Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Preparing for a family reunion August 15, 2017

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At last year’s reunion, the young adults and kids played a human version of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

 

FOOD, FUN AND FAMILY. Those three words focus my attention and energy this week with the annual Helbling Family Reunion just days away. Randy and I are co-hosting with a nephew and his wife.

Gatherings like this of nearly 50 people take substantial planning and implementation. But I love doing this sort of thing.

 

Randy found this Oktoberfest bier mug from Bismarck, North Dakota, at a New Ulm thrift store. He’ll use it at the reunion. His family roots are in the Bismarck-Mandan area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

A year ago, we chose a German theme to honor the family’s heritage. We’ll have a German meal complete with brats, German potato salad, sauerbraten, sauerkraut, kuchen, homemade pretzels and American foods, too. Food assignments were made months ago.

Following the German theme, I created a scavenger hunt for the kids to find gnomes and animals.

I culled the family history book for stories, some of which will be part of a trivia contest.

 

Using discarded props from Vacation Bible School past, Randy and I crafted this mountain backdrop.

 

And then, because I am a photographer who considers it vital to document events like this, Randy and I crafted a photo backdrop and the eldest daughter ordered German themed props for fun photo ops.

I’m always all about making a celebration special with decorating details. So off to Dollar Tree I went to scoop up plastic tablecloths, napkins and cups in black, red and yellow, the colors of the German flag.

Wildflowers and garden flowers will fill bier steins as table centerpieces.

 

Randy and I are on the right, pictured here with other siblings and in-laws. Several are missing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

 

I want to make this day special and memorable for a family I love and have been part of for 35 years. I expect plenty of laughter and BS as we talk and mingle and have fun together.

As much as I am excited about seeing many of my in-laws, I am especially happy that my son is flying in from Boston for a long weekend. My second daughter and her husband are driving from northeastern Wisconsin. And my eldest, her husband and baby girl are arriving from an hour away. I cannot wait to have all of my kids together for a day. We last saw each other at Christmas.

Now, as the days wind down, I consider all I have yet to do. Although the reunion is not at my house, I still have to clean and cook for overnight guests. I started that job last week but then stopped after the city sealcoated my street and dust filtered into my house day after day after day. There were times when I couldn’t see a block away for the dust stirred up by the traffic. Sigh.

And then I had a bit of a setback in my physical therapy and some limitations placed on me yesterday. Apparently I pushed myself too hard with weight lifting and general overall lifting resulting in near constant pain in my recovering shoulder. Now I’m on a weight restriction which should allow my muscles to rest and recover. I so did not need that this week.

But then that’s life. I’ll do what I can and leave the rest to others.

And if I have time to write more here this week, I will. If not, then I won’t, because right now I’m focused on food, fun and, most important, family.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The power of a train August 6, 2017

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TEN FEET AWAY, the train roared down the tracks next to The Depot Bar & Grill in Faribault. I could feel its immense power as the cars zipped by in a blur, rails rising and falling.

 

 

For a moment I considered my vulnerability with only a wrought iron fence and a slip of stones separating me from this mammoth machine.

 

 

Despite my flash of fear, I thrilled in the rush of sitting so near a train as I waited for my brisket sandwich and fries on the outdoor patio. I grabbed my beer, took another swig and felt the rhythm of the fast-moving cars.

 

 

What is it about trains that holds such fascination? The power certainly impresses. But I think it’s the history, too, associated with trains that appeals to us. Travel by rail opened this country to further settlement.

 

 

My paternal great grandfather, Rudolph, rode the train to Henderson, Minnesota, in 1890, four years after he arrived by steamship in Baltimore. And four years after that, he moved farther west and bought a farm from the Great Western Railroad just outside my hometown of Vesta.

 

 

I expect most of you could tell similar stories of your ancestors and their travel by rail. Trains link us to our past, to those who came before us to this land, this America.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on fatherhood June 16, 2017

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My husband and I with our three children, taken last Christmas. Rare are the times now when we are all together given the son lives in greater Boston and one daughter lives nearly six hours distant. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

“HAS YOUR DAD ever thanked you for saving his life?” I asked my husband. I doubted my father-in-law had, yet I had to ask.

“No,” Randy answered.

“You know, if this would have happened today, you would be in the news, considered a hero.” Randy agreed.

Fifty years ago this coming October 21, the then 11-year-old central Minnesota farm boy shut off the power take-off to the corn chopper that trapped his father’s arm. With the power off, Randy then raced across the field to a neighboring farm for help. His actions saved his dad’s life.

Why do I share this story just days before Father’s Day? It is an extreme example of how relationships between fathers and their children have changed. In the 1960s, the time frame in which this accident occurred, the rural men I knew worked long hard hours on the farm. By the time they exited the barn or field, they were too exhausted to interact much with their kids. They worked tirelessly to provide for families that often included a half dozen or more children. Rare were the two-kid families.

It was, too, the norm of the times for men to be distant, uninvolved and unemotional. I remember how I craved any time with my dad that didn’t involve farm work. Taking lunch to him and my Uncle Mike in the field provided some one-on-one contact. So did the few minutes I could grab to show Dad my latest sewing project. And I loved the Sunday afternoon drives our family took to look at crops.

The generation that followed—my generation—started an evolution of change. We were more opinionated, challenging of past stereotypes and undaunted by the past. Farm boys like my husband left the farm for jobs in town. And so the subtle changes in father-child relationships began.

 

A photo of our daughters in 1988.

 

When my husband became a dad 31 years ago, he forged relationships with his two daughters and son early one. Among my fondest memories is that of Randy sprawled on the living room carpet reading the Sunday comics to his children. He also read books and played infinite games of Monopoly with our son. One sweet photo shows him painting his daughter’s toe nails.

 

Watching our son graduate from Tufts University School of Engineering with a bachelor of science degree in computer science. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Our kids have always known they can count on their dad—to stick on a band-aid, cheer them on at a spelling bee, fix their cars, move them into and out of countless dorm rooms and apartments…

Randy has always been there—through the second daughter’s fitting of a back brace to treat her scoliosis, through the son’s being struck by a car, through the school programs in stuffy auditoriums, through the tears and joys and anguish.

 

My favorite photo of my husband holding our then 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

I am grateful for the strength my husband exhibits as a father and now a grandfather. Already 50 years ago, on that central Minnesota cornfield, he showed incredible strength by saving his dad’s life. Like his father before him, Randy is often quiet and unemotional. But I see at his core the love he holds for his family. And that is what matters most.

TELL ME: How do you think fatherhood has evolved? What makes a father? Or share a memory.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How to think like a one-year-old May 22, 2017

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EXAMPLE #1:

 

 

“That’s my baby!”

 

 

“My aunt never saw that coming. I got my baby back.”

 

EXAMPLE #2:

 

 

“You’d think Grandma would know how to use her smartphone by now. Guess I’ll teach her.”

 

EXAMPLE #3:

 

 

“Mommy is telling me to get my foot off the table. But then why are she and Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa laughing and taking pictures of me?

 

EXAMPLE #4:

 

 

“I really like this toy airplane. If I just drop it in the cooler along with the rhubarb and asparagus, no one will notice. Not Grandma. Not Mommy. Not Daddy. Last time I took a wooden block from Grandma’s house and Mommy didn’t find it until we got home.”

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Pop goes the love May 16, 2017

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I’M SENTIMENTAL. I appreciate receiving greeting cards and handwritten notes and letters. There’s something about pen put to paper that conveys thoughts, feelings, emotions better than a text or an email. Perhaps it’s the writer in me. Or the traditionalist.

 

 

When I opened a Mother’s Day card from my second daughter, I actually gasped in amazement. And delight. Miranda purchased a Lovepop card, a work of sculpted art.

 

 

If you are a fan of the television show Shark Tank, then you likely know about this Boston-based card company. Two young entrepreneurs started this business that creates cards described as “intricate 3D paper sculptures designed…on cutting edge software and then hand-crafted in the Asian art form of sliceform kirigami.”

Simply put, these are pop-up cards that WOW you as works of art.

 

A patch of daisies. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Miranda took care in choosing the right card design for me. Daisies are one of my favorite flowers, reflecting the simplicity of my life-style and my appreciation for nature. Perfect. My daughter knows me well.

 

My daughter Miranda and me.

 

The giving of this card was made even better by the delivery method. Miranda handed the Lovepop to me Sunday morning. I can’t recall the last time my daughter, who lives 5 1/2 hours away in eastern Wisconsin, was with me on Mother’s Day. That makes this card even more dear, for the memories now connected to it.

TELL ME: What’s one of the most memorable greeting cards you’ve received?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Reflections on 35 years of marriage May 15, 2017

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This photo is from my files, taken at a 50th wedding anniversary celebration several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

HOW DO YOU DEFINE 35 years of marriage?

 

My husband, Randy, and I exit St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta following our May 15, 1982, wedding.

 

Today Randy and I mark that numeric anniversary. Maybe we’ll go out for dinner. Either this evening or another evening. I prefer not to cook on special occasions.

Mostly, we’ll be content just to be with one another, finding comfort in simply being in the same space. The fireworks of early love have settled into a loving relationship that has endured and grown stronger through shared experiences. Some joyful, others difficult. Life can be challenging, but it’s easier when faced with a loving and supportive partner.

 

Son-in-law Marc, left, daughters Amber and Miranda, and son, Caleb, taken several summers ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

We’ve mourned the loss of parents, rejoiced in the births of children and now a granddaughter. Together.

 

Grandfather and granddaughter. This is my favorite picture of Randy with Isabelle, taken shortly after her birth in April 2016.  When it comes to Izzy, Randy is an open book of emotions in his love for her. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Randy matches my often emotional reaction to situations with a balanced calm. And I sometimes push him to examine and express his emotions. When I am too serious, he makes me laugh. I’ve mostly always appreciated his humor.

 

My husband at work in the automotive machine shop where he is employed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I appreciate, too, his strong work ethic. But I’m thankful he’s finally stopped working six days a week. We both realize time is fleeting and long work days are not worth missing out on life. Looking back on our years of early home ownership and parenting, I wish we’d been less focused on getting projects done around the house. So, yes, there are regrets.

But we’ve learned. We’ve learned that the work can wait. If the lawn needs mowing but we’d rather take a Sunday afternoon drive into the country or to some small Minnesota town, we’ll go. We share a passion for discovering the nuances of places during day trips.

 

My son and I pose atop the Tisch Library at Tufts University with the Boston skyline as a backdrop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

Last spring we drove from Minnesota to Boston and back for our son’s college graduation. And survived. Only once, while lost in a seedy part of Buffalo, New York, did I demand to return home. Randy calmed me, assured me that he would find our way out of the mess. He did. We joke about my inability to read a road map and to hold a sense of direction in any place but the familiarity of the gridded prairie.

I am especially grateful to Randy for his continuing support of my creative work. He’s been to more poetry readings than he ever imagined. And he never complains. That’s something for a hardworking blue collar man with permanent grease rimming his fingernails and stamping the creases of his hands. He’s learned that poetry is more than roses are red, violets are blue. Poetry is what his wife writes (even about him; click here).

 

Lilacs, up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Occasionally Randy brings me flowers for no reason other than he realizes I need them. Each spring he gathers a bouquet of lilacs for me. I love that about him, that unexpected gesture of love.

 

My husband grilling in our snowless and warm backyard on Christmas Day. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And I love how nearly every single weekend—yes, even in winter—he fires up the Weber to grill tasty meals.

 

Randy prepares brunch nearly every Sunday after we attend worship services together.

 

He also prepares an incredible Sunday brunch of made-to-order omelets and hash browns with fresh fruit on the side. On Friday evenings he slices the homemade pizza I make and pours our mugs of craft beers. He knows I like IPAs.

 

Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982

 

He also knows my preference for a house that’s comfortably cool. If we disagree about one thing, it’s room temperature. I’m dialing back the heat while he’s notching up the temp. That ongoing dispute seems trivial and laughable now that I’m writing it here.

 

Audrey and Randy in 2015. Rare are the photos of us. That needs to change. This was photographed outside Vang Lutheran Church by a woman at the church following an impromptu stop there. We love touring country churches.

 

When Randy falls asleep in his recliner on a weekend afternoon with NASCAR races droning in the background, I let him be. I immerse myself in a book, ignore the roar of race cars and consider how blessed I am to love, and to be loved, by this man. For more than 35 years.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Especially grateful this Mother’s Day May 12, 2017

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Me with my mom in her assisted living room in 2014. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

 

THERE WAS A THURSDAY about two months ago when fear gripped my heart. Our mother, my middle brother texted, was being rushed via ambulance to the hospital and might not survive.

I exited his message, scrolled to my favorites in my contacts and pressed the green phone icon that would link me to my husband. “You need to come home now,” I ordered as I fought to suppress my emotions. He needed to finish a job and then would be on his way.

As I threw clothing into a suitcase—uncertain whether we would be staying overnight—I worried that we might not reach the hospital in time. We had a two-hour drive to Redwood Falls.

 

I printed this message inside a handmade Mother’s Day card in elementary school.

 

We arrived to find Mom settling into a room after her transfer from the ER. That afternoon I said my goodbyes to a mother in such obvious physical discomfort and distress that she wanted to die. And I was OK with that. I couldn’t bear to watch her struggling to breathe.

 

The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my brother Doug.

 

Many hours later, I hugged Mom for what I thought would be the last time and left her room in tears. In the hallway, I attempted to compose myself before reconnecting with family in the downstairs waiting room. As we left, the next family members rotated in.

Once I’d expelled that initial grief, I didn’t cry. I managed, an hour later, to stand before an audience in a Mankato art gallery and read my prize-winning poem about detasseling corn. I find more and more in difficult situations that I am able to establish an emotional roadblock. Perhaps that’s inner strength. Or denial. Or self-preservation.

I fully expected that we would be heading back west in a few days with black mourning clothes packed. But once again, as she has multiple times in her nearly 85 years, my mom surprised us all by recovering from a major health crisis. Her condition improved overnight and days later she was released back home to a care center.

I am grateful this Mother’s Day to still have my mother on this earth. I am grateful, too, to be the mother of three and the grandmother of one.

 

My mom saved everything, including this Mother’s Day card I made for her in elementary school. I cut a flower from a seed catalog to create the front of this card.

 

If your mother is still living, express your love to her via a visit, a phone call and/or a card. If your mother has passed, I hope, rather than grieve, you will remember her with love.

And someone, please remind my son that Sunday is Mother’s Day.

 

TELL ME: How do you honor the women in your life who are mothers on Mother’s Day?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling