Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

No air travel nightmares on Tuesday for this passenger January 5, 2022

The drive to Terminal 1 early Tuesday afternoon was easy, just like in December 2015, when this photo was taken. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

HE EXITED JUST IN TIME, hours before snow moved into Minnesota on Tuesday evening. Followed by high winds and, then, returning arctic cold.

If you were to ask my 20-something son, he might say he didn’t leave soon enough. After moving to Indiana in late 2021 to pursue his PhD at Purdue University, he’s found the climate there warmer. And, for him, warm is good. The body acclimates quickly. He did not appreciate the cold snap of subzero temps in Minnesota during his two-week holiday visit or the overnight temperature of 62 degrees in our house. I handed him a stack of blankets.

My gratitude for his exit relates to air travel, which has been nightmarish with cancellations and delays seemingly unending. Some due to weather. Others due to staffing shortages attributed to COVID. When he booked his flight, I suggested a direct flight rather than a lay-over in Chicago. I figured there would be less chance of problems flying directly from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Indianapolis. That held true.

When we headed up to the airport at noon Tuesday, we fully expected congestion. Long lines of traffic creeping. A replay of the scene during his arrival several days before Christmas. Instead, we found minimal traffic, breezing to departures and even able to step outside the van for goodbye hugs. It was wonderful.

No snow. No waiting in traffic at the terminal. No delayed flight.

“Just landed in Indianapolis,” he texted at 5:11 pm Tuesday CST. All is good.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Christmas homecoming December 23, 2021

Nearing Terminal 1 at MSP on a quiet December day in 2015, a very different scene from Tuesday evening. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

NEARLY AN HOUR after picking him up outside Terminal 1 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Tuesday evening, my son and I embraced.

I wanted to wrap him in my arms immediately. But vehicles jammed the pick-up area. The hug would have to wait 45 minutes until we arrived home in Faribault. I recognized that if everyone stopped to hold their loved ones close, the traffic delays would only worsen. So he shoved his suitcase inside the van and climbed into the front passenger seat while I skirted the bag and slid the side door shut.

Randy and I’d already spent too much time waiting, creeping along toward arrivals. Mostly unfamiliar with the roads and lay-out of this terminal, Randy took a wrong turn and we ended up looping back around, back into the gridlock. In the end, that error proved OK timing wise.

I felt gratitude for drivers who allowed us to nudge into line. We did the same. I felt not so much appreciation for the driver of the big black pick-up truck with Wisconsin license plates. I observed bullying moves. But I suppose when you’re piloting a bulky truck…

I felt thankfulness also for the airport traffic director, attempting to create order from a traffic mess. I didn’t envy his job of keeping motorists and pedestrians safe.

Flying into MSP. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

In the end, I got that long-awaited hug. Six months have passed since I’ve seen my son, who moved to Indiana in August to pursue his PhD at Purdue University. Oh, the joy in that first hug. The love that filled my mama’s heart. We held each other tight. Lingering. Savoring the moment.

In only days, that will repeat with my second daughter, whom I have not seen since mid-May. I’m anticipating the moment when she and her husband pull into the driveway after a 4 ½ hour drive from Madison, Wisconsin. I will wrap her in my arms. Lingering. Savoring the moment.

On Sunday, the eldest daughter, her husband and our two grandchildren will join us, completing the family circle. This will be our first Christmas together in five years. There will be more hugging and lingering. And joy filling this mother’s heart.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Back to Boston January 12, 2015

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FRIDAY, 10:30 p.m.

I switch off the lamp. Two clicks. Pull the plug on the Christmas tree lights. Fold the fleece throw.

Then I step toward the couch, wait there until he looks up. He removes headphones, clamps his laptop closed. His arms reach up. Mine extend down. We pull each other close. Linger.

Tears edge my eyes. I cannot bear this moment, this final goodnight hug. He leaves tomorrow. After 23 days at home in Minnesota for holiday break.

I did a photo shoot of the son when he was back home in Minnesota. This was shot at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault.

I did a photo shoot of my 20-year-old son when he was back home. This was shot at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault.

I want to snapshot this moment, hold it forever in the memory of my soul. The scent of him. The brush of his curls against my face. The love between a mother and son.

Already I miss him.


SATURDAY, 3:05 p.m.

The son in the front passenger seat, his suitcase and other baggage rests next to me.

The son in the front passenger seat, his suitcase and other baggage next to me as we head to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

I am seated behind my husband, our son to his, to my, right in the front passenger seat. Beside me rests his backpack. His suitcase leans against the door, butting a cardboard box crammed with board games and other stuff he’s taking back to Boston.

A side mirror on our van reflects traffic along Interstate 35.

A side mirror on our van reflects traffic along Interstate 35.

The Interstate miles roll by. We are mostly silent. Until my thoughts tumble into words. “It’s OK to call me sometimes.”

He turns toward me. “I know.”

In the rearview mirror, I glimpse my husband’s smile. He and the son exchange a look.

Crossing the Minnesota River Valley on Cedar Avenue.

Crossing the Minnesota River Valley on Cedar Avenue.

Soon we are bridging the Minnesota River, skirting the Mall of America, nearing the airport. Airliners roar a reminder of departure.

Fort Snelling Cemetery lies to the right as we near Terminal Two.

Fort Snelling Cemetery lies to the right as we near Terminal Two.

Signage points us toward Terminal Two. We pass by Fort Snelling National Cemetery, seemingly infinite rows of white tombstones unfolding before me. Sorrow. Tears. Sadness. Mothers missing sons.

The road curves. We are there, pulled to the curb. Door slid open. Suitcase out. Box out. We’re all out and then the son reaches inside for his backpack, hoists it onto his narrow shoulders.

Then he is between us, stretching his arms around us. Three into one.

Tears slide down my cheeks as he turns away, pulling his box-topped suitcase into the terminal.

Already I miss him.

A plane flies out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

A plane flies out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport late Saturday afternoon.


SATURDAY, 8:40 p.m.

Credits roll across the television screen. I turn my face into the corner of the sofa. Crying at the movie. Crying because I want my son home. Crying because I wonder where time goes and why our children must leave.

I turn toward the Christmas tree, lights blurring through the tears. Scent of honeysuckle from a burning candle perfumes the room. The furnace kicks in. I dry my eyes on the cuffs of my sweatshirt.

I pick up my cell phone, reread his messages.

5:35 p.m.: I’m on the plane.

6:52 p.m.: I arrived in Chicago.

He’s not even to Boston yet.

Already I miss him.


SATURDAY, 10:21 p.m.

My cell phone buzzes.

I click on the text message: Just landed in Boston.


© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling