from the communities of Owatonna, Janesville, Rochester, Wabasha, Winona, Hastings and Mankato. Daryl Budenski is not on that list. John Deeny has been missing the longest, disappearing from Janesville in March 1973. His current age is 69. The most recently listed in my area is Wendy Khan, gone missing from Mankato in June 2018. She is now 51. If you have any information on any of the 101 missing, please contact law enforcement.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating the birthday of Charles M. Schulz November 26, 2022

Peanuts characters adorn the former Kay’s Floral building in downtown Faribault during a 2015 holiday decorating contest. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

IF YOU READ A COMIC STRIP TODAY, November 26, you may notice something different. Something that honors Minneapolis-born cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. Cartoonists are celebrating what would have been Schulz’s 100th birthday by incorporating tributes into their comics today. I love this idea. It seems fitting for the Peanuts’ creator who died in 2000.

Generations have followed the antics, trials and stories of the Peanuts characters, 70 strong, since the comic strip debuted in October 1950. The beloved Charlie Brown. Vocal Lucy. Security blanket carrying Linus. Inquisitive Sally. Piano pounding Schroeder. The imaginative Snoopy. The list goes on and on.

When our kids were little, they sprawled across the living room floor on Sunday afternoons aside Randy as he read the funnies to them. I would watch from a corner of the couch, content and smiling as they progressed through the Sunday comics, Peanuts a favorite.

Linus greets visitors to the Dyckman Free Library in Sleepy Eye. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2015)

Schulz and his cast of characters will always hold a special place in the hearts of Minnesotans. Minneapolis-born, Schulz grew up in neighboring St. Paul. Eventually, he taught at Art Instruction Schools in Minneapolis, where he initially studied art through a correspondence course. There he met Linus Maurer, a native of Sleepy Eye in southwestern Minnesota. Maurer also taught at the school and was a successful syndicated cartoonist, magazine illustrator and painter. And, yes, Schulz honored his friend by naming one of his characters Linus van Pelt, brother of Lucy and best friend of Charlie Brown.

I lived and worked in Sleepy Eye for six months in 1980 as a journalist. Whenever I return to my home region, I typically go through Sleepy Eye, passing by Dyckman Free Library. A statue of Linus clutching his blue blankie and a red heart proclaiming love for Sleepy Eye sits on the library lawn bordering the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway/US Highway 14. Next time I need to stop, see Linus up close, step inside the library if it’s open.

Lucy van Pelt at MSAD. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Here in Faribault, I discovered a statue of Lucy van Pelt while wandering the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus earlier this year. There an over-sized rural-themed Lucy stood outside the entrance to Quinn Hall. It has since been relocated during a renovation and construction project. I don’t know the backstory on how Lucy came to be at MSAD. But I believe she is part of the 2002 “Peanuts on Parade, Looking for Lucy” artistic endeavor.

When I last stopped by the post office for stamps, I picked up a sheet of Peanuts stamps, not realizing at the time why Schulz and his characters were selected for postage stamp publication. I overlooked the “CHARLES M. SCHULZ CENTENNIAL 2022” wordage. But today I’m not overlooking this Minnesota-born creative who brought so much joy, so much insight (yes, insight), so much happiness into the world. Yesterday. And still today, 100 years after his birth.

TELL ME: Who’s your favorite Peanuts character and why?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving Day for a caring community November 24, 2022

I created this Thanksgiving display in a stoneware bowl in 2015 with the card crafted by my sister-in-law Rena. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

AS THE SCENT OF ROASTING TURKEY fills the house, as tables are set, as friends and family gather, may thankfulness center your thoughts this Thanksgiving Day.

Even in these days of high inflation, political divisiveness and too many people sick with the flu, COVID and RSV, there is reason to pause and feel grateful. Our medical professionals continue to care for patients in overcrowded emergency rooms and hospitals. Post election, hope rises that politicians can work together. And for those who are struggling, individuals and organizations are stepping up to help.

My friends Gary and Barb ring bells for the Salvation Army in 2013. Randy and I followed them in ringing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2013)

In my community, I see so much compassion and care for others, which truly causes my spirit to fill with gratitude. Last Saturday while exiting a local grocery store, I dropped several bills into the Salvation Army red kettle and thanked the ringers for ringing. What I got in return—bless you—was more than I gave. Later that day at a church boutique, my friend Joy sold holiday porch pots, side tables and benches she crafted from recycled wood, and more with all proceeds going to the Salvation Army.

Volunteers dish up meals at the community Thanksgiving dinner in 2016. Randy and I delivered meals. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2016)

Today a crew of volunteers will serve a free Faribault CommUnity Thanksgiving Dinner, open to anyone from 11 am – 2 pm at the Faribault Eagles Club. There’s in-person dining, curbside pick-up and delivery (if needed). I’ve delivered those meals in the past and, again, was blessed beyond measure by the grateful words of the recipients. (Monetary donations are accepted for the Faribault Foundation, with a mission of “enriching the quality of life for the Faribault community.)

Every Tuesday evening, volunteers also serve a free dinner at the Community Cafe, hosted at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour. The non-profit’s mission is “Build Community, One Meal at a Time.”

I display this vintage 1976 calendar each Thanksgiving as a reminder of my blessings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

As more and more people struggle to afford food, to put food on the table, my community provides. Through church food shelves. At St. Vincent De Paul, which shares “faith, food and free resources” with a primary concern of charity and justice. At the Community Action Center of Faribault, a free food market and resource center.

This was some of the information presented at a 2018 collaborative public meeting in Faribault focused on domestic violence. Domestic violence typically rises during the holidays. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2018)

HOPE Center provides Healing, Outreach, Prevention and Education to survivors of violence (and their families) in Rice County. I am grateful to the team that staffs HOPE Center, bringing hope and healing. To witness such compassion warms my heart.

Faribault Woolen Mill (now Faribault Mill) blankets/throws artfully hung on a simple pipe in the Faribault retail store in 2012. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

The warmth of compassion also plays out at the Faribault Mill, founded in 1865 as a woolen mill and internationally-known for its quality woolen blankets and other products. For every bed blanket sold, the mill is donating one high quality blanket to nonprofits serving homeless youth in cities across the country. The “Spread the Warmth” initiative has already partnered with 14 nonprofits coast-to-coast, north to south, from Boston to San Francisco, from Minneapolis to Dallas.

Created by a Faribault Lutheran School student in 2013, the feathers list reasons for thankfulness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2013)

There is reason to feel grateful for all of these efforts, to see just how much love, care and compassion exist. I feel heartened, thankful, uplifted by the real ways in which individuals, businesses, faith communities, nonprofits and more strive to care for others. Hope rises.

Happy Thanksgiving!

TELL ME: What are you especially thankful for this Thanksgiving in your community?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Focusing on gratitude from family to creativity November 23, 2022

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A reason to feel grateful, hung on a Gratitude Tree outside the Northfield Public Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2019)

EVEN IN A DECIDEDLY DIFFICULT YEAR, as 2022 has been for me, many reasons exist to feel grateful. I fully realized that upon putting pen to paper to compile a gratitude list during this, Thanksgiving week.

Me with my mom. Oh, how I miss her. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling)

The year started with the death of my mom on January 13, during the height of Omicron. It was, undeniably, a challenging time to lose her, not that any time is easy. But COVID compounded the situation, affecting my grief process. Memories from her funeral will always be really hard for me. Ten months later, my focus is one of thankfulness for my mom. She instilled in me care, compassion, kindness…and left a legacy of faith. What a gift. I will also forever feel grateful to the staff at Parkview, who so lovingly cared for Mom for many years like she was family. I am thankful, too, to the many friends who sent comforting sympathy cards and memorials and to my friend Kathleen, who created a memory book honoring my mom.

Wedding guests toss rice at Randy and me as we exit St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta following our May 15, 1982, wedding. (Photo credit: Williams Studio in Redwood Falls)

May brought a milestone wedding anniversary for Randy and me. Forty years. I don’t recall how we celebrated, but nothing splashy. I feel thankfulness every day for this man who loves me unconditionally, supports me and still makes me laugh.

Randy and our grandchildren, Isabelle and Isaac, follow the pine-edged driveway at the lake cabin in one of my all-time favorite family images. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2020)

My immediate family means everything to me. That my two young grandchildren live only 35 minutes away is not something I ever take for granted. From celebrating birthdays and holidays to picking strawberries and apples together to overnights at our house to being there in a crisis, this grandma is grateful for the geographic nearness. There’s nothing like the joy I hold in being a grandmother. The hugs. The snuggles. Reading books. Baking together. Getting down on the floor to play. Scooping the almost four-year-old off the floor and into my arms, little lips pressing a moist kiss upon my cheek.

Twice this year I also embraced dear uncles and an aunt whom I haven’t seen in awhile. I hosted Aunt Rachel and Uncle Bob, visiting from Missouri, for lunch. And I met Uncle John and his son Justin and family for lunch in Northfield. Oh, goodness, the happiness I felt in those hugs from extended family I love dearly.

Flying into Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

Soon my son, who lives in Indiana, will be back for a short Christmas stay. I cannot wait. I haven’t seen Caleb in a year and I miss him so much at times that it almost hurts. But before then, my second daughter and her husband arrive from Madison, Wisconsin, to celebrate Thanksgiving in Minnesota. You bet I feel grateful for the time we will have together. I miss my girl.

Randy and Isabelle on the dock at the lake cabin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

As I write this thanksgiving list, I realize that most gratitude centers on family. That includes time together at a lake cabin owned by a sister-in-law and brother-in-law who open their guest cabin to extended family. Their sharing of this blessing shows such love and generosity of spirit and I feel forever grateful for this place to escape, to enjoy nature, to rest and relax, to rejuvenate, to make memories.

Following a gravel road in Rice County, near Dundas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo autumn 2022)

I am thankful also for (in no particular order), country drives with Randy; gathering around a bonfire with friends; writers and journalists and poets and artists; vaccines; medical professionals who provided emergency and extended care this year for those dearest to me; democracy…

My two poems, far left, and center, in an exhibit at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

Lastly, I am grateful for my creative abilities. To write and photograph bring me incredible joy, and some side income. I appreciate that my creative work is valued, published. My creativity came full circle this autumn when I traveled back to my native southwestern Minnesota to view an exhibit, “Making Lyon County Home,” at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall. Two of my poems, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” and “Hope of a Farmer,” are posted in the exhibit along with a four-generation family photo and my mom’s high school graduation portrait. After touring that exhibit, I visited Mom’s grave site in my hometown. I stood there atop the hillside cemetery surrounded by corn and soybean fields under a spacious prairie sky feeling overwhelmed by sadness, yet grateful for the love we shared.

TELL ME: What are you especially grateful for this Thanksgiving? I welcome specifics, especially.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In small ways, we can make a positive difference November 22, 2022

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Photographed several months ago in Pine Island, this scene epitomizes love and care. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I’VE FELT IN A RATHER reflective mood recently. Perhaps it’s the shift in seasons. Perhaps it’s the approach of Thanksgiving. Perhaps it’s the deep concern I hold for those who are struggling. In reality, all three and more contribute to these present feelings.

November—with shortened daylight, colder temps and a landscape devoid of color—always brings a noticeable change within me. I prefer snuggling under a fleece throw with a good book in the evenings. I feel more cocooned, not as connected. That’s not necessarily negative, just different.

But what doesn’t change is my awareness that these months of family-centered celebrations can be really hard for some. Not everyone will gather with those held dearest. Geographical distance, death, illness and more separate. I, for one, seldom have my entire family together on holidays given distance and work schedules. Yes, that can be tough when others share about all of their loved ones back home. I’ve learned to feel grateful for the family I do see.

A welcoming message spotted in a downtown Faribault business. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

I’ve found also that focusing on others goes a long way in creating a mindset of care and compassion. A lot of people, at least in my circle, are dealing with a lot right now. Death. Illness. Job loss. Financial struggles. It’s almost overwhelming, the amount of need, the grief, the pain, the trauma.

I can’t fix things, but I can be there in meaningful ways.

This inspiring message on a business in downtown Pine Island uplifted me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

We have this capacity, each of us, to make a difference in this world. Not necessarily on a grand scale. But in small ways that touch individuals in our communities, our families, among our friends and beyond. Something as simple as opening a door for a stranger; mailing an encouraging handwritten note; treating people with kindness and respect; dropping off a gift card or a bag of groceries; calling; and listening can make a big impact on someone.

My mom, Arlene, who died in January, taught me the importance of caring for others. As a mother of six, she always put her children first. Beyond our farmhouse, she did the same within her community, volunteering at church, blood drives, veterans-related groups and with other organizations. She left a legacy of love, faith and compassion.

We can all learn a lot from the Arlenes of this world.

Whenever I’m out and about, I feel especially grateful when witnessing the goodness of people. One of those moments came in early September while in Pine Island. Near the Hardware Hank, I watched two women, presumably mother and daughter, walking hand-in-hand down the sidewalk. I nearly cried at observing such love, care and compassion.

A welcoming message on Just Food Co-op in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

I celebrate, too, when I see welcoming signs posted at businesses or on homes.

This loving inscription is posted at the State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children’s Cemetery in Owatonna. The school (orphanage) was open from 1886-1945. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Even a message of love imprinted in stone at a cemetery touches me. When I intentionally look for the positive, I see it, hear it, feel it. There truly is more good than bad in this world if we allow the light to break through the grey and outshine the darkness.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At Buckham Library: Portraits honor Faribault’s founding fathers November 21, 2022

“Faribault’s Founding Fathers,” Alexander Faribault (left to right), Chief Taopi and Bishop Henry Whipple, painted by Dana Hanson. “Yuonihan” means honor or respect. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022. Art copyrighted by Dana Hanson.)

MY LIBRARY, BUCKHAM MEMORIAL in Faribault, features dozens of art pieces by local artists scattered throughout the building. I’ll admit that I really don’t even notice the art any more in my frequent visits to the library. Like anything, after time, familiarity begets overlooking.

But that all changed recently when I looked across the library to the west by the adult fiction and saw a work of art I hadn’t previously noticed. It’s been there for about a year. Yet, just now, I happened to see Dana Hanson’s original art piece, “Faribault’s Founding Fathers.” I strode across the library toward the high-hanging portrait piece and took pause.

Dana Hanson’s artist statement posted at the 2016 Artgo! art show at Buckham Center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2016)

I first met Dana, who specializes in portraits, in 2015 during Faribault’s summer Concerts in the Park weekly outdoor music series at Central Park. Local artists were invited to paint on-site and Dana was among them. She has since moved away from Faribault.

A close-up of Dana’s “The Native Man, His Eagle & His Chanupa,” an oil painting exhibited in Owatonna in 2018. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

Eventually, her art started showing up in exhibits—at Buckham Center, at the Paradise Center for the Arts and at the Owatonna Arts Center. Her work ranged from faith-inspired to celebrity (like Bob Dylan, Prince and Judy Garland) and Native American portraits and more. In Owatonna, her “Healing the Land” exhibit several years ago focused on the Dakota people.

Up close with Chief Taopi, center, and Bishop Henry Whipple, right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

So when I saw the recently-donated 2019 painting of Faribault’s founding fathers, I was not at all surprised. Dana holds a heart full of gratitude, love and compassion for Indigenous peoples. That shows in her art, including in these portraits of Chief Taopi, a member of the Little Crow Band of the Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe; town founder Alexander Faribault, “friend and protector” of the Dakota; and Bishop Henry Whipple, “Spiritual Father and Humanitarian” and “Advocate for the Native Americans.”

Another example of Dana’s art, MESSENGERS OF HOPE with the horses subtitled, from left to right, “Light,” “Passion Fire” and “Grace.” These were exhibited at the Paradise Center for the Arts in 2017. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2017.

Indigenous peoples were the original inhabitants of Faribault, of Rice County, a fact now only beginning to be widely-acknowledged and honored. The Wakpekute, part of the Dakota Nation, placed their dead on scaffolding on the hill just up from my house in today’s current-day Wapacuta (sic) Park, a fact I only learned this fall at an historical presentation. Eventually, they were buried in Peace Park, a triangle of land near the library. There’s so much rich local history I am beginning to learn.

“Protector of the 38 + 2,” an oil on canvas by Dana Hanson and previously displayed in Owatonna. Her art honors the 38 Dakota men who were hung in Mankato following the US-Dakota War of 1862. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

Chief Taopi, who centers Dana’s portrait trio, was a leader among his people and a member of a Peace Party during the US-Dakota War of 1862. Eventually he landed in Faribault, living on land owned by founder and fur trader Alexander Faribault. Taopi and the Bishop forged a strong friendship also. The Dakota chief died in 1869 and is buried at Maple Lawn Cemetery in Faribault.

Now, to see these three men honored via a painting in a place of learning, a place of connection, a place where history writes onto pages, reminds me of their importance in my community. In the familiarity of the library and during this, Native American Heritage Month, I need to pause, appreciate and respect those who shaped this place I’ve called home for 40 years.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling