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

 

Celebrating a Minnesota barn’s 100th birthday with an old-fashioned barn dance September 28, 2015

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The band, Downtown Sound, sets up inside the Becker barn for a 10th birthday barn dance.

The band, Downtown Sound, sets up inside the Becker barn for a 100th birthday barn dance.

THE OLD BARN was all decked out with rural décor.

 

Barn dance, 24 Dekalb sign & corn

 

Barn dance, 84 wagon display

 

Barn dance, 30 bouquet

 

Guests gather in a corner near a display of Becker family farm photos.

Guests gather in a corner near a display of Becker family farm photos. The images are displayed on the exterior of the bathroom built into the barn.

Ear corn and seedcorn signs. Washboard and washtubs. Gourds and pumpkins. Fresh-cut zinnias, cosmos and other garden flowers in jars. Red-and-white checked gingham tablecloths. And in a corner, a collection of family and barn photos.

 

Barn dance, 127 Becker barn banner close-up

 

Across the end of the hayloft, just above the section where the band, Downtown Sound, was setting up, and below an American flag, a banner blazed Becker Barn Dance 1915 – 2015.

The sun sets on a perfect September evening on the Becker farm.

Guests gather on the hayloft deck as the sun sets Saturday evening.

John and Debbie Becker purchased the farm from John's dad, Herb, in 1988.

John and Debbie Becker purchased the farm from John’s dad, Herb, in 1988.

John and Debbie Becker purchased the farm from John's dad, Herb, in 1988.

John and Debbie Becker

 

Hundreds gathered on a perfect September Saturday evening at the John and Debbie Becker farm just west of Dundas along Rice County Road 1 to celebrate the birthday of a sprawling 36-foot by 100-foot barn built in 1915. One hundred years ago.

Family arrives for the barn dance and party.

Family arrives for the barn dance and party.

A vintage photo of the Herb and Dorothy Becker family. The current barn owner, John, is the youngest in the family.

A vintage photo of the Herb and Dorothy Becker family. The current barn owner, John, is the youngest in the family.

Family and friends visit before the meal and dance.

Family and friends visit before the meal and dance.

But this party was about more than commemorating this century-old massive barn in the Becker family since Herb and wife, Dorothy (both now deceased), purchased the farm in 1948. It was also about a coming together of family—only one of the elder Beckers’ descendants was missing—and friends to celebrate the land, farming and the rural way of life.

A view of the farmyard and barn dance guests from a hayloft window.

A view of the farmyard and barn dance guests from a hayloft window.

Posted in the barn

Posted in the barn, a photo of the Becker farm and an appropriate saying.

Aunt and nephew at the barn dance.

Aunt and nephew at the barn dance.

As I gazed through an open hayloft window at the crowd mingling in the farmyard below, I considered how thankful I am to have grown up in rural Minnesota, to have this close connection to the land and to extended family. Just like the Becker family.

The sun spotlights machine sheds. Vehicles parked in every nook and cranny on the farm.

The sun spotlights machine sheds. Vehicles parked in every nook and cranny of the farm.

Wagons rolled.

Wagons rolled.

A vintage swingset proved a popular spot.

A vintage swingset proved a popular spot.

Playing games...

Playing games…

Here, on this evening when the sun set a brilliant gold across ripening corn fields and edged shadows around silos, kids rumbled wagons across gravel, pumped legs high on an aged swingset, covered eyes in an old-fashioned game of hide-and-seek. It was like a flashback to yesteryear for me, back to simpler days when kids played with imagination and folks took time to visit.

 

Barn dance, 28 interior barn overview 2

 

Nostalgia prevailed on this September evening of a near full moon. Host John Becker briefed guests on the history of the barn, known long ago for its neighborhood barn dances. In his youth, long before he bought this farm, John’s father attended dances here, where men sat on one side of the hayloft, women on the other. On this evening, all generations mingled in the hayloft and John reminded them to be thankful to the Lord for the harvest.

 

Barn dance, 36 barn dance sign outside barn

 

I was thankful to be here, sitting on a bench on the newly-constructed deck off the hayloft. Gazing at the peak of the barn toward the evening sky scattered with stars. Inside the band played Sweet Caroline as the autumn breeze cooled me.

 

Barn dance, 268 dark barn interior band area

 

Later I would twirl, in my husband’s arms, across the cornmeal slicked plywood floor to a polka, flap my elbows to the chicken dance and rock it out to I Fought the Law (and the law won) and many more tunes. I danced until my muscles ached. And I smiled, oh, how I smiled. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun, since I’ve forgotten the worries of life and immersed myself in the joy of a memorable evening with friends.

 

Barn dance, 131 plate of food

 

Barn dance, 148 family in food line

 

Barn dance, 118 fall themed pie close-up

 

Judging pies.

Judging pies.

The food was equally as memorable with savory beef and pork sandwiches from Nerstrand Meats, baked beans and an assortment of salads and bars brought by guests. Later, after judges sampled pies in the pie-baking contest, plated pies presented a dessert smorgasbord. And if that wasn’t enough, sausage and cheese, chips and dip and other snack foods were available for grazing later.

The side entry into the hayloft.

The side entry into the hayloft.

Some six hours after we arrived, Randy and I descended the steep walk-way into the hayloft and followed the gravel drive past the grain dryer (next to the yard light) toward vehicles parked on the lawn. We threaded our way toward our car, music fading as the distance widened between us and the 100-year-old barn.

FYI: Check back for more photos from the barn dance in additional posts tomorrow and thereafter.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Boys at a barn dance September 25, 2015

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Portrait #41: Boys at a barn dance

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011

 

Several years ago when my dear friends John and Debbie hosted a dance in their rural Dundas barn, I photographed these two boys. To this day, it remains one of my favorite portraits. Such sweetness in those faces.

I didn’t ask the boys to pose as they did. The cowboy just slung his arm around the other boy. They may be cousins or brothers or simply friends. I don’t recall. But it’s obvious they enjoy each other and were having a good time.

Maybe I’ll see the pair again this weekend, all grown up, perhaps sporting cowboy hats, maybe not. John and Debbie are celebrating the 100th birthday of their barn with an old-fashioned barn dance. I can’t wait to kick up my heels to live music, chow down on great food (including meat from Nerstrand meats and pie from the pie-baking contest), mingle with party-goers, and simply delight in the ambiance of dancing in the hayloft.

And, yes, I’ll have my camera in hand to document the event.

#

Minnesota Faces is featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating 50 years of marriage at a Minnesota barn dance September 24, 2012

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THIS IS LOVE, after 50 years:

A recent family photo of Arnie and Jeanne, rural Northfield, with their children and their spouses and their grandchildren.

A golden anniversary photo display of Jeanne and Arnie on their wedding day, October 10, 1962, and a more current photo on the left. And that’s their farm, near the Hazelwood church, in the upper left corner. Farming, faith and family have centered the couple’s life together for 50 years.

THIS IS A CELEBRATION of love after 50 years:

Family and friends celebrate Jeanne and Arnie’s 50 years of marriage at a good old-fashioned barn dance.

The kids served popcorn in the haymow dance/reception site.

The Revival Band played “Woolly Bully” by Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs and a guest (matador) swished a red shirt (cape) while others guests (bulls) charged. (This was a barn dance, emphasis on barn.)

Family and friends, some in cowboy hats, visited and danced, or just sat and observed the celebration.

The  rustic rural atmosphere and decor were perfect for the farm couple married 50 years.

THIS IS LOVE 50 years ago:

Jeanne’s wedding dress and shoes (to left of dress on shelf) and a bridesmaid’s teal dress with crown.

A napkin saved from Jeanne and Arnie’s wedding day on October 10, 1962.

THIS IS LOVE, yesterday and today.

A display in the old barn celebrating 50 years of marriage for Arnie and Jeanne.

The cake topper from Jeanne and Arnie’s wedding with golden anniversary wishes 50 years later.

I ATTENDED MY FIRST EVER barn dance a year ago in this very same barn. Jeanne and Arnie’s daughter, Debbie, and her husband, John, friends of my husband and me, hosted the dance. To view photos from that first dance, click here. And then click here to see more photos.

This year we didn’t arrive at the dance until after dark, so my photo opportunities were much more limited since I don’t shoot with flash. But the time for dancing was not.

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating the little things at a barn dance & in life September 20, 2011

COUNTLESS TIMES my husband and I have driven into John and Debbie Becker’s rural Dundas yard for bible study and not given their barn a second thought. Maybe we’ve glanced toward it, noticed the 1915 date on the cupola or the cow art on the exterior milkhouse wall. But beyond that and John’s occasional comment that he’d like to have a barn dance, we really haven’t focused too much on that building which centers the farm (although I did photograph the exterior one evening this past summer).

Notice the cow art on the milkhouse in this image taken several months ago.

That all changed Saturday when the Beckers hosted their first-ever Harvest Time Barn Dance. I was there with camera in tow trying to capture the essence of the event via my photography.

That involved not only taking the general overall photos you would expect, but zooming in on the details. It is the details, like chapters in a book, that combined tell the complete story.

So today, in this post, I want you to see the “little things” I noticed. And I want to encourage you, as you go about your daily, busy lives, to pause and see the details. They make life interesting and fun and joyful and memorable.

All too often we hurry here and there, filling our minutes and hours and days and weeks—and then months and years—with activities and work and busyness. We miss out on so much of life by living that way.

We all need a barn dance to appreciate the sweet details of life.

There's something about this "boy in bibs looking out the barn door" that is sweet and endearing.

Herb Becker painted this on the west end of the barn interior in 1958. Family members are uncertain what it means, but John Becker thinks it may have something to do with his mom being pregnant with him then.

Most of the kids dressed in western attire, right down to the tips of their cowgirl/cowboy boots and hats.

A hammer high on a screen has hung there for 40 - 50 years and is used to close the barn window, John Becker says.

A vintage fanning mill was displayed along the pathway into the barn.

Among the signage decorating the barn interior: the Beckers' seed corn sign

Farm humor: "De-CALF coffee

Kids played in the farmyard...just using their imaginations. No electronics, toys, etc., necessary.

Kids weren't the only ones carrying cap guns. I managed to pull the pistols from this deputy sheriff's holsters twice before he pulled out his handcuffs and threatened to cuff me.

When I composed this frame, I considered the barn dances held here in the 1930s and how bands have changed with computers and high tech instruments. The contrast between old and new was not lost on me in this setting.

In one of my favorite images, I captured this sweet interaction, the bending down to the child's level, the care, the love and concern shown in this simple act. I saw that repeatedly at the barn dance, in the clasp of a child's hand, in a child atop her dad's shoulders, in hands joining on the dance floor...

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Harvest barn dance celebrates family, friends and yesteryear September 19, 2011

A father and son were among the hundreds of guests attending a dance in this 96-year-old barn.

IN THE 1930s, at the height of The Great Depression, a young Herb Becker attended dances in the sprawling red barn along Rice County Road 1 several miles west of Dundas.

Herb didn’t know it then, but in 1948 he and his wife Dorothy would buy the “Faber farm” site with the 36-foot by 100-foot barn.

Today his youngest son John and wife Debbie own the farm, purchased in 1988. Saturday they hosted their first-ever Harvest Time Barn Dance.

John and Debbie Becker have reshingled and done other work to their barn to keep it from deteriorating.

“It’s a dream come true,” John said several times through-out the event which brought the barn back full circle to his father Herb—who died in 2009—and those long-ago barn dances.

I bet Herb would have been pleased with the party that drew family, friends and neighbors of the Beckers together on a cool autumn evening to visit, eat and dance the night away in the old hay mow. My husband Randy and I were among our friends’ invited guests.

Everything about the celebration in this 1915 barn spoke to the kind of down-home neighborliness and love of family that define the Beckers and the Malechas (Debbie’s family). These are good, honest, hard-working people of faith with their roots planted deep in the earth. I doubt I stopped smiling all evening.

And there was plenty to smile about—from the country-style decorated barn complete with red-and-white checked tablecloths, zinnias/sedum/golden rod in fruit jars, pitchforks, bushel baskets, seed corn signage, wooden barrels, cream separator, horse harness and lots more to the kids and adults sporting cowboy hats, cowboy boots and other western attire to the welcoming, sometimes boot-stomping, music of The Revivals band.

Battery-operated tea light candles and flowers in quart jars decorated tables covered with red and/or red-and-white checked cloths. This photo looks toward the west end of the hay mow.

Everywhere collectibles and antiques were on display, creating a setting of simple country charm.

Guests indulged in tasty roast beef sandwiches, calico beans, an array of salads and bars.

The Beckers created a coffee corner, where guests could grab some "De-Calf" or "Real Calf," visit, maybe even pull a deck of cards from the shelf for a game of Euchre.

Fall and vintage decorations lined the pathway leading into the barn.

It was the type of evening reminiscent of the old-fashioned gatherings of yesteryear, when adults could visit while the kids played with carefree abandon. And they did on Saturday. Tag and hide-and-seek. Pick-up football in the dusty farm yard. Make-believe, chasing each other with cap guns blazing.

Kids ran and played and ran and played--all night.

Heading out the barn door...

The kids, and a few adults, brought cap guns.

Probably my favorite image of the evening...no words necessary to describe these happy boys.

Inside, the adults admired the architectural bones of the barn, cranking necks upward toward the skeletal rafters, toward the conveyor that once carried hay bales across this dairy barn hay mow. And before that, the hay fork, on display outside the barn. They imagined climbing the ladder on the east end of the barn, like daring trapeze artists, to a platform above.

Looking toward the east end of the hay mow.

The east end of the hay mow with the ladder and platform and highlighting the barn's framework.

Looking toward the west end of the hay barn.

Pulling popcorn duty at the barn dance.

And later, when The Revivals from New Prague rocked the rafters with music that spanned polkas and waltzes to country and 1950s-1970s hits, adults and kids alike slid their feet across the corn meal-slicked plywood covering the maple floor that was too unsalvageable for refinishing. They twirled and shook and twisted.

And they danced like Herb would have wanted them to dance, celebrating life.

The Revivals from New Prague played a mix of music from old-time to rock.

Leaving the barn dance. Vehicles packed the farm yard.

CHECK BACK FOR MORE barn dance images. I won’t have photos of the dancing; once I had my band shot, I put away the camera.

HAVE YOU EVER attended a barn dance? If you haven’t, you might want to become friends with the Beckers. I bet they’ll have plenty of requests for a repeat harvest dance next fall. Thanks, John and Debbie, for an absolutely memorable and fun evening.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling