Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Words from a grandma: Even when she’s not here, she’s still here May 17, 2018

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SEVEN RED PLASTIC MONKEYS dangle, their arms linked.

 

 

Nearby, six children’s picture books, including one about trains, stack on the worn beige carpet.

Across the living room, a colorful woven basket, purchased for a buck at a garage sale, holds more books, a spiky purple ball, a bag of blocks, a doll with ratty hair and more.

All remind me of my sweet granddaughter, here for an overnight weekend stay. I can still feel the softness of Izzy’s curls, the curl of her tiny hand in mine, the touch of her sticky peanut butter and jelly fingers.

I can still hear her fits of giggles while she watched a toddler just months younger. I can hear her counting—up to six. I can hear her asking for Grandpa to play on the living room floor and later to run with her.

I can see, too, her long legs carrying her up and back down our backyard hill. I can see the outline of her little hands traced onto purple construction paper—wings for the butterfly I helped her craft for her mama. I can see her tossing her uncle’s teddy bears down the long stairway toward my office, the room where she sleeps when she stays.

 

 

I can’t taste how she tastes or smell what she smells. But I know Izzy loves strawberries and chocolate and milk by the cupfuls. She drinks from a green cup and eats from a Peter Rabbit plate and bowl at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. She has that certainty of routine and familiarity. And love.

This time with my now two-year-old granddaughter delights me. I want Izzy to understand just how much and how deeply I love her. I would read books to her and wipe her sticky fingers and catch falling teddy bears for her every day if I could.

 

TELL ME: If you’re a grandparent, what brings you joy in grandparenting? Or tell me what joyful memories you have of your grandparents.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The simple joys of life with kids on a spring day in rural Minnesota May 8, 2018

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IT TOOK TWO SWEET KIDS to remind me just how joyful the early days of spring on a rural Minnesota acreage.

 

My favorite photo of Evelyn and Landon as my great niece celebrated her birthday on Sunday.

 

On Saturday, Randy and I watched our great niece and nephew while their parents celebrated their wedding anniversary with an all-day date. We were happy to do so. We love these two little ones who live within miles of our home. The family moved here a few years ago, our only family so close. The kids call Randy “Papa Two.” I’m just Audrey.

 

 

With sunshine and summer-like weather, we spent the entire day outdoors. Roaming. Playing. Running (the kids, not us). By mid-afternoon, the pair had successfully exhausted us. By then, Grandma and Grandpa arrived as our tag-team replacement.

 

 

It was a busy and adventurous day. I’m more cautious in my approach to caring for children than my husband. So when I observed Randy allowing the two to climb among the branches of a lilac (I think) bush, I advised against it. “You gotta let ‘em be kids,” he said. OK, but I wanted them safe and uninjured. Other than a slight slip from a branch and resulting tears, they were just that. OK.

 

 

 

 

I played side-by-side with Landon and Evelyn in the sandbox, pushed them in swings, supervised the watering of greenhouse plants.

 

 

 

We petted goats and watched chickens.

 

 

And we paused, too, to smell the perfume of apricot blossoms.

 

 

Landon told us that he wants to work on tractors when he grows up. No surprise there. He’s crazy about John Deere. And after observing his barbering skills on his little sister’s hair, I advised against that as a career.

Evelyn wants to be a horse girl, whatever that means. She already has the cowgirl boots, which I pulled on and off her feet multiple times. She prefers bare feet to the trappings of socks and shoes.

I love that these siblings would rather be outdoors than anywhere. I love that they have such good imaginations. We sat on the front stoop and in lawn chairs and “fished” with tiki torches, landing five tuna and past-our-limit walleyes from the front lawn “lake.”

 

 

We picked up sticks and loaded them into Landon’s mini gator which he steered like a seasoned farmer across the yard to the campfire pit. His efforts, though, to convince us to start a fire failed. While he and Evelyn can persuade us to do a lot, starting a fire on a hot and windy afternoon was not one of them.

 

 

Piggyback (or maybe horseyback for Evelyn) rides and tiny hands clasped in ours…such sweet moments. I’ll take them. Kids remind us that we need to pause in life, to take a day just to delight in the sunshine, the great outdoors, the carefree days of childhood.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, to be a kid at a wedding September 10, 2014

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KIDS ARE SO MUCH a part of my niece’s life that their participation in her September 6 wedding seemed natural and fitting. Carlyn works in her mom’s family daycare.

Darling flower girls, Ellen and Lainey, never made it to the front of the church to stand with the rest of the bridal party. One of the two burst into tears and then both wedged onto the laps of the bride’s parents, who cuddled these little girls for much of the service. That’s how much my eldest brother and his wife love these two.

The ring bearers, Hank and Connor, cute as cute can be in their black pants, white shirts and suspenders and dress shoes, managed to reach the front of the church. But then they roamed throughout the ceremony. Down the aisle and back up front. Then reverse.

No crying, though, after the initial flower girl’s outburst. So that was good. The cuteness factor just made you smile.

Two wedding guests and ringbearer Hank gathered on the church sidewalk next to the receiving line.

Two wedding guests and ring bearer, Hank, gathered on the church sidewalk next to the receiving line.

Afterward, during the hour-long congratulatory/receiving line process, kids played, wandered and ran outside the church. And when I spotted three of them, including my great nephew Hank, focused on something on the sidewalk, I honed in with my camera. They were oblivious to my presence.

Focused on...

Focused on…

What, I wondered, fascinated them?

Hank needed a drink from his sippie cup, which he toted around most of the afternoon.

Hank needed a drink from his sippie cup, which he toted around most of the afternoon.

Birdseed. Bagged birdseed to be opened and tossed at the bride and groom. It takes so little to entertain kids.

I wish many times now that life was as simple and uncomplicated as opening a bag of birdseed and spilling the contents onto a sidewalk.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Troll tales November 23, 2012

Norway native Steinar Karlsen carved this troll at the 25th annual 2002 Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival in Moorhead.

EVER SINCE I WAS a little girl, trolls have held a special fascination for me.

That curiosity and, yes, even a tinge of fear, relate to the storybook, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. In that Norwegian folk tale, three different-sized goats attempt to cross a bridge under which lurks a hungry troll. The smallest goat tricks the troll into waiting for the middle-sized goat which tricks the troll into waiting for the biggest goat which then bucks the troll into the river.

Can you understand how this might both frighten and empower?

This bridge, near Hammond in southeastern Minnesota, is similar in style to the Minnesota River “troll bridge” of my youth. The “troll bridge” along Minnesota Highway 19 near Morton was replaced by a more modern bridge. But the old one, last I traveled that section of roadway, still stands nearby. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, 2010.)

I always thought of this goat-trolling troll whenever my father steered the family car across the Minnesota River bridge near Morton on our annual trip to “the Cities” to visit relatives. My anxiety level rose ever so slightly as the car curved down Minnesota Highway 19 toward the bridge.

In the back seat, my four siblings and I (the youngest sat up front) and grandpa, packed shoulder to shoulder, curled our fingers into clenched fists, prepared to take on that troll—by pounding with determined ferocity on the interior roof of the car.

My other childhood troll encounter occurred when I turned nine and celebrated my one and only birthday party ever with classmates. One friend gifted me with a wild, pink-haired troll which stood a mere inch or so tall. She, the troll, not the friend, was also a piece of jewelry with a pin attached.

I treasured that troll, still do, because trolls were popular then and I had none. Suddenly, I was just like my classmates; I owned a troll, albeit a teeny one.

A side shot of the two trolls carved by Steinar Karlsen and displayed at the Hjemkomst Center. Since 1990, this artist has created 400-plus life-sized human sculptures and hundreds of animals, birds and sea life.

Imagine how thrilled I was decades later when my girls were preschool and early elementary ages and trolls were back in vogue. I bought them doll-sized trolls to cuddle and families of mini trolls. The bright-haired ogres lined the window in their toy room, their mops of hair bleaching in the morning sun.

Trolls evoke such a mix of memories for me. How about you?

BONUS PHOTOS, just because I have no other category into which to slot these two Hjemkomst Center images, but wanted to share them:

A beautiful and historic mosaic graces a wall in the entry to the Hjemkomst Center.

Next to that troll bench carved by Steinar Karlsen are these flags hung from the balcony railing overlooking an atrium. I couldn’t find any info as to the reason these specific flags are there.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling