Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on North Morristown’s July 4 celebration July 7, 2021

Pork and roast beef sandwiches were sold at this stand along with beverages. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

NORTH MORRISTOWN on the Fourth of July suits me and my rural roots. Not that I’m rooted to this place in the middle of farm country in southwestern Rice County. But the down-to-earth basics of this nearly 130-year-old Independence Day celebration appeal to the raised-on-a-Redwood-County-farm girl in me.

A look toward the fest grounds from the parking area early Sunday evening. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I appreciate how this event, held annually on festival grounds in a rural Minnesota landscape, remains basically unchanged. Just like North Morristown, which is not a town, but rather farm sites, fields, a Lutheran church and school, and the grassy, shaded celebration site.

A grain truck drives through the festival grounds, I believe to pick up garbage. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

The rural character of July Fourth here prevails. In tractors and grain trucks. In barns, machine sheds and farmhouses. But it stretches beyond that to the people, to families rooted in North Morristown for generations. In many ways, Independence Day here is as much a celebration of our nation’s birthday as it is one big family reunion. With guests, like me, welcomed.

The next generation sells tees in the novelty shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

The event feels friendly and comfortably homey. I recognize that doesn’t come without a lot of planning, time, effort and hard work on the part of volunteers. I’ve coordinated and led events much smaller than this and fully realize the work and commitment.

There’s nothing high tech about the vintage rides. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

So to those who spearheaded this year’s Fourth of July in North Morristown, thank you. And to those who have led in the past, thank you also. You are bringing joy to a lot of people. You are preserving the past. You are bringing people of all ages together from all over, this year from as far away as the Philippines. You are strengthening families and building memories. You are offering an alternative to high tech everything.

One of the many vintage kiddie rides. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

In a fast-paced world, we need a place and event like North Morristown on the Fourth to remind us to slow down, to sit for a spell. To listen to the music. To savor a slice of homemade pie or a pork sandwich. To visit with friends and family and strangers. To watch babies toddle in bare feet and kids climb onto vintage horses. To play BINGO or hunt for a hidden medallion. To feel grateful for faith and family and health and country.

The kiddie games are simple, like the duck pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

At its core, North Morristown on the Fourth represents so many things I hold dear. I expect others feel the same.

The countryside near North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

TELL ME: Did you attend the North Morristown July 4 celebration or one similar? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An American treasure: North Morristown on the Fourth of July July 5, 2021

The Pie Stand at North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

WHEN RANDY AND I ARRIVED at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration late Sunday afternoon, we headed directly to the Pie Stand. I hoped the homemade pies wouldn’t be sold out. They weren’t.

Tasty homemade strawberry pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Although the selection was limited by this time in the day-long event, we still found tasty pies. I chose fresh strawberry while Randy opted for rhubarb, both parceled in generous portions.

The crowd had thinned by Monroe Crossing’s 4 pm concert. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

While we forked our pies, the ever-popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed to an appreciative audience on the nearby Main Stage. The crowd settled onto bleachers, folding chairs inside the gazebo and onto plank benches, and also spilled onto the grassy area in lawn chairs and on blankets.

Inside the shed housing games and vintage kiddie rides. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Several musical groups performed throughout a day packed with family-friendly events: A parade, patriotic program, BINGO, kiddie rides and games, and so much more.

Proceeds go to this small Christian school in the country. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Once we finished our pie, we roamed the festival grounds, a grassy space shaded by towering trees (including aged oaks) and next to farm sites and fields. Across the street sits Trinity Lutheran Church and School, the school benefiting from funds raised at this long-running July Fourth celebration.

This shed houses the games and rides, which are unchanged. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I love everything about this event. The timeless quality. The step back in time. The connecting with friends (and for many, with family). The music. The food.

Old Glory flies in the middle of the festival grounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

To be in North Morristown on the Fourth of July is to experience a sense of community, to feel comforted by the sameness of this celebration, to understand that this is about more than Independence Day. This is about rural America and how family and community and tradition are valued and cherished here.

The homemade kiddie train crafted from barrels. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
I loved watching the kids ride the barrel train. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

As I watched the engineer of the barrel train steer his lawn tractor, I thought, what wonderful memories these kids will have of riding that homemade train. The same goes for the other kiddie rides and carnival games which remain unchanged. I need to bring my grandchildren here to experience this.

The next generation vends tees. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Try to hit a vintage “doll” in this game. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
The fish pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Generations of families run the rides and booths, stitching stories into their family histories. The kids will always remember going to North Morristown on the Fourth—to pluck a yellow rubber duck from a pond, to throw a ball toward a hoop or toward spinning “dolls,” to drop a line into the fish pond…all for some prize that is more treasure than trinket on July 4.

Food is served from vintage stands. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

North Morristown on the Fourth truly rates as an American treasure.

Will Bauermeister performs as a hot and humid day eases toward evening. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Although Randy and I did not grow up here, we have lived in neighboring Faribault for 40 years and know a lot of people. So we saw many there—Mel, Carl, Leroy, Shirley, Virgil, Jane, Jen, Mike…and a college friend, Annette, whom I haven’t seen in decades. We made new friends, too, Kevin and Brenda from Elysian and another couple from Monticello. That’s the thing about this celebration. Sit at a picnic table and you’ll find yourself engaging in conversation with strangers.

The burger stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

After we completed our tour of the festival grounds and enjoyed the music by Monroe Crossing, Randy and I ordered sandwiches. I got barbecued pork. He chose a burger. The food, served from vintage stands, is always, always delicious. And, yes, we ate our dessert before our main meal because we weren’t willing to risk the pie running out.

We passed by this picturesque farm building on the drive home. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Several hours after arriving in the less-busy, less-crowded late afternoon, we left, taking the scenic route home along gravel roads winding past farm sites. I felt so appreciative of this rural setting, of North Morristown on the Fourth of July and of the people who make this event happen. What an exceptional example of a holiday celebration which, at its core, remains unchanged and rooted in community and family.

FYI: Please check back for a second post with more photos from North Morristown on July Fourth.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Expressing gratitude in Northfield May 28, 2021

Thankful for… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

GRATITUDE IS A CONSCIOUS CHOICE. Feeling grateful takes effort. If you disagree, that’s OK. Maybe gratitude comes naturally for you. But, for most of us, I don’t think that’s true.

Rocco, The Gratitude Tree, just outside the Northfield Public Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

That’s why I appreciate projects like The Gratitude Tree. Outside the Northfield Public Library, colorful tags sway in the wind on the branches of a small tree. The Gratitude Tree. And on those slips of paper, people have answered the question, “What are you grateful for?”

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I paused to read the responses, which seemed mostly focused on thankfulness for family, friends and others. That doesn’t surprise me, especially after this past year of separation due to COVID-19. Most of us crave human connection. We’ve missed our families, friends, co-workers…

A plastic container at the base of the tree holds tags and a Sharpie for writing notes of gratitude. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

It’s important to acknowledge that. To say it. To write it. To embrace this feeling of longing to be with people.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I’m grateful we’re at a point in the pandemic where those of us who are vaccinated can reclaim our lives. It feels good. Really good. I can hug my second daughter now. I can feel comfortable being out in public among other vaccinated individuals. I feel grateful for that.

The Gratitude Tree, outside the Northfield Public Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

And I feel grateful for The Gratitude Tree, an ongoing project of Nika Hirsch of This Life Rocks. Nika is a young girl from Northfield who deals with social anxiety and selective mutism. Despite those challenges, or maybe because of, she chooses to connect with her community in positive ways. She’s previously hosted The Gratitude Tree and also The Giving Tree (a collection point for winter gear). She also paints stones with uplifting messages.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

We can all learn from Nika, a role model for community service and positivity. She inspires. She uplifts. She causes us to pause and think. To focus on the good in life. To see the reasons to smile, to feel happy, to give thanks.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

TELL ME: What are you grateful for?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reconnecting at the flea market, farmers’ market & food fair May 18, 2021

The scene in the Rice County Historical Society parking lot Saturday morning as vendors sold wares at the spring flea market. The market extended behind the building and onto the fairgrounds with an estimated 75 sellers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

MORE THAN A YEAR into the pandemic and we all needed this—an outdoor event to bring us together, to reclaim our collective sense of community, to reconnect with friends we haven’t seen in way too long.

One of my favorite discoveries at the flea market was the chicken art created by J & M Crafted Creations of Prior Lake. That would be wood artist Jim and painter Mary Jo. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
At the market, cheese from Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
The Local Plate proved a popular dining option. The truck sources locally to create its menu offerings. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The combo Rice County Historical Society’s Spring Flea Market, Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market and Fair Food Truck Days accomplished all of those objectives in one place, the Rice County Fairgrounds, on one day, Saturday.

Vendors spread across the museum grounds/fairgrounds, including outside the historic school and church. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
This dad’s smile says it all. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
The event drew a diverse crowd. People seemed happy just to be out. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

This event marked our re-entry into community life, now that Randy and I are fully vaccine-protected. It felt good, oh, so good, to experience a sense of normalcy again. And even though crowds were large and most attendees were unmasked, we felt comfortable given our vaccination status and the outdoor setting.

Among the flea market treasures, Pyrex. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
After photographing this yarn, I asked for a business card. Noting the name, Dresow Family Farm, I inquired. Turns out the husband half of this farm team hails from my home area and graduated from Wabasso High School, my alma mater. Even though I’ve never met Kevin “Silo” Dresow, we reminisced and even broke into the school song, “On Wabasso…” To meet a fellow Rabbit (our school mascot) made my day. I graduated with Silo’s brother Keith. Small world. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Fair food aplenty… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

For a May day in Minnesota, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Sunshine. Blue skies. Warmth. Absolutely ideal for outdoor vending of treasures, selling of locally-grown/raised/made goods and indulging in fair food.

Even this vendor’s dog looks happy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
A pick-up bed of treasures. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
From First Draft Farms, what happy hues. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

What made this gathering unique, though, was the overwhelming feeling of optimism. I sensed it. Felt it. Experienced it. An undercurrent of joyfulness.

Parking was at a premium. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I know events like this don’t happen without a lot of behind-the-scenes effort and hard work. So to all the volunteers, vendors, farmers and others who planned, showed up, set up, sold, engaged in conversation, welcomed us back to experience community, thank you. I needed this day. We needed this day. Saturday’s event reaffirmed for me just how much I value interacting with others. And just how much I’ve missed those connections.

Please check back for more photos from this event.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Back at the Rice County Fairgrounds April 21, 2021

Looking toward food stands and the Midway. To the right, is the outdoor entertainment center. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

VACATED. That word best describes my assessment of the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault during a recent walk there.

Many local groups have food stands at the fair. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Picnic tables near the pork food stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
The presence of 4-Hers at the fair is strong. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

In the absence of people, the absence of animals, the absence of a carnival, the absence of exhibits, the place feels empty. No pulsating lights on the Midway. No smell of grilling burgers. No taste of sugary mini donuts. No shouts of kids. No feel of a prize stuffed animal clutched in arms.

The entertainment space to the left with the St. Luke’s food stand on the right. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

If everything works out COVID-wise, this fairgrounds will teem with people come late July. Animals will fill barns. Ribbons will mark prize-winning 4-H entries. Greasy cheese curds will satisfy those who crave fair food. The sounds of music and clustered conversations and happy kids will create a steady buzz of noise. Little hands will grasp adult hands and teenage hands will lock in fair love. People will reconnect. Celebrate. Experience that which was lost last summer, during the height of the pandemic.

Love this signage. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
The commercial exhibit building. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Garden decor stored until the fair. The garden is next to the conservation building. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

This is the fair I imagine as I walk past shuttered buildings, as I pause to photograph buildings and signs and expanses of open space.

Just a snippet of the 32 barn swallow nests on Curtis Hall. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

And then I pause outside the 4-H building, Curtis Hall, to photograph the row of barn swallow nests mudded under the eaves. So many. Thirty-two. Too many. If there’s one bird I dislike, it’s the barn swallow. We have a history. As a child, I endured barn swallows swooping over me as I did farm chores. The swallows built their nests on beams above the barn aisle, my direct work route. I felt threatened by them as I shoveled manure into gutters, pushed a wheelbarrow full of ground feed down the aisle. My feelings for the swallow have not changed. Even though they eat mosquitoes, I still don’t like this bird.

Just another view of those swallow nests. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

That’s my sidebar from the fairgrounds, perhaps one you can relate to if you did farm chores like me.

The sheep arena is named after a Rice County deputy killed in the line of duty. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 2021.
A view of the sheep barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.
Each of the livestock buildings is numbered. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

Fairs are rooted in agriculture. Prize animals. Prize vegetables. A once-a-year opportunity to showcase the best of barns and of gardens. But today’s fair is much more. Entertainment. Creativity. And, above all, a place for communities to come together once a year in one place. To celebrate. To connect.

The Rice County Fair office with the grandstand in the background. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo March 2021.

FYI: The Rice County Fair is tentatively set for July 21-25 in Faribault. Whether it happens depends on all of us. See my previous post.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

All about community at annual Christmas dinner in Faribault December 16, 2019

 

IT IS, IN EVERY SENSE of the word, a community dinner.

 

 

From the moment I arrived at the Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church annual Community Christmas Dinner late Sunday morning in Faribault, I felt welcomed. Welcomed first by the door-holder/greeter dressed like an authentic Minnesotan in winter coat, boots and warm bomber hat. I didn’t envy his job on this cold December day. But he greeted me with a smile, commenting on Randy’s kindness in dropping me off at the door per my desire to avoid walking on snow and ice.

 

 

 

 

Down a flight of stairs, David and Jack greeted me, David being a Vietnam vet and Jack his service dog. A free-will offering at the dinner benefited the Northfield-based nonprofit Believet Canine Service Partners, which trains service dogs for veterans. I thought it particularly effective to have a vet and his dog at the dinner.

 

Volunteers serve a generous Christmas dinner.

 

 

Cupcake servers delivered the dessert to diners.

 

Once shed of my own winter garb, I waited for Randy and then, together, we walked through the doorway into the basement dining hall, already filling with dinner guests. There another greeter welcomed us and directed us to find a seat while waiting to get in the buffet line. Randy found a place next to Dale, a Wabasso High School classmate of mine, and his wife. Dale lives near Faribault and works in town. It’s always nice to occasionally run into him. Later, over dinner, we caught up and chatted about the class reunion he attended, and I missed, in September.

 

The scene outside Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault, on Sunday.

 

Before I got my meal, though, I roamed taking photos. But not before I stopped to say hi to Greg, a friend and pastor of this church. He stood near the buffet line greeting guests. Yet another warm welcome.

 

Refilling the roaster with chicken.

 

A short while later Randy and I stood in line next to the mayor of Faribault, familiar with my blog, he said. I’m always thankful for those who appreciate the work I do here on Minnesota Prairie Roots. I try, in many ways, to build a welcoming sense of community through my writing and photography.

 

 

 

A print of the Minnesota state photograph, “Grace,” graces the basement dining hall, foreground. It hung near the table where I ate.

 

As servers scooped chicken breast, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, carrots and a roll onto my plate, I thanked them. It takes a lot of work to put on a dinner that feeds around 400 people in my community. The serving portions were especially generous—too much for me. I later invited Randy to eat the remainder of my food, including half of a carrot cake cupcake that, although delicious, I simply could not finish.

 

The assortment of cupcakes led me to Cupcake Central.

 

Cupcake Central.

 

Enjoying a cupcake, the guy with the personalized tie.

 

While Randy continued eating, I looked for more photo ops, chatted with a man sporting a tie that featured photos of his grandchildren. He has a personalized tie collection numbering in the hundreds and used the photo ties as conversation starters while working as a speech pathologist. Oh, the things you learn when you pause to engage others. It’s all about community.

 

 

Not to be missed, the important dishwashing crew.

 

Then I popped into the kitchen.

 

These women wait for their ride.

 

I paused also to chat with a pastor I know from a rural church. Then another friend. More community connections. I could have talked longer. But Randy and I had an afternoon engagement to wrap Christmas gifts for the Angel Tree Project at our church, Trinity Lutheran. So we grabbed out coats and headed up to the sanctuary for a quick look at this beautiful, historic church. (See those photos in a future post.)

 

I took this photo through the window as the greeter helped a guest into a car.

 

But then I spotted one more photo op—the greeter helping two elderly women to a car pulled curbside. He asked for my help holding the church door. I leaned into the cold and held the door. Because this is what it’s all about. Being there for one another in this place called community.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

More than a car show September 20, 2019

 

CAR CRUISES REPRESENT much more than a bunch of vintage vehicles washed and waxed for prime public viewing.

 

 

 

 

Car Cruises represent passion, family projects, heritage, stories, history, art…whatever perspective you bring to a car show.

 

 

 

 

But most of all, they represent community. I’ve attended enough car shows, most in my city of Faribault, to recognize that these events bring folks together. To mingle in the street or on the sidewalk to talk cars. Or family. Or weather. Maybe even politics, but probably not.

 

 

 

 

While the vehicles take participants and attendees back in time, so does the overall feel of a car show. In this high tech busy world, we need to remember the importance of gathering and of visiting. Face-to-face, cellphones tucked away.

 

 

 

Faribault offers one final opportunity this season to embrace togetherness at the Faribault Car Cruise Night set for 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Friday, September 20, at Faribault Harley-Davidson, a move from the usual Central Avenue location. I prefer the intimate and historic downtown setting. But I also understand the need to change things up a bit.

 

 

 

The Harley dealer is also offering a free showing of the classic movie, American Graffiti, at 6 p.m. (according to promotional info). The event is advertised as family-friendly with offerings of popcorn, s’mores, pop and a bonfire. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets.

 

 

This vintage wagon promotes tourism and the Minne-Roadtrip that includes the communities of Faribault, Northfield and Owatonna.

 

 

I appreciate the efforts of Faribault Main Street and others who organize Car Cruise Night. They are building community, connecting us with one another. Exactly what we need in an ever-increasingly disconnected world.

 

All of these photos were taken at the August Faribault Car Cruise Night in historic downtown Faribault.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting a community at a Christmas dinner in a church basement December 13, 2018

A street-side sign welcomes diners to the free Community Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

EVERY COMMUNITY HAS ITS HOLIDAY TRADITIONS. There’s comfort in that sameness, in the sense of community constructed from repeating events. Faribault is no exception.

Each December the Paradise Center for the Arts features a holiday play. Every year the Rice County Historical Society hosts A French-Canadian Christmas at the Alexander Faribault House. Every December Shattuck-St. Mary’s School invites the community to A Campus Christmas Walk.

 

Dining at a previous Community Christmas Dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And on one Sunday in mid-December, Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church serves a Community Christmas Dinner. There’s something about sitting down with others for a good home-cooked meal that fosters an even stronger sense of community. Food brings people together in conversation. We need more of that—pulling up folding chairs in a church basement to talk between bites of mashed potatoes and gravy. Comfort in food and in conversation.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a past dinner. This year pork will replace the turkey.

 

Fourth Avenue hosts its annual Christmas dinner from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. this Sunday, December 16. I’ve attended numerous times, photographed the event nearly every time. I delight in the words chosen to promote the dinner: Your Friends at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Invite you to be our Honored Guest at a day of Feasting and Fellowship with your Neighbors.

Reread that. Friends. Honored Guest. Fellowship. Neighbors.

Those words exude warmth, welcome and a sense of care and community. Your economic status, your job status, your situation—none of that matters. You are welcome.

 

Volunteer Madeline serves Christmas cake at a past dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Welcome to enjoy a meal of roast pork and stuffing, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, coleslaw, freshly baked rolls and Christmas cupcakes. The menu has changed slightly from previous years. But that’s OK. I like pork (actually more than turkey). And Christmas cupcakes can replace Christmas cake.

 

Volunteers hard at work in the kitchen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I expect to see a crew of volunteers busy as ever cooking, serving, clearing tables, washing dishes… It takes a well-organized team to pull together a home-cooked meal for the community. I appreciate this gift which extends beyond those being fed. Monies collected from a freewill offering will benefit Operation 23 to Zero, which assists vets in need.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. Be sure to read the sign on the wall above the kitchen window.

 

This Community Christmas Dinner is about so much more than food. It’s about care and comfort and connecting and community. And hope. It embodies the spirit of Christmas.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Farmington, Part II: Building community through art August 8, 2018

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I’M A MEGA FAN of accessible outdoor public art. Like murals.

 

 

Earlier this year, I came across a lengthy mural on the side of the Farmington Steak House in the heart of this south metro Minnesota downtown. It is the project of many—adults and youth—and funded by many.

 

 

“Reflections and Visions” embraces the idea of community, past, present and future. I like the concept of people coming together to create, to celebrate history and cultures and more in a work of public art.

 

 

 

 

In this age of so much conflict, so much hatred and anger and disagreement, I appreciate the efforts of these artists to focus on the positive, to see that each of us, though different, define community.

 

 

 

 

I am not so naïve as to think any singular mural will solve the issues that divide us. But we must start somewhere. And art seems a good place to begin.

TELL ME: Have you come across a similar outdoor public art installation that builds community and bridges differences? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2018 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