Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Remembering: Boys, blocks & 9/11 September 9, 2011

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THROUGHOUT THIS WEEK I’ve contemplated the post I would write about 9/11. And not once have I deviated from my initial idea.

So yesterday I headed to the basement and started digging through totes in search of building blocks and toy airplanes. I found the blocks, but not the planes. Those I discovered later while rummaging through my son’s upstairs bedroom closet.

Ten years ago, on September 11, 2001, my boy was only seven years old. He was home from school that day, not feeling well, when my husband phoned with news of the first plane crashing into the first tower.

I switched on the television. Typically I don’t have the TV on during the day and would not have known about the terrorist attacks until much later.

From that moment on, I could not take my eyes off the screen even though I worried about exposing my son and a younger boy in my care that day to the news coverage. How would they react? And did they truly understand the gravity of what was unfolding in our country?

I attempted to explain the situation, to tell the boys this was “real” and not some television show. They continued playing with whatever toys they had out at the time—I can’t recall.

But clearly they were listening and watching, for soon the two pulled a box of wooden building blocks from the toy box. Then they pulled out the toy airplanes.

I watched as my 7-year-old and his friend constructed teetering towers, then smashed those miniature planes into the towers. Blocks tumbled across the living room carpet.

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the towers.

They repeated the action: Build the towers. Fly the planes. Smash the towers. Build. Fly. Smash.

I could have cried over the loss of innocence—mine and theirs.

WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL memories of September 11, 2001? Please submit a comment and share your story.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My Minnesota childhood memories of Harmon Killebrew May 18, 2011

“BATTER UP!”

His voice cracked like the whack of wood against leather as I stepped up to the plate, bat handle vise-gripped in my hands, feet planted in packed gravel next to the rusted, cast-off disk from the disk harrow.

As my oldest brother lobbed the ball toward me, I swung, and as was typical of me, missed. I was aiming to hit the ball toward the barn and milkhouse at the edge of the farm yard, our ball field.

Almost every evening, as the sun inched lower in the prairie sky toward the greening fields of early spring and then into the hot, humid days of tasseling corn, my siblings and I traded chore gloves for softball gloves. “Let’s play ball,” we’d yell in unison.

And then the arguing would begin. “I’m Harmon Killebrew,” my oldest brother hollered, the name flying off his tongue with the speed of a fast pitch.

No matter how loudly the rest of us protested his call, we struck out. He was the eldest. If he wanted to be Killebrew, then he would be Killebrew.

We assumed the roles of other 1960s Twins greats like Tony Oliva and Rod Carew.

But we all wanted to emulate Killebrew, to swing the bat, to watch the ball powerhouse toward the barn roof, maybe even sail as far as the silo room or the cow yard beyond, well out of reach of our siblings’ outstretched hands.

Such are my memories of the Twins’ home run slugger.

I’ve never been to a Twins game, never met Killebrew, don’t watch or listen to baseball.

Yet, upon learning of Killebrew’s death, a twinge of melancholy swept across me as I thought of those pick-up farm yard softball games, the baseball cards my brothers collected and the static of my eldest brother’s transistor radio broadcasting a Twins game in the 1960s.

For all the sibling bickering over who would pretend to be Killebrew or Carew or Oliva, those post chores games score among the home runs of my rural Minnesota childhood.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Horse/Pferd crazy in Minnesota und Deutschland April 7, 2011

This isn't my stick horse; mine is long gone. But my parents made stick horses for my two daughters 20-plus years ago. This horse belongs to one of them.

GROWING UP ON A SOUTHWESTERN Minnesota farm, I wanted a horse. Bad. Really, really bad.

But Dad wasn’t buying my and my siblings’ pleas to “Please, please, pretty please, Dad, can we get a horse?”

He stood firm in his belief that horses were dangerous. And then he would give us the facts to back up his fear. Dad would regale us over and over again with the tale of the boy he’d seen lying in the Redwood Falls Hospital with a hoof print embedded in his forehead. Whether that story was entirely true or a bit of exaggeration, I’ll never know. I only knew, unequivocally, that Dad didn’t want any of his six kids kicked in the head by a horse.

I think he also had concerns about keeping an animal that wasn’t earning its keep on our dairy and crop farm. With tractors, he didn’t need horses that, in his opinion, would do nothing except consume corn and hay that he needed for the cattle.

And so my siblings and I improvised. Socks with eyes, mouths and ears and with yarn manes sewn on and then jammed onto sticks became our horses. Stick horses. I rode mine around the farmyard so much that I easily could have ridden to Montana and back.

These were the days, too, of television westerns like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Rawhide. These were the days of shooting cap guns and, even though this is certainly not politically-correct today, of playing “cowboys and Indians.”

When my siblings and I weren’t riding our stick horses with guns blazing, we were riding our bicycles. Up and down the driveway. On the rock-hard dirt paths we’d carved through the grove. We pedaled furiously, escaping robbers and savages on our bikes turned horses.

On occasion, we also straddled empty barrels, slipping our feet into stirrups we’d fashioned from baler twine. We were, if anything, innovative, resourceful and imaginative.

Dad wasn’t giving us our horse, so we made do.

For my oldest brother, making do also meant attempting to ride a steer. I don’t recall that he was ever bucked off. But I also don’t remember that he succeeded in his mission.

 

My second daughter went through a phase, when she was about four years old, of being obsessed with horses. She drew horse pictures non-stop. I read every horse book to her available through the southeastern Minnesota library system. And I bought her toy horses, all of which are still in a plastic tote for her to someday claim.

All of which brings me to this story. Have you heard about the 15-year-old German girl who trained a cow that she can ride like a horse? Her parents, like my dad, told her she couldn’t have a horse. So she improvised.

Shortly after Luna was born on the family’s farm two years ago, Regina Mayer started working with the animal. Her persistence paid off as she can now saddle up and ride the cow like a horse. Luna even is trained to jump over hurdles.

I like the spunk of this teen. Knowing what I know about cattle, I realize just how determined Regina had to be to get her “horse.”

Apparently my brothers, sisters and I weren’t determined enough. So, instead, we settled for sticks, bikes and barrels. And, on occasion, we cajoled a relative into riding her horse from several miles away to our farm. She would allow us to climb into the saddle for a walk around the farmyard. It was then that I discovered I really didn’t feel all that comfortable riding a horse. But I never told my dad. Not once.

 

One of the many horses in my second daughter's collection.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling