Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Fleeting fall thoughts from Faribault November 4, 2022

Colorful trees photographed from my backyard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2022)

WE KNOW IT’S COMING. Winter. Yet, we Minnesotans hope for one more glorious autumn day. One more day of warm temps. One more day of no snow. The reality, though, is that this is November and the weather can shift just like that to cold, grey and, well, seasonal.

A maple on my lawn in all its fall glory. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2022)

With the exception of minimal rain in an already drought-stricken state, this fall in southern Minnesota has been exceptional with many sunny, warm days and lovely fall colors.

Autumn brings lots of yard work (like raking leaves) in preparation for winter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2022)

Minnesota fully embraces autumn with unbridled enthusiasm. It’s as if we need to pack in as much as we can, outdoors especially, before we settle mostly inside for the winter.

The restored clock on the historic Security Bank Building in downtown Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2015)

The end of daylight savings time this weekend signals that seasonal shift. It will get darker earlier and that, psychologically, triggers an awareness of winter’s impending arrival. I find myself just wanting to stay home in the evening, snuggled under a fleece throw reading a good book.

A page from “Count Down to Fall” in the current StoryWalk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Sometimes that may be a children’s book. Picture books aren’t just for kids. I find the stories and illustrations therein inspiring, entertaining, informative, poetic. In Faribault, Buckham Memorial Library even brings picture books right into the community via a StoryWalk. Pages from a selected picture book are posted in protective casings along several blocks of Central Avenue to the library. The currently featured book is Count Down to Fall written by Fran Hawk and illustrated by Sherry Neidigh.

Book cover source: Goodreads

Recently I listened to Children’s Librarian Deni Buendorf read the book online. I love her enthusiasm as she reads page after page of this rhyming story focused on different leaves—painted maple, oval birch, craggy oak… It’s a perfect autumn read.

Book cover source: Goodreads

Soon this season ends and we enter the long, hard winter months. Interestingly enough, I am currently reading Cindy Wilson’s award-winning The Beautiful Snow—The Ingalls Family, the Railroads, and the Hard Winter of 1880-81. Lest I think winters now are sometimes difficult, I need only reference this book of nonfiction to understand that I have nothing, absolutely nothing, to complain about in the year 2022. Remind me of that come March.

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NOTE: In a project similar to Faribault’s StoryWalk, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport features a Minnesota-authored children’s picture book on panels placed between gates C18 and C19 in Terminal 1. Each book is in place for two months in this Picture Book Parade.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Expressing my creative voice in “The Talking Stick” October 11, 2022

I’ve been published in 13 volumes ofThe Talking Stick,most recently InVolume 31, Escapes.” (Photo by Colton Kemp)

AS A WRITER, getting published adds to the joy of the craft. I write because it’s my passion, one which I want to share.

I laid the latest copy of The Talking Stick atop a page in a Minnesota atlas to represent escape in a sense of place. Reading and writing also provide an escape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The newest opportunity to share comes via The Talking Stick 31—Escapes, the latest anthology released in September by Park Rapids area-based The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc. The Talking Stick, published now for 31 years, features a collection of creative nonfiction, fiction and poetry by Minnesota writers or those with a connection to our state. This year, editors chose 83 poems, 28 creative nonfiction stories and 18 fiction stories for publication from 82 writers. More than 300 submissions came from 140 writers.

The beginning of my story, “Barbershop Prompt.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots edited and copyrighted photo October 2022)

I’m delighted to announce that three of my submissions are included in Escapes. My story, “Barbershop Prompt,” won second place and a cash prize in creative nonfiction. “Plans” earned honorable mention in fiction. And my second fictional piece, “Between Sisters,” simply published.

My writing has published in all 13 of these “The Talking Stick” volumes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

To have my work selected and honored by peers is, for me, reaffirming. This marks the 13th year my writing—a total of 13 poems, eight creative nonfiction stories and nine fiction stories—have published in The Talking Stick. I’ve earned seven honorable mentions and two second placings through the years. Every year I’ve entered this competition, my writing has published. That proves personally validating.

When I first ventured into penning fiction, I did so with hesitancy. My journalism education, background and experience rooted me in gathering information and reporting the facts with no bend to fictionalize. I didn’t know I could write fiction until I tried. And I found I rather enjoy this type of writing. It stretches my creativity in a way that traditional factual writing doesn’t. Yet, even when I write fiction, there is some truth within. I weave into my writing (often in subtle ways) that which I know or care about or which has touched me. I expect most fiction writers would say the same.

Partial winning credits in fiction and the judge’s bio. (Minnesota Prairie Roots edited and copyrighted photo October 2022)

My award-winning short story, “Plans,” focuses on abuse within a family. Abuse has not been my personal experience. But it runs rampant in society. “Plans” focuses on abuse from the perspective of Henrietta, or Henri as her father calls her. He wanted a son, not a daughter. I’m not revealing more except to say the story leaves the reader wondering. And that’s exactly as The Talking Stick editors intend. Submission guidelines call for focusing on short forms, on compressed creations which hint of a longer, more complex story. You get that in my 457-word “Plans.”

Here’s, in part, what fiction judge Bonnie West said about my short story:

What a good story. Very clever, but also very poignant and surprising! Thanks for this delightful and entertaining revenge story!

Bridge Square Barbers, the inspiration for my award-winning story. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2022)

I definitely appreciate West’s comment and that of creative nonfiction judge Marge Barrett. She evaluated “Barbershop Prompt,” praising the energy and cleverness of my story. A sign I spotted in the front window of Bridge Square Barbers by Bridge Square in Northfield prompted me to write this. I am an observer, someone who notices details. That often inspires. Like my winning fiction story, this fact-based story leaves the reader wondering, wanting more. The same can be said for “Between Sisters.”

The Talking Stick is an incredible collection of outstanding writing and I’m honored to be included with so much other Minnesota talent. Each year I see familiar names repeated, but then new voices, too. The small editorial team from the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc deserves recognition also for their hard work. This anthology truly is a labor of love. I’m grateful for their appreciation of Minnesota writers and for their dedication to the craft of writing.

FYI: I encourage you to support Minnesota creativity by purchasing a copy of The Talking Stick 31—Escapes by clicking here.

Colton Kemp, a reporter for the Faribault Daily News, wrote a feature on me which published in the Saturday, October 8, edition. I encourage you to read that also by clicking here. I am grateful for Colton sharing my story and for the opportunity to connect with him, another individual passionate about writing.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“I Carry Your Heart,” a book review September 28, 2022

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Photo source: Goodreads

OF ALL THE BOOKS I could have pulled from the “new fiction” section at Buckham Memorial Library, I chose, among others, one by a Minnesotan. But not until I was several chapters into the book did I flip to the back pages for information about the author, Barbara A. Luker.

I was delighted to learn that Luker hails from St. Peter, a college town in the Minnesota River Valley some 40 miles west of Faribault. To discover another Minnesota writer always pleases me. Luker works full-time for the City of St. Peter and is fairly new to writing books.

It was the title and the simple cover art—a small cut-out heart-shaped cookie next to a larger one—that first drew my eye to I Carry Your Heart. I bake similar plain heart-shaped cookies from my mom’s Cream Cheese Roll-out Cookies recipe each Valentine’s Day. Yes, cover art and titles matter to me given all the books out there. And this art connected to me personally.

Then I turned to the back cover for the story summary. The plot sounded interesting enough to add the book to those already stashed inside my cloth Boomerang bag reserved for library check-outs. I Carry Your Heart, a title taken from e.e. cummings’ poem of the same name, is, as you might guess, a love story. And, yes, there’s romance, a genre I don’t typically read and which made me blush.

This book is truly a tender, multi-layered love story. Not only of romantic love, but also of family love and community love and the sacrifices sometimes made for love.

This is a generational story that takes the reader back in time to reveal secrets kept by Abigail Lillian Peterson Ward. When she dies unexpectedly, her granddaughter, whom Abigail appointed to sort through her belongings, uncovers another side, another truth about her Nan.

The story felt somewhat predictable to me. Yet there were enough twists to surprise me at times and certainly to hold my interest to the end.

I appreciate also the Minnesota influence in the writing. The author shows her roots, for example, in the fictional town described as like a Norman Rockwell painting by one character. In my mind I pictured Luker’s hometown of St. Peter. I could also envision the church ladies serving a luncheon after Abigail’s funeral and the turkey commercials served in her restaurant. Both are, oh, so Minnesotan (although I’m more familiar with a beef commercial). Details like that add authenticity.

All in all, I Carry Your Heart proved a good read, even if in a genre I don’t typically choose.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring Howard Mohr, author of “How to Talk Minnesotan” September 8, 2022

Image source: Goodreads

MINNESOTA SEEMS, TO ME, a hotbed for writers. And five days ago we lost one of our most beloved, Howard Mohr. He was perhaps best-known for his wildly popular, at least in Minnesota, book, How to Talk Minnesotan: A Visitor’s Guide, published in 1987. The book was later updated and adapted into an equally popular musical.

Many years have passed since I read my copy of this entertaining, humorous, and, yes, truthful, summary of Minnesota life. In honor of Mohr, who died September 4 of Parkinson’s at Fieldcrest Assisted Living in Cottonwood, I pulled my book from the shelf and reread it.

A corn field in southwestern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

That Mohr, 83, recently moved from his Lyon County farm home of 52 years to a facility called Fieldcrest seems especially fitting. He lived in farming country, my native southwestern Minnesota, the place of small towns defined by grain elevators and land defined by fields of corn and soybean. He understood the people and place of the prairie. So when I read the sentence in his book declaring the produce of Minnesota writers to be as valuable as a crop of soybeans and corn, I felt he nailed it.

A harvested field and farm site in my native Redwood County, Minnesota, where the land and sky stretch into forever. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I’ve long celebrated writers rooted in the prairie like Mohr, Bill Holm, Robert Bly, Frederick Manfred, Leo Dangel… My friend Larry Gavin of Faribault, too, poet and writer who studied under those writers and lived for 15 years on the prairie. Some shared their knowledge, their talents, by teaching at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. That’s near Cottonwood. Mohr taught English at Southwest State. He also penned Minnesota Book of Days, How to Tell a Tornado (poetry and prose) and wrote for “A Prairie Home Companion,” also appearing on the show.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I’m most familiar with How to Talk Minnesotan. The content reflects my rural upbringing. The dairy and crop farm of my youth lies a mere 15 miles to the south and east of Cottonwood, thus rereading Mohr’s book is like traveling back home, a reminder of that which defines me as a native of rural Redwood County. Even after nearly 40 years of living in Faribault, in town, I still call the noon-time meal “dinner” and the evening meal “supper.” My adult kids don’t, so I/they, always clarify when invitations are extended to a meal. To me “lunch” will always come mid-afternoon or in the evening before guests leave.

This huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocked our Redwood County farm driveway in this March 1965 photo. I’m standing next to my mom in the back. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Mohr’s references to the noon whistle, Jell-O (once popular, not so much now) winter survival kits, snowbirds (those who leave Minnesota in the winter and return in the spring), hotdish (casserole), pancake feeds, seed corn caps, lutefisk, Lutherans, bullheads (smaller versions of catfish), the “long goodbye” all resonate. I especially understand his point that Minnesotans are obsessed with the weather. We are.

Bars made by Lutherans. ( Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Some 10-plus years ago, when my now son-in-law moved to Minnesota from Los Angeles after falling in love with my eldest daughter, I gifted him with Mohr’s How to Talk Minnesotan. I figured this would help him adjust to our language and state. Whether it did or didn’t, I don’t know. But Marc hasn’t moved back to his native California. And he never commented on Mohr’s statement that Californians struggle to adapt to life in Minnesota. Marc fits in just fine. I do recall, though, his comment on “bars,” a word with duo meaning here in our state. “Bars” are both a place to gather and drink alcohol and a baked or unbaked sweet treat (made with lots of sugar and often topped with chocolate) pressed or spread into a 9 x 13-inch cake pan.

Maybe I really ought to make a pan of bars, cut them into squares, plate and serve them with coffee for “a little lunch” as a way to honor Howard Mohr, writer, satirist, humorist. He yielded a mighty fine crop of writing.

FYI: I encourage you to read Mohr’s obituary by clicking here. Be sure to read the insightful and loving comments. And if you haven’t read How to Talk Minnesotan, do. If you’re Minnesotan, it will be a refresher course in our life and language. If you’re not from here, you’ll better understand us upon reading this guide.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inspired by Maria Shriver’s reflective book, “I’ve Been Thinking…” August 5, 2022

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Published in 2018, a bestselling book I found at my local library. (Cover source: Amazon)

BE STILL. Two words. Two words that, at their core, seem so simple to follow. Yet, in the busyness and chaos and struggles of life, they often prove difficult to remember, then practice.

What does it mean to “be still”?

New York Times bestselling author, journalist, mother and celebrity Maria Shriver addresses the topic in “A Time to Rest,” a chapter in her book, I’ve Been Thinking…Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life. In the chapter focusing on the importance of rest and reflection, Shriver reminds us to “be still.”

Those two words are a reference to Psalm 46:10 which, several years ago, became a bit of a mantra for me thanks to my friend Steve. Steve is quiet, a man of sparse words. So when he speaks, people tend to listen, really listen. He holds a deep faith. And when he pointed me to a specific verse in a Psalm that would remind me often to “be still” and hear the voice of God, he knew exactly what I needed.

A contemplative and peaceful photo I took, and edited, in December 2017. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

This past week, Shriver’s book has based my morning time of quiet, of prayer and devotional/inspirational reading. I recommend this reflective collection of short themed chapters ending in prayer to anyone, whether a person of faith or not. I fully agree with Shriver’s advice to take time each day for quiet reflection, for thought and for a centering that calms. Be still.

Her inspirational book covers so many topics—empathy, listening, gratitude and much more—that, if we choose to practice them, will make our lives better and this world a much better place, We are, after all, all connected, Shriver writes as she calls for kindness and love to prevail. None of this is new. Yet, to read her words, from her perspective and experiences, reminds me that none of us are truly alone, unless we choose to be alone. Each of us deserves to be valued and appreciated. Heard.

An important message displayed at LARK Toys, Kellogg, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

She encourages each of us to pause before we pass along something we’ve read or heard as truth. Like Shriver, I have worked in journalism and understand the necessity of verification, of truthfulness. She calls for a social kindness movement. I’ll take kindness period in a world where kindness feels more and more elusive.

This quarter-sized token, gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann, lies on my computer desk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In the end, Shriver holds hope. And I do, too. Hope has been my focus word for many years. Hope, centered in my faith, has carried me through some especially difficult times. We’ve all had them—the struggles that stretch and challenge us. I hope you’ve never felt alone in difficulties. I haven’t.

I need to read books like I’ve Been Thinking…, to remind me of hope. To uplift and encourage and inspire me. To remember always to rest and reflect. To be still.

TELL ME: How do you work at being still? And what does “be still” mean to you?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Everybody just breathe,” a book review July 26, 2022

Photo source: Amazon

I’m so freaking tired of people thinking this virus is bullshit, and that only old or unhealthy people are being affected by it. It is so hard to listen to.

I pulled this quote from Everybody Just Breathe: A COVID Nurse Memoir of Stamina and Swear Words by Amanda Peterson, who worked for 11 months in a Minnesota metro hospital’s COVID ICU Unit beginning in March 2020. Her memoir documents her time there, in what she terms the longest shift of her life. This was primarily prior to vaccines.

Hers is a powerful book in so many ways, but mostly because Peterson takes readers into the ICU. She spares no details in patients’ deteriorating conditions, their struggles to survive, or not, how their families are affected and how she’s been impacted.

A early depiction of the coronavirus. Image source: CDC

I challenge anyone to read this book and not come away with a strong visual of how COVID wreaks havoc on the body beyond an inability to breathe. As a non-medical person, I didn’t fully understand how destructive this virus can be. I do now, thanks to Peterson’s stories from the ICU. The ravages of COVID for a critically ill patient are beyond nightmarish.

In her book, Peterson uses the fictional “Jack” as a COVID patient. Privacy laws necessitate this, but “Jack” represents all the patients she cared for during her time in a special COVID unit where an air filtration system roared and medical staff worked tirelessly to save lives while also comforting patients whose loved ones could not be with them.

Raw emotions of anger, fear, frustration and more pack the pages of this book. Often Peterson reminds herself to just breathe, like the patients she prompts to just breathe. Her two young children provide comic relief, noted in interspersed humorous quotes. She escapes into nature. Finds peace in prayer, strength through her faith. Support from her co-workers.

Yet, she reveals how she feels shunned, ignored, silenced, disrespected, even called a liar by the very people she’s trying to help. Her hurt is palpable. Yet, this ICU nurse carries on with caring.

Photographed in the window of The Rare Pair in Northfield early in the pandemic. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

She is, Peterson writes, tired of simultaneously fighting the virus and the public. A public whom she calls selfish in their unwillingness to, for example, wear face masks and/or avoid gathering in crowds. Again, this was in the beginning of the pandemic, but still applicable today as highly-transmissible variants spread, infect, hospitalize and kill. I ask you to wear a mask not out of fear but out of love, she writes. Peterson repeatedly stresses the love perspective, that we ought to think about others. Why, she asks, is love so hard? I wonder the same.

That a pandemic can bring out selfishness and ugliness instead of community and love is horrifying, Peterson writes. She notes how COVID has become politicized but that the virus doesn’t care about politics. She’s right.

I came to this book with hesitancy, not about the content, but wondering whether this would be well-written. Just pages into the memoir, I was hooked. Peterson can write. Her writing style is like a conversation, free flowing (with swear words tossed in the mix), honest, introspective, nothing held back. Her stories, insights, experiences are powerful. Emotional. At times I laughed out loud. Other times I nearly cried at the immense suffering, loss and pain.

I encourage you to read this memoir by a COVID ICU nurse from Hudson, Wisconsin, who is, undeniably, in the right profession. Peterson deserves our respect and thanks for not only the care she’s given to all the “Jacks,” but also for the telling of her experiences in this unforgettable, impactful book.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dime store memories in Plainview June 23, 2022

Plainview’s version of the old-fashioned dime store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

GRAB BAGS AND VINYL SINGLES. Goldfish and tiny turtles. And, oh, an endless assortment of whatever you needed, and didn’t need. Such are my dime store memories upon entering J.T. Variety & Toys in Plainview.

To the left, knick knacks. Center and to the right, supplies for crafters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This crammed-with-merchandise store along West Broadway in the heart of downtown Plainview hearkens to yesteryear when Ben Franklin and F.W. Woolworth stores dotted Main Street USA. J.T. Variety & Toys fits the dime store model.

A sign directs customers to the shop at 333 West Broadway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

And while I spotted no turtles, fish, grab bags or vinyl, the business offers a wide range of merchandise for all ages and interests.

Lots of fabric, lots of knick knacks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Need a gift for Aunt Gertie or your next-door neighbor or whomever? There are knick knacks and home décor items galore.

Lots of rainbow yarn choices. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Crafters—whether knitter or seamstress or some other creative—can shop an array of colorful yarn skeins cramming cubbies, folds of sorted-by-color fabric layering shelves, and much more. Choices are bountiful.

Flowers, shoes, knick knacks, craft supplies…so much merchandise packed into this small store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

The same goes for the selection of fake flowers splashing color into a display and spilling over into baskets lining the floor. Above the flowers I found a collection of summer shoes—flip flops, slip-ons shaped like insects…

Unlike the dime stores of old, credit cards are welcome at this variety store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

If I sound a tad giddy about J.T. Variety & Toys, it’s because I am. A lot of those feelings trace to childhood memories of shopping dime store aisles. Back in the day, I mostly looked because, coming from a poor farm family, buying usually wasn’t an option, except for necessities. I would stand for a long long time in the pet section at the back of Woolworths looking at those mini imported pet turtles, wishing for one.

The toy section. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I expect the kids of Plainview gravitate to the toy section of their local variety store with its puzzles and games, marbles and Play Doh, trucks and dolls, Little Golden Book and other books, and much more. I’d feel giddy if I was a kid with money to spend here.

Lots of great book choices. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Plainview is fortunate to have this homegrown business akin to the dime stores of old. It was here in this southeastern Minnesota small town, the day before our 40th wedding anniversary in mid-May, that my husband purchased a lovely anniversary greeting card while I paged through a storybook about Paul Bunyan. It wasn’t like he could buy a tiny imported pet turtle for me…

More yarn choices for crafters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

TELL ME: Do you have dime store memories? Have you discovered a store similar to J.T. Variety & Toys (Dollar stores don’t count)? I’d like to hear.

To learn more about Plainview, read my previous posts by clicking here. And watch for several more stories on this community northeast of Rochester in southeastern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“The Seed Keeper,” an award-winning book every Minnesotan should read June 21, 2022

Cover design by Mary Austin Speaker. Cover beadwork art by Holly Young. (Credit: Publisher, Milkweed Editions)

VISUALIZE A PACKET OF SEEDS. Then open the envelope and spill a handful of seeds onto your open palm. What do you see? You likely envision seeds planted in rich black soil, covered, watered, sprouting, growing, yielding and, then, harvested. And while that visual is accurate, seeds hold more. Much more.

Photographed at Seed Savers Exchange near Decorah, Iowa. The farm specializes in saving heirloom/heritage seeds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2018, used here for illustration only)

I just finished reading The Seed Keeper, Diane Wilson’s debut novel and winner of the 2022 Minnesota Book Award in the Novel & Short Story category. I’ve never felt so profoundly and deeply moved by a book rooted in history. Wilson’s writing is like a seed planted, nurtured, then yielding a harvest of insight and understanding.

Part of a public art installation at the Northfield Earth Day Celebration in April. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

Hers is the story of the Dakota people, specifically of several generations of women, The Seed Keepers. Hers is the story of a connection to the land, sky, water, seeds and of reclaiming that relationship. Hers is a story of wrongs done to indigenous people in Minnesota, of atrocities and challenges and struggles. Past and present. Hers is a story of wrongful family separation and of reuniting with family and community.

A full view of the art planted in Northfield for Earth Day. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

At the core of Wilson’s novel are the seeds. The seeds, stored in a willow basket, and eventually passed through the generations. The seeds that not only provided food for their families’ survival, but held the stories of Dakota ancestors and a way of life.

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on December 26, 1862. Wilson references the park, and the theme of forgiveness, in her novel. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2012)

The subject of this book holds personal interest to me because of its setting in southwestern Minnesota, site of The US-Dakota War of 1862. Wilson covers that war, including the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors in Mankato. As a native of Redwood County, I studied that war, even researched and wrote a term paper on the topic some 50 years ago. But I expect if I read that paper now, I would find many inaccuracies. My writing was shaped by the White (settlers’) narrative without consideration of the Dakota. I long ago realized the failings of that narrow-minded, biased perspective.

Even though I wasn’t taught the whole story, at least I was aware of The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. It was centered in my home region and in neighboring Brown County, where my maternal ancestors fled their rural New Ulm farm for safety in St. Peter. Many Minnesotans, I’ve discovered, are unaware of this important part of our state’s history.

The Seed Keeper, though fictional, reveals just how devastating this war was to the Dakota people in removal from their native land, in their imprisonment and in efforts by Whites to control and shape them. I found this sentence penned by the author to be particularly powerful: What the white settlers called progress was a storm of fury thundering its way across the land, and none of us were strong enough to withstand it.

This 67-ton Kasota stone sculpture stands in Reconciliation Park in Mankato. It symbolizes the spiritual survival of the Dakota People and honors the area’s Dakota heritage. The park is the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2019)

Still, strength sprouts and grows in The Seed Keeper through a riveting storyline that stretches back to Marie Blackbird in 1862 and then follows main character Rosalie Iron Wing through the decades to 2002. Even her name, Iron Wing, evokes strength and freedom. Rosalie marries a White farmer, births a son and her two worlds collide.

A photo panel at the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Center in St. Peter shows Dakota leaders photographed in Washington D.C. in 1858. The photo is from the Minnesota Historical Society. The quote represents the many broken treaties between the Dakota and the U.S. government. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013)

I was especially drawn to this statement by a Dakota elder in Wilson’s book: People don’t understand how hard it is to be Indian. I’m not talking about all the sad history. I’m talking about a way of life that demands your best every single day. Being Dakhóta means every step you take is a prayer.

Wilson writes with authenticity as a Mdewakanton descendant, enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation. She’s walked the steps of the Dakhóta.

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TELL ME: Have you read The Seed Keeper and, if so, what are your thoughts? I’d encourage everyone, Minnesotan or not, to read this award-winning novel.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

This Was 2020, more indie book success June 17, 2022

Award-winning This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

AS A LONG-TIME WRITER, I’ve accumulated a lengthy list of publication credits. That’s rewarding. Publication validates me as a writer. But it is knowing people are reading my work which proves especially rewarding.

The beginning of my poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I am thrilled to share that This Was 2020—Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year is the top circulating book across all Indie Author Project library collections in the U.S. and Canada thus far in 2022. My poem, “Funeral During a Pandemic,” is included in This Was 2020, an anthology of 54 poems and essays by 51 Minnesota writers. To earn the number one circulation spot is an achievement worth noting and celebrating.

This is exciting news added to the initial success of the book as the 2021 Minnesota Author Project award winner in the Communities Create category.

A summary and author list from the back cover. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I’m not surprised by the book’s success. The collection of stories and poems selected via a competitive process is remarkable—packed with experiences, insights, emotions and more. I feel humbled and honored to be a part of this awarding-winning book featuring the work of talented Minnesota writers.

Paul Lai, formerly with Ramsey County Library, deserves much credit for his hard work on this MN Writes MN Reads project. It’s a mega undertaking to organize a contest open to writers throughout the state and then work through the process to publication. But it doesn’t end there. Lai also organized book readings and kept writers like me informed. I am grateful for his talent, enthusiasm and dedication.

My bio printed in This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

If you haven’t read This Was 2020, I encourage you to do so. The book, Lai says, is available at all 14 library systems in Minnesota. Locally, Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault carries two copies. Writers need readers. And readers need writers. Thank you for reading.

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NOTE: This marks the second time my poetry has been included in a book vying for the Minnesota Author Project, Communities Create Award. In 2020, Legacies: Poetic Living Wills was a finalist for the honor. The book featured my poem, “Life at Forty Degrees,” and the poems of 15 other area poets.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Plainview: Jon Hassler’s “the village in the corn” June 15, 2022

A portion of the Plainview mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

LAND. PEOPLE. ARTS. COMMUNITY. Those words theme a public mural stretching across the Plainview Area Community and Youth Center in the heart of this southeastern Minnesota small town.

The mural graces a wall of the community center, across the street from the former Jon Hassler Theater. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I remember the mural from my last visit here in 2013. I appreciate this public art now as much as I did then, for art can reveal much about a place.

In the heart of the community, the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center, now closed. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2013)

While Plainview has lost some of its “arts” character with closure of the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center, it will always claim title (along with Staples) as the boyhood home (s) of noted Minnesota writer Jon Hassler. He moved to Plainview with his parents at the age of 10, remaining there until shortly after his 1951 high school graduation.

Hassler’s Grand Opening is based on Plainview.

Hassler, one of Minnesota’s most-beloved authors, focused his fiction on small town life. That includes Grand Opening, a novel based on Plainview. As in real life, the main character’s parents buy a run-down grocery store in rural Minnesota.

Source: Afton Press

While I have not yet read Grand Opening, I just finished Days Like Smoke, A Minnesota Boyhood. This is Hassler’s memoir, a manuscript published by Afton Press in 2021, many years after the author’s 2008 death. Edited by friend Will Weaver, another well-known Minnesota writer, this slim volume offers insights into Plainview, into Hassler’s experiences there and how that shaped his writing. He credits his parents’ Red Owl Grocery Store as the training grounds for his writing, the place where he acquired the latent qualities necessary to the novelist. In that grocery store, Hassler stocked shelves, ground coffee, interacted with and observed customers, and more.

The land (farming) is integral to the economy of Plainview, which is surrounded by corn and soybean fields. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This sentence in Hassler’s memoir is so telling of the influence Plainview had on his writing: I see the villagers passing along the checkout counter like the cast of characters they eventually turned out to be in my novel about this village in the corn. I love that phrase, “village in the corn,” for it fits agriculturally-based Plainview. The community is home to food processors, Plainview Milk Products Cooperative and Lakeside Foods, and celebrates Corn on the Cob Days each summer. Farming centers the local economy.

Two of the people featured on the mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

It’s the people, though, including the characters, who truly define community. And Hassler shares plenty from Plainview, where he lived across from the stockyards for awhile, tried to derail a train, played high school football for the Gophers, watched endless movies at the Gem Theater, bloodied the nose of a third grader, sat at the bedside of his dying 11-year-old friend, biked to the bluffs along the Whitewater River to camp and fish, served as an altar boy…

The mural includes a faith-based dedication to Pauline Redmond. She co-owned the North Country Anvil Magazine/Anvil Press with her husband, Jack Miller. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In his memoir, Hassler remembers St. Joachim’s Catholic Church and Immanuel Lutheran Church standing as sentinels of the soul at opposite ends of Main Street. That’s such an insightful visual. Hassler valued his Catholic upbringing and faith throughout his life. But he also admits in his memoir to the strong current of religious animosity running under the surface of daily life in the village of my youth between Catholics and Lutherans. This comes as no surprise to me, growing up in rural Minnesota with the same denominational tension.

People also define place as noted on the mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

It was that undercurrent—specifically the defeat of Hassler’s father in a school board election—which ultimately caused Hassler’s parents to leave Plainview and return to Staples. He writes: I, newly graduated from high school, loved Plainview too dearly to follow them.

The interior entrance to the Jon Hassler Theater, photographed during a 2013 visit to Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2013)

Hassler’s love for Plainview endured, long after he left to attend college, then to teach, then to write and then to retire in 1997 after 17 years as writer-in-residence at Saint John’s University. Visit Plainview today and you get a strong sense of the place that shaped this writer. While businesses and people have come and gone, at its core, this remains “the village in the corn.”

TELL ME: Have you read any of Jon Hassler’s 12 novels or his nonfiction? I’d love to hear your take on his writing and what books you recommend.

Please check back for more posts from Plainview next week. Be sure to read my previous posts on Plainview published this week.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling