Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From small town Minnesota: Comfort on a day of mourning April 28, 2018

This banner hung in the sanctuary at my Uncle Harold’s funeral.

 

COMFORT IN SONG. Comfort in words. Comfort in family. Comfort in food. Comfort in a sense of community.

 

The one-block Main Street of downtown Vesta, Minnesota.

 

I felt comforted as I gathered with extended family and my hometown community on Thursday to mourn, and remember, my beloved Uncle Harold.

 

Floral arrangements, plants and other memorials filled the front of the church. These flowers, with an oil can incorporated, were given by my siblings and our families. The oil can recognizes Harold’s previous occupation as the owner of Harold’s Service (a gas station and garage).

 

I felt blessed, too, to congregate here in a small town church overflowing with people. It is the songs, always the songs, that touch my emotions, that bring me to tears. I struggled to sing the words to “How Great Thou Art” as row upon row upon row of extended family, including me, joined the immediate family in walking in together, behind the casket, to fill St. John’s Lutheran Church.

 

Many family photos, including one of Harold and his wife, Marilyn, graced the table as did Harold’s (presumably favorite) cap.

 

I observed that the undertakers seemed surprised at the sheer volume of Kletscher relatives. We are a large lot and we come together in times of need. Only a few of my 30-plus cousins were missing. Family is important to us. Always has been. Always will be.

 

Vesta is a close-knit farming community of about 330 in Redwood County, Minnesota.

 

As I sat in a folding chair at the end of a pew, pressed to the wall, I felt the closeness of this family and community that I love. Our voices swelled, loud, to sing “Amazing Grace” and, later, “Go My Children, With My Blessing.” In those moments of song, I felt especially moved by the legacy of my forefathers who helped found this congregation. There’s something about singing traditional hymns of old that comforts me and connects me to those who went before me—on this day my uncle.

 

A snippet of the life summary Harold wrote for his family.

 

Harold left a gift for his family in the form of his life’s story scrawled onto four pages of notepad paper. The notes were found in the barn/shed behind his home after his death. I didn’t have time to completely read the life summary given the crowd and busyness of funeral day. But Harold’s youngest son has promised to send me the stories, which also mention my dad.

 

The display table showcased some of the honors Harold has garnered through the years for his service to church and to community.

 

The two brothers now lie buried near each other on a cemetery just north of Vesta. The city fire truck led the long processional from the church to the burial grounds as an honor to Harold, a volunteer fireman of 45 years. On the hilltop cemetery, we said our final goodbyes, our final prayers, as the wind whipped and the sun shone. Standing there, I felt a sense of comfort not only in the closeness of family but in a sense of place. This is my land. These are my people. Even though I left Vesta decades ago, this still feels most like home.

When the graveside ceremony ended, I lingered with family, my heart heavy, yet my heart free. I paused at my father’s gravestone, too, and remembered him—dead 15 years now.

Back at the church, the celebration—and I intentionally choose to call this a celebration—continued with a lunch of scalloped potatoes and ham, coleslaw, slices of bread, homemade dill pickles and cupcakes served with lemonade and coffee. No Funeral Hotdish #1 or Funeral Hotdish #2, as I refer to the Reception Committee hotdishes published in the St. John’s Anniversary Cookbook of 1985. I scooped only small servings of food onto my paper plate, cognizant of the crowd to feed, and not necessarily expecting Jesus to multiply the scalloped potatoes like the fishes and loaves.

 

Harold worked as the city of Vesta maintenance engineer for many years before retiring at age 70.

 

Food and conversation comforted me on this Thursday, Harold’s burial day. He would have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love—by the vehicles overflowing onto the county road beside the church, by the lines waiting to comfort his wife and children, by the raised voices singing, Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee. How great Thou art, how great Thou art.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting with comfort via greeting card verses April 17, 2018

Each of these boxed card collections from Warner Press includes a greeting card verse that I wrote. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS, I’ve walked into a Minnesota church basement or fellowship hall and noticed boxed greeting cards from Warner Press for sale. I write greeting card verses for that Indiana based Christian company and have done so for many years.

Typically, a half dozen or fewer of my submitted verses are selected for publication annually. It’s not a lot, but still an opportunity to challenge myself. Writing greeting card verses is difficult because you need to come up with something creative and new, something that hasn’t been published a million times already in a card. And you need to deliver those words in a succinct message.

 

My verses are published in these four recently-released cards, included in the Warner Press boxed card collections. Two are in the “Get Well, Comfort in God’s Care” collection, one in the “All Occasion, Peaceful Pastures” and the fourth in “Confirmed in Christ.” Because the verses are copyrighted, I can’t show you what I wrote.

 

I’ve found that I am most gifted at penning verses which encourage people, whether they are facing health issues, the loss of a loved one and/or other challenges.

I expect that ability to offer hope is rooted in my own experiences. When you’ve dealt with health issues—for me debilitating osteoarthritis followed by total hip replacement at a fairly young (50) age, three months of battling whooping cough, healing from a broken shoulder and more—you can empathize. And empathy translates into words of comfort and hope.

Likewise, I’ve lost enough loved ones and friends to pull sympathetic thoughts from the grief of my heart to offer comfort and hope.

 

One of the things I most appreciate about Warner Press is the company’s recognition of the writer and designer with their names listed on the back of each greeting card.

 

Comfort and hope. Those are powerful words. I hold the ability to offer healing to others through the ministry of greeting cards. More than ever today, we are a nation, a people, in need of healing. We each have the power within us to show empathy and care to others whether through our actions, written words, spoken words, prayer and, yes, even silence. Sometimes it’s better to remain quiet and to just listen, love and support.

In this day and age of instant communication, printed greeting cards still hold value. They connect us on a level that a screen can’t. When you give a card, you take the time to pause, to pick up a pen, to sign your name and perhaps add a personal note. For the person on the receiving end, that’s a gift—tangible evidence that you care. And that can make all the difference to someone in need of comfort and hope.

 

TELL ME: Do you see value in printed greeting cards? Do you still give and receive them?

Disclaimer: I am paid for the greeting card verses I write for Warner Press.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Comfort in grief March 26, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:26 AM
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Not the soup I made, but used here for illustration purposes only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I CHOPPED AND COOKED my way through grief. Onions and celery. Potatoes and carrots. I gripped the knife, chunking vegetables onto a cutting board. Then I dumped the mix into a pot of boiling chicken broth. I grabbed a second kettle, poured milk into a measuring cup, stirred a white sauce thick and bubbly, added cheddar cheese and chicken before combining contents of the two pots. Comfort in a kettle of simmering soup.

Next, I pulled molasses from the cupboard. Shortening, too, and flour and brown sugar and baking soda and salt and an array of spices. I combined and mixed and baked my way through grief. Comfort on a cookie sheet lined with old-fashioned gingersnaps scented of cinnamon and a grandmother’s kitchen.

And then, when the soup had cooled some, the cookies, too, I packaged both for delivery. Comfort for friends. But for me, too. There is something about the act of preparing and bringing food to a grieving family that offers solace in the midst of unfathomable pain. For the giver and the recipient.

On my way with Randy to deliver this tangible comfort, I felt angst rising. I prayed for the right words to say to our friends. “I’m sorry.” Two simple words—three if you consider the contraction—sufficed. And hugs.

And as we talked in the farmhouse living room, I noticed the landscape through the wide windows—how the grey sky met the grey earth, mimicking the grey of grief.

But I noticed, too, the cross hanging on an adjacent wall, the word JESUS bold and beautiful. Comfort. For me. For those parents who, like me, find peace in our faith.

We laughed over photos. And remembered. And grief vanished for a moment or three before we hugged again, the bagged gingersnaps lying on the dining room table next to an ice cream bucket brimming with the comfort of soup.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Comfort in music August 30, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Raindrops on hosta. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ON AN AFTERNOON WHEN TEARS rushed in rivers down my cheeks, when my heart ached with grief for my friends, when the reality of life seemed too overwhelming, my compassion and love not enough, I took comfort in the words of contemporary Christian singer Laura Story.

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

Story’s Blessings has uplifted me in the past, carried me through angst and worry and difficulties. Music holds healing power when used in a positive, inspiring and memorable way. It is a gift, a prayer. From those who write it, to those who hear it (as I did on Twin Cities based Christian radio station KTIS) and to those who experience comfort within the lyrics.

FYI: To listen to Blessings, click here.