Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Brainerd memories November 20, 2017

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Life could be compared to a beaded necklace, each bead representing a memory. Together the beads form a necklace, an accumulation of our life stories. Artist Cyrus Swann created this necklace with handmade porcelain beads and displayed at Crossing Arts Alliance in downtown Brainerd as part of the recent “ART TO WEAR, TEXTILES AND BEYOND” exhibit.

 

MORE AND MORE THESE DAYS, the quickness of time catches me by surprise like the first brisk wind of winter stinging my face.

 

Like the varied art in the “ART TO WEAR, TEXTILES AND BEYOND” exhibit, we each hold unique qualities, shaped by our experiences, our personalities and more. The center showcased garment is the work of Carolyn Abbott and is titled “Missus Carolyn Quite Contrary.”

 

I pull my wool jacket closer, tighten my scarf, wrap my hands in the warmth of gloves. Those actions won’t stop winter. But they keep me warm, comfortable.

So do positive memories.

 

This art by Lisa Jordan seems to hold years of memories.

 

Many decades of memories—difficult and joyful, mundane and remarkable, everyday and extraordinary—crowd my brain. Some seem so distant, as if another person lived that life in another place in another body.

In reviewing my life, I page through the chapters of growing up, of college and jobs and then marriage and family and, finally, today, the reality of a house now empty of children with Randy and me back at start.

 

 

We brought to our marriage those years when no connection existed between us. And those are the 25 years that still yield discoveries. On a recent trip to central Minnesota, we stayed two nights in Brainerd. Randy attended vocational school there more than 40 years ago. He knows the town. I don’t.

 

Chain businesses, and homegrown businesses, edge main routes in Brainerd. Many are new since Randy lived here in the mid 1970s.

 

But in four decades, things change. That proved the resounding theme. “That wasn’t there. That’s gone,” Randy repeated. And on and on. In the context of revisiting a community you left long ago, the reality of aging strikes hard.

 

I always appreciate public art, including this sculpture of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox on a downtown Brainerd street corner.

 

One of my favorite discoveries: this gathering space for knitters inside Utrinkets, a yarn, antiques and boutique shop along Laurel Street. Loved the place and the people.

 

It was nice to see this locally owned bridal and formal wear shop downtown.

 

Downtown carried a sense of emptiness, surprising us both as we pulled into Brainerd on a late mid-week afternoon in September. I held a preconceived image of a city crammed with mom-and-pop shops. Sure, they exist. But not as in you can’t find a place to park and we’ll never have enough time to get to all these shops (like in Park Rapids or Stillwater).

As a side note, while writing this post I learned that Brainerd is among two Minnesota cities recently selected as one of 20 finalists competing for the coveted spot of featured town in Small Business Revolution–Main Street, Season Three. The other is Owatonna, just a dozen miles from my home. The winner garners a substantial monetary prize and a Main Street revitalization plan.

 

No photo ban at the bridal shop, but a shoe ban instead, which makes sense.

 

But back to my Brainerd visit, where, after our stop downtown and a long day of travel, I wanted a craft beer. Much searching and many wrong turns, later, we eventually found Roundhouse Brewery in a railroad yard posted with signs forbidding photography. Photo bans irk me when I view so much visual storytelling potential. So I drank my beer, chatted it up with locals and simply enjoyed the evening before we headed to a hotel and dinner out.

 

I laughed at this sign outside Hockey House Minnesota in downtown Brainerd.

 

The next day we aimed north to Nisswa and Pequot Lakes, returning to our Brainerd hotel and a second town tour as the sun edged evening toward night. I tried to be patient while Randy wove the van down street after street, even snailing by Granny Growler’s house where he and two friends rented rooms and strained spaghetti in the bath tub. (The upstairs lacked a kitchen.) I’ve heard the tale too many times not to believe its truth.

 

The Crow Wing County Courthouse.

 

Randy talked of walking to the nearby vo-tech, now part of the high school campus, and reminisced about working in the tire shop at JC Penney. Or was it Sears? His words blurred, the memories he spoke holding much more meaning for him than for me.

 

The historic water tower, photographed as we drove by it.

 

The landmark Lions head drinking fountain, here since 1968.

 

 

Still, in the decades of change, some things remain unchanged in Brainerd—like the water tower and the lion’s head drinking fountain. There’s comfort in that, in tangible places that endure time, that still hold seasons of memories.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Vacation Bible School, past & present August 11, 2017

Maker Fun Factory: “Created by God, Built for a Purpose” was the theme of this week’s Vacation Bible School at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault.

 

MY, HOW VACATION Bible School has changed.

 

Volunteers, led by my friend Steve, created this amazing factory-themed set for VBS.

 

Back in the day, I joined other children in a one-room school singing familiar hymns to the accompaniment of a foot-pumped organ.

Today’s kids gather in an expansive sanctuary, belting out catchy tunes written specifically for VBS. They mimic the hand, arm and other motions in a video airing on multiple screens.

 

Volunteers created several robots for the set.

 

Back in the day, I sat on the steep steps of a Lutheran church devouring my peanut butter and jelly sandwich wrapped in waxed paper.

Today’s kids delight in heart-shaped Jello served with fruit and whipped cream in individual servings delivered by volunteers in an air conditioned fellowship hall.

 

Who knew painted cardboard boxes could be so much fun? Kids stacked and restacked these boxes, following the theme of “built for a purpose.”

 

Back in the day I laid and glued toothpicks side by side on a cardboard cross cut-out.

Today’s kids adhere self-adhesive foam stickers to foam crosses.

 

Steve crafted this musical instrument from PVC pipes with paper covered fly swatters used to hit the tops of the pipes, thus creating sound. Numerous interactive “toys” lined a hallway.

 

Back in the day I dreaded the call of “Red Rover, Red Rover, please send Audrey right over!” as I ran and tried to bust through the brawny arms of strong farm boys, failing every time.

Today’s kids stand in a line passing a ball backward into paper cups in a game of teamwork.

 

 

Back in the day I listened as the pastor read a bible story.

Today’s kids listen to a retired Christian day school educator share a bible story in an interactive and memorable way.

 

 

Back in the day, I learned that Jesus loves me, that he is always with me.

Today’s kids learn that Jesus loves them, that he is always with them.

While times change, certain truths remain. Unchanged.

 

TELL ME: If you have stories about Vacation Bible School, past or present, I’d like to hear.

 

FYI: I volunteered this week as a crew leader at my church’s VBS. In past years, I’ve done the photography. But because of my shoulder injury, I didn’t have the stamina yet to shoot photos for two hours. And that’s OK. I loved working directly with the kids. Sometimes change is good.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling