Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

January grief January 11, 2018

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I TRAILED MY HUSBAND as he wheeled his dad through double doors and across door mats, guiding him between a duo line of young men waiting outside the care center.

Just moments earlier the group carried their grandmother’s casket, grey as the January skies that matched the mood of this Wednesday afternoon in central Minnesota.

Randy veered his dad’s wheelchair to the left, behind the coffin, behind the hearse that would carry my father-in-law’s wife two hours west to her burial plot in Montevideo. There she would be laid to rest in the cold soil beside her first husband.

Earlier we gathered inside the care center chapel to remember Jan and to seek comfort in words of Scripture, song, prayer and memories. I learned of my step mother-in-law’s fondness for Tator Tot Hotdish and doughnuts as my own memories surfaced of a woman who always looked lovely with nails painted, hair done, and clothes and jewelry just so. Twenty-two years ago I photographed her marriage to Tom, Randy standing beside him then just as he was now.

Now, with her family preparing for the 100-mile funeral processional westward, my wheelchair bound father-in-law had his final moments with his second wife. It took one heave of Tom’s shoulders for Randy to place his hand upon his dad’s shoulder in a loving and tender act of comfort. I did likewise as the funeral director slid the grey casket, brightened by a lovely spray of red flowers, inside the hearse, then shut the doors.

In that act of finality, grief for my father-in-law surged through me. To see him lose a second wife 24 years after losing his beloved Betty hurt my heart.

Yet, we are people of faith, confident that Jan, like Betty, is now in heaven, and no longer suffering. That comforted us as we headed back inside the care center to sip coffee and to eat ham sandwiches (made with homemade buns), chips and bars (baked by the hands of those who loved Jan). Absent, though, were my step mother-in-law’s favorite doughnuts and Tator Tot Hotdish.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Words matter & my hope for 2018 December 29, 2017

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Some of the quotes posted on my refrigerator.

 

WORDS HOLD INCREDIBLE power—to hurt, to heal, to build, to tear down, to discourage, to embolden, to darken, to enlighten…

 

A wall of quotes…I love this public posting of inspiring words discovered this past September inside the Jack Pine Center in Pequot Lakes.

 

During my life, I’ve felt the sting of unkind words unleashed by teen bullies, by a teacher who should never have been a teacher, by individuals angered with my writing, by those who spoke (or wrote) without first considering how deep their words would wound me. Oftentimes it is those we love most who hurt us the most.

Perhaps you can relate. And if you can’t, I am thankful you can’t.

I expect my words have also at times hurt others. And I’m sorry for that.

 

 

As a professional wordsmith, I strive to use words in a positive way. I realize the power in the words I write and in the words I speak. I accept that responsibility.

 

 

 

 

Often I turn to words to inspire me, to give me hope and refocus my thinking when I need a shift in mindset. With that thought, I want to share some of the quotes currently posted on my fridge and in my office.

 

Inspirational quotes posted on my desk, on the shelf above my desktop screen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all. —Emily Dickinson.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. —Philippians 4:13

Keep your heart brave and your imagination wild. (from a Hallmark bag)

Let your roots grow down into Him and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught and you will overflow with thankfulness. —Colossians 2:7

Without a love for books the richest person is poor. —unknown

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.— Romans 12:12

Sometimes it’s nice to get an unexpected hug for no other reason than just because you’re loved. So while you’re reading these words, don’t think of them as just words…Think of each one as a hug for your heart from mine.  —Barbara J. Hall

It is my hope that in 2018 we as individuals, as communities, as a nation, as a world, will grow kinder in our use of words. I hope we will think before we speak/write, considering the power of our words.

Thoughts? Or a favorite quote you’d like to share?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas blessings in images & words December 24, 2017

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While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.

 

 

She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

 

 

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

 

 

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 

 

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

 

 

During the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

 

 

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.

 

 

Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

 

 

MY DEAR READERS,

I wish for you the gifts of good health, happiness, peace, and wonderful times with family and friends. May joy and contentment ease into your days, even if you are missing loved ones or dealing with challenges. Life is a gift. And you are, too.

Merry Christmas!

Audrey

 

Text comes from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, chapters 2.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Another Christmas with Mom December 20, 2017

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I pose with my mom for a photo during our extended family Christmas gathering several days ago at her care facility.

 

MORE AND MORE I am cognizant of the passage of time, of aging, of the realization that I am now in the demographic of senior citizen. I need only look at my ever graying hair and my multiplying age spots and feel the aches and pains of arthritis. I am growing old, which is a good thing if you consider the alternative.

But with my own aging comes more frequent grief. More and more I am writing sympathy cards and attending funeral home visitations and comforting friends at the loss of parents.

While my dad died in 2003, my mom is still living. I find myself more and more making sure I photograph her during our visits. She lives 2 ½ hours away. Often I ask my husband to photograph my 85-year-old Mom and me together, too. We almost lost her last winter to pneumonia, one of many critical health challenges Mom has faced during her lifetime.

But she shares the story that God told her he wasn’t ready yet for that stubborn old lady. I believe her. Mom doesn’t lie.

And so I am blessed with another opportunity to celebrate Christmas with Mom. I am thankful.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A drive in the Minnesota countryside takes me to St. Jarlath November 7, 2017

 

“SAINT JARLATH. Who’s that?” I asked my Catholic-raised and educated husband as we pulled up to a rural Minnesota cemetery during a recent Sunday afternoon drive.

 

 

He offered no information, as puzzled as me by the saint behind the name of St. Jarlath’s Catholic Cemetery located just off Waseca County Road 22 in Iosco Township. My later online research revealed Bishop Jarlath as the founder and principle patron of the Archdiocese of Tuam in Galway, Ireland. Irish names in the cemetery should have tipped us off.

 

 

I delight in discovering such well-kept rural cemeteries edged next to equally well-maintained churches. Clearly, people care deeply about this place. That pleases me although the closure of rural parishes like this one does not.

 

 

As we wandered the grounds, I spotted autumn décor adorning some gravesites. Seeing scarecrows on a tombstone marked a first for me.

 

 

I noticed, too, the trees,

 

 

the aged, and not so aged, stones,

 

 

the loving words

 

 

 

 

 

 

and clear markers of faith in crosses high and low.

 

 

I tugged at the church door, hoping to get inside. I never expect access. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. Gone are the days of unattended, open churches. I can only imagine the beauty, the history within this country church.

 

 

The ability to freely wander this cemetery on a stunning autumn afternoon tempered my disappointment. To see folks honor their ancestors and Saint Jarlath through a well-kept church and grounds encourages me. This place remains important—at least for now to those still living.

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AS I SCHEDULED this post, written days before the deadly mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I feel compelled to add this postscript expressing my sorrow and thoughts. I cannot fathom the loss to these families, to this community, about the same size as my Minnesota hometown. My heart breaks. A church, of all places, should be a sanctuary from violence. No place seems safe any more.

Initial media reports reveal the perpetrator had a history of domestic violence and that he sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law shortly before killing 26 people and wounding another 20 at the church. This troubles me. Domestic violence continues to root deep into our society. I read or hear media reports daily about murder-suicides, violations of restraining orders, calls to domestic disturbances, stalking, assaults…and more. For every case reported to law enforcement, many many more are not reported. Because of fear. Because of intimidation. Because of control and manipulation.

The invasive crime of domestic abuse and violence is affecting too many of our families, our neighborhoods, our communities and, yes, even our churches, directly and indirectly.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Wheeling Township, Part III: More images & words from Germanfest October 4, 2017

A farm site along Minnesota State Highway 60 near St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault.

 

IN A RURAL SETTING not far from Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, the members, families and friends of St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, serve not only an incredible German dinner each September, but also incredible hospitality.

 

 

Shirley checks and refills food on the serving line.

 

Even the pickles are homemade.

 

Through my many years of attending dinners, luncheons and other events at this country church, I’ve gotten to know these friendly folks—Lynn, Kim, Doug, Craig, Shirley… I can’t come and go without stopping to greet and hug sweet Elsie, who now into her nineties still works in the kitchen stirring gravy or potato salad or cutting and plating pies (during the church ice cream socials). Truly, these dinners are labors of love.

 

Here two volunteers, in ethnic costumes, take a break at the root beer stand.

 

Petting zoo animals come from a nearby farm.

 

There’s always a well put together historical display.

 

I can only imagine the tremendous time, effort and energy involved in pulling off Germanfest, an event which features more than just the showcased ethnic meal which this year fed some 650. I appreciate the country store and market that offer home-baked and garden grown goods and more. I appreciate, too, the quilts stitched by talented hands and the music and petting zoo and historical displays and more.

 

On the church altar, a beautiful harvest display.

 

There’s something divinely wonderful about a Minnesota church festival that reconnects me to the land, that brings a sense of peace in a world brimming with too much discontent and chaos.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

This gentleman arrived from four miles away in his Model T Ford.

 

Congregants make and sell crab apple jelly from trees growing on church property.

 

Dressed in lederhosen, a volunteer pauses to enjoy the music and check out the market under the tent.

 

Lucy, seven months, and her grandpa listen to the old-time music.

 

The Ray Sands Band plays tunes like “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie…”

 

I observed these guys kicked back and relaxing to the music of the Ray Sands Band.

 

A display of German items honors the congregation’s heritage.

 

I enjoyed this over-sized woodcarving of a fisherman.

 

Church festivals are made for visiting.

 

Ice cream cones of feed for animals in the petting zoo were popular with the kids.

 

These piglets were among animals in the petting zoo.

 

Even the church windowsills are adorned with harvest themed decor.

 

One final look at St. John’s UCC as we drive away.

 

NOTE: To all my readers who wish I would have told you about this church dinner in advance, I’m sorry. Please mark your 2018 calendars for next September. Germanfest is always held around the same time annually.

But I can tell you about another outstanding area church dinner set for 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. this Sunday, October 8, at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown. With a homemade meal of turkey, ham and all the fixings, it’s one of the best (in my opinion) church dinners around. The event also includes a craft and bake sale in the church basement. Click here to read previous posts about Trinity’s fall dinner.

Please check back for one last post in my four-part series from Germanfest. You won’t want to miss this final, especially endearing, photo essay. Click here to read my first post and click here to read my second post, both published last week.

© 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Wheeling Township, Part I: The season of Minnesota church dinners September 26, 2017

Long-time Germanfest kitchen staff, Lynn, left, and Elsie.

 

AUTUMN MARKS THE SEASON of church dinners and festivals in Minnesota. In fellowship halls and church basements, you will find some of the best homecooked food. Food of the land. Potatoes peeled and mashed. Squash scooped of seeds and baked. Bone-in-ham savory and heavenly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An abundance of food fills plates, satisfying the belly and the soul. Menus vary from congregation to congregation with ethnicity, location and tradition determining food offerings. At St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, parishioners serve an authentic German meal at the annual late September Germanfest. Several years had passed since I attended this dinner, one of my favorites among Faribault area churches.

 

Diners park their vehicles around the cemetery next to the church.

 

 

 

 

Baby Lucy and her grandpa listen to the Ray Sands Combo.

 

Here in this rural setting, with old-time bands pumping out polkas and waltzes just outside the dining hall, hundreds gather for food and fellowship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And bingo,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a quilt show,

 

 

 

 

 

 

petting zoo,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

market, polka service and more.

 

 

 

Randy and I whiled away the last September Sunday afternoon here, crammed first into the fellowship hall eating sauerbraten and brats, German potato salad (and yes, mashed potatoes and gravy for those who prefer that potato choice) and an assortment of German sides with Black Forest cake, apple kuchen and bread pudding for dessert—as if we needed three desserts. But it’s impossible to pass on such sugary goodness.

 

 

 

 

This event, as are all church dinners and festivals, is about more than food. It’s about family and friends and good conversation and laughter and delighting in the bounty of the earth. It’s about hard work—laboring in the kitchen, selling tickets, grilling brats, tending quilts and animals, and an entire long list of volunteer duties. It’s about a sense of community, a coming together, a communion of sorts with the land, with this place, with these people. In the season of autumn.

 

TELL ME: Do you attend church dinners and festivals? If so, feel free to recommend one here.

 

Check back for several more posts from St. John’s Germanfest including some endearing photos of a budding musician and of a family photo shoot.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling