Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Uncle Harold April 24, 2018

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Harold Kletscher

MY UNCLE HAROLD died on Saturday. Unexpectedly. He was eighty-four. Even though he lived a long life, the length of years never seems enough for loved ones. The loss is no less difficult.

Harold, like two other uncles, lived within a mile of the farm place where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota. He was just always around. At church on Sunday mornings. Visiting the farm. But most often, working at the gas station he owned and operated along Minnesota State Highway 19 in Vesta. The business long ago closed.

In January 2014, I interviewed my uncle and wrote about his memories and my memories of Harold’s Service. I am thankful I took the time to listen to my uncle’s stories of doing business in a community of some 350. These businesses, once the backbone of small town economies, are dwindling. It’s important that we document the stories of these entrepreneurs as much for historical reference as for examples of determination, hard work and service. Today I direct you to that post (click here), as I think of my beloved uncle—husband, father, grandfather, businessman, city employee, church janitor, small town city councilman, volunteer and man of faith.

I am fortunate to come from a large extended family of many aunts, uncles and cousins. Nearly all lived within close geographical proximity back in my growing up years in Redwood County, Minnesota. We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries together. These days, with my generation of cousins and our families now spread well beyond the prairie, we see each other only once a year at the annual Kletscher Family Reunion. Or at funerals.

There is comfort in memories and in the closeness of extended family. We have a legacy of faith passed from our great grandparents. They were among founding members of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta. Funerals for my grandparents, father, and other uncles were held there. This week we gather again at St. John’s, to remember Uncle Harold. Loved by many. And now in his eternal home.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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When a 2-year-old comes to Grandma & Grandpa’s house April 12, 2018

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Izzy quickly learned that Grandma and Grandpa would let her jump on the guest bed. (Sorry, parents.)

 

SHE STAYED FOR FOUR days and three sleeps. The two-year-old. My granddaughter.

And now, not even 24 hours after she returned home to her parents, I miss this little girl. I miss her smile, her laughter, her mischief, her beautiful eyes, the feel of her tiny hand in mine, the softness of her hair, the cuddling and reading books…

 

Grandpa, granddaughter, Poppy (from the movie “Trolls”) and baby doll watch for school buses passing our house in the afternoon.

 

What a joy to have Izzy stay with Grandma and Grandpa while her parents traveled. It is the longest stretch we’ve had with her. I’ll admit to feeling a tad uncertain that she would be OK for that length of time. But her parents prepared her well. Video chats and photos helped, too. And Randy and I kept our sweet granddaughter busy. Or should I say Izzy kept her grandparents busy. Even though I raised three children and cared for many more, I forgot how active these little ones.

 

 

It doesn’t take much to occupy a 2-year-old. Toys pulled from basement storage proved a hit, especially the Brio train set and a Fisher Price school bus. Grandpa and Izzy spent a lot of time building tracks and pulling and pushing trains. As for that bus, it made many miles around our house.

I also crafted a house for Izzy using a card table and throws. She loved crawling inside with her beloved Poppy, baby doll and her uncle’s two teddy bears.

 

Grandpa reads Eric Carle’s book, From Head to Toe, to Izzy. The book was one of three gifted to Izzy on her second birthday by a family friend, also a children’s librarian.

 

We read and read and then read more books. We went to storytime at the library, where Izzy took more interest in another little girl’s Minnie Mouse shirt and purse than in the story being read. She loves books. But she loves Minnie Mouse, too.

At River Bend Nature Center, a swimming turtle held Izzy’s attention until a group of children came inside the interpretive center and she wanted to join them. Thankfully, the early childhood family education teacher allowed Izzy to sit with the other kids and eat a snack I pulled from her backpack. Thankfully Izzy was OK with Cheerios. The other kids waved and smiled at her and said, “Hi, Izzy.” So sweet.

Many sweet moments flash from these past several days. I am grateful for this time with my granddaughter. Often during her visit, I caught flashes of the past, of Izzy’s own mama. Perhaps it was the way Izzy looked at me or the curls on the back of her head or the way she laughed. This is such a gift—this connection of generations, this love that binds us as family, this time with my darling granddaughter.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Of books & puzzles & loving my granddaughter April 3, 2018

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Grandpa and granddaughter work together on a puzzle in the morning light.

 

PAJAMA CLAD FEET SLAP against wood as Izzy runs to meet me in the sunshine of a Sunday morning. My smile widens as I scoop my granddaughter into an embrace, my arms and lips kissing her with love. Oh, what joy in the morning.

We are the only two up and I’m enjoying this solo time with Izzy. The evening before, it was three of us—Izzy, Grandpa and me—hanging out while her mom and dad enjoyed dinner and a concert.

Every time I see Isabelle, which is about once a month, she’s changed, grown and learned new words, new skills, new ways to make Grandma smile.

 

 

Books remain her great love. This visit, I read, among many other titles, Pat the Bunny, the same book I read to her mama decades ago. There’s something endearing about familiar words passed from generation to generation. There’s something remarkable, too, about the act of reading to someone you love. The closeness, the teaching moments, the interaction, the bonding over words and pictures imprints love. As I cuddle Izzy in the bend of my arm, her lean body pressed against me, I feel an overwhelming, nearly indescribable, love for this almost two-year-old.

 

 

When I watch my husband put puzzles together with his granddaughter, I experience the same. Likewise when I observe Izzy with her mom and dad, other grandparents and extended family. This little girl is loved by many from West Coast to East Coast and in between.

 

 

On this visit, Izzy demonstrates that she’s learning her letters and numbers. She’s got “o” down and the hoot of owls, a favorite for awhile. But now she loves Poppy, her new best friend from the movie “Trolls.” And she likes Elmo and Daniel the Tiger and Minnie Mouse and… She’s stringing words together, counting to five, learning her colors. She’s holding up two fingers to indicate that she will soon turn two.

I see the independent traits of a two-year-old emerging. I see, too, her endless energy. I swing Isabelle upward and back down just to hear her laugh. (There’s a reason I lift weights.) And I reread the same books just to make her happy. I am thankful I can be part of this growing, this learning, this loving. There’s nothing quite like being a grandma.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The tough part about holidays for this mom April 2, 2018

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MOST HOLIDAYS, NO MATTER how hard I try, I find myself envying families who can all be together. I know it’s juvenile thinking and I should be thankful for the times I have my three adult children (that always seems like such an oxymoron) under my roof for a holiday.

But if you’re a mom (or dad), and you’re honest, don’t you miss having every child you’ve birthed or adopted together with you, celebrating? OK, maybe it’s just me. But I miss the daughter who lives four hours away. And I miss the son who lives 1,400 miles away. And, when my eldest daughter and her family are with the other side of the family on the other side of the country, I miss them, too.

I’m getting better at accepting this as the way things are when your kids grow up and leave home. I’m adjusting. Connecting via technology helps. Randy and I have also found other ways to deal with the absence of our once nuclear family. On Thanksgiving, for example, we volunteered to deliver meals in our community. Last Easter we drove 2.5 hours to southwestern Minnesota to visit my mom in a care center. I can choose to be sad. Or I can choose to purposely give joy, thus receiving joy in return.

I’ve learned to delight in the once-a-year-occasion (maybe) that our family gathers in Minnesota. That last happened in August. Seven months ago. Too long. But at least we were together for a few days. Never mind that my son texted recently that he is changing his residency to Massachusetts, tangible evidence that he doesn’t plan to return to Minnesota to live anytime soon.

Then I think of the parents who have lost children and I have no reason, none, to feel sorry for myself.

This is life. I am reminded that, as parents, we are to give our kids roots and wings. Roots and wings. It sounds so poetic, so uplifting. But the reality is that sometimes I wish my kids had missed that flying part. Or at least landed closer to home.

TELL ME: Do you share any of my feelings? How do you cope with missing your kids on holidays? Or are you one of those “lucky” parents who always has your kids around for holidays?

 

Just for the record, I spent this Easter with my husband, oldest daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. And it was wonderful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In celebration of my daughter & son on their February birthdays February 9, 2018

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A cake made by my niece, also named Amber, for her daughter several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

FEBRUARY BRINGS NOT ONLY the dreaded time of year when I must prepare information for the tax preparer. But it, thankfully, also brings joy as two of my three now grown children celebrate birthdays. Today and tomorrow.

 

Amber at six months old. File photo.

 

Eight years apart in age, Amber and Caleb are at two distinctly different points in their lives. Amber is well-settled into married life and life as a mom to Izzy, nearly two. Caleb lives with several other guys in a greater Boston apartment and is just beginning his career in technology.

With nearly 1,400 miles separating my oldest and youngest and with their sister living in between in eastern Wisconsin, we manage to gather as a family about once a year—the last time for a family reunion in August. I don’t like that such distances separate us. But it is our reality and we rely on technology to stay connected.

 

Caleb at 1 1/2 days old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

When I think back on the connection between my eldest daughter and her brother, I smile. From the day I came home from the hospital with my 10 lb., 12 oz. bruiser baby boy, Amber doted on him. She was at the perfect age to embrace a baby. Later Amber assumed the role of teacher, teaching Caleb his numbers, the alphabet and more. She read books to him, too, and simply loved on her brother.

 

Caleb and Amber. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2017.

 

That love still shines strong. When I observe the two of them together, I see the depth of love they hold for each other in the gentle teasing, the arm draped across the shoulder, the warm hugs. Amber has been there for her brother, always, whether working a puzzle with him at age four or flying across the country to Boston years later.

I see in Caleb an admiration for his sister, a genuine desire to spend time with her when he’s back in Minnesota. I note him bonding with his niece. When I see Caleb holding Isabelle and reading to her, my mama’s heart overflows with love. Love is coming full circle.

On these two February days, the ninth and the tenth, I celebrate Amber and Caleb. I have watched them grow into two loving, caring and strong individuals. I am honored to be their mom. While geographical distance separates us, love keeps us close. For that I am grateful.

 

Amber at three months. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Happy birthday, Amber!

 

One of my all-time favorite photos of my son at age five. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Happy birthday, Caleb!

I love you both more than pizza. And, yes, that is an inside-the-family saying.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Post Super Bowl thoughts from southern Minnesota February 5, 2018

I started my Super Bowl Sunday (after attending worship services) by dining at the Faribault Lions Club Super Sunday Pancake & Sausage Feed with my husband, Randy, and his brother. Neil was on his way home to Missouri after visiting family in Minnesota for the weekend. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

FOR ME TO STAY UP past 11 p.m. rates as rare. But I did last night. Until nearly 12:30 a.m. Monday. I wanted to watch The Tonight Show from Minneapolis, ending way too much time for me in front of the TV on Super Bowl Sunday. But, you know, when the championship game plays out in your home state, you get caught up in the excitement—even if you don’t much care about sports, which I don’t. I finally have it down that a touchdown earns a team six points.

 

Not a ref from the Super Bowl…image used here for illustration only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

During past Super Bowls, I’ve focused primarily on the commercials and the half-time show. I still did this year. But, for the first time ever, I watched most of the game. Except for the 33 minutes and 35 seconds I missed when my Wisconsin daughter called during the third and fourth quarters. Family trumps football any day, even on Super Bowl Sunday.

 

Icy cold beer served up in a Minnesota Vikings mug chilled in the snow. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

It was an exciting game. I found myself rooting for the underdog Philadelphia Eagles, even if they kept the Vikings from the biggest game in football and even though I can’t stand those creepy dog masks worn by some Eagles fans. I did, though, feel, for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has a strong Minnesota connection via his mom, born and raised here. Up until a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of Brady. That just shows how much of a football fan I am not.

As for that half-time show…I’m not raving like most are about Justin Timberlake’s performance. But then I’m not a Timberlake, nor a Prince (gasp), fan. Unfamiliar with the songs performed, I couldn’t understand the lyrics. And when Minneapolis lit up in purple during half-time, I didn’t even notice the Prince symbol displayed.

 

Two weeks ago a major storm dumped 16 inches of snow on Faribault and other parts of Minnesota. Snow also fell on Super Bowl weekend. But it is the cold, below zero temps and minus double digit windchills that marked the weather. I was delighted with the weather, which played perfectly off Minnesota’s Super Bowl tag as the “Bold North.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2018.

 

I saw many, but not all, of the commercials. My favorites focused on the theme of bringing our country together in an especially divisive year. Strength. Unity. Togetherness. Diversity. I especially liked T-Mobile’s “Little Ones” spot featuring babies of multiple ethnicities paired with empowering words. Most, but not all, of these social cause ads worked for me. In the didn’t like/work would be the Dodge Ram Truck ad using the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I didn’t appreciate his inspiring words used for a commercial purpose.

TurboTax nailed the humor, at least for me, with ads themed on convincing viewers they have nothing to fear in doing their taxes. A monster creeping from under a bed, a ghost in an attic—both were memory relatable. I just hope no little kids got scared.

The Mucinex spot that zoned in on post Super Bowl Monday as a sick day also tickled my funnybone and, in a round-about way, connected to that daughter who called me during the game. Thirty years ago she also used boogers to illicit laughter. “How do you make a Kleenex dance?” she asked kids and parents during a family skate time at a (now closed) Faribault rollerskating rink. “You put a little boogie in it,” she delivered in her sweet preschool voice.

 

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in Wild Rice Hotdish, another popular Minnesota dish. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A year from now I likely will have forgotten who played in Super Bowl LII. I will have forgotten the record low game time kick-off temp of one degree above zero. (An effort is underway to collect cold weather gear for Minnesota homeless from Super Bowl attendees returning to warm weather destinations via “Pass Your Parkas.”)  I will have forgotten the Mucinex and other commercials. I will have forgotten who performed at half-time. I will have forgotten how Jimmy Fallon gushed about Minneapolis and the Tater Tot Hotdish (not casserole) served to him by a Champlin family. But that memory of my sweet preschooler—now a grown woman—telling that joke about boogers, that I still, and will always, remember.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How one little girl put some fun back in my Minnesota winter January 24, 2018

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My granddaughter watches while her grandpa rolls a snowball.

 

AS I’VE AGED, I complain more about Minnesota winters. But I didn’t always dislike this season of cold, snow and ice. I once loved being outdoors in the winter—rolling snowballs in to snowmen, engaging in snowball fights, racing up and down snow piles, sledding, digging caves into snow banks, making snow angels, running across rock-hard snow drifts, ice skating and constructing snow forts. Winter as a child was fun in between doing farm chores.

Even when I had my own three children, winter remained semi fun with some of the same winter activities. But as the kids grew, so did their disinterest in outdoor winter play. It’s been years since I’ve thought about the fun aspect of the months spanning November – April in Minnesota.

But then along came my granddaughter who is now nearing age two. On Saturday Randy and I offered to play with Izzy so her parents could have an afternoon out. My motive was also grandma selfish in wanting some time with this sweet little girl.

 

Ready to head outside into the snow.

 

With temps around 40 degrees, I decided (and Grandpa went along with the idea) it would be a great day to play with Izzy in the snow. After I bundled her into her snowpants, boots, coat, cap and mittens and then got myself ready, we finally headed to the backyard. I’d forgotten how long it takes to get a little one into snow gear.

 

 

Once in the backyard, Randy and I pulled Izzy around on a Lion King sled Randy recently retrieved from the garage rafters. It’s the same sled Isabelle’s mama used as a child.

 

 

While Grandpa rolled snowballs and stacked them into a snowman, I played with Izzy. She trundled in the snow as best she could, occasionally reaching for my hand to assure she stayed upright. When I started throwing snowballs at a tree trunk, she burst into waves of giggles. She may have been laughing at Grandma’s inability to hit the target about 50 percent of the time.

The time outdoors with my granddaughter on a balmy January afternoon in Minnesota put the fun back in winter for me. Oh, the power of a child. Over a grandmother.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling