Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

To write or not to write & insights on holiday letters November 29, 2018

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A holiday greeting sent to friends by Faribault founder Alexander Faribault. The vintage card was displayed at a 2017 holiday open house at the home of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017, photo edited.

 

DO YOU WRITE AND SNAIL MAIL a Christmas letter? Or is this mostly a Minnesota thing?

Last week I sat down at the computer to compose the annual letter I will send to 100 family members and friends. Some I haven’t seen in years. Others I see often. No matter who they are, at some point in my life, we connected and they remain important to me.

Giving and receiving letters and cards ranks as one of my favorite aspects of the holiday season. I appreciate the updates, the photos, yes, even of people I no longer recognize. We grow older, greyer, wider… But it is that advancing of age that makes me realize even more the importance of this annual correspondence. Sure, we have email and Facebook (which I’m not on) and texting and so many other ways to communicate. But there’s something to be said for a card I can hold in my hands, a photo I can stick on my refrigerator, a letter on paper that I can read and reread.

Simply put, I value the old school way of communicating with one another at Christmas. It takes time and effort to compose a letter, to wrangle a photo, to sign a card, to address an envelope. That invested time shows care. Tangible love and care. On paper.

Right about now I can hear the but Audrey protests. But Audrey, sending cards adds to the stress of an already hectic season. There’s not enough time and this is one thing I can cut out. You’re right. You can. And it’s your choice.

For me, though, the annual rite of writing a family letter continues. I’ve reduced that letter from two pages to one, recognizing shorter attention spans. I hit the highlights of 2018, although much of the bad never makes print. No one wants to read every detail of the challenges in your life. Or maybe they do. But I prefer not to share difficulties that fuel gossip and here’s what you should do reactions from those who think they have all the answers. As if all of us have ideal lives where nothing but good prevails.

These annual letters are, in many ways, carefully crafted news releases. We choose to put a primarily positive spin on the content, exercising restraint in delivery of anything negative. As long as we understand the PR perspective, we can read between the lines of those happy family vacations, those stellar accomplishments, those above average toddlers…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The faith of our fathers still flourishes in a long-time Faribault radio ministry April 26, 2018

A temporary display in the sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church celebrates the radio and video ministry.

 

FROM MINNESOTA to Sweden to Saudi Arabia, people are listening to worship services from Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault.

 

 

That may not seem remarkable in this technological age. But the longevity of this Minnesota-based ministry—seventy years—and its basic beginnings are remarkable. In April 1948, a group of men founded the Trinity Radio Council with the goal of broadcasting services on KDHL radio in Faribault. Just three months after that station formed and weeks after the Council initially met, the first Trinity worship service aired at 8 a.m. on April 25, 1948.

 

The original coverage area for KDHL radio.

 

With promised payments of 35 cents per broadcast per Council member, this ministry into the southern regions of Minnesota, western Wisconsin and northern Iowa launched. Today those live radio broadcasts cost $175, but reach a much wider audience. And well beyond radio.

 

 

Worship services (at 8 a.m. Sundays and on other special church days) are also live-streamed, available for online viewing, aired on the local community cable channel and shared with care center residents.

 

The original microphone used in 1948.

 

 

 

The transmitter.

 

From a simple RCA microphone, a basic switchboard and a transmitter, broadcasting has advanced to high tech with multiple cameras, computers and more.

 

Art suspended in the sanctuary denotes radio waves and the focus of the radio ministry.

 

 

Yet, the purpose of sharing these worship services remains unchanged. And that is to bring Christ to the nations, to spread the good news of salvation. In a recent sermon, Trinity Senior Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Michael Nirva, referenced Romans 10:17 as he noted the Trinity Faribault Radio Club’s 70th anniversary: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

 

A view inside the studio and overlooking the sanctuary through the studio window.

 

Vintage radio room art, currently in the historical display case.

 

 

 

That word of God centers worship at Trinity. And that’s visible in the radio room angled into a corner of the sanctuary. Todd Voge, who today leads the radio and video ministry, gave me a quick tour. While Todd showed me the brains of the operation condensed on a computer screen, pointed out the transmitter and more, I noticed two bibles sandwiched between a telephone directory, song books and devotionals. In a cramped room filled with all sorts of high tech stuff, the printed bible still holds a place of importance.

 

 

This ministry remains important to Trinity with generations of families involved and committed to its continuance. Within my family, my husband once a month takes a DVD of the morning’s worship service to a local care center and shows it to residents. And when my son was in high school, he volunteered in the radio room. While I’m not a volunteer—the computer aspect is enough to scare me—I’ve occasionally listened to worship services on KDHL when I couldn’t make it to church.

 

Original meeting minutes are currently displayed in the narthex history case.

 

I am grateful to the original Trinity Radio Council members for having the foresight and the faith to start this ministry. They saw the potential in radio, in a ministry which has endured for 70 years. And expanded well beyond what they ever imagined.

 

An overview of the historical display.

 

FYI: To learn more about the Trinity Faribault Radio Club and/or to listen to/watch worship services, click here.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In the dark of the night along a rural Minnesota roadway… November 2, 2017

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A semi awaits the harvest. Photo used for illustration purposes only and not at the same location where this story takes place. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2014.

 

AHEAD OF US along the side of a county road between Faribault and Medford, hazard lights from a tractor trailer pulsated amber into the blackness of a late autumn evening.

A few miles away, combines spotlighted cornfields as farmers worked the night shift in an already late harvest season.

In the rural blackness, our 2003 Chevy Impala beamed headlights through the deep dark, our eyes scanning ditches for deer evicted from fields.

The setting was prime for drama, for threatening possibilities, for imaginations to race rampant.

And then it happened. As we edged even with the parked semi near the county line and our turn-off intersection, the driver stepped from the cab, hailing us. Randy stopped the car. I rolled down the window and the stranger approached. I never considered in that moment the possibility of danger. It was only afterward when friends questioned our decision that I evaluated our choice. But in this moment, this man needed assistance.

Randy pulled the car ahead to a safer spot. Then the stranger leaned toward me, handed me a slip of paper, cigarette breath hanging in the air. I pulled down the visor, flipped up the mirror cover to unleash light. He spoke in jerks of thickly-accented words. “No English. Ukraine, Poland…”

He pointed to the paper again. And we understood that this Ukrainian needed to find his delivery destination. Here, in this countryside where the wind whipped across fields in bone-chilling cold. Here, where dark prevailed. We pulled our smartphones out and Randy punched in the address. We were there, at the driver’s destination. But in the blackness, we perceived nothing except the faint outlines of grouped buildings.

I tried to explain that we would turn around, check out the location and return. But the driver didn’t understand and started walking, swallowed by the darkness. Randy followed. Except I didn’t know that he planned, too, to disappear into that roadway ribbon of blackness. As the minutes ticked by and I waited, my angst rose. Where was my husband? Had this stranger robbed him, assaulted him, pushed him into the road ditch…?

I picked up my phone, punched the green icon connecting to Randy’s phone. He answered. My fear lessened. “Where are you?” I asked.

“Walking back,” he assured. “There in a minute.” And he was, along with the truck driver.

Still, we hadn’t solved the problem. Randy thought the destination business had a second access. There was none, only a single gated road in and no room for a tractor trailer to park until the next morning. Our efforts to communicate in English with the driver failed. So I resorted to mimicking sleep, the rising sun and turn around and go back to town with my arms. Finally he understood and thanked us profusely.

We left the trucker there on the side of the county road, in the blackness of night. Hours later we retraced our route home to find the semi gone, presumably parked miles away at a truck stop for the night. And we wondered about the Ukrainian, how he had come to be a commercial truck driver lost on a rural southeastern Minnesota roadway in the season of harvest.

 

TELL ME: Would you have stopped if this trucker flagged you down along a remote rural roadway in the dark of night?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Grateful for my right hand man, literally June 6, 2017

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AWHILE AGO my friend Patty gave a white board to Randy and me and to others in our circle of friends. She advised us to exchange loving, caring and encouraging messages with our spouses, just as she does with her husband, Doug. Their white board is posted in their kitchen.

This couple inspires me with their love, their positive attitudes and their resilience. They have been through many difficulties, losing their first spouses to cancer and dealing with their own serious health issues.

Yet, they are not defeated and exude joy in living a happy, faith-filled life.

Following Patty’s directive, I previously penned words of gratitude to Randy, propping the white board on the dresser where he drops his billfold, change and pocket knife after a long, hard day of work. But it’s been awhile since I messaged him via marker.

A few days ago, not quite two weeks into my recovery from a right shoulder fracture, Patty suggested I jot a note of thanks to my husband. I’d forgotten about the board hidden behind a pile of decorative pillows on the bedroom floor. Our bed doesn’t get made now given more important tasks consume Randy’s time.

Patty was right. I needed to thank my husband in writing, not just verbally. So with great effort and some pain, I managed to print my thanks.

It is during times like this that I fully realize how vulnerable we all are, how one minute we can be walking down a flight of stairs and then the next moment our legs are fighting air and we are plunging into a hurting heap upon concrete.

But, in the afterward, love rises to new heights—beyond a kiss or a dozen roses or dinner out. It rises to easing my arm into a sling to swabbing deodorant under my armpit to putting earrings in my lobes to carrying my stack of library books to closing the van door to simply being there when tears of frustration occasionally overtake me.

To my husband, my right hand man, thank you.

 

 

And to Patty and Doug, who Monday evening delivered a bouquet of garden peonies to me, thank you. I am blessed by your care, your love, your prayers and your friendship.

TELL ME: How have you expressed your thanks to a family member or friend who has helped you through an especially difficult time?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Along Highway 52: About that popcorn & cheese June 5, 2017

SIGNAGE INTERESTS ME. For many reasons. The graphics. The message. The marketing influence. The persuasive power.

Occasionally signage can confuse or present an unclear message.

Let’s consider three signs along U.S. Highway 52, a high traffic four-lane that I sometimes travel between Cannon Falls and Rochester. On my most recent trek along this roadway, I photographed two signs by Pine Island.

 

 

The first grabbed my visual attention because of the oversized popcorn kernels scattered on the ground below a popcorn billboard and the single word, Newt’s. What is this sign advertising? A popcorn place? Not quite. Newt’s does have, according to online reviews, some of the tastiest popcorn around. But Newt’s is a beer and burger place that also serves popcorn.

Digging deeper into the popcorn pile, I read on Newt’s Facebook page that the business pops an average of 20,000 pounds (or 10 tons) of popcorn kernels in a year at its north, south and downtown Rochester locations. Now that’s a lot of popcorn. I wonder how much beer is served.

 

 

The second sign I photographed promotes a cheese mart. But if you look closely, you will see that the Pine Cheese Mart no longer sells cheese. That’s right. Tacked onto the bottom of the sign is the notation that you can purchase beer and wine making supplies at Von Klopp Brew Shop, once also a marketer of cheese.

When the northbound highway access to the cheese mart was closed, the business took such a hit that it stopped selling cheese and closed its restaurant and gift shop, according to the business website. I wonder how many travelers catch the cheese mart part of this sign and miss the details.

 

 

The last “sign” I photographed is farther north on 52 and visible from the southbound lane. There’s nothing fancy about this handcrafted message. It’s simple and to the point. The landowner appreciates farmers and loves his country. Perfect.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

NOTE: I photographed these signs several months ago. They may or may not still be in place.

 

Dear Smartphone, This is not a party line… January 11, 2017

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android-smartphoneAPPARENTLY I HAVE much to learn about technology.

The other day while at Walmart, I pulled out my Android to view a photo in my album. No big deal.

But soon a message popped onto my screen suggesting I take a photo at this Big Box retailer. What? I stood there, mouth agape, trying to wrap my head around my smartphone’s knowledge of my location and activity.

A tad unsettled, I grew even more unnerved when a second message popped onto my screen while I shopped at Aldi. The unwelcome messenger suggested I take a photo at the grocery store.

By then, I wanted this intrusion to stop. I asked my husband if he’d ever had this happen. He had.

This personal tracking feels way too Big Brother-ish. Too snoopy. Too creeping into my personal space.

Can location history reveal that I perused the toy aisles and the bargain aisles and the…? Does Big Brother know I bought a bag of Hershey kisses, Brussels sprouts (yes, they really are good when roasted) and a whole cartfull of groceries?

Yeah, I probably don’t want those questions answered.

I remember the days when telephone eavesdropping by a party line neighbor proved worrisome. But that seems like nothing compared to today’s technological tracking.

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A message for Santa & all of us December 22, 2015

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Dear Santa message in New Ulm, 95

 

WHEN I SPOTTED THIS MESSAGE to Santa while traveling through New Ulm on Saturday en route to a family Christmas gathering, I laughed. What a humorous way to draw attention to a real estate company, I thought.

But then I thought some more about that message after reading a magazine article titled “5 times when you should hold your tongue.” The writer of the piece in Real Simple advised that diplomacy, tact and a lot of silence can go a long way. In other words, think before you speak or write.  That’s great advice.

You may think it’s your sister’s fault when, in reality, it isn’t. Perception is not always truth.

I’m a big proponent of listening. I truly believe if we all chose to listen, rather than jump to conclusions, many disagreements would never happen. But in the heat of the moment, when we feel we’ve been wronged, we fail to hear anyone’s voice but our own. That is the precise time when we need to clamp our lips, lift fingertips from keyboards and cell phones and consider that, yes, there’s another side to this story. Once hurtful words are written or spoken, they cannot be taken back.

The holidays are a great time to reconnect with family. But such gatherings can also prove stressful. Travel, too much alcohol, lack of sleep, changes in routine, strong personalities, perceived grievances and more can fuel disagreements. It’s all too easy to lash out with angry words. Don’t. Just don’t.

I tend to fade into the background at family gatherings. I’m quiet and reserved. I listen more than I speak. I prefer to talk one-on-one with family members rather than wedge my voice into a conversation dominated by strong personalities in a roomful of people.

It’s important to remember that only in silence can you listen.

Would Santa rather read “It was my sister’s fault!” or “I’m sorry I was mean to my sister?”

Thoughts?

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling