Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Oh, the joy of autumn days with the grandkids October 13, 2020

Randy walks with the grandkids at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault on Saturday afternoon.

NOTHING BRINGS ME more joy than time with my grandchildren, Isabelle, 4 ½ and Isaac, 21 months. This past weekend they spent all of Saturday with us, overnight into early Sunday evening so their parents could have some much-needed time alone. Randy and I love having the kids. They are easy-going, fun and just plain happy.

Our living room, kid central this weekend with toys pulled from totes and cupboards.

At their young ages, the siblings are content doing most anything from coloring to “helping” make apple crisp. This visit, Izzy headed straight for her Uncle Caleb’s Brio train set. And Isaac, besides pushing any toy with wheels, loved putting together puzzles. The same ones, over and over. (We think he’s pretty smart.) And this visit, Grandpa’s vinyls spinning on the record player also fascinated him.

We stopped often at River Bend to view the colorful leaves.

But, for me, it was our time outdoors that proved most engaging and memorable. We took the kids to River Bend Nature Center on Saturday afternoon, arriving to a parking lot filled with vehicles, including several school buses. Unbeknownst to us, a cross country meet was taking place. We stayed as far away from that busyness as possible, although a cluster of several teens out for a practice run in the woods veered way too close for comfort. That aside, it was a mostly solo walk for the four of us.

Our grandson, 21 months, runs along a trail at River Bend. Once taken out of the stroller, he never went back. Our walk ended with his sister riding in the stroller.

We started out with Isaac in the stroller given the distance we planned to walk. Part way in, we let him walk, or shall I say, run. Even with legs much longer than his, Randy and I struggled to keep up with our grandson. Occasionally he would stop, though, to examine a leaf or pick up a stick.

That’s the part I appreciate about being with little kids. You see the world through their eyes, at their level, from their inquisitive perspective. And that’s refreshing. There are many stop and smell the roses moments.

The street by the MSAD shows the beautiful fall colors gracing Faribault.

We experienced those at River Bend and again on Sunday when we looped our way around the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus. Izzy zoomed ahead of us on her scooter. And Isaac likewise moved as fast as his legs could carry him. Fast enough for these grandparents.

Randy lifted Isaac for a closer look at these bold berries on a tree at the MSAD.

Occasionally the kids paused to gather pine cones, colorful leaves and berries or to pick petunias (shhh) from a flowerbed. I bagged their nature finds for them to take home.

I hope we are instilling in them an appreciation for the outdoors and for nature. But, more than that, I hope they will remember these times with us—the minutes and hours and days together. Connecting, sharing, learning and loving each other as only grandparents and their grandchildren can. What a joy. What a blessing.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The reality of COVID-19 October 9, 2020

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A portrait I took of my mom during my last in-person visit with her in early March. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

I EXPECTED THIS. Yet, the news that an employee in my mom’s southwestern Minnesota care center has tested positive for COVID-19 hit me hard. I felt my heart race, my blood pressure rise, my worry spike when my daughter alerted me to this development Wednesday afternoon. It took awhile for me to process this and what this might mean.

I’m more settled now with the passage of time and answers from the care center administrator who advised, in a Facebook post, to email her with any concerns or questions. She was prompt and thorough in her reply to my inquiry and for that I am grateful. I feel better if I am informed, rather than guessing or wondering.

I photographed my mom’s hands during that last in-person visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

Time and testing will tell if Mom has been exposed to the virus. I am confident the care center is doing the best it can to protect staff and residents. But I also recognize that the best, when it comes to this potentially deadly virus, may not be enough. I am preparing myself mentally.

Simultaneously, my father-in-law is now in in-room quarantine after a resident of his wing in a central Minnesota care center tested positive for COVID.

And our second daughter, who works as a letter carrier in Madison, Wisconsin, texted Wednesday evening that an individual in her office tested positive for the virus. She was not surprised. She has shared often that masking up is about the only safety measure being taken to protect her and other postal employees. Thankfully she was not told she needed to quarantine, meaning she was not exposed to the infected co-worker.

All of this, as you would guess, is stressing me. These cases are getting way too close to people I love.

To those of you in similar situations or who have lost loved ones to COVID, my heart breaks for you. This is hard, just plain hard.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

I especially appreciated, as part of her Facebook post, the administrator at my mom’s care center adding this:

“We have kept a close eye on the increase in cases within our county; however, we can only do so much. To help continue to keep our residents safe and allow them to live without all of these restrictions, we ask that our community members please take this virus seriously. Please mask if you are able and social distance from others.”

That’s prudent advice no matter where you live. No place is immune. I continue to see way too many people not wearing masks or wearing them under their noses (which does no good). I hear stories from my husband about co-workers and customers exhibiting the same careless behavior. This frustrates me to no end. Why don’t people care? I just do not understand.

COVID-19 kills. In Minnesota, most of those who have lost their lives lived in long-term congregate care centers or assisted living facilities. I’ve heard nonchalant comments like, “Oh, they are old, they were going to die anyway.” As if that’s OK. It’s not. Sure, my mom has major health issues that could end her life any day. But her life still has value. And I’d rather she didn’t die of COVID-19.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering & honoring my hardworking dad this Labor Day September 7, 2020

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. He died in 2003.

 

MY DAD WORKED HARD. Really hard. He was a farmer, beginning back in the day when farming was incredibly labor intensive. Pitching manure. Throwing hay bales. Milking cows by hand. Cultivating corn. He worked from the rising of the sun to beyond sunset. Hours and hours in the barn. Long days in the field. Few, if any, days off.

 

The milkhouse, attached to the barn on the farm where I grew up just outside of Vesta, MN. I spent a lot of time in these two buildings. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

It was a life he knew from childhood, as the son of a southwestern Minnesota farmer. Dad quit school after eighth grade to work on his family’s farm in the 1940s. And when he grew into adulthood, he served on the frontlines during the Korean War, then returned to farm just down the road from the home place. There he worked his own land, milked cows and raised (along with my mom) his family of six children.

 

Some of the acreage my dad farmed in Redwood County, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Like my father, I grew up with a strong work ethic rooted in the land. Walking bean fields to pull unwanted weeds. Picking rock. Throwing hay bales into feed bunks for the Holsteins. Carrying buckets of milk replacer to thirsty calves. Climbing up the silo and forking smelly silage down the chute. The work never ended. And the next day we repeated the process.

 

Corn and soybean fields define southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But it was, in many ways, a good life. Time together. Time outdoors. Time to reflect. Time to learn and grow and stretch, just like the corn stretching toward the sky.

 

Growing up on our crop and dairy farm, my eldest brother, Doug, photographed the cows and recorded details about them. My middle brother treasures this compilation of information from our farm. And so do I. Memories… Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Working on the farm made me strong and resilient and fostered a sense of independence. I have always been a self-starter, preferring to work on my own. I trace that to the spirit of independence I observed in my farmer dad, who stood up for what he believed. I remember him dumping milk down the drain as the National Farmers Organization aimed to get better prices. I possess a streak of that feistiness, especially when it comes to those who are bullied/oppressed/looked down upon. I do what I can, with the talents I have, to make a positive difference. To uplift and encourage. And to really listen rather than talk.

I always told my dad I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. He didn’t encourage that thought. None of my five siblings farm, although two work in ag-related businesses. It’s a credit to my parents that each of us pursued diverse careers as a partsman (and part owner) at an implement dealership, as a writer and photographer, a florist, CEO of an ethanol plant, teacher and lawyer. That’s a wide range of occupations among siblings. Our parents did not tell us what to do, and for that I shall always be grateful.

 

Our southwestern Minnesota farmyard is buried in snowdrifts in this March 1965 image. My mom is holding my youngest sister as she stands by the car parked next to the house. My other sister and two brothers and I race down the snowdrifts.

 

We were not a perfect family. Still aren’t. There were, and are, struggles. Financial and other. We were poor as in outhouse poor and no gifts for birthdays poor and wearing hand-me-downs poor and only rice for dinner poor. And only two vacations my entire childhood—one at age four to Duluth and one to the Black Hills at around age 12. Yet, I never felt like we were missing anything. We had enough. Food. Shelter. Clothes. And hardworking parents—for my mom worked equally as hard as my dad—who loved and provided for us.

My parents may not have hugged us or told us they loved us. But they showed their love by their care, their provision, their raising us in the faith. Their efforts, from parenting to farming, were a labor of love. And I shall always feel gratitude for that.

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CLICK HERE TO READ my post, “Many Reasons to Feel Blessed this Labor Day,” published last week on the Warner Press blog.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’m a princess, but not of the Milky Way August 15, 2020

Past Rice County Dairy Princess Kaylee Wegner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

“I LOVE YOU, my Little Princess.”

Oh, how sweet those loving words from my Aunt Dorothy, who has always called me her “Little Princess.” And still does. In every phone conversation between Minnesota and New Jersey, she ends our call with those endearing words.

It’s not that I’m much of a princess. Far from it. At least not in the sense of how most of us visualize royalty. I’m a tee and jeans woman. No glitz, no glam, no nail polish. And, in recent years, I’ve allowed my hair to go naturally and beautifully grey. Because, you know, I’m tired of putting chemicals on my head and I earned every grey strand…so I’m owning it.

 

The early 1950s barn on the Redwood County dairy farm where I grew up. I spent a lot of hours through my childhood working in this barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But there was a time, back in my teen years, when I wanted to be a real princess. As in the Redwood County dairy princess. So I competed for that title, recognizing from the minute I stepped into the room of competitors, that I had no chance. I may have been a hands-on, working-in-the-barn daughter of a dairy farmer, but I didn’t possess the confidence, poise or other skills to represent Minnesota’s dairy industry.

 

The Princess Kay of the Milky Way competition is a part of Minnesota culture. A past exhibit at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna featured photos of previous royalty, including 1978 princess Kari Schroht, left, and 1976 princess Kathy Zeman, right. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The judges chose a competent young woman, whose name I don’t recall, to rein as the Redwood County dairy ambassador along with other county princesses from throughout the state. Dairy princesses have been a Minnesota tradition for 67 years, highlighted in crowning of Princess Kay of the Milky Way around the time of our State Fair. Wednesday evening, Olmsted County Dairy Princess Brenna Connelly of Byron was crowned in a private ceremony among 10 masked and social distancing candidates.

 

A Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter carving in the Minnesota History Center’s MN150 exhibit and photographed several years ago at the Steele County History Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Post coronation in a typical year, the new state princess and nine other candidates sit in a special refrigerated and rotating cooler in the dairy building at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds to get their heads carved in blocks of butter while fair visitors crowd around and watch. But this year, because of COVID-19, there is no fair. But the butter sculpting tradition continues, with notable changes.

Each county princess, starting with the new 67th Princess Kay of the Milky Way, will sit alone in the 40-degree butter sculpting booth with Litchfield artist Gerry Kulzer as he sculpts their likenesses from 90-pound blocks of Dinner Bell Creamery butter. They will be masked and social distancing. And when it comes to getting the princesses’ noses and mouths just right, each young woman will move outside the cooler and onto a ladder and remove her mask.

 

I’ve only attended the Minnesota State Fair a few times in my life, the last time decades ago. Many people love the fair. But I don’t because of the crowds. This mug came from my father-in-law’s collection of mugs.

 

Crowds won’t watch from inside the dairy building. Rather, updates are posted thrice daily on the Princess Kay Facebook page, starting at 10:30 am and continuing through August 22. The sculpting, which takes from six to eight hours, begins at 8:30 am and ends at 5 pm with several breaks. You can only imagine the challenges of sitting in 40 degrees for a prolonged period of time. We may be hardy Minnesotans to whom that temp feels balmy come mid-winter. But in August, not so much.

Once the butter sculpting is done, the princesses take their blocks of butters back to their respective homes and then do what they wish with them. The new princess is sharing hers with family and friends first and then with a food shelf. In past years, I’ve read stories about princess butter heads buttering corn at community sweetcorn feeds. But this year I don’t expect that to happen. Or at least it shouldn’t.

 

Inside the Ron and Diane Wegner dairy barn during a dairy day several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

That I was never chosen as a county dairy princess nearly 50 years ago was the right decision. I feel no disappointment because, I’ve always been a princess…in the eyes of my beloved Aunt Dorothy.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’ll miss you, family July 26, 2020

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The potluck offerings at a past Kletscher Family Reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ON THIS, THE LAST SUNDAY in July, for decades, the descendants of Henry and Ida Kletscher have reunited in the small southwestern Minnesota community of Vesta. We—siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles and in-laws—gather in the Vesta City Park to reconnect. To share updates on our lives. To laugh. To enjoy a potluck meal of homemade dishes that cover several picnic tables. We are a big group given my grandparents raised 10 children. And we know how to cook and bake. Hotdish. Desserts. Too much food, but, oh, so good.

 

In this game, played at a past reunion, contestants race to move gummy worms from a pie plate into a cup, with their mouths. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This is our annual July tradition of family, fun and food. Our one time a year, other than funerals, when we now meet. Most years I attend. Last year I couldn’t. So I anticipated the Kletscher Family Reunion of 2020.

 

The one-block Main Street of downtown Vesta. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But, because of COVID-19, the reunion is canceled. And rightly so. Even though my home county of Redwood has only 28 cases (as of Saturday), many of us come from hotbed areas. Like the Twin Cities metro. Or my county of Rice with 944 cases, including eight deaths.

Sometimes I think it’s easy to feel insulated, protected, from the virus in rural areas. But COVID-19 knows no geographical boundaries. No age limits. No nothing. COVID cases in Minnesota’s more rural counties are increasing.

 

Contestants in the Minute-to-Win-It competitions gather around a table right after the potluck at a reunion held several years ago in the Vesta Community Hall because of the heat. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The call to cancel the reunion was the right one. I would not have attended had it been a go. I have been careful for five months about trying to protect myself and reduce my risk. And, as much as I love visiting with family, it’s not worth the risk to see them. I can wait.

Kris Ehresmann, Minnesota’s infectious disease director, reported this week that her department is seeing more cases directly linked to family gatherings. I am not surprised. The relaxed setting, the desire to hug and get close and more, seems the making of the perfect storm.

 

My plated food from a previous reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And so today, on the final Sunday of July, I won’t see the extended family that means so much to me. I won’t indulge in a plate filled with incredibly delicious homemade foods. I won’t engage in conversations with cousins or admire the newest babies. But I will think of them and hope that, next summer, I can reconnect in the community of our roots with the family I love.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dealing with separation during COVID-19 July 21, 2020

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I took this photo of my mom in early March, before care centers closed to visitors. This is inside her room.

 

SEPARATION. It’s a difficult word. One fraught with emotion and consequences and challenges. Never have I felt such depth of separation as during these months of living during a global pandemic.

Separation from friends and family. Separation from places and routines and all that defines a sense of normalcy.

Yet, despite the loss I feel in separation, it is far worse for our seniors, for those like my mom and my father-in-law, both living in long-term care centers. Mom lives in a small facility in a small southwestern Minnesota town. My husband’s dad lives in a large facility in one of our state’s bigger central Minnesota cities. That care center has had cases of COVID among residents and staff.

Yet, they both have faced the same issues—confinement to their rooms, isolation, lack of physical contact with family… Some of that has changed now as these homes are opening up more to in-house activities and outside supervised visits with family and friends. That takes the edge off. Yet, for too many, the long-term effects of cognitive and physical decline linger.

I’m not criticizing the decisions made. In Minnesota, most COVID-19 deaths have occurred in long-term congregate care settings. Every effort needs to be taken to protect this especially vulnerable population. There’s still no physical contact allowed, and rightly so. Staff are doing their best to provide compassionate and loving care.

I last visited my mom, through glass, in late June. If you missed that post, you can read about that experience by clicking here.

But prior to that visit, I wrote another post, this one for Warner Press, an Indiana-based Christian publishing company. I lead Warner’s blogging ministry. That post, “Dealing with Separation during COVID-19,” published today. I’d encourage you to click here and read that story. And then, if you’re so inclined, leave a comment on that post or on the Warner Facebook page. I expect this post will resonate with many of you. Feel free to share the post with others also.

If you’re dealing with separation from a loved one, especially an aging parent, I understand your hurt. Your grief. Your pain. None of this is easy. Not for us. But, especially, for them.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Disclaimer: I am paid for my work as the Warner Press blog coordinator.

 

Up North at the Lake Cabin, Part I July 15, 2020

A view of Horseshoe Lake on a weather-perfect July day in Minnesota.

 

FOR MANY MINNESOTANS, summers at an Up North family lake cabin span generations. Not so for me.

 

The guest cabin sits just around the corner from this, the main year-round house. Both are northwoods Minnesota style.

 

But now, into my sixties, I am finally enjoying that quintessential summer experience thanks to the generosity of extended family who recently purchased lake property with a roomy guest cabin. They intentionally chose a place they could share with family. And I am grateful.

 

Isaac loved splashing in the lake. The water was clear, vastly different from the murky lakes of southern Minnesota.

 

For five days last week into this, Randy and I were joined by our eldest daughter and her family and our son at the cabin near Cross Lake in central Minnesota. To have that family time together in such an incredibly beautiful natural setting was a gift. A joy. A much-needed respite from reality.

 

The neighbors’ dock, a visual of relaxation.

 

Randy and I never left the lake place together until we left. No trips into town, mostly because of COVID-19 concerns. But Randy did surprise us with an unexpected Monday morning run to Valeri Ann’s Family Foods in Ossipee for her heavenly homemade caramel rolls. He got the last two.

 

We saw loons every single day of our stay.

 

Relaxing in the hammock strung lakeside in the pine trees.

 

Randy and Isabelle watch as the sun set reflects on the treeline across the lake.

 

We found plenty to do at the lake cabin. Time in and on the water. Time watching eagles and loons. Time fishing. Time dining lakeside. Time in the hammock. Time around the campfire. Time with the grandkids, ages four and 18 months.

 

A beached kayak awaits its passenger.

 

Our son, back in Minnesota for our family vacation, paddles into the lake.

 

The grandkids (and adults) loved the inflatable floaties.

 

There is nothing quite like immersing one’s self in the northwoods lake experience.

 

Grandpa and grandson lakeside.

 

I will always treasure hearing Isaac giggle at the fish wiggling on the end of Grandpa’s fishing line. I will always delight in watching Isabelle wiggle to her made-up “I Got the Wiggles” song on the lakeside deck. I will always cherish memories of walking outside at night with Randy and Izzy to show our granddaughter the stars. I will always remember seeing my eldest glide across the water on a paddleboard, her daughter sitting on the front.

 

One of the adult resident eagles in a lakeside treetop.

 

I will remember, too, walks down the long evergreen-lined driveway, the many minutes standing at the fork in the drive, neck craned to watch the resident eagles.

 

Grandpa and grandchildren follow the pine-edged driveway.

 

So many memories. So much happiness. So much peace.

 

Kid-sized chairs used by the grandkids.

 

And, for my grandchildren, the beginning of summers Up North at the lake cabin.

 

Please check back for more posts in this “Up North at the Cabin” series.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

En route to visit Mom in a Minnesota care center July 6, 2020

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A rural scene between New Ulm and Morgan.

 

THE HIGHWAY STRETCHED before us, long, like a line drawn through the landscape. Separating fields and farm sites under clouds suspended in an infinite blue sky. The type of clouds that identify a summer day in Minnesota. Southwestern Minnesota. It is my favorite of skies.

 

Agriculture defines this region of Minnesota.

 

Our destination, a care center, lay 120 miles to the west. As Randy and I traveled, I tried not to think about what may await us. Would the visit go well? I’d arranged earlier in the week for an outdoors visit with my mom as allowed now by the Minnesota Department of Health. It’d been nearly four months since I’d seen her, on the weekend before care centers closed to visitors due to COVID-19. My mom is on hospice, has been for a year. I recognize that in itself is remarkable. I needed to see her. Phone calls and/or video chats have not been an option due to her health.

 

A red barn pops among grain bins on this farm site along Brown County Road 29 near New Ulm.

 

Along the route, I like to photograph scenes. I set my camera on a fast shutter speed, try to frame as best I can and shoot through windows that are all too often splattered with bugs or reflecting sunlight. But I still photograph. It passes the time and allows me to share my world and perspectives in a way that words don’t always fully cover.

 

Acres and acres of corn and soybeans (with some oats and peas mixed in) spread across the southwestern Minnesota landscape, broken only by farm sites and small towns.

 

Once on the west side of Mankato, I feel like I’m entering my home territory, the place of expansive farm fields and wide skies. The place where I feel small compared to both. It is a familiar and comforting world. The place that shaped me and which I still hold dear.

 

My favorite beauty of a barn along Brown County Road 29.

 

Some barns are weathered by time and the elements and often fall into piles of rotting wood.

 

I’m wondering whether this barn/shed is old or new. No matter, it’s lovely.

 

I appreciate well-kept farm sites where owners show care in upkeep of buildings. Along Brown County Road 29, what I call the back road between New Ulm and Morgan, sit some particularly lovely old barns, a vanishing landmark. Few of these hold animals anymore, which leads to the demise of these once hardworking agrarian buildings.

 

 

I also am drawn to vintage silos, now abandoned. Farming has changed so much, making the buildings of our ancestors outdated and mostly now storage spaces or simply visual reminders of the past.

 

The front entry of Parkview Senior Living in Belview, our destination.

 

All of that I considered as the miles rolled before us. After a pit stop at a park restroom in Redwood Falls, we covered the last 15 miles, arriving at our destination 10 minutes late. Had I not stopped first at the Faribault Farmers’ Market for a garden flower bouquet, we would have arrived on schedule. But I wanted to bring Mom a gift. And flowers are universal in their ability to bring joy.

Following a temp check, health screening, providing contact info and signing necessary forms, we were ready for the supervised one-hour allotted outdoor social-distancing visit. I already expected the designated visit site, a patio in full morning sun and next to three noisy air conditioners, would not work. It didn’t. No one could hear and the heat was too much. We shifted to Plan B, which was to talk via phone with Mom on one side of glass doors/windows, us on the other. That also proved challenging as Mom didn’t understand anything Randy or I said. But the staffer, bless her, repeated whatever we said and thus we managed.

I found myself trying to talk on topics that would spark a connection with Mom. A mention of Curious George, which she’s developed a fondness for, brought a smile. The Parkview staff has ordered dvds for Mom (so caring) after discovering the naughty monkey of children’s book fame makes her happy and holds her interest. I brought two Curious George books and she smiled at the gift.

Mom also reacted when I talked about her childhood pet lamb, Duke. I recognize that memories of yesteryear are much stronger than the memories of 20 minutes ago for the elderly. The aide mentioned that Mom’s one-room country school teacher lives at Parkview, too. I knew this as Mom told me years earlier. Hazel is 104, Mom 88.

We held our cell phones up to the glass, showing Mom photos of her great grandchildren/our grandchildren, four and 18 months. She’s never met Isaac. But images of the pair and photos of her own grandchildren brought smiles.

When I observed Mom drifting, her eyes shifting away from us, I would wave my hands and say, “Mom,” and then she would come back, into the moment. That happened often. I could tell she was tiring and it was time to leave. As much as I wanted to rush through the glass barriers and hug her, I couldn’t. So I told her repeatedly that I loved her. And I fake-blew a kiss. And in that moment, as the aide swung Mom’s chair to wheel her back to her room, I felt a strong connection of love. A bittersweet moment. I just stood there and watched. My heart breaking, yet filled with gratitude for one more visit.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A child’s perspective on face masks with notes from Grandma May 28, 2020

Some of our face masks, crafted by a friend in Texas.

 

“I like your face mask, Grandma.”

Her words nearly broke my heart. But I didn’t let on to 4-year-old Isabelle who sat behind me, buckled in her car seat, waiting for Grandpa to exit the convenience store with a gallon of milk.

My cotton print mask, dangling from the cup holder, was in her favorite color, pink. I grabbed the mask and pointed to the colored circles thereon—yellow, green, white, pink, blue, orange.

“Mine has lady bugs,” Izzy said. “And the other is brown.”

I knew about the masks, which had just arrived in the mail from my granddaughter’s great aunt in New Jersey. I was grateful for that gift. But, still, the thought of a preschooler aware of face coverings made me profoundly sad. Her parents had already talked to Izzy about COVID-19 in terms she could understand—that people are sick. She accepts that as the reason she can’t see her friends, go to the library, visit Como Park or the Minnesota Zoo and much more.

 

Izzy rides her scooter along the trail in North Alexander Park in Faribault.

 

I followed that same simple explanation when we were at a Faribault park with Izzy. I kept a watchful eye as she zoomed ahead of Randy and me on her scooter. When I saw others approaching on the trail, I called for her to stop. She listened. We moved to the side and I formed a barrier between myself and passersby. I feel an overwhelming need to protect my sweet granddaughter.

Isabelle never once asked to play on the playground. She understands that, for now, for her safety, she can’t.

 

Baby ducks are so so cute.

 

Mama duck watches her babies.

 

The drake swims nearby.

 

We tried to make our park visit as ordinary as possible, pausing to watch a family of ducks along the shoreline. It was a moment of grace, observing downy ducklings guarded by their mother. Not unlike me with Izzy. We listened to their incessant cheeping and I wondered what they were communicating to one another. Warnings perhaps.

 

A long row of lilacs in various shades grows in North Alexander Park.

 

We stopped also so Grandpa could clip a spray of lilacs.

 

There are plenty of picnic tables alongside the Cannon River.

 

And we picnicked beside the Cannon River, listening to the noisy chirp of birds. Izzy nibbled at her turkey sandwich, ate too many grapes, tried a few of Grandpa’s chips and enjoyed a chocolate chip cookie we’d baked the day prior. When she was done, I wet a napkin with an ice cube pulled from the cooler and wiped away the melting chocolate circling her lips. I love that sweet little face.

On our way home, we stopped at the convenience store. And had that conversation about face masks. When Grandpa pulled open the van door to set the jug of milk and bananas inside, Izzy watched as I squirted hand sanitizer into his open palm. “I don’t like your face mask, Grandpa,” she said. His is black-and-white checkered like a racing flag. No pink anywhere on the fabric.

Preschoolers are, if anything, honest.

And they need us to protect them and those they love. Like their parents. Their siblings. Their grandparents. Their aunts and uncles and cousins. Their friends. They need us to wear face masks.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Heartbroken on May 14 May 14, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Aunt Sue and Uncle John

SHE IS STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL, the young woman in the long-sleeved simple white dress with eight decorative buttons and a corsage accenting the bodice. Her thick black hair is pulled back in a pony tail held in place by a white ribbon and a sprig of flowers. Next to her stands a tall, lean man dressed in suit and tie, a single carnation pinned to his lapel.

On May 14, 1968, this couple—my Aunt Sue and Uncle John—married. Today would have been their 52nd wedding anniversary. Except Sue died last week of pancreatic cancer. Although we all understood that Sue’s cancer, diagnosed some six months ago, was terminal, her death is still difficult to accept. Her husband of nearly 52 years is heartbroken.

That heartbreak has been compounded by COVID-19. For the week Sue was hospitalized prior to her May 8 death, John could not visit her. Until the end—the day prior and the day of. And now he and his grown children and their families are left to grieve alone. The usual ways in which we comfort and support one another have vanished. You know that if you’ve lost a loved one during this global pandemic.

I wish I could be there for my uncle and cousins, to hold them close and tell them how deeply sorry I am for the loss of their wife and mother, my aunt. Instead phone calls, texts, emails, cards and flowers must suffice…until we can gather at some time to honor Aunt Sue.

She was such an incredibly beautiful woman. And also outgoing and engaging. When John and Sue would drive from Minneapolis to rural southwestern Minnesota with their two kids for family gatherings, Sue was right in the thick of conversation and always eager to play board games. During those games, we threatened to use a timer because she often took too long taking her turn. At Christmas one year, I nearly convinced her that I sharpened a candy cane with a pencil sharpener. Laughter filled the farmhouse and Sue laughed right along.

Sue loved her kids and grandkids, cats and good Italian food and life. And she loved my uncle.

Today I will call Uncle John, to offer my support, but mostly to listen. Maybe he will tell me about the beautiful young woman with the thick dark bangs and her hair pulled back. The lovely bride in the above-the-knee simple white wedding dress and his wife of not-quite 52 years.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling