Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When your kids live far away September 13, 2018

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WHENEVER I HEAR OTHERS talk about family vacations with all of their grown children, I feel a tinge of jealousy. Likewise I struggle at family reunions or holiday get-togethers, when often only my adult kids are missing. I experience sadness at their absence while everyone else is surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

I’m happy for families that have these cherished times together. But I don’t have that. Two of my three adult children live outside of Minnesota—one in the Boston area and the other several hundred miles away in eastern Wisconsin. More than a year has passed since we were all together. Maybe we’ll be together at Christmas. I’m hopeful, but not too hopeful. I’ve learned to hold my hope in check to tamp the disappointment.

Such is life with kids branching across the country. I want my son and second daughter to live where they choose, which, right now, is not Minnesota and likely never will be. I am thankful that my eldest daughter and family remain in Minnesota, just an hour away.

Technology keeps us connected. It helps. But how I’d love, too, to have a week with them. Solo or together. Or a few days. Yeah, I’d be happy with that.

 

TELL ME: If you have adult children and grandchildren living a long distance away, how do you stay connected in creative ways? And how do you handle family gatherings when no one seems to notice that your adult kids are absent?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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About those elephant ears September 4, 2018

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MY THREE ADULT CHILDREN MAY SEE each other only once a year. But their love for one another remains. Strong. Unaltered by time and distance. Bound by shared memories.

 

At the Minnesota State Fair. Photo by Miranda.

 

Take the photo my second daughter, Miranda, texted from the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday afternoon to her brother in Boston. The photo of concession stands is meaningless to most. But not to our family.

You see, back when Caleb was much younger and took words literally, he could not understand the serving of elephant ears at the fair. He considered those poor elephants with the missing ears and how awful the thought…until his dad and sisters explained. (I was smart enough to stay home and avoid the masses of fair-goers.) These elephant ears, they clarified, are sugar and cinnamon loaded pastries that, well, resemble elephant ears.

This fair story remains entrenched in our family’s collective memory. So I was not surprised that Miranda, back in Minnesota for the long weekend to visit and attend the State Fair with her sister, photographed the elephant ears concession stand. (I was smart enough to babysit my granddaughter and avoid the masses of fair-goers).

Caleb took his sister’s teasing in stride, now all these years later laughing with the rest of us at the elephant ears story. It is these types of family memories that bring joy. I have five siblings and, believe me, not all resurrected memories bring joy, especially when versions vary and some stories are best left untold.

This story is not one of those hurtful remembrances, but rather one that connects us and takes us back to a time when we were a family of five living under the same roof. We were not separated by nearly 1,500 miles or several hundred miles or 50 miles. I miss those days of togetherness. I know that life goes on. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my kids. I do. Every day.

So when my second daughter drove to Minnesota this weekend to visit her sister and niece for the first time in more than a year, I was over-the-moon happy. The sisters needed this time together. And I love that they thought of their brother while at the State Fair. They thought of me, too, returning with a bag of sugar-laden mini donuts. They remembered just how much I love that fair treat, a memory pulled from their childhood of attending the Rice County Fair.

This is the stuff of family love. Elephant ears and mini donuts. Sweet memories that endure time and distance.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Back in Vesta for the annual Kletscher Family Reunion July 31, 2018

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This sign once marked my hometown. It’s gone now, replaced by a different sign. I prefer this vintage familiar one. It has character. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

AS WE SWEPT THE PARK SHELTER and washed picnic tables in preparation for the annual Kletscher Family Reunion in my hometown of Vesta on Sunday, a woman passed by with a cluster of children. A petite woman in an Asian rice hat and authentic attire from her Vietnamese homeland.

I never saw her face, only heard that she is married to a college professor and lives in a house a ball field away. And sometimes sells egg rolls downtown.

 

The prayer I wrote and read before our noon potluck.

 

The moment imprinted upon me. When I grew up in this rural Minnesota small town in the late 50s, 60s and early 70s, we were all the same race. White. Only our religions separated us—lots of Lutherans and Catholics with some Brethren and Presbyterians thrown in the mix.

 

A snippet of the Kletscher family lineage, my grandfather being Henry.

 

To see diversity all these years later in this prairie town pleases me. Change doesn’t always come easily in a place where generations of families are rooted.

Family brought me back to Vesta, to reconnect with aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and their families. And a few significant others. I appreciate that we still value each other enough to gather every year in the city park located along gravel roads and across from cornfields. This year my siblings and I hosted.

 

Food for the potluck meal spreads across several picnic tables in the Vesta City Park shelter during a previous reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Good food and conversation mark the reunion. I always make a point of moving from lawn chair circle to lawn chair circle so I can talk with nearly everyone. Conversations this year ranged from babies to flooding to a cousin getting out of an emotionally abusive marriage. He’s happy now, happier than he’s been in a long time. “Love is blind,” he noted. I encouraged him, told him how glad I am that he is now free.

 

Cards full of information used in the family jeopardy competition.

 

While that conversation ran deep, there were many light-hearted moments. Like those that came during the first-ever Kletscher Family Jeopardy Game which I planned and hosted. Team Sauerkraut (or Sour Kraut) easily defeated Team Hot Dish in a competition that sometimes seemed more like Family Feud than Jeopardy. All in good fun.

In the shade of towering trees on a July afternoon of perfect Minnesota weather, we laughed. We remembered. And we, the descendants of German immigrants, built new memories in a town where diversity once applied only to differences in religion.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet love June 24, 2018

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HE TOLD ME TO EXPECT a package. Next week. But the priority mail box arrived from Massachusetts on Saturday. I was almost certain the techie son had shipped a one-handed keyboard, even though I told him I didn’t need one. I don’t as I can manage with one-handed typing until I recover from my broken left arm.

 

 

But I was wrong. Inside I found a surprise so sweet that I cried. I cried at the thoughtfulness of Caleb and his girlfriend, who had baked chocolate chunk cookies for me. Thick cookies with dark chocolate, my favorite chocolate. The best chocolate (chip) cookies I have ever eaten.

Turns out Caleb messaged his oldest sister earlier in the week for my cookie recipe. She didn’t have it and sent another recipe instead. I love these cookies.

Even more, I love that Caleb and Sunny thought of me and took the time to bake this gift. It was perfect. Such love and care cannot be bought, only given in an act of love.

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TO MY MANY FAITHFUL READERS (friends), thank you for your prayers, encouragement and well wishes as I deal with this injury and pending surgery. Your words are a gift. I am grateful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Father’s Day love in memories & greeting cards June 15, 2018

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A greeting card from my sister and me to our dad, circa early 1960s.

 

AFTER MY DAD DIED 15 years ago, Father’s Day lost significant meaning to me personally. I had no dad to give a card to or to call.

 

The message inside the duck card, signed by our mom for her daughters.

 

I love giving and receiving greeting cards. But I’ve observed that fewer people send cards these days, choosing instead to text, email, call or simply ignore important personal days of loved ones. I noticed that with my birthday last fall. Birthday cards, especially from family, once stuffed my mailbox. No more.

 

The verse inside this card reads: “For being all that a Father could be/ Loving, gentle and good;/ For your patience and generosity/ In caring for your brood;/ For the happy glow of family love/ That other folks can see–/ Darling, for all of these and more/…A million thanks from me!” My mom signed the card, “Love, Arlene.”

 

Greeting cards, past and present, still hold a place of importance for me. I especially treasure the cards my mom saved through the decades. I have some of those, among them a handful of Father’s Day cards given to my dad.

 

Three of the four of us were old enough to sign this Father’s Day card to our dad. Two more siblings would be born after this.

 

I selected a few to share here because they hold a certain sweetness in messages, graphics and signatures. They are all vintage early 1960s.

 

Dad farmed, in the early years with a John Deere and Farmall and IH tractors and later with a Ford. (Photo by Lanae Kletscher Feser)

A photo of my dad, Elvern Kletscher, taken in 1980.

 

While I don’t have my dad anymore, I still have those greeting cards. And I hold memories of my farmer father who loved me and my five siblings deeply and taught us the value of faith, family and hard work. He wasn’t perfect—no one is. But he was a good man, an honest man, a man of the earth. And if I could, I’d send him a card today telling him how much I appreciated him and loved him.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In the midst of aging, the joys of a walk in the park May 24, 2018

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WE’D PLANNED, ALL ALONG, to wheel her outdoors, into the sunshine of a mid-May afternoon in rural southwestern Minnesota. She embraced the idea with a hint of concern. She worried about the wind, always the wind. So I searched the drawers in her room for her stocking cap, even though she didn’t need it on this 80-some degree day. I couldn’t find the cap she wanted to protect her ears.

Soon Mom forgot about the wind in the busyness of preparing for her excursion. Staff rolled a wheelchair into her room, attached a portable oxygen tank, helped her move from easy chair into wheelchair. Mom noted how good it would be to get outside. And it was. Too many months have passed since her last wheel around the care center and into the adjoining city park.

 

The tree I can’t identify. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

As Randy pushed her wheelchair along the sidewalk fronting Parkview, Mom noted the brightness of the afternoon. I started to view the world through her eyes, cloudy with the age of 86 years. She can’t see much at a distance. Thus I became her eyes. I described the pink splash of a blossoming crabapple tree, the rough bark of a tree I couldn’t identify. I doubt Mom saw the American flag stretched straight by the wind when we paused on the sidewalk.

 

A feature in the mini golf course in the city park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2017.

 

Just writing this, I feel a certain sadness that comes in observing how age steals the person you love, diminishing vision and memory and mobility. Yet, aging counters that loss with a return to the simple delights of life. I tried to remember that as we wound around the care center, past the mini golf course, to the park shelterhouse, past the aged log cabin and the barn swallows swooping.

 

Apple blossoms on an evening in May. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Occasionally we stopped, once so I could stride across the grass to an apple tree. I picked a twig of blossoms, took it back to Mom. She lifted the fragrant petals to her face, told me she couldn’t smell their sweetness. Yet, she clutched the flowers in her left hand, between thumb and forefinger. I checked my emotions in the poignancy of the moment. I wanted Mom to breathe in, once more, the intoxicating scent of spring.

On our way back to the care center, Mom noted dandelions popping yellow through the greening grass. I wish now that I had paused to pick a bouquet for her, to bring back those memories of a little girl gathering dandelions in her fist, of Mom plunging the sticky stems into a jelly jar to set upon the farmhouse kitchen table.

 

The log cabin in the park is a reminder of the passage of time. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2017.

 

This aging of parents is difficult. Roles reverse. I feel a mix of sadness and anger and then, because I have to, thankfulness that my mother is still here for me to hug and to kiss and to hear the words, “I love you.”

 

TELL ME: Do you have an aging parent? If so, how are you handling this stage of life?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A legacy of love in 10 words May 19, 2018

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TEN WORDS IN A TELEGRAM. Ten words of love. Sent seven weeks prior to their December 7, 1945, wedding.

She saved the creased and partially torn slip of paper for 73 years, a reminder of the love they shared until his death a dozen years ago.

On Thursday that love letter, wired by my Uncle Glenn from Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia to his betrothed back in Minnesota, was shared at his beloved’s funeral. There, among all the family photos and remembrances, this piece of my Aunt Elaine’s life held the sweetness of young love and evidence of an enduring love between husband and wife.

“You don’t think of your grandparents in that kind of way, in a romantic way,” Glenn and Elaine’s granddaughter said as we stood (after the funeral dinner) reading the romantic words of Kim’s grandfather: DARLING. ARRIVED SAFELY. EXPECT TO BE HOME SOON. LOVE = GLENN.

Darling. That single word holds such love, such sweetness, such promise. I can only imagine the joy Elaine felt in receiving that October 19, 1945, wire from the man she was about to marry. While he served in the US military, she was back home on their native southwestern Minnesota prairie working as a nurse at the Marshall Hospital.

 

Elaine Borning. Photo from the Sunset Funeral Association website.

 

What a gift Elaine left to her six surviving children, 24 grandchildren and 47 great grandchildren by saving that telegram. Love of family threaded throughout her funeral day. In between comforting Scripture, we sang “I Was There to Hear your Borning Cry,” a hymn sung at every Borning family funeral. Song connecting generations, even in death.

I was there to hear your borning cry, I’ll be there when you are old. I couldn’t make it through that song without tears releasing at the death of my godmother, in the emotion of gathering in a small town Lutheran church to grieve and to celebrate Elaine’s life. There, on a May morning as perfect as they get in Minnesota, our voices rose in love and sadness and hope. When the evening gently closes in, and you shut your weary eyes, I’ll be there as I have always been with just one more surprise. I was there to hear your borning cry…

After the service, vehicles in the long funeral processional trailed clouds of dust through the under-construction gravel Main Street of Echo as we passed the grain elevator and boarded up buildings toward the cemetery. As I stood on the lush grass a tombstone away from Elaine’s gravesite, I took in the scene. Family gathered. Clenched tissues wiping tears from eyes. My cousin’s head bowed in sadness. A Spee-Dee delivery truck passing by. White clouds hung in a deep blue sky, farm fields just across the highway. And then, as the pastor led the graveside service, the noon whistle blaring, loud and clear across the land. So small town. So fitting. A moment to laugh within, to think, Elaine would have appreciated this.

 

 

Just like she would have appreciated the homemade chocolate mayonnaise cake served at her funeral dinner. She had a fondness for sweets, was known for the chocolate mayo cake she baked. After her death, her family found candy bars stashed in her freezer alongside bags of neatly-stacked homemade buns.

And they found, too, her life story written just for them. I can only imagine the comfort my cousins and their children and their children’s children will find in reading those words. Just like the ten words written in that telegram 73 years ago. Words that leave a legacy of love.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling