Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Connecting to the past at a Minnesota barn dance, Part III September 30, 2015

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The sun sets behind John and Debbie Becker's rural Dundas, Minnesota, barn.

The sun sets behind John and Debbie Becker’s rural Dundas, Minnesota, barn on the evening of their September 26 barn dance.

THRICE NOW I’VE DOCUMENTED dances in the Becker Farms barn. And what an honor it has been to photograph these 2011, 2012 and now 2015 celebrations in such a bucolic rural setting in southeastern Minnesota. I delight in photos, which combined with words, write family and personal histories.

After guests ate, several tables would be removed for dancing.

After guests ate, several tables were removed for dancing.

I probably will never visit our nation’s capitol or see the Pacific Ocean or tour the Rockefeller Estate or attend a Broadway play or study a Van Gogh painting. But that’s OK. I have danced in a barn, something few Baby Boomers likely have done. I can write “Danced in a Barn” in my life’s story.

Peering out a hayloft door, I shot this scene of a neighboring farm place.

Peering out a hayloft door, I shot this scene of a pond and neighboring farm place.

Dining in the barn.

Dining in the barn.

Playing with the rural version of Jenga blocks.

Playing with the rural version of Jenga blocks.

I appreciate the simple things in life. Sun setting. Great conversation and good music. Satisfying food that’s tasty and uncomplicated. Joy that comes from watching children at play, realizing too many years have passed since I was a kid free-ranging on the farm.

Visiting outside the barn.

Visiting outside the barn.

To my friends John and Debbie Becker, I am grateful for the chances to dance in their 100-year-old barn, to witness the coming together of family and friends in a hayloft.

Guests gathered inside and out on a lovely September evening.

Guests gathered inside and out on a lovely September evening.

There’s something about a barn dance that roots to the rural past in a way that no museum can. As I danced, I could imagine the dances of yesteryear, hayloft empty of loose hay, eager young men and anxious young women eyeing each other from opposite sides of the loft. I could imagine food spread across planks, the scent of animals below mingling with the smell of fried chicken.

Parking vehicles was a major job considering the hundreds of invited guests.

Parking vehicles was a major job considering the hundreds of invited guests.

And outside, horses tethered rather than vehicles parked.

Even this Dekalb sign inside the barn generated memories of Dekalb corn growing in my dad's fields and me detasseling corn for this seed company.

Even this Dekalb sign inside the barn generated memories of Dekalb corn growing in my dad’s fields and me detasseling corn for this seed company.

Grandparents build memories with grandchildren at the barn dance.

Grandparents build memories with grandchildren at the barn dance.

I'm sure the four judges will always remember the difficulty of choosing winners in the homemade pie judging contest.

I’m sure the four judges will always remember the difficulty of choosing winners in the homemade pie baking contest.

Red wagons hold timeless universal appeal to kids.

Red wagons hold timeless universal appeal to kids.

This girl's cowgirl hat reminded me of the straw hats I wore while playing make-believe as a child.

This girl’s cowgirl hat reminds me of the straw hats I wore while playing make-believe as a child.

As this boy pulled a wagon up the incline toward the hayloft, I wondered if he would climb aboard for a wild ride down. Instead, he released the wagon. I would have rode down, gripping the handle.

As this boy pulled a wagon up the incline toward the hayloft, I wondered if he would climb aboard for a wild ride down. Instead, he released the wagon. I would have careened down, gripping the handle.

Whether my imagination matches historic reality, I am unsure. But I am certain of one thing. A barn dance connects folks to the past in a profound way.

I am always comfortably at home on a farm like the Beckers' farm site.

I am always comfortably at home on a farm like the Beckers’ farm site.

For me, a woman from the land, dancing in a hayloft fits me better than gliding across the smoothest of floors in an elegant ballroom. I am comfortably at home in a barn, in a way that’s sweetly familiar. Connected to my rural Minnesota prairie roots.

FYI: Click here and here to read my previous posts on the September 26 barn dance in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Commemorating a Minnesota barn’s 100th birthday, Part II September 29, 2015

 

A welcoming scene staged next to the barn and attached milkhouse.

An inviting scene staged next to the barn and attached milkhouse.

FROM THE MINUTE I received a verbal invitation to the barn dance, I noted the event on the September 26 square of my kitchen calendar. Not only would I be celebrating the 100th birthday of the Becker family barn. But I would also be celebrating my birthday. How sweet is that?

Posted inside the barn...

Posted inside the barn…

With my deep rural Minnesota roots and appreciation for aged barns restored and maintained, this party suited me. Hosts John and Debbie Becker, Rice County crop farmers, are dear friends, a salt-of-the earth couple who cherish faith, family and farming.

Guests pulled up to tables and dined on hot beef and pork sandwiches, salads and more.

Guests pulled up to tables and dined on hot beef and pork sandwiches, salads and more.

And they know how to throw one heck of a party in their 100-year-old barn, in the Becker family since 1948.

Garden goods provided for great fall decorating.

Garden goods provided for great fall decorating.

One of numerous parking attendants waits for vehicles to arrive.

One of numerous parking attendants waits for vehicles to arrive.

The kitchen crew, and Debbie, prepare for guests to arrive.

The kitchen crew, and Debbie, prepare for guests to arrive.

Posted on the pie table.

Posted on the pie table.

Debbie, the eldest in a family of I’ve lost count how many siblings, could be a professional party planner. She’s that good at food planning, decorating and remembering every single detail of creating a memorable and fun event. John is right there beside her, assuring, too, that everything comes together. They complement one another. And even though they pulled in family and friends—for decorating, parking, kitchen duty, bartending, pie judging and more—ultimately they are the ones who managed to plan for and welcome 300-plus guests to their farm.

The kids all wanted rides on the golf cart.

The kids all wanted rides on the golf cart.

This little guy wouldn't even set down his toy John Deere tractor to stack over-sized Jenga blocks.

This little guy wouldn’t even set down his toy John Deere tractor to stack over-sized Jenga blocks.

The pie table drew lots of kids because...

This farm-themed pie drew lots of kids to look and some to play.

By far the most creatively-staged pie.

By far the most creatively-staged pie.

Lots of visiting inside and outside the barn.

Lots of visiting inside and outside the barn.

One family member flew in from England. And I overheard, mid-evening, young boys protesting their family’s early departure. I watched kids scramble onto a golf cart for rides with the guy giving lifts from parking areas to barn. A smile curved my mouth at the sight of young boys clutching John Deere tractors, a wee sweet girl in pink cowgirl boots peering at pies, and circles of folks visiting in the barn.

The opportunities for sweet portraits in the golden hour of photography were endless.

The opportunities for sweet portraits in the golden hour of photography were endless.

My dear friend Mandy arrives with her pear-gingersnap pie still warm from the oven. It was absolutely delicious as I sampled it after the pie judging.

My dear friend Mandy arrives with her pear-gingersnap pie still warm from the oven. It was absolutely delicious as I sampled it after the pie judging.

My husband tried on this abandoned cowboy hat. But it was several sizes too small.

My husband tried on this abandoned cowboy hat. But it was several sizes too small.

The scenes unfolding before me appeared down-home rural Americana—girls swaying in a weathered porch swing, a guest bearing pie for the pie-baking contest, a straw cowboy hat resting on a picnic table.

I photographed darling Ava at the last barn dance and her mom asked me to photograph her again. Daylight was fading. Yet I managed to snap a cute portrait.

I photographed darling Ava at the last barn dance and her mom asked me to photograph her again. Daylight was fading. Yet I managed to snap a cute portrait.

A grandma and her grandkids dressed in western attire for the barn dance.

A grandma and her grandkids dressed in western attire for the barn dance.

Many a farmer, including my dad, carried a hankie/bandanna in his pocket.

Many a farmer once carried a hankie/bandanna in his pocket.

Although costumes were not required, vintage or western attire was encouraged. I tied a red bandanna around my neck and called it good. But the kids, oh, the kids. So cute in their cowgirl/cowboy hats and garb. And even some adults dressed western style in flannel shirts and hats, in bibs or with red hankie in pocket. Many sported western boots.

While two girls sway on a swing, another builds blocks.

While two girls sway on a swing, another stacks blocks.

Debbie and John, loving aunt and uncle that they are, assured the kids had plenty to do, passing along to the next generation memories connected to family and the old barn.

 

Barn dance, 108 wheel in front of barn

 

FYI: Click here to read my first post about the barn dance. And check back tomorrow for one final post.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling