Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I’ve never been so happy to hang laundry on the line June 30, 2017

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I KNOW THIS PHOTO is not particularly creative, interesting or exciting. I snapped it with my cell phone because I am unable to use my much heavier and bulkier Canon DSLR due to a right shoulder fracture.

But to me this image represents healing, recovery, progress, accomplishment. For the first time in nearly six weeks, I hung laundry on the line yesterday. To do this again gives me joy. Yes, I am a hanging-laundry-on-the-line fanatic.

But how did I manage one-armed and especially with my laundry room down a flight of stairs in the basement? Planning.

The husband provided some start-up assistance by taking the dirty towels and sheets to the basement before leaving for work. Once the first load was done, I continued with my plan.

I strategically placed an empty laundry basket on the rag rug just inside the kitchen door then headed downstairs. As I pulled bedding from the washing machine, I placed the sheets and pillowcases on the edge of the appliance. I then carried them upstairs in the crook of my left arm. Yes, I took the steps slow and steady because the last thing I want is to reinjure my healing right humerus by falling.

Once in the kitchen, I dumped the wet bedding into the laundry basket, propped open the exterior door and used my hip, left side and left arm to wrangle the basket onto the back steps. The movable clothesline stretches across the patio just out the back door.

Then with some careful draping and clothespins in hands and mouth, I managed to secure the sheets to the line.

Since my May 22 fall and resulting bone break, I’ve been unable to do many basic household tasks. Everything in general requires much more time and effort. It’s exhausting. Preparing a simple salad for lunch, for example, takes upwards to a half hour. I wash and slice with a left hand that has not adapted well to being the dominant appendage. It’s rather comical at times to watch myself.

I am frustrated by the difficulty or impossibility of doing simple things—opening a stubborn plastic clamshell, pulling apart bunched bananas, opening a can of food, closing a storm window, clipping my toenails, shaving my underarms, shutting a car door, tightening my belt, putting in my earrings, slipping on a shirt…

These tasks/movements are so routine that you never think about them until you can’t do them. But my disability is only temporary and I am getting better. For many others, their disabilities are permanent and there will be no “better.” I get that and I have no reason to complain.

With permission now granted to have my arm out of the protective sling while at home (but with still restricted movement), I feel myself regaining muscle strength. I still experience pain and frustration. But that’s to be expected. Next week I hope to start physical therapy beyond the exercises I am doing at home.

And I plan to continue hanging laundry on the line. Unless rain is in the forecast.

TELL ME: Have you ever dealt with a temporary or permanent disability and how did you adapt? What frustrated you?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Yes, I hang laundry on a clothesline May 3, 2017

Vintage tablecloths, clothes and towels hang on my backyard clothesline in this November 2009 photo.


Clothespins? Who uses a clothes line anymore?

Minnesota Public Radio writer Bob Collins posed that question yesterday in a NewsCut column about a Cloquet matchstick and toothpick manufacturer that is closing. The plant also made wooden clothespins at one time.


I hang laundry out in all seasons. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2014.


My immediate reaction to Bob’s question was to raise my hand high. I am a devoted user of an outdoor clothesline and a drying rack, when Minnesota weather necessitates indoor usage. Several readers commented on Bob’s column that they use clothespins. For laundry and for clipping shut snack bags.

Why do I hang laundry on the line when I could just throw everything into the dryer?


Snow does not stop me from hanging laundry outside. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2015.


I enjoy hanging wash on the line. Yes, even in the winter, if the sun is shining bright and the patio (where my clothesline is stretched) is cleared of snow and ice.


The clothespins I use are weathered from years of exposure to the elements. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


There’s something comforting about the rhythm of clipping wet clothing, sheets and towels to the line. Grab two or more clothespins, choose a piece of damp laundry, then clip. Grab, choose, clip. Grab, choose, clip.


Laundry on my clothesline. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


There’s a certain pleasure in slowing down, in ignoring the busyness of life to do this simple act of hanging out the laundry. I’ve learned to appreciate the crispness of the morning air, the sharpness of a cardinal’s trill, the nuances of a breaking day. And I’ve learned, too, to appreciate more the warmth of my home as I step back inside, fingers stiff from hanging out laundry in 30-some degree temps.


In my opinion, nothing beats line-dried laundry. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


When I hang laundry, I am, in those minutes, free of life’s worries, calmed by simply being outdoors, separated from stressors, focused solely on the methodical and therapeutic task at hand. By habit I hang the heaviest items, such as socks and jeans, in the full morning sun for maximum drying exposure.


Laundry drapes over a chain link fence on a balcony along Third Street N.E. in downtown Faribault, just across the alley from the post office. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2015.


Hanging laundry outside offers the benefit also of fabric that smells of the outdoors—of sunshine and fresh air woven within the fibers. There’s the satisfaction, too, of saving money via solar power.


Monday wash day in the Amish community of Eden Hollow, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.


Who uses a clothes line anymore?


I cannot imagine so many grasshoppers that they obliterated everything, including clothing hung out to dry. I photographed this info at a Minnesota Historical Society exhibit on disasters in April 2016 at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna.


I do. And I have no intention of discontinuing that practice any time soon…unless Minnesota experiences another Grasshopper Plague.

TELL ME: Do you hang laundry outdoors? If yes, why?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The clothesline beyond laundry July 23, 2015

STORY UPDATED at 4:15 p.m. Thursday.

A display from The Clothesline Project. Image from The Clothesline Project website.

A display from The Clothesline Project. Image from The Clothesline Project website.

ON SUNDAY, JULY 26, a clothesline takes on an entirely different purpose than drying laundry as the Crisis Resource Center of Steele County and Redeemer Lutheran Church of Owatonna bring The Clothesline Project to Central Park in Owatonna. Begun in Cape Cod in 1990, the national art project raises awareness about violence against women. Those impacted by such violence express their emotions by writing on t-shirts. The shirts are then strung on a clothesline.

This shirt was added to The Clothesline Project four years ago by Kim Sisto-Robinson of Duluth. It honors her sister Kay, who was murdered by her husband in 2010.

This shirt was added to The Clothesline Project four years ago by Kim Sisto-Robinson of Duluth. It honors her sister Kay, who was murdered by her husband in 2010.

The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women manages The Clothesline Project traveling exhibit in Minnesota. Eighty decorated shirts representing the 80 individuals killed through domestic violence in Minnesota during the past three years are part of the display coming to Owatonna.

From 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. Sunday, attendees can create and view t-shirts honoring victims and survivors of domestic violence. A ceremony begins at 4 p.m. with remarks by the Rev. Kirk Griebel, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran; reading of a mayoral proclamation declaring July 26 as Domestic Violence and Abuse Awareness Day in Owatonna; and remarks from Crisis Resource Center and law enforcement representatives.

The back of the shirt includes the names of Kay's three children. Kim found the lips blotted on a piece of paper in one of Kay's books. A Duluth printed printed them on the shirt. Kay kissed everything with her big pink lips, says her sister.

The back of the shirt includes the names of Kay’s three children. Kim found the lips blotted on a piece of paper in one of Kay’s books. A Duluth printer printed them on the shirt. Kay kissed everything with her big pink lips, says her sister.

The Clothesline Project promises to be a powerful visual focused on raising awareness about domestic abuse and violence. I encourage you to attend. I expect every single one of you knows a woman and/or family that has been impacted by this. I do. Many.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every three women will suffer some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime. For men, that number is one in four. Remember also that domestic abuse is not always physical. It can also be emotional, mental, spiritual and social.

Do all you can as an individual to stand strong against domestic abuse and violence. Refuse to remain silent.

As Pastor Griebel said in remarks at the Owatonna City Council meeting Tuesday evening, “Silence provides a cover for those who perpetrate domestic violence and abuse, while breaking the silence of domestic violence and abuse allows healing to begin.”

Powerful words.

Come on Sunday. Create a t-shirt. Join those who are choosing to break the silence.


FYI: If you are currently in an abusive relationship, seek help. Call a local safe haven/resource center or the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Leaving an abuser is an especially dangerous time. Seek help and have a safe plan to leave. You will need a protection plan for a year or longer after leaving your abuser. There are people willing to help. You are worth it. You deserve to live free of abuse of any form.


Kim has made it her mission to speak out against domestic violence. She is the voice of her sister Kay, pictured here.

Kim Sisto-Robinson has made it her mission to speak out against domestic violence. She is the voice of her sister Kay, pictured here. The shirt Kay is wearing is now part of The Clothesline Project.

I would also encourage you, dear readers, to click here and read My Inner Chick, a blog written by Kim Sisto-Robinson of Duluth, Minnesota. Kim’s sister, Kay, was murdered by her husband in 2010. This blog is one of the most powerful I’ve read on the subject of domestic abuse and violence. Kim’s words will empower you and give you hope. She writes: “Kay was silenced, but her voice lives through me.”

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thank you to Kim Sisto-Robinson for sharing the photos of her sister and of The Clothesline Project shirt honoring Kay.


Honoring the clothesline July 22, 2015

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ON A RECENT AFTERNOON, I hustled outside to pull laundry from the line during an unanticipated downpour.

I rushed along three lengths of clothesline, unclipping clothing I’d hung hours earlier when the sun shone with the promise of a good drying day despite the intense humidity. Now I was hauling everything inside to dry in the dryer or on a clothes drying rack. In the process, I was soaked.

I am a clothesline drying devotee, choosing to hang laundry outdoors any day, even in the cold of a 30-degree Minnesota winter morning. It’s therapeutic—the methodical lifting of wet laundry, of clipping it to the line. I delight in the shifting light of morning, of being outside, of solo time to think, of an aged rite that celebrates the beginning of a day.

The scene along a balcony on the back side of a building along Third Street N.E. in downtown Faribault, just across the alley from the post office.

The scene along a balcony on the back side of a building along Third Street N.E. in downtown Faribault, just across the alley from the post office.

So I wondered, when I spotted colorful laundry draped over a second story railing behind an historic building in downtown Faribault, whether the immigrant woman I saw there felt the same as me. Does she delight in hanging out laundry? Or is this, for her, a matter of simple practicality, of saving money?

Whatever the reason, I was pleased to see her hanging laundry outdoors, in the heart of my community, making this place her home.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for a second clothesline post, this one about an entirely different purpose.

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



Monday wash day in Minnesota Amish country November 5, 2012

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Monday wash day in Eden Hollow, Minnesota, in early October.

IMAGINE MY DELIGHT, being a hanging-laundry-outside fanatic, when I spotted this clothesline recently in southeastern Minnesota. Pure genius, wouldn’t you say, to rig up a contraption like this for reeling laundry outside and back inside?

A close-up on how this clothesline system works.

I photographed this scene in a place marked Eden Hollow as my husband and I were traveling somewhere between Lenora and Canton in Fillmore County on a drive through southeastern Minnesota Amish country.

Given the style and jewel tones of the clothing, I’d say this laundry belonged to an Amish family. Double bonus for me as I also am intrigued by the Amish and their lifestyle.

Happening upon daily snippets of ordinary life like this pleases me for I am given the opportunity to view life as it is, unedited and real.

The pulley system, rigged to a post in the front yard on one end. I couldn’t see the other end.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Wash day May 16, 2011

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I CARE NOT ONE bit that he detests the rough feel of a scratchy towel against his skin, the abrasive texture of cotton encasing his foot or the stiffness of line-dried blue jeans brushing against his legs.

Nothing. Not my teen’s complaints, or pleads or requests will stop me from hanging freshly-laundered clothes outside to dry.

It is one of my joys—to hoist a basket of wet clothes onto my hip, lug the basket upstairs from the dark cave of a basement laundry room and then step onto the back stoop into the bright sunshine of a spring morning.

Methodically I work my way through the pile of wet clothes, clipping them onto the clothesline as the early day sun warms my fingers and the wind whips socks and jeans and underclothing and shirts into a frenzied dance.

The simplicity of this task pleases me, connects me to the land and to the women before me who toiled, hanging their faded calico dresses, their hand-stitched crazy quilts, their worn aprons, and the patched trousers of their men and sons under the prairie sun.

As my fingers touch the wet cloth, bind cloth to line, I am bound, by this simple act of hanging out the wash, to generations of women.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling