Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thoughts on the pandemic, from sleep to reality June 16, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Dreams roil storms into my sleep. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2011.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: I wrote this post several weeks ago and kept it in-draft. So, when you read this, remember that as I have not updated this from the original writing. My feelings about the need to take this pandemic seriously and to think beyond ourselves remain unchanged.

 

FOR THE FIRST TIME since the COVID-19 crisis broke, I dreamed about the pandemic.

I expect my turbulent emotions of that day and the day prior prompted the dream. Anger and disappointment framed my thoughts as did a converged weariness over a pervasive attitude of self-centeredness in this pandemic.

 

Our face masks. Please, people, wear masks. And if you already do, thank you.

 

And so I dreamed of a long-dead neighbor and of extended family converging on our property, no one wearing face masks, none social-distancing. They got too close, in my face. And when I told them they would need to leave, some turned on me. And then I awoke from my nightmare. Or did I really?

 

On one occasion, I left the house without my hand sanitizer. The planned trip inside a local convenience store did not happen as a result.

 

Life, some days, can play like an ongoing bad dream. If I let it thread that direction. It depends on the day. Trips to the grocery store frustrate me. Employees are now wearing masks—finally—in the local places I shop for food. But too many customers still are not and I don’t get it. I skirt those people (if possible) in the too-narrow aisles.

While shopping at a big box store, I thanked the masked cashier for the store’s requirement that all customers and employees wear masks. I could see her eyes smiling. “All we hear are complaints,” she said. I’m not surprised.

Recently I stopped for ice cream at a favorite independent shop in a neighboring town. The teen behind the walk-up window was not masked. The same for curbside food pick-up at a favorite local restaurant. The woman who handed me my bagged and boxed food was unmasked. I was masked. Both situations surprised me and made me feel uncomfortable. Health and government officials recommend we wear masks. And in some cities, like Minneapolis, masks in public places are now mandatory. And when restaurants re-open, servers will need to don masks. Why not now, during walk-up or curbside pick-up?

 

A message posted on the marquee of the Paradise Center for the Arts at the start of the pandemic. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo edited.

 

I’m not sharing these stories to call people or businesses out. Rather, I’m frustrated by the “me” mentality. This pandemic is not about us individually. This is about us collectively. Decisions we make affect others. We can unknowingly carry this virus, perhaps give it to someone who is in the vulnerable demographic. There’s no guarantee either that, if we become infected, we won’t get really sick. We just do not know.

Our thoughts need to stretch beyond ourselves, to thinking of others. And then acting and choosing behaviors that show we truly and deeply care about our families, our friends, our neighbors, even the people we encounter at the grocery store.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream for my Minnesota community January 21, 2013

I HAVE A DREAM for my community of Faribault, Minnesota.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

Skin color matters not during this pinata breaking at the International Festival Faribault held in August 2012.

And that dream is for those who live here to see beyond differences in skin color, language, culture and religion.

That same little boy who was so intently focused on the musician.

One of my favorite portraits from the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

I dream that someday my neighbors, and I use that term in the general sense of the word, will recognize that we are, no matter our differences, each human beings who deserve respect.

The scramble for candy once one of three pinatas is broken.

No barriers here as Faribault kids scramble for candy at the 2012 International Festival Faribault,

I dream that someday prejudice will vanish.

The ever-changing/growing diversity of Faribault High School as seen in this post commencement gathering outside the school.

The ever-growing diversity of Faribault High School as seen in this post 2012 commencement gathering outside the school.

I dream that long-time residents will begin to understand the difficulties local minorities—Somalis, Sudanese, Latinos and others—face in assimilating into a new culture, a new community, a new way of life.

International flag ribbons were tied to trees in Central Park during the 2011 International Festival..

International flag ribbons were tied to trees in Central Park during the 2011 International Festival..

I dream the descendants of immigrants will remember that their forefathers were once newcomers to this land.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

Friends and Faribault residents, Nimo Abdi and Nasteho Farah, photographed at the International Festival Faribault 2012.

I dream that someday I will speak with a young Somali high school student and the words she shares will not be words of heartbreaking prejudice.

In this file photo, a Somali family waits to cross a downtown Faribault street.

In this file photo, a Somali family waits to cross a downtown Faribault street.

I dream that locals will stop fearing the Somali men who gather on downtown street corners, the street-level front porches of their Central Avenue apartments.

A group of young Somali dancers perform on the band shell stage during the festival.

A group of young Somali dancers perform on the band shell stage during the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

I dream that the minority population will no longer be lumped together into the category of those who commit the most crimes within my community.

Conversation and connecting..., no other words necessary.

Conversation and connecting…, no other words necessary.

I dream that all of us, no matter our color, can begin to connect on a personal level. For when that happens, the barriers begin to fall, the differences slip away, and the prejudices vanish.

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I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE you with the impression that Faribault residents are a bunch of racists. We are not. But to claim that we are all accepting of one another, to deny that bigotry exists, would be inaccurate. I’ve heard all too many negative stories and comments, even from friends and acquaintances, about our minority population.

Faribault is an ever-changing community of diversity. One need only drive or walk about town to see that.  While 75 percent of our population is white, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, Hispanics or Latinos comprise 13 percent and black or African Americans seven percent of our residents.

We can form all sorts of committees, outreach and other groups to ease newcomers into Faribault, to advocate understanding and acceptance. These are necessary and commendable efforts. Yet, if we as individuals do not open our hearts, and that applies both to long-time residents and immigrants, nothing truly changes. We need to connect on a personal basis. For in shaking a hand, greeting one another by name, engaging in conversation, we begin to view each other as individuals, then as friends.

I am not so naive as to believe any of this will come easily or quickly. Change begins with something as simple as a smile, holding a door open, a kind word, an unwillingness to hear a prejudicial comment and then let it slide…

Downtown Faribault businesses include Banadir Restaurant, a Somali restaurant.

Downtown Faribault businesses include Banadir Restaurant, a Somali restaurant.

We can choose to support the ethnic businesses which are making our community a more diverse and interesting place to shop and dine. I’d like to see minorities actively and visibly involved/represented in the Chamber of Commerce and Faribault Main Street program. How about a campaign to showcase ethnic businesses to locals and visitors?

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful wood crafts from Kenya and Somalia.

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful art from Kenya and Somalia at the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

Perhaps our local arts center could connect with minority groups, integrating them into the arts scene via gallery showings, classes, diverse cultural events and the sale of their art in the arts center gift shop.

Ethnic musicians could be featured during the weekly Faribault Parks and Recreation Department summer band concerts in Central Park.

The Faribault Farmers’ Market could invite minorities to vend their ethnic art, crafts and food. The relaxed atmosphere of the Farmers’ Market offers an especially neighborly environment in which to connect people and cultures on a personal level.

My ideas are nothing novel. Perhaps some have already been tried, are in the works or are on the table…

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CERTAINLY EFFORTS ARE being made to reach out to our newest residents, although one of the most valuable assets, The Welcome Center, closed several years ago due to lack of funding. Somali Community Services reaches the Somali population, at least.

A newly-formed group, Faribault’s Task Force on Cultural Diversity, has brought community leaders (including clergy, business representatives, healthcare and law enforcement professionals and others) together to address diversity-related concerns. I contacted Mayor John Jasinski, who is spearheading this committee, for an update, but have not yet received a response.

A woman, without my prompting, took this mask from the table manned by Bashir Omar and Asher Ali and asked me to photograph her.

Without prompting, this woman took this mask from a table manned by Bashir Omar and Asher Ali and asked me to photograph her during the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

The nonprofit International Festival Faribault organizes an annual outdoor fest aiming “to promote understanding between diverse cultures within Faribault, uniting the community with music, dance, ethnic foods and merchandise.”

HealthFinders Collaborative, which began with a healthcare clinic for the underinsured and uninsured in rural Dundas, recently opened an additional center in downtown Faribault.

St. Vincent de Paul Center offers financial assistance, food, clothing and other basic necessities to those in need.

Ten Faribault churches have joined to create the Community Cathedral Cafe, serving a free meal from 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. each Tuesday at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour.

Divine Mercy Catholic Church has a Hispanic Ministry Program that includes, among many other aspects, annual summer masses at two Faribault trailer parks.

Within Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Nile Our Savior’s, a Sudanese congregation, holds Sunday afternoon worship services at 1 p.m in the Nuer language.

Buckham Memorial Library offers a free online language program (Mango Languages) with 40 foreign languages and 12 English as a Second Language courses.

This list certainly is not all-encompassing. Our schools are reaching out, too, through nonprofits like Children’s Dental Services. I expect many individuals, whether via one-on-one tutoring, donations or other gifts are also assisting Faribault’s minority population.

Yet, more can be done. And it starts with each of us, in our hearts, on a personal level.

*NOTE: Some of the organizations listed above are not geared specifically toward assisting local minorities, but rather toward anyone in need, no matter their ethnicity.

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Historic buildings along Central Avenue.

Historic buildings along Central Avenue in downtown Faribault, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IN CELEBRATION of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and his “I have a dream” speech, I’d like to hear:  What is your dream for your community?

And what are your thoughts on anything I’ve presented in this post.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One man’s dream: Build it and it shall sail, the story of the Hjemkomst November 14, 2012

The Hjemkomst.

I REMEMBER BEING ONE of the skeptics.

Build a ship in the middle of nowhere, haul it to Lake Superior in Duluth and then eventually sail across the Atlantic Ocean to Norway.

Who thinks that is possible?

A plaque honoring ship builder and captain Robert Asp, located in the Hjemkomst Center, Moorhead, Minnesota. The steps, left, lead visitors to a deck for viewing of the open ship interior.

Robert Asp.

Thirty years ago the Hjemkomst, a ship built by this Moorhead, Minnesota, junior high school counselor, with the help of family and friends, accomplished that 4,700-mile feat, proving the skeptics wrong.

The photo on right, by Tim Hatlestad, shows the Hjemkomst sailing into the harbor of Bergen, Norway.

By then, Asp had died, passing away in December 1980 at the age of 57 from leukemia. But his family pursued his dream, launching the ship on May 11, 1982, for the journey back to the Asp family Motherland on the Hjemkomst, which translates from Norwegian into English as “homecoming.”

Looking up to the mast and sails.

Hearing the Hjemkomst story many years ago is one thing. Seeing Asp’s ship permanently docked in the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead is another. Only by viewing the ship and learning its story in detail can you truly appreciate the determination of a man to fulfill a dream.

A small section of the museum exhibit on the Hjemkomst.

And details you will find in the museum exhibit, these among the highlights I pulled from the wealth of information revealed during a recent visit to the Hjemkomst Center:

  • In the summer of 1971, Bob Asp and his brother Bjarne talked about their Viking heritage over coffee and joked about building a Viking ship to sail to Norway.
  • Bob began searching in the Alvarado area, 18 miles north of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and six miles east of Oslo, Minnesota, in the spring of 1972 for oak trees with which to build the Hjemkomst. Eventually 100 oaks would be used in the ship construction.
  • In November 1973, Bob leased a former potato warehouse in Hawley, 22 miles east of Moorhead, in which to construct his replica of the Viking ship Gokstad. Archeologists discovered the Gokstad in 1880 in Gokstad, Norway. Bob based the Hjemkomst on that ship.
  • The purpose of his ship, according to Bob, was “to further the Norwegian image and heritage.”
  • In 1976, Bob was offered $25,000 by a man who wanted to hire a crew to finish building the Hjemkomst for a tall ship parade in New York City. Bob declined the offer.
  • The ship’s keel was laid in 1974 and, after six years of construction, the vessel was christened in 1980 at the “Hawley Shipyard.”
  • In August 1980, the Hjemkomst was lowered into Lake Superior in the Duluth harbor.
  • On May 11, 1982, a 13-member crew began the voyage across Lake Superior with 12 continuing on to Bergen, Norway. The trip would take 72 days, covering 4,700 miles.
  • The ship was eventually returned via freighter to the U.S. and today is permanently at home in the Hjemkomst Center near the banks of the Red River of the North.

As impressed as I was by viewing the actual Hjemkomst and by reading the detailed time-line of its construction, launch and voyage, I was even more impressed by the fortitude of Bob Asp.

A dream come true “button” attached to the side of the Viking ship replica.

He dared to dream.

Here’s a quote from the museum: “Constructed in a sea of grain, a prairie with no ocean in sight, this Viking ship was built board-by-board with determination and sailed to Norway.”

He dared to continue on, even in the face of skeptics and illness (he was diagnosed with leukemia in July 1974).

A plexi board upon which museum visitors can post their dreams.

He dared to believe in himself. Therein lies a legacy of inspiration that teaches all of us the value of holding on to dreams.

A sign of support from the grain elevator in Hawley, where the ship was built.

A quote from Rose Asp, Bob Asp’s wife.

The interior of the Hjemkomst as seen from a second floor viewing deck.

A sign on the ship honors the Asp brothers for their military service.

This dragon head was attached to a canoe, dubbed Hjemkomst Jr., and shown in parades to promote the ship project.

Some of the gear and equipment from the Hjemkomst.

Moorhead, Minnesota, Asp’s home and now the Hjemkomst’s permanent home.

In the center of the Hjemkomst Center, the mast area of the Hjemkomst ship dominates the roofline.

FYI: The Hjemkomst Center is open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Tuesdays and from noon – 5 p.m. Sundays. It is closed some holidays. There is free admission from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. every third Tuesday. Admission prices vary. Click here to link to a $1 off admission coupon and for other coupon savings in Fargo/Moorhead.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A graduation party nightmare June 3, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:24 PM
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SERIOUSLY, WHO WAS I FOOLING?

Myself, apparently.

I awakened Friday morning with a headache so pounding severe that I popped two Ibuprofen before even going to the bathroom. Yes, that bad.

It seems the stress I hadn’t been experiencing about my son’s high school graduation party morphed into a single, full-blown episode of tension. I blame it on my inability to fall asleep on Thursday night and the party nightmare that followed when I actually drifted into fitful unrest.

Before details of this dream tumble from my fingers onto the keyboard, you need to know that we live along a busy, arterial street in Faribault, as in it can take a good five minutes for traffic to clear enough to walk across the roadway.

So…, I dreamed that four children were playing with four balls and four balls rolled across the lawn and down the street followed by four running children. I swooped one teeny, tiny girl from the street. I then deposited all of the children with their partying parents and instructed them to watch their children. I then stashed away all the balls.

Reality is that I am setting out a coloring book and sidewalk chalk (to be used on the driveway) for the kiddos. The only balls will be attached to string in a ladder golf game.

Later in my dream, these same kids, accompanied by their mothers, traipsed into my living room, opened the front door and attempted to bring a bird into my living room. My mother said it was OK. No, mom, it is not OK to bring a robin into my house.

Weather, certainly, has been foremost on my mind given I am a Minnesotan and we obsess about weather. Although the weather forecasters are promising a beautiful Saturday, I apparently, subconsciously, do not believe them as I dreamed skies were stormy, black as night. Imagine that.

I also dreamed a certain unnamed relative arrived at the party as if he had been partying all night. BTW, only water and lemonade will be served at the real party. And that would be water in a thermos cooler, not bottled, per my graduate’s eco friendly request. (He dislikes bottled water.) A friend suggested simply hooking up the garden hose to be über eco friendly.

I dreamed that hordes of unwanted strangers showed up at the party.

Those extra guests probably explain why we ran out of food by 1:40 p.m. when the event began at 1:00 p.m. Doesn’t every party hostess worry whether there will be enough food?

I know, this nightmare is getting incredibly long, isn’t it? But just a few more scenes, and I’m done. I dreamed my oldest daughter’s boyfriend, whom I am meeting for the first time today, was bonked in the head by something. This stems from my real-life concern that he will bump his head on a doorway in our house which has only 7-foot high ceilings. The boyfriend is six-foot-five.

To my second daughter, I would request that you not wash t-shirts and hang them on the clothesline during the party. FYI, my clothesline, when in use, is strung across the patio.

There. That’s it. Can you understand why I woke up with a splitting headache on Friday morning, pre-party day?

P.S. I FAILED TO PUBLISH this post on Saturday as planned because I was a wee bit distracted by the graduation party we were hosting in the afternoon.

My nightmarish dream did not become reality. The weather was absolutely splendid. Sunshine and mid-70s with no humidity.

No kids ran in the street or brought birds into my house.

We ran out of nacho cheese sauce and had seven buns left.

A few uninvited guests showed up. But the oldest daughter invited them and they are her friends and they were nice and we’re good.

The boyfriend did not bump his head on any door archways and I like him very much, thank you.

And so that, dear readers, is how this dream ended, in a reality that was not at all nightmarish. Not at all.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling