Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Walnut Grove offers a kid-friendly festival at annual “Little House” celebration July 17, 2013

Pioneer prairie attire is the dress code of the day for all ages.

Pioneer prairie attire is the dress code of the day for all ages.

THE FAMILY FESTIVAL in Walnut Grove is exactly what you would expect—an event filled with family-friendly activities during the community’s annual celebration of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Arts and crafts. Book signings. Pony rides. Laura and Nellie Look-A-Like Contests. Entertainment.

Showing Mom her art.

Showing Mom her art.

Tagging along with my 9-year-old niece, who traveled to southwestern Minnesota with her parents from Grand Forks, North Dakota, for the weekend event, I delighted in all this small town offers to families via the festival. Lots of busy and happy kids here. I’ve forgotten, though, just how quickly elementary aged youth can dart from one activity to the next.

My niece keeps a tight grip on her Laura doll while sifting through corn.

My niece keeps a tight grip on her Laura doll while sifting through corn.

And Beth did just that, with me there to hold her camera and Gatorade, but, thankfully, not her Laura doll, while I also juggled my 35 mm Canon DSLR camera and an over-sized bag. It’s not easy taking photos with your hands full and a mobile niece to watch. I shot at least a few frames one-handed.

Kids, including my niece, right, dig for objects in a tub of corn.

Kids, including my niece, right, dig for objects in a tub of corn.

I managed while observing Beth sift through tubs of corn and soybeans to find hidden objects and then weave among craft stands that held her interest, but not for long. She fingered merchandise at one booth then zoomed to another.

Creating seed art.

Creating seed art.

Earlier she’d created seed art, a craft I remember from my elementary school art days, days in which my teacher read the entire Little House book series to me and my classmates through the course of a school year. I attended school in Vesta, only 25 miles north of Walnut Grove, practically in the backyard of Plum Creek. To this day, the Little House books, and Wilder’s descriptive writing of the prairie landscape (she was the “eyes” for her blind sister, Mary) in the Minnesota-set volumes, remain among my favorite books. I once even penned a poem, “Prairie Sisters,” about my connection to the Little House books and the Ingalls sisters. (See poem at the end of this post.)

Most of the kids' activities are centered in the park shelter.

Most of the kids’ activities are centered in the park shelter.

But back to that Family Festival in Walnut Grove. Before my arrival, my niece punched a horse design onto leather at one of the many activity stations centered in and near a shelter at the city park. This festival is definitely a hands-on experience any kid, and parent, can appreciate.

The pony ride.

The pony ride.

I hoped Beth would ride a pony at the pony ride, but she didn’t follow my hint while under my supervision, opting instead to participate in the Laura Look-A-Like Contest. (You can read about that competition by clicking here.) And that was OK.

All of you parents and grandparents out there with children who are Little House fans, you have two more weekends to wend your way to Walnut Grove for a variety of activities, including the Family Festival from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday, July 20 and 27, in the one-block square city park.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Leather art.

Leather art.

Craft demonstrations, like spinning, are part of the festivities.

Craft demonstrations, like spinning, are part of the festivities.

Tools and materials for crafting beautiful wooden spoons.

Tools and materials for crafting beautiful wooden spoons.

FYI: Click here to learn more about Little House themed events in Walnut Grove during the next two weekends.

AND HERE’S MY PROMISED POEM, published in 2000 in Poetic Strokes, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota:

Prairie Sisters

Laura and Mary splashed their way into my heart
as my fourth grade teacher waded into Plum Creek.
I felt the words sliding across my bare feet,
sticking to me like bloodsuckers between toes.

Prairie sisters, Laura and Mary, and me,
children of the wind and sky, we three.
The words swept me away from the brick walls
of school and of desks in orderly rows.

Across the rich, black soil, heavy with a farmer’s dream,
to Walnut Grove, twenty-five miles south and west,
I joined my prairie sisters on the banks of Plum Creek,
at home with the sweet scent of dark earth.

Together we turned the pages of our lives,
each day a new chapter, a new adventure.
Nellie Oleson, grasshoppers by the millions,
fire wheels and blinding, closed-in blizzards.

Years apart, yet years so close.
Prairie sisters, Laura and Mary, and me.
Rooted to a land that reaches into the soul,
bound forever by words in a book.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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