Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A child’s perspective on face masks with notes from Grandma May 28, 2020

Some of our face masks, crafted by a friend in Texas.

 

“I like your face mask, Grandma.”

Her words nearly broke my heart. But I didn’t let on to 4-year-old Isabelle who sat behind me, buckled in her car seat, waiting for Grandpa to exit the convenience store with a gallon of milk.

My cotton print mask, dangling from the cup holder, was in her favorite color, pink. I grabbed the mask and pointed to the colored circles thereon—yellow, green, white, pink, blue, orange.

“Mine has lady bugs,” Izzy said. “And the other is brown.”

I knew about the masks, which had just arrived in the mail from my granddaughter’s great aunt in New Jersey. I was grateful for that gift. But, still, the thought of a preschooler aware of face coverings made me profoundly sad. Her parents had already talked to Izzy about COVID-19 in terms she could understand—that people are sick. She accepts that as the reason she can’t see her friends, go to the library, visit Como Park or the Minnesota Zoo and much more.

 

Izzy rides her scooter along the trail in North Alexander Park in Faribault.

 

I followed that same simple explanation when we were at a Faribault park with Izzy. I kept a watchful eye as she zoomed ahead of Randy and me on her scooter. When I saw others approaching on the trail, I called for her to stop. She listened. We moved to the side and I formed a barrier between myself and passersby. I feel an overwhelming need to protect my sweet granddaughter.

Isabelle never once asked to play on the playground. She understands that, for now, for her safety, she can’t.

 

Baby ducks are so so cute.

 

Mama duck watches her babies.

 

The drake swims nearby.

 

We tried to make our park visit as ordinary as possible, pausing to watch a family of ducks along the shoreline. It was a moment of grace, observing downy ducklings guarded by their mother. Not unlike me with Izzy. We listened to their incessant cheeping and I wondered what they were communicating to one another. Warnings perhaps.

 

A long row of lilacs in various shades grows in North Alexander Park.

 

We stopped also so Grandpa could clip a spray of lilacs.

 

There are plenty of picnic tables alongside the Cannon River.

 

And we picnicked beside the Cannon River, listening to the noisy chirp of birds. Izzy nibbled at her turkey sandwich, ate too many grapes, tried a few of Grandpa’s chips and enjoyed a chocolate chip cookie we’d baked the day prior. When she was done, I wet a napkin with an ice cube pulled from the cooler and wiped away the melting chocolate circling her lips. I love that sweet little face.

On our way home, we stopped at the convenience store. And had that conversation about face masks. When Grandpa pulled open the van door to set the jug of milk and bananas inside, Izzy watched as I squirted hand sanitizer into his open palm. “I don’t like your face mask, Grandpa,” she said. His is black-and-white checkered like a racing flag. No pink anywhere on the fabric.

Preschoolers are, if anything, honest.

And they need us to protect them and those they love. Like their parents. Their siblings. Their grandparents. Their aunts and uncles and cousins. Their friends. They need us to wear face masks.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memorial Day 2020, adapted, from southern Minnesota May 26, 2020

A star marks a veteran’s grave in the Cannon City Cemetery, rural Faribault.

 

THE RADIO PLAYED in the background as I washed dishes Memorial Day morning. I listened to honored veterans speak of the war dead and freedom and why the American flag is folded 13 times. I listened to the local Legion leader read the names of all county veterans who died in the past year. Well over one hundred. And I heard, too, the honking of horns as attendees at my community’s annual Memorial Day program in Central Park “applauded.”

 

This flag pole sits just inside the entrance to the Cannon City Cemetery.

 

COVID-19 changed so many traditions this year—including here in Faribault. There was no parade, no ceremony at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial, no lunch at the Legion. Only the traditional program continued in the park, but with attendees sheltered inside their vehicles. Others, like me, listened at home to the live broadcast on KDHL radio.

 

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea, Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 1952.

 

And, as I listened, I thought of my dad, an infantryman in the Korean War. I thought, too, of his buddy Ray, killed by a mortar. Dad saw his friend die. Dad, who died 17 years ago, carried that grief and the horrors of war with him. He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, undiagnosed until decades after he left Korea.

 

Flags decorate veterans’ graves in Cannon City.

 

I continued washing dishes while the radio played. But when taps sounded, I stopped. To cry. Thinking of my dad. Missing him. The playing of taps often moves me into a place of grief for all the lives lost in war.

 

A past Memorial Day gathering at the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Later, Randy and I drove to the Cannon City Cemetery where, on a typical Memorial Day, we would attend a program under the cedar trees. We’ve grown to love this grassroots gathering of rural folks who honor the war dead with music and poetry and inspirational readings. But, because of COVID-19, that event was canceled, too.

 

Rhody Yule’s grave marker.

 

The tombstone of a Civil War soldier buried in the Cannon City Cemetery.

 

And so we roamed among the tombstones, pausing at the flag-marked graves of soldiers, including that of our friend Rhody.

 

I love this serene scene of a bird on a simple woven fence edging the cemetery.

 

Birds chirped.

 

One tombstone features a barn on one side, a tractor on the other.

 

Such beauty in this rural cemetery, from setting to nature’s details.

 

Inside and outside cemetery boundaries, the rural-ness of this place prevails in art. Natural and man-made. I delighted in that.

 

A dove on an aged tombstone brings thoughts of peace.

 

A single white rose, signifying everlasting love, lies on the bench marker for Kevin Kanne. Beautiful.

 

Tombstone art that drew my eye and reminded me of Psalm 23.

 

And the wind, which typically whips on this hillside cemetery, remained still, as if it also understood the need for calm, for reflection, for peace in the storm of COVID-19.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The sounds of silence at Rice Lake State Park May 21, 2020

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A lengthy dock takes visitors to expansive views of Rice Lake.

 

IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME since I’ve experienced such silence, broken only by the occasional music of songbirds, the honking of geese, the rustling of wind. Nature’s sounds. I heard, too, other sounds. Of voices, of a child crying, of steel ringing against steel to set a fence post.

 

Rice Lake State Park is known for its birds and waterfowl.

 

But mostly, between the trill of red-winged blackbirds, I heard nothing at Rice Lake State Park east of Owatonna. Randy and I arrived there around noonish last Friday with plans to hike and picnic in celebration of our 38th wedding anniversary.

 

I aimed my camera upward to the canopy of greening trees.

 

Lake and sky meet at Rice Lake State Park.

 

Randy reads signs about waterfowl posted by the lake.

 

Morning broke in sunshine, warming the air as the day advanced. Blue skies stretched wide above greening trees and over Rice Lake. At water’s edge, dried rushes and grasses showed new spring growth.

 

We waited for this group to clear the dock before walking onto it.

 

It was, in every way, the loveliest of May days. I mentally prepared myself for crowds at the park as the DNR website warned possible. But Rice Lake proved an uncrowded destination. We waited only once for several people to leave a dock before walking there to view the lake.

 

This sign is posted by the path to the dock.

 

Another social distancing reminder at the picnic shelter.

 

No camping is allowed yet, so sites like this one sit empty. Phased reopening of campgrounds begins June 1.

 

Social distancing signs reminded us of the realities of COVID-19. And empty camping sites did likewise.

 

Spring wildflowers abound in the park.

 

We followed this narrow lakeside trail, which Randy termed a “cow path.”

 

Another lake perspective, photographed from the dock.

 

But we were not there to camp, only to walk the trails, eat our picnic lunch lakeside and simply enjoy being outdoors. The bonus came in the quiet of this park, a quiet I needed. I live along a busy city street where the sound of traffic rarely stops. In the noise of today’s world—the noise of COVID news and COVID concerns and COVID always running in the mind’s background, this nature respite soothed, calmed, gave me peace.

 

This chipmunk paused just long enough for me to snap a photo.

 

Walking into the woods.

 

The water kept drawing me back.

 

I didn’t realize how much I needed this quiet until I heard it.

 

© Copyright 2020 Minnesota Prairie Roots

 

Picnicking in the park on a perfect May evening in Minnesota May 19, 2020

From our riverside picnic table in North Alexander Park, a view of the Cannon River last Friday evening.

 

WHAT A GIFT, THIS BEAUTIFUL Friday evening in May in southern Minnesota. The entire day, our 38th wedding anniversary, proved one of the best anniversary celebrations ever. Even in COVID-19.

 

Kayaking in the Cannon River, Faribault.

 

Randy and I took the day off work and spent it together. Outdoors. In the sunshine. In the warmth. In nature. I needed this. The quiet. The surrounding myself with nature. No news. Thoughts focused on the joy of May 15.

 

Another couple brought pizza to the park for a picnic.

 

We ended our anniversary celebration with smoked bbq pork dinners picked up curbside from The Depot Bar and Grill, a favorite Faribault restaurant. Ribs for Randy, pulled pork for me. Sides of mixed baked beans, coleslaw and a bun. And extra orders of fries and onion rings. Too much food, but absolutely delicious.

 

A mallard swims the Cannon in the golden hour before sunset.

 

We enjoyed our meals along the banks of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park, the evening sun glowing golden upon the water, across the landscape.

 

Part of a kayaking trio.

 

Others picnicked, too, fished, kayaked. All delighting in the outdoors and the calm that brings especially during a global pandemic.

 

Pausing to watch a family of ducks pass by on the Cannon River.

 

Ducklings trailed their mama across the river while the kayakers paused to appreciate the family. As did we.

 

Orange fences surrounding playground equipment and park shelters are gone, opening both up to public use.

 

Across the park, youngsters played on the re-opened playground.

 

I’ve noticed more hammocks in public places.

 

And a person and dog relaxed in a hammock suspended between trees.

 

Lilacs are beginning to open.

 

After dinner, we walked for a bit, stopping to breathe in the scent of lilacs perfuming the air. Randy clipped a few sprigs for me and carried them back to the van. Days later, those lilacs droop in a vase. But I hesitate to toss them, a sensory reminder of a lovely day in May when we celebrated 38 years of marriage.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Cruisin’ on Central on a glorious May evening May 16, 2020

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The weather proved perfect for riding in this AMC Ambassador convertible during Faribault’s first 2020 Car Cruise Night.

 

FOR 25 MINUTES, WE WATCHED the cars and trucks cruise by on Central Avenue. Most vintage. Some not. And, just as the motorcycles roared into line, we picked up our lawn chairs and left. Not because we wanted to, but rather our order of the BBQ special from The Depot Bar & Grill was ready for curbside pick-up. We’d scheduled that just a little too early.

 

Cruising north along Faribault’s Central Avenue.

 

Watching the cruise. Central Avenue was not closed to traffic during the event.

 

Waving an American flag from a Dodge Dart.

 

Friday evening marked the first actual cruise in Faribault Main Street’s monthly warm weather car cruises. Typically, vehicles park along closed Central Avenue and people mingle, inspecting vehicles close-up, visiting with owners and others. It’s a social event that brings the community together.

 

An early Nova, also known as a Chevy II.

 

Filming the cruise…

 

Riding in the rumble seat of a Ford.

 

But all that has changed due to COVID-19. And rather than call off the gathering, organizers planned the cruise, first through Faribault’s historic downtown and then around the city. It was the perfect evening. Sunny. Warm. Lovely in every way.

 

Cruise participants await the start of the cruise in the Buckham Memorial Library parking lot.

 

A lovely Pontiac Catalina drives down Central Avenue.

 

We sat an empty parking space away from these cruise watchers, who remained in their car.

 

As we waited at the Minnesota State Highway 60 and Division Street intersection stoplight, I glanced over at the staging area—the library and community center parking lots. Vehicles packed the lots and nearby street. I noticed a definite lack of social distancing and no masks from afar (their choice), although I saw some drivers with masks during the parade. Randy and I brought ours along, to wear if we felt crowded and needed them. We didn’t.

 

A hotrod…

 

Down the block, these folks watched the cruise.

 

Cruisin’ Central in a Chevelle.

 

And so we kicked back in our lawn chairs and watched as vehicles rolled by, some roaring their engines and showing off for the crowd. I could have done without that. But, still, I enjoyed the parade and the 25 minutes when it seemed like this was just any other Friday evening in May. Except it wasn’t.

 

MORE PHOTOS:

Loved this little Nash Metropolitan.

 

A Plymouth.

 

Love the old pick-up trucks.

 

A 57 Chevy.

 

A Lincoln Continental.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Heartbroken on May 14 May 14, 2020

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Aunt Sue and Uncle John

SHE IS STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL, the young woman in the long-sleeved simple white dress with eight decorative buttons and a corsage accenting the bodice. Her thick black hair is pulled back in a pony tail held in place by a white ribbon and a sprig of flowers. Next to her stands a tall, lean man dressed in suit and tie, a single carnation pinned to his lapel.

On May 14, 1968, this couple—my Aunt Sue and Uncle John—married. Today would have been their 52nd wedding anniversary. Except Sue died last week of pancreatic cancer. Although we all understood that Sue’s cancer, diagnosed some six months ago, was terminal, her death is still difficult to accept. Her husband of nearly 52 years is heartbroken.

That heartbreak has been compounded by COVID-19. For the week Sue was hospitalized prior to her May 8 death, John could not visit her. Until the end—the day prior and the day of. And now he and his grown children and their families are left to grieve alone. The usual ways in which we comfort and support one another have vanished. You know that if you’ve lost a loved one during this global pandemic.

I wish I could be there for my uncle and cousins, to hold them close and tell them how deeply sorry I am for the loss of their wife and mother, my aunt. Instead phone calls, texts, emails, cards and flowers must suffice…until we can gather at some time to honor Aunt Sue.

She was such an incredibly beautiful woman. And also outgoing and engaging. When John and Sue would drive from Minneapolis to rural southwestern Minnesota with their two kids for family gatherings, Sue was right in the thick of conversation and always eager to play board games. During those games, we threatened to use a timer because she often took too long taking her turn. At Christmas one year, I nearly convinced her that I sharpened a candy cane with a pencil sharpener. Laughter filled the farmhouse and Sue laughed right along.

Sue loved her kids and grandkids, cats and good Italian food and life. And she loved my uncle.

Today I will call Uncle John, to offer my support, but mostly to listen. Maybe he will tell me about the beautiful young woman with the thick dark bangs and her hair pulled back. The lovely bride in the above-the-knee simple white wedding dress and his wife of not-quite 52 years.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Gratitude for Mother’s Day photos & the love of a rural Minnesota care center staff May 11, 2020

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I printed this message inside a handmade Mother’s Day card for my mom back in elementary school. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SUNDAY PROVED A MOTHER’S DAY unlike any other due to COVID-19. A day of mixed emotions—of laughter and of sadness. Of smiles. Of missing those I love with an unexplainable pain that comes from separation and of wanting nothing more than to hold and hug those I love most. My mom, who is on hospice. My daughters and son and two grandchildren. Hugs for the sons-in-law, too.

I began the day with no expectations. There would be no seeing family in person, only in a video chat late in the afternoon. Randy tried his best to make my day special. And I am grateful for his effort. For the brunch he cooked, the delicious pork he smoked and grilled. And for the afternoon drive in the country, which proved joyful and therapeutic.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009. Used for illustration only.

 

But two things stand out from Sunday above all. Mid-morning, my eldest sent a photo of her with my sweet grandchildren—Isabelle, 4, and Isaac, 16 months. Izzy beamed a wide smile with Amber in the background holding an open box of specialty doughnuts. While the girls looked at the camera, Isaac did not. His eyes fixed on those doughnuts. I laughed, oh, how I laughed. The image couldn’t have been more perfect.

 

My sweet mom, featured on the Parkview Facebook page.

 

Then hours later, after that delicious supper of smoked pork, grilled veggies and s’mores, Amber texted a photo of my mom posted on the Parkview Senior Living Center Facebook page. It was the most lovely photo of Mom, with oxygen tubes momentarily removed, a slight smile curving her lips and a corsage pinned to her plum fleece jacket. I broke down. Crying. Tears of gratitude. Tears of happiness mixed with sadness. But mostly, above all, thankfulness for this Mother’s Day gift.

To the staff at Parkview, who took the time to pamper the resident mothers and then photograph them, I am especially grateful. I’ve always known them to be a caring and compassionate family in small town southwestern Minnesota. But these images reaffirm that. I am thankful for the extra love given to these moms, and indirectly to us, their families, on Mother’s Day. What a gift. What a blessing.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photo from Parkview Senior Living Center Facebook page