Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Wheeling Township, Part IV: A not-so-perfect perfect portrait October 5, 2017

 

WHEN I OBSERVED a family gathering for photos during the St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township Germanfest, I raced to join the photographers. I expected to get a classic posed group shot. But what I got proved better. Much, much better.

 

 

I witnessed six women and a sister focused on getting their brother/son/nephew/grandson to join the group for a portrait. I didn’t hear the little guy object. Loving attention from all those family members likely curtailed any negative behavior.

 

 

I adore this series of photos. In each frame I see the deep love this family holds for one another, especially for that sweet little boy.

 

 

The best portraits are not always the perfectly posed, everyone smiling shots. Rather, they are the ones that tell a story, that snapshot a moment of interaction, of emotion, of love. Those are the best photos.

 

BONUS PHOTO:

 

 

 

This concludes my four-part series from Germanfest.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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What a joy to watch Izzy grow September 15, 2017

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My granddaughter Isabelle.

 

I WONDER SOMETIMES HOW I, a woman who has birthed and raised three children, can find such novelty in the transition of a baby girl into her own person.

 

Izzy stole Grandpa’s lawn chair and settled in for a few seconds.

 

But every time I see my 17-month-old granddaughter, I delight in the new things she can do. Her personality is emerging with each skill learned, each developmental stage reached, each step of independence. And it’s a joy to watch.

 

And then Grandpa found an Izzy sized lawn chair in the garage, saved from when our kids were little.

 

I’ve seen it all before. Thrice. But this is different because I’m not the mom. I’m the so-in-love grandma.

 

My eldest, Amber, helps her daughter with a bubble blower because Isabelle wants to blow bubbles all by herself.

 

This time the let me do it attitude charms.

 

Grandpa stands nearby just in case Izzy needs help. She didn’t.

 

The climbing onto and off an adult-sized lawn chair is not dangerous, but applause worthy.

 

I love this sweet photo of two of my three children (Caleb and Amber) and darling Isabelle back in Faribault for a recent family reunion. Caleb flew in from Boston for a long weekend. Our other daughter, who lives in northeastern Wisconsin, was already gone when I shot this portrait.

 

In my eyes, I see only a sweet little girl whom I adore with a love I never imagined.

 

Getting a 17-month-old and her uncle to sit still is not always easy. But I find the photo still endearing.

 

I love being a grandma.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A tender moment honoring Justin August 31, 2017

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SHE HAD NO IDEA, this baby girl, that her endearing interaction with a garden sculpture would hold meaning beyond cuteness. But it did.

 

 

As my granddaughter, Isabelle, squatted to look at the boy with the jar of fireflies sitting on my patio, I photographed the scene. She looked, reached, waved, moved in closer, then touched. There was a poignant sweetness in Izzy’s connection with the garden art I call “Little Justin.”

 

 

I purchased the mass produced sculpture in 2012 after seeing the same piece in my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s Memory Garden honoring their son. Justin died on August 14, 2001, of Hodgkin’s disease. He was only 19. When his mom, Vivian, told me how much Justin loved light, especially that of fireflies, I felt moved to add this art to my yard.

 

 

Now, just days after the 16th anniversary of my nephew’s death, Izzy reached out to Little Justin with zero prompting from anyone. The moment held such sweetness, such tenderness that my heart ached with love for this darling little girl and for the cousin she would never know.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Building memories & reconnecting at a Minnesota family reunion August 24, 2017

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Seven of the eight living Helbling siblings, including my husband, Randy, in the front row, gathered last Saturday for the annual family reunion.

 

FROM PONIES TO GOATS, German potato salad to kuchen, a scavenger hunt to a trivia game and more, all were part of the annual Helbling Family Reunion held Saturday on a rural Faribault acreage.

 

A neighbor brought over two ponies, a hit with all ages.

 

Randy and I co-hosted the event with a nephew and his wife, creating shared experiences to connect generations spanning from age one into their sixties.

 

The Helbling cousins posed for a portrait that includes my three children, front center and back right.

 

Nearly 50 of us gathered, first for a meal of mostly German and some American foods, and then for an afternoon of fun under a canopy of sprawling oaks.

 

Even though she was too little to really bounce, my granddaughter, Izzy, still loved the bouncy house as did all the other kids.

 

Emmett, who just turned one and was the youngest at the reunion, is already practicing his bean bag tossing.

 

Likewise 16-month-old Izzy, second youngest in the Helbling family, dropped bean bags in holes.

 

Kids jumped in the bouncy house while adults tossed bean bags into holes in angled boards.

 

Among the gnomes I hid.

Among the gnomes I hid.

 

I sent some kids on a scavenger hunt for gnomes and ceramic animals tucked into hiding places below sunflowers and lilac bushes and in and around trees and more. They raced with enthusiasm, clues in hand, to search for the treasures on a day as perfect as they get here in southern Minnesota in August.

 

I pulled stories from a family history book published in 1993, printed them on paper with graphics and then displayed all on a table. Some of the stories were part of the family history trivia contest.

 

Later, after the bean bag tournament ended, the adults answered questions about family history in a trivia contest. Three scored a perfect ten, proving they know that roaming coyotes once kept the three oldest Helbling children indoors during recess at a one-room country school in North Dakota in the 1960s.

 

Getting all the kids to sit still for a portrait proved impossible.

 

One dashed away…

 

The final portrait, minus one.

 

This is the stuff of family history, of stories that can be told and retold through generations. Stories unique to this family once rooted in Germany, then moved to Russia before emigrating to America.

 

Katherine, 5,  took time to create art.

 

I am not, by blood, a Helbling. But for 35 years I have been part of this family which still cares enough each August to gather for a reunion. While the majority travel from various parts of Minnesota, others arrived here this year from Boston, Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri.

 

My three kids, Amber, left, Miranda and Caleb, having fun with the German photo props.

 

My great nieces and sweet sisters, Meghan, left, and Katherine. Their mom said they look forward to the reunion.

 

The Helbling cousins having fun with photo props.

 

There were the traditional posed family portraits juxtaposed with informal and fun photo ops using German themed props ordered online. A set salvaged from Vacation Bible School served as an Alps mountain backdrop.

 

My niece Amber and I picked wildflowers, garden flowers, grasses and weeds and then arranged bouquets in bier steins.

 

Adding to the ethnic bend were bier steins filled with mostly wildflowers and weeds culled from fields and yards, the impromptu vases set on banquet tables draped in yellow, black and red, the colors of the German flag. The themed reunion honored the Helbling family’s German heritage. As a detail-oriented creative type, I delight in adding such memorable details. Family members noticed and appreciated.

 

Family members hammered nails into a stump in games of hammerschlagen.

 

As the day wended from bright afternoon sunshine to dusk and a spectacular sunset, the sound of nails hammered into a stump in games of hammerschlagen ceased. Voices rose and fell in conversation while lines formed for the evening meal of build your own burgers. At the grill, Randy took orders for burgers topped with American, pepperjack or blue cheeses. Much to our surprise, many chose blue cheese made and aged in sandstone caves some six miles away in the heart of Faribault.

 

We are creating memories for the next generation. Here my husband and our granddaughter play bean bag toss. Sort of.

 

And then, while Randy and I grabbed our burgers from the grill and finally sat down to eat, others piled onto a wagon for a hayride around the rural acreage. I wished I could have joined them, even taken photos. But I needed to refuel after a fun, but exhausting, day. It takes effort and energy and hard work to carry out a family reunion. But it’s so worth it for the memories created, the love and experiences shared as a family.

TELL ME: Does your family hold reunions? I’d love to hear details.

CLICK HERE to read posts about past family reunions.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

No solar eclipse for me…just grey skies August 22, 2017

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A line of grey stretches across the sky as we drive back into Faribault along Rice County Road 19 Monday evening.

 

ON A DAY WHEN THE SOLAR eclipse focused eyes to the sky, I failed to share in the excitement. For me the day marked my son’s return to Boston after a few days in Minnesota. His visit had been too brief and I’d been too busy with a family reunion to consider the weather event of the year.

 

 

About the time the eclipse peaked in Minnesota, clouds shifted across the sky, diminishing the view. It didn’t matter much to me. We were aiming for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. My thoughts were not of the solar eclipse, but of the miles closing in before I would, once again, hug Caleb goodbye. I long ago stopped crying at the airport.

On the drive home, grey clouds opened, pouring down rain in weather that fit my emotions.

 

 

Hours later my phone binged with a message that Caleb’s plane had just landed in Boston. We were back on the road again, this time heading to the reunion site to load up tables and chairs to return to friends. A band of grey stretched across the darkening evening sky in a seemingly infinite trail that, in my mind’s eye, reached 1,400 miles away to a residential neighborhood in greater Boston.

© Copyright 2017 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