Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Published in Oakwood: My latest rural-rooted poem honors my farm wife mom April 28, 2017

An abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta, my hometown. The house is no longer standing. This image represents my rural heritage and looks similar to the house I called home for the first 11 years of my life. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MORE THAN 40 YEARS removed from the farm, my creative voice remains decidedly rural, especially in the poetry I write.

My latest published poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” honors the woman who raised me, alongside my father, on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm. My parents were of good German stock, a hardworking couple who believed in God, in family and in the land. I carry that heritage with me, ever grateful for my rural upbringing.

 

Dad farmed, in the early years with a John Deere and Farmall and IH tractors and later with a Ford. (Photo by Lanae Kletscher Feser)

A photo of my dad, Elvern, taken in 1980.

 

Life in rural Minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s was hard. I see that now from the perspective of an adult. My dad worked long hard hours in the barn milking cows and equally long hard hours in the fields. Farming was much more labor intensive then.

 

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

 

Likewise, my mom’s job of caring for our family of eight required long hard hours of labor. She tended a large garden, preserved fruits and vegetables to stock the freezer and cellar shelves, baked bread from scratch, washed clothes with a wringer washer, did without a bathroom or telephone or television for many years, and much more.

 

My parents, Vern and Arlene, on their September 25, 1954, wedding day.

 

Sometimes I think how much easier my mother’s life would have been had she not married my dad and stayed at her town job in Marshall.

 

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That’s me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings. I write about this red-and-white checked floor in my poem.

 

But then I remind myself of how much family means to my mom and I could not imagine her life without any of her six children. She centered us, grounded us, taught us kindness and gratitude, instilled in us a loving and compassionate spirit.

 

Arlene’s 1951 graduation portrait.

 

She has always been mom to me, a mother now nearing age 85. But there was a time when she was Arlene, not somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother. There was a time when she and my dad danced away a Saturday night in a southwestern Minnesota dance hall. They met at a dance.

 

The promo for Oakwood 2017 features “Dancing with Fire,” the art of Samuel T. Krueger. Promo image courtesy of Oakwood.

 

Those thoughts inspired me to write “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” published last week in South Dakota State University’s literary journal, Oakwood. I am honored to have my poem selected for inclusion with the work of other writers and artists from the Northern Great Plains. It’s a quality publication that represents well those of us who call this middle-of-the country, often overlooked place, home.

 

Ode to My Farm Wife Mother

Before my brother,
you were Saturday nights at the Blue Moon Ballroom—
a bottle of Jim Beam whiskey in a brown paper bag,
Old Spice scenting your dampened curls,
Perry Como crooning love in your ear.

Then motherhood quelled your dancing duet.
Interludes passed between births
until the sixth, and final, baby slipped into your world
in 1967. Thirteen years after you married.
Not at all unlucky.

Life shifted to the thrum of the Maytag,
sing-song nursery rhymes,
sway of Naugahyde rocker on red-and-white checked linoleum.
Your skin smelled of baby and yeasty homemade bread
and your kisses tasted of sweet apple jelly.

In the rhythm of your days, you still danced,
but to the beat of farm life—
laundry tangled on the clothesline,
charred burgers jazzed with ketch-up,
finances rocked by falling corn and soybean prices.

Yet, you showed gratitude in bowed head,
hard work in a sun-baked garden,
sweetness in peanut butter oatmeal bars,
endurance in endless summer days of canning,
goodness in the kindness of silence.

All of this I remember now
as you shove your walker down the halls of Parkview.
in the final set of your life, in a place far removed
from Blue Moon Ballroom memories
and the young woman you once were.

                                         #

Four generations: Great Grandma Arlene, Grandma Audrey, mother Amber and baby Isabelle, all together for the first time in July 2016 in rural southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

I took some liberties with my poem. I doubt my mom ever drank whiskey. But back in the day, folks brought booze bottles in brown paper bags to dances for set-ups. She didn’t dance in the Blue Moon Ballroom, although one once stood in Marshall. Arlene went to dances in Ghent, in a dance hall whose name eludes me. Blue Moon sounds more poetic. But the rest of the poem is factual right down to the Naugahyde rocker and my mom shoving her walker down the hallways of Parkview.

FYI: You can view my poem on page 78 of Oakwood, found online by clicking here. My bio is published on page 89, listed among the other 40 contributors’ bios. I am grateful to SDSU in Brookings for the opportunity to be part of this magazine which showcases the creative voices of Plains writers and artists. I shall always feel proud of my rural upbringing, the single greatest influence on me as a poet, a writer, a photographer.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring the aged Oak Ridge Cemetery in Faribault April 27, 2017

Aged tombstones are often spotted with growth like this on a stone at Oak Ridge Cemetery, Faribault.

Aged tombstones are often spotted with growth like this on a stone at Oak Ridge Cemetery, Faribault.

 

A TIME EXISTED when I disliked cemeteries. I thought of bones, of coffins, of creepy, scary stuff that wings through the imagination of a child. I thought of my grandfather buried beneath the cold earth. The grandpa with the shock of white hair. The grandpa who loved iced tea and pruning raspberries and raising honeybees. Decades later I would stand in that same southwestern Minnesota cemetery on a bone-chilling April morning to bury my father. By then I’d long overcome my fear of cemeteries.

 

I recognize several early Faribault names on the Oak Ridge Cemetery sign.

I recognize several early Faribault names on the Oak Ridge Cemetery sign.

 

Today I purposely walk cemeteries to discover the history, the art and the stories therein. I’ve meandered among the tombstones of countless Minnesota graveyards. But not until recently did I explore one right in my own backyard—Oak Ridge Cemetery in Faribault. The cemetery sits atop a hill along Minnesota State Highway 3 on the north edge of town. I always thought it was the Catholic cemetery, an error corrected by my husband who pointed to an adjacent burial grounds.

 

Oh, the oaks and the limestone.

Oh, the oaks and the limestone.

 

Oak Ridge is unlike any cemetery I’ve toured. Narrow roadways wind up this historic burial site appropriately named for its ridge-top location and many oak trees. It’s a beautiful location overlooking the city. I made a mental memo to visit in the fall. I noted also two limestone buildings—a crypt and a pumphouse. And I noted the natural state of the unmanicured grounds.

 

Four Nutting headstones in a row grabbed my attention. The Nutting family built a manufacturing company in Faribault.

Four Nutting headstones in a row grabbed my attention. The Nutting family built a manufacturing company in Faribault. On the left is the marker of the Rev. Freeman Nutting, who married Mary Spencer. After he died in December 1853, Mary married Freeman’s older brother, Truman, in 1854. Truman’s first wife, Lucinda Graves, died in 1851.

 

Truman Nutting was born in 1807 and died in 1891.

Truman Nutting was born in 1807 and died in 1891.

 

Mary Spencer Nutting was born in 1814 and died in 1904.

Mary Spencer Nutting was born in 1814 and died in 1904. Have you ever noticed how aged graves read “wife of,” but not “husband of?”

 

When I began reading tombstones, I recognized names of early Faribault residents, of individuals prominent in the community. This is an old cemetery, laid out in 1857, a year before Minnesota became a state.

 

A Google search revealed that stones atop a headstone indicate a visitor stopped to pay respects to the deceased.

A Google search revealed that stones atop a headstone indicate a visitor stopped to pay respects to the deceased.

 

A penny on a headstone also marks a visit and is often a practice of those of Jewish faith. I spotted this coin on a headstone that includes a Star of David.

A penny on a headstone also marks a visit and is often practiced by those of Jewish faith, according to Google sources. I spotted this coin on a headstone with a Star of David.

 

As I paused at markers, I considered the personal stories that I will never know of these men, women, teens, children and babies once loved. I saw evidence of that love in objects left atop gravestones. I’ve seen the usual flowers, flags, garden art and stuffed animals at other cemeteries. But not until Oak Ridge had I seen a penny and stones left as signs of a grave site visit.

 

There's so much history in cemeteries. This sign led me to visit the Dalby Database to learn more about the woman buried beneath this marker.

There’s so much history in cemeteries. This sign led me to visit the Dalby Database to learn more about the woman buried beneath this marker. The broken marker is held together by a plate and bolts.

 

She is Sarah...

She is Sarah Benedict, born on July 29, 1793, died on December 3, 1872…

 

...daughter of William Brewster, soldier of the Revolution.

…daughter of William Brewster, soldier of the Revolution.

 

I am determined now to revisit Oak Ridge—termed by another visitor as “the horse and buggy cemetery.” His tag seems fitting for a burial site that traces back to the early days of Faribault, of Minnesota as a state.

 

I've visited many rural Minnesota cemeteries. This is the first Star of David I've found on a tombstone.

I’ve visited many rural Minnesota cemeteries. This is the first Star of David I’ve found on a tombstone.

 

TELL ME: Do you explore cemeteries? If yes, why?

 

A tombstone inscribed in German.

A tombstone inscribed in German.

 

FYI: Click here to read an unofficial Facebook page for Oak Ridge Cemetery. It offers lots of information on those buried here.

The Dalby Database is also an excellent source of information for those buried in cemeteries throughout Minnesota.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Outstanding student art showcased in Hudson, Wisconsin exhibit April 26, 2017

“If My Thoughts Had Wings” colored pencil and watercolor by Jeanna Krause, a senior at Ellsworth High School. Her art is priced at $1,000.

 

AS A CREATIVE TYPE who creates with words and a camera, I am often impressed by the works of visual artists. Incredible talent exists out there among painters, sculptors and others.

 

The Phipps Center for the Arts, Hudson, Wisconsin.

 

Signage promotes the student art exhibit.

 

A first look at the main floor gallery space art.

 

I am especially impressed by artwork displayed in the current Annual Area High School Art Exhibition at The Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin. High school students from western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota were invited to submit pieces as were teachers of the participating students. Their art fills polished gallery space on two floors of this beautiful near waterfront property along the St. Croix River. The artwork ranges from paintings to photography to collage, ceramics and much more.

 

Annika Shiffer, a senior at Eau Claire North High School, created “Cherry Blossom” from soapstone, wire and glass beads. It is not for sale.

 

This untitled collage by Shelly Schmitt of Somerset High School is not for sale.

 

Mallory Bleeker, Ellsworth High School sophomore, created this charcoal portrait of Matt Damon. It’s not for sale.

 

The variety of art and the creativity therein exhibits a professional level of artistry. It was hard for me to believe that these artists are high school students, still learning. I enjoyed the humor of a senior from St. Croix Preparatory Academy who priced his ceramic coil pot at “$100,000 (college tuition).”

 

The gallery spaces are polished and gleaming, a lovely canvas for artwork.

 

Stillwater Area High School senior Natalie Gella crafted this stoneware clay “Scared Face,” not for sale.

 

So much talent in this incredible art…

 

One student-artist will be awarded a $2,000 Alice M. Stolpe Scholarship for the Arts at a May 7 closing reception. Choosing a winner among those planning to major in art will be difficult, in my opinion. Peruse this sampling of art created by 109 students (and three teachers) from 15 schools. You’ll see why I am impressed by their work.

 

Casey Loe, senior at Eau Claire North High School, created this “Be Bold” ink art which is not for sale.

 

Travis Eisberner, Eau Claire North High School junior, created “Geometric Reality” in acrylic. It’s not for sale.

 

Kendall Isaacson of Somerset High School crafted this untitled ceramics art which is not for sale.

 

Pretty incredible art, huh?

 

Dylan Cook, senior from Stillwater Area High School, created this analogue photography “Hell Erupts!” priced at $50.

 

FYI: Gallery hours at The Phipps are from 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday – Saturday; from noon – 4:30 p.m. Sundays; and an hour before and through intermissions at all the Phipps theater performances. This exhibit closes on May 7.

 

One of the gallery spaces overlooks the St. Croix River across the street.

 

The art center is located in downtown Hudson at 109 Locust Street.

PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS on this exhibit.

NOTE: Photos of artwork are published with permission of The Phipps Center for the Arts. All artwork is copyrighted by the artists and cannot be reproduced or used without their consent. 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Snapshotting Northfield on a Sunday afternoon in April April 25, 2017

 

THE TEMPERATURE ON THE FIRST National Bank of Northfield sign flashed 68 degrees. Sixty-eight glorious degrees on a Sunday afternoon as sunny and beautiful as they come in southern Minnesota in April.

 

Unhooking a fish and fishing in the Cannon River by Bridge Square in the heart of Northfield’s downtown.

 

Daffodils, accented by curly willow, make a simple art statement in planters scattered throughout the downtown area.

 

Lots of downtown Northfield restaurants offer outdoor dining, including here at The Hideaway.

 

Everywhere people ranged in this river city. Bikers, outdoor diners, walkers, anglers, an auburn-haired child navigating across grass sprouted with dandelions, a woman smoking a cigarette in a doorway, an elementary-aged boy drawing an owl in a sketchbook, a line of families waiting outside a dance studio, college co-eds walking in pairs…

 

Poetry is imprinted in downtown sidewalks, this poem across a side street from Bridge Square.

 

Randy and I meandered the river walk, pausing to talk with a biker couple from Hartland asking about Froggy Bottoms, a riverside eatery. We chatted with the red-haired toddler’s mom who admired my camera and shared her passion for photography. She does the social media photos for her and her partner’s BlueNose Coffee in neighboring Farmington. We traded business cards and wished each other a good day and I thought how warm and friendly this young woman with the beautiful baby girl.

 

MakeShift Accessories is one of my favorite downtown Northfield shops given its creative uniqueness.

 

In all the times I’ve visited Bridge Square in downtown Northfield, I’ve never noticed the Civil War Monument topped by this eagle. This time the adjacent fountain was turned off, shifting my focus to the memorial and not to the water.

 

Handwritten notes on business doors always amuse me.

 

Reaching the end of the river walk, Randy and I circled to Division Street, slipping into the occasional business to peruse gifts, antiques and art. As we strolled, I paused to snap photos of whatever caught my eye. A haphazard collection of images.

 

Toys were corralled in a wagon outside a downtown Northfield antique shop.

 

The James-Younger Gang robbery of the First National Bank draws many visitors to Northfield. The original bank now houses the Northfield Historical Society and sits across the street from the current bank.

 

On the side of the historic bank building are holes ringed in black, supposedly marking bullet holes made during the bank raid.

 

Had a company party not drawn us indoors to a pizza and sports bar, I would have lingered longer outdoors, gathering with my camera those details, those Northfield scenes that perhaps remain unnoticed by too many.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

The window of a barbershop across from Bridge Square.

 

One of two murals on the Northfield Union of Youth building.

 

Another mural on The Key (youth center) building caught my eye.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Artistry in a Minnesota sunset April 24, 2017

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The sun begins to set as we head west on Minnesota State Highway 60 toward Kenyon.

 

SUNRISE, SUNSET…so begin lyrics from a song in “Fiddler on the Roof.” I’ve always loved that musical and the song about the seasons of life. How quickly we progress from the sunrise of life to the sunset.

The setting and rising of the sun, while symbolic of life, are of themselves worthy of appreciation. There’s such beauty in the hues that break across the sky, weaving with clouds and sometimes water to produce spectacular visuals. Works of art, really.

 

A line of clouds divided the sky as we continued west.

 

On an early spring Saturday afternoon, returning from a day trip to La Crosse, Wisconsin, my husband and I aimed toward the setting sun, the sky layered in darkness and light.

 

Between Kenyon and Faribault, the sun silhouetted a farm site.

 

As we drove along Minnesota State Highway 60 west to Faribault from Kenyon, the sun slipped closer to the earth, blazing like a brilliant spotlight in our eyes.

 

 

 

 

Then, entering Faribault on the east side, cresting the Highway 60 hill before dipping toward the river valley, I saw before me hues of orange and yellow brushed across the sky like a watercolor painting. It was one of those moments of nearly indescribable, spectacular beauty. A gift at the end of the day.

Welcome home.

FYI: Please check back for photos of the sun setting over the Cannon River by the King Mill Dam. We headed there to watch the final moments of the sunset.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The B’s have it with bargain books, bluebirds, Big Bang Boom & beer April 21, 2017

I LOVE BOOKS. And I love a bargain.

Combine the two and you have a used book sale. This week and next, book lovers in my area have opportunities to shop two used book sales.

The first, the annual Faribault American Association of University Women’s Book Sale opened Thursday at the Faribo West Mall and continues through April 25. Hours are from 10 a.m. to mall closing on April 21 – 23 and then from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. April 24 – 25. There’s an added activity—a Kids’ Karnival from 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

 

Books I selected from the “Minnesota table,” albeit Prairie Perpendicular (one of my all-time favorite fiction books) is set in small North Dakota farming community and written by a North Dakotan. I bought these at a past AAUW Book Sale. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I try to shop this sale every year, looking primarily for vintage and Minnesota-themed/authored books. But now that I have a one-year-old granddaughter I likely will also spend more time in the children’s books section.

 

Books my son purchased at a past AAUW sale. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

When my son was still home—he’s 23 now and living in Boston—he would haul home bags of fantasy and science fiction titles. He’s a voracious reader.

Just up the road about 15 miles, the Northfield Hospital Auxiliary is hosting its 56th annual book sale from April 25 – 29 at the Northfield Ice Arena. This is a mega sale where you can easily spend hours perusing books, puzzles, DVDs, CDs and vinyl. Hours are from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. April 25, from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. April 26 – 28 and from 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. April 29. Books are free from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. on the final day.

 

I found this vintage (perhaps 1960s) booklet at last year’s AAUW Book Sale. I love the graphics. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I appreciate the efforts of the many volunteers who collect, haul, organize and sell these used books and more as a service to the community and as a way to raise monies for scholarships, community projects and more.

TELL ME: Do you shop an annual used book sale? Where? What draws you there?

 

Promo courtesy of the Bluebird Recovery Program.

 

NOW ABOUT THOSE BIRDS…the Bluebird Recovery Program of Minnesota holds its annual expo from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday at the Northfield Middle School. If bluebirds interest you as much as books interest me, then consider attending this event. Click here to learn more about “bringing back bluebirds for future generations.” Expo registration cost is $15 or $25 for registration and lunch.

 

Big Bang Boom. Photo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

IT WON’T COST YOU anything to attend a concert at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault. The free concert by the pop/rock music trio Big Bang Boom is geared toward families.

 

Faribault artist Rhody Yule (now deceased) created this oil painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery in 1976. The building, and the brewery, no longer exist. The 20-foot Fleck’s beer bottle on the right side of the painting sat near the brewery entrance. Children often had their pictures taken here when their parents took a brewery tour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ADULTS WITH AN INTEREST in Minnesota brewing history will want to attend the Fleckenstein Brewery Walking Tour in Faribault on Saturday. Sponsored by the Rice County Historical Society and led by local Fleckenstein historian Brian Schmidt, the popular tours will be offered at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Good walking/hiking shoes are a must. Click here for more info and/or call 507-332-2121 to reserve a tour spot. The tours are filling quickly; don’t expect to get in if you just show up.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Learn to listen, really listen April 20, 2017

I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A MAJOR proponent of the art of listening. Listening differs from hearing, which is a physical act. Listening requires close attention to what is being spoken.

I don’t hear well due to a severe sensorineural hearing loss in my right ear. If I walk into a room and someone says hello, I may not hear. And if I do hear, I will scan the room to determine the location of the speaker. I can’t pinpoint sound sources. Put me in a group of people carrying on multiple conversations or before someone speaking too softly and I struggle to hear. Add music or white noise (like a fan or air conditioner or furnace) and I won’t hear anything. Whisper into my right ear and I won’t hear you.

For six years now I’ve dealt with this severe permanent hearing loss. And no, a hearing aid won’t help. My brain processes sound at a slower rate if at all. Every single day I need words repeated to me because I simply do not hear them. It is frustrating and difficult. But I manage.

While an unexplained cause (likely a virus, so my ENT team surmised) forever altered my ability to hear, I remain committed to the art of listening. It is a skill I honed decades ago, first as an introverted child and later as I studied journalism and worked as a newspaper reporter. To be a good journalist, you have to be a good listener.

 

My column on trustworthiness, courtesy of The Virtues Project, Faribault.

 

I use that skill of listening beyond my chosen profession as a writer. I practice good listening in my everyday life and consider myself a good listener. I wrote on the topic of listening as it relates to the virtue of trustworthiness for The Virtues Project, Faribault. The Virtues Project is a “global initiative to inspire the practice of virtues in everyday life.” Virtues like honesty, understanding, caring, respect and more are being addressed each week in columns published in the Faribault Daily News. This was my week to write on trustworthiness in a column titled “Learn to Listen, Really Listen.”

From 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday, The Virtues Project, Faribault Team will expand on listening during a workshop on “The Art of Companioning.” That process is defined as “just listen to a person when they are sharing their story—without judgment, expectations, or fixing. Often times a hearing ear is just what the other person really wants, and when we do that, we are giving the person a chance to come up with their own solution.” The event will be held in the Buckham Memorial Library Great Hall in Faribault and is open to all at no cost. We could all benefit from learning and implementing the art of companioning.

TELL ME: Do you consider yourself to be a good listener? Why?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling