Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Minneapolis neighborhood to prison, one inmate’s life story June 13, 2017

 

NOT ALL THAT FAR from my home, across the historic viaduct spanning the Straight River, past the hospital and down the road a bit, razor wire tops fences surrounding the Minnesota Correctional Facility, Faribault.

Among the men incarcerated there is Zeke Caligiuri, prisoner and author.

I recently read his book, This Is Where I Am, a memoir that takes the reader from Caligiuri’s growing up years in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of south Minneapolis to a prison cell. His urban life was marked by school truancy, drug use and dealing, crime, violence, and a lack of purpose. All this despite loving parents and a grandmother who never gave up on him, who wanted and expected so much more. He doesn’t blame them for the choices he made.

I’ve never read a book like this because, well, I’ve never read a book written by an inmate. His story is both revealing and yet not so. I kept waiting for Caligiuri to share information on the crime that landed him a 34-year prison sentence in 1999. He never did. To me, the absence of that presents a gaping hole in an otherwise revealing read. For the record, he is in prison for robbery and second-degree murder with a scheduled release in 2022.

A threading theme throughout Caligiuri’s story seems to be an innate desire to change. Yet, the pull of environment, the pull of long-time friends, the pull of drugs, the pull of darkness overwhelmed him. Depression defined that darkness. Given the recent public shift toward addressing mental health issues, this particular part of the story is especially enlightening in its in-depth details. My heart hurt for the young adult overcome by an illness that is too often not addressed by society (although that seems to be changing).

Caligiuri doesn’t write about daily prison life as much as he writes about his feelings and his struggles to maintain his sanity within the confines of a penal institution. When he throws food out of his cell and when he hides a banned something (which he fails to identify) in his cell during a lockdown, I feel no sympathy for the rebellion, defiance and anger he holds. Perhaps I should. But then my thoughts trace back to his crime.

How you view this book depends, I think, on your experiences. If you have been personally affected by violent crime either directly or indirectly through a family member or friend as I have been, you will probably react differently than a reader who has never been victimized.

I appreciate, though, this honesty in Caligiuri’s book: I looked around and everyone had a story about getting f****d by the system, or by their best friend, or the mother of their kids.

Blame, blame, blame…anyone but themselves for their incarceration. That this inmate-writer recognizes that lack of responsibility and accountability is noteworthy.

The author considers himself a much different person than the young adult who entered prison nearly two decades ago. That is evident through the telling of his story. He’s clearly proven himself as an author with a unique voice. He can write. He’s educated himself. He’s matured. In five years he’ll leave prison, trying to determine his new role in the world away from the men who have become his family and away from the place that’s been home for so long.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Set in central Minnesota, a psychological thriller draws my personal interest May 5, 2017

 

I BLAME IT ALL on Nancy Drew. She is the reason I read mysteries more than any genre. The series was especially popular when I was growing up.

So it’s no surprise that, after reading a review of a debut mystery written by Minnesotan Frank F. Weber, I simply had to get my hands on Murder Book. His publicist obliged.

 

Frank F. Weber grew up in Pierz, Minnesota.

Frank F. Weber grew up in Pierz, Minnesota.

 

But there’s more to this I need to read this book than its mystery classification. The author grew up in Pierz. My husband likewise is from the area and knew the Weber family. Frank’s mom was Randy’s teacher, a brother a classmate.

The book is set primarily in and around Pierz. I was curious to see how the setting would weave into the plot. We writers are often advised to “write what you know.” The author’s familiarity with rural Morrison County and its people and his knowledge as a forensic psychologist are deeply imprinted throughout this fictional story.

Murder Book held my interest from beginning to end as I tried to determine what happened to 16-year-old Mandy Baker who vanished, followed by the disappearance of an 11-year-old girl some 10 years later.

The story narration switches between the main character, Jon Frederick, key suspect in Mandy’s disappearance and now a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator; Serena Bell, Jon’s long ago love interest; and the perpetrator, Panthera. This method of storytelling offers in-depth character insights that define this book as a psychological thriller. Jon, for example, exhibits obsessive traits in his fixation on numbers and more. Panthera’s narcissism shows in his thought process and horrific crimes.

This is much more than simply a whodunit story of crimes, resolution of those crimes and a look at minds of criminals, the accused and victims. The author, raised in a Catholic family of 10 children, incorporates the region’s strong Catholicism and faith base into his book. I would expect that in a story set in Pierz.

Throughout the story, Weber also includes powerful statements that are especially credible in the context of his extensive experience as a forensic psychologist. According to his back book cover blurb, he has completed assessments for homicide, sexual assault and physical assault cases. In particular, I took note of these statements written into this work of fiction:

The perfect victim is the one who never goes to the police.

You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.

Narcissists…can’t stand being denied.

No family member comes out of a bad situation unscathed…

Our most powerful drive is a desire for affirmation—to be heard, understood, comforted, and soothed.

There’s one more nuance of setting that I appreciate about Weber’s book. He writes about rocks pocking the landscape of Morrison County. I have seen many a rock pile in this central Minnesota region and heard many a story about rock picking from my husband. And now I’ve heard another, this time associated with a fictional crime.

FYI: Murder Book, the title of Weber’s mystery, is defined as follows: the twenty-first century term for a cold case where a homicide is suspected.

His book, published by North Star Press of St. Cloud, releases May 9. For more information, click here.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Images and my review copy are courtesy of Krista Rolfzen Soukup at Blue Cottage Agency.

 

The B’s have it with bargain books, bluebirds, Big Bang Boom & beer April 21, 2017

I LOVE BOOKS. And I love a bargain.

Combine the two and you have a used book sale. This week and next, book lovers in my area have opportunities to shop two used book sales.

The first, the annual Faribault American Association of University Women’s Book Sale opened Thursday at the Faribo West Mall and continues through April 25. Hours are from 10 a.m. to mall closing on April 21 – 23 and then from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. April 24 – 25. There’s an added activity—a Kids’ Karnival from 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

 

Books I selected from the “Minnesota table,” albeit Prairie Perpendicular (one of my all-time favorite fiction books) is set in small North Dakota farming community and written by a North Dakotan. I bought these at a past AAUW Book Sale. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I try to shop this sale every year, looking primarily for vintage and Minnesota-themed/authored books. But now that I have a one-year-old granddaughter I likely will also spend more time in the children’s books section.

 

Books my son purchased at a past AAUW sale. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

When my son was still home—he’s 23 now and living in Boston—he would haul home bags of fantasy and science fiction titles. He’s a voracious reader.

Just up the road about 15 miles, the Northfield Hospital Auxiliary is hosting its 56th annual book sale from April 25 – 29 at the Northfield Ice Arena. This is a mega sale where you can easily spend hours perusing books, puzzles, DVDs, CDs and vinyl. Hours are from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. April 25, from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. April 26 – 28 and from 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. April 29. Books are free from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. on the final day.

 

I found this vintage (perhaps 1960s) booklet at last year’s AAUW Book Sale. I love the graphics. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I appreciate the efforts of the many volunteers who collect, haul, organize and sell these used books and more as a service to the community and as a way to raise monies for scholarships, community projects and more.

TELL ME: Do you shop an annual used book sale? Where? What draws you there?

 

Promo courtesy of the Bluebird Recovery Program.

 

NOW ABOUT THOSE BIRDS…the Bluebird Recovery Program of Minnesota holds its annual expo from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday at the Northfield Middle School. If bluebirds interest you as much as books interest me, then consider attending this event. Click here to learn more about “bringing back bluebirds for future generations.” Expo registration cost is $15 or $25 for registration and lunch.

 

Big Bang Boom. Photo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

IT WON’T COST YOU anything to attend a concert at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault. The free concert by the pop/rock music trio Big Bang Boom is geared toward families.

 

Faribault artist Rhody Yule (now deceased) created this oil painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery in 1976. The building, and the brewery, no longer exist. The 20-foot Fleck’s beer bottle on the right side of the painting sat near the brewery entrance. Children often had their pictures taken here when their parents took a brewery tour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ADULTS WITH AN INTEREST in Minnesota brewing history will want to attend the Fleckenstein Brewery Walking Tour in Faribault on Saturday. Sponsored by the Rice County Historical Society and led by local Fleckenstein historian Brian Schmidt, the popular tours will be offered at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Good walking/hiking shoes are a must. Click here for more info and/or call 507-332-2121 to reserve a tour spot. The tours are filling quickly; don’t expect to get in if you just show up.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II from La Crosse: The impressive Pearl Street Books March 23, 2017

The tiled entry to Pearl Street Books reveals its history as the home of Arenz Shoe Company, founded in La Crosse and once housed at 323 – 327 Pearl Street. The La Crosse shoe store once boasted eight stores in Wisconsin and Iowa. Today only one, a fifth generation family-owned Arenz Shoes, remains open in nearby Sparta, Wisconsin. 

 

FIRST I NOTICED the sprawling oak and the organic shoe store message of Quality to the Roots embedded in the entry way tile.

 

 

Then I glanced to the window display and the heart shaped note of appreciation purposely placed among earthy books.

 

 

Both drew me inside Pearl Street Books as if I really need anything to get me inside a bookstore. I don’t.

 

An overview of the bookstore taken from the second floor and looking toward the front.

 

Ladders slide along the built-in towering shelves allowing access to the books.

 

Chairs scattered between shelves invite shoppers to sit and peruse books.

 

But I’ve never been in a book shop like Pearl Street Books in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin. I walked inside and then just stood there for a minute taking in the scene before me.

 

The wood floor lends a signature vintage look to Pearl Street Books.

 

A Minnesota mom snapped a photo of her daughter and I asked to do likewise. Shortly thereafter the daughter climbed much higher and was kindly asked to come down for safety reasons.

 

This inviting section houses kids’ books, new and used.

 

From the worn wood floor that speaks of age and history to the ladders that slide along side shelves packed with books to the massive quantity of books, this place impresses. The shopkeeper working the day I visited said 55,000 volumes fill this store. Now I don’t know how that compares to your average mass market book retailer. But for an indie bookstore, I’d guess that’s a significant number beyond the norm.

 

Just another overview from upstairs.

 

This beautiful stairway leads to the upper floors, including a lounge space on the second floor for book groups or just a spot to hang out.

 

You could spend hours here…

 

Pearl Street Books, on its Facebook page, bills itself as a specialty used, new, collectible and antique bookstore that “can procure almost anything.”

 

My husband purchased this updated adult version of the Dick and Jane books.

 

 

Pearl Street Books offers some additional merchandise such as these bumper stickers.

 

Based on the extensive inventory, I believe that statement. And, yes, I bought a book and so did my husband.

TELL ME: Have you ever visited Pearl Street Books or a similar bookstore?

FYI: Please check back for more stories as I continue my series from La Crosse, Wisconsin. Click here to read my first story.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Don’t tell me you’re “fine” when you’re not & other insights March 5, 2017

 

HOW ARE YOU? I’ve never liked that question, even realizing the underlying kindness that laces those three trite words.

The standard answer of “I’m fine” is expected. The truth most often is not.

 

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Now Minneapolis writer Nora McInerny Purmort—who has faced her share of “I’m not fine” days—tackles the “How are you?” question in a podcast series from American Public Media. Terrible, (Thanks for Asking) is a must-listen series in which Nora seeks only honest responses to “How are you?”

I’ve listened to one podcast thus far. “Unbroken” features an interview with sexual assault survivor Sarah Super. It’s an incredible, horrible, powerful and, yes, sometimes graphic, story. But so worth your time for the insights revealed. Sarah is one strong woman. And we can learn so much from her about the importance of speaking up, of being heard and more.

Both she and Nora address the issue of silence. And, yes, I picked that from the interview because silence is all too pervasive. I’m talking the hard, uncomfortable silence that those who have suffered trauma, those who are dealing with health issues, those who are facing unimaginable difficulties and challenges hear. Yes, hear. Silence truly can be deafening.

Sarah cites the reason many friends and loved ones remained silent following her assault: “I didn’t know what to say or do.”

Puh-lease.

“Your silence,” Sarah says, “feels like apathy.” The definition of apathy is lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. Lack of. Imagine how that feels to your loved one who is hurting. Lack of.

Nora reiterates Sarah’s thoughts: “Silence hurts when you are on the other end of something awful.”

In an interview with National Public Radio about her podcast series, Nora repeats, “The worst thing—and it doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with death, or if you’re dealing with all of these other things that we’ve talked to people about—silence is the worst thing you can hear from people.”

She gets it. Within six weeks, this young woman lost her father to cancer, miscarried and then lost her husband to brain cancer. Since then, Nora has authored the book It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool, Too). And now the enlightening podcasts have followed.

What can we learn from all of this? My take-away is this: First, we need to speak up, to end the silence, to really care when we ask someone, “How are you?” And then we need to listen, really listen. That means setting aside our stories, our comments, our whatever, and truly focusing on what the other person is telling us. It’s about them. Not us.

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CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a way that Minnesota is breaking the silence on an issue that affects all of us, directly or indirectly.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A bedtime story from the Kenyon Police Department January 9, 2017

my-daddy-snores

 

I’VE WRITTEN HERE before about the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page. It’s a feel-good innovative use of social media. Truly positive and refreshing.

Now there’s one more reason to love this Facebook page. Officer Goodman (a puppet) has joined the KPD family. He makes his debut this evening by reading a children’s picture book, My Daddy Snores written by Nancy Rothstein and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.

This might just be a new bed-time routine for you and your kids. Or you. There’s something comforting about a police officer puppet reading a story as if he’s a schooled children’s librarian. Or simply a police chief who continues to care deeply for others. That would be Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Recommended Minnesota reads December 5, 2016

THIS TIME OF YEAR, when daylight fades too early into evening darkness, when I want nothing more than to stay indoors cozied against the Minnesota cold, I find myself gathering books. Stashing, stacking, sequestering them in my home.

And then I read, snugged into a corner of the reclining sofa that no longer reclines (unless the husband yanks on the redneck handle he’s improvised to replace the broken pull). I tuck into a fleece throw in hues that linger autumn.

Then I read. Of mystery in prose and poetry. Of fictional places. Of memories. Words wrapping stories around me. Writers writing so I can read. Of their experiences. Of their imaginations. Of their struggles and joys and moments.

Often I choose to read local, a subconscious decision tracing to my years writing book reviews for a now-defunct Minnesota magazine. But I am also drawn to Minnesota writers because of the connection I have to them. We are, or were, of this place, of these people.

In honor of Minnesota reads, I direct you to these books:

 

under-minnesota-skies

 

Under Minnesota Skies: John and Dorothy Hondl Family History and Farm Memories, penned by sisters Bernadette Hondl Thomasy and Colleen Hondl Gengler, is promoted as a family memoir of farm life in the 1940s-1960s that reflects on Czech and German heritage. The farm referenced in the book sits near Owatonna and has been in the Hondl family since 1881.

I can relate to much of the book’s content. The hard work and joys of farm life. Making hay. Filling silo. Tending livestock. This memoir, too, prompts long-forgotten memories of licking Gold Bond Stamps, of the South St. Paul Stockyard, of listening to WCCO 8-3-0, of driving tractor, of yearning for books.

Turning the pages of Under Minnesota Skies is like flipping the pages of a photo album detailing rural life. Except in words. Email the authors at kbthomasy at aol.com or dcgeng at frontiernet.net to purchase an autographed copy. Or buy the book at Little Professor Book Center in Owatonna or online at amazon.

 

ts-book-cover-2016

 

Voices: Past & Present, The Talking Stick Volume 25, is an eclectic collection of writing by Minnesota authors, or those with a strong Minnesota tie. Published by the northern Minnesota Jackpine Writers’ Bloc, this anthology includes 139 poems, 26 pieces of creative nonfiction and 20 works of fiction from 118 writers. So a good sampling of Minnesota talent.

Getting published in this book is a competitive process. Two of my poems, “Confessions in a Grocery Store Parking Lot” and “Prairie Garden Memories” are among the works printed in this 25th anniversary edition. Order on amazon.

 

farm-country-christmas

 

Finally, anyone interested in rural life, should read the books penned by prolific husband and wife team Gordon and Nancy Fredrickson of Lakeville. The pair offer children’s picture books in their “A Farm Country” and “If I Were a Farmer” series. They have also written American Farm Heritage and poetry volumes for adults.

The Fredricksons’ books truly are a tribute to the rural way of life. These books can be purchased on the authors’ website, via amazon or at these Minnesota locations: Secret Attic in Northfield; The Old Hotel, New Market; and Bongards Cheese Shop, Bongards.

TELL ME: What local books have you read? What local books are you purchasing as Christmas gifts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling