Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Winter in Minnesota: Oddities, insights, warnings February 1, 2023

Treacherous winter driving conditions along Minnesota State Highway 19 just north of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota in January 2013. These weather conditions are not uncommon on the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted and edited file photo 2013)

WINTER IN MINNESOTA can be decidedly difficult in the sort of way that challenges us to either adjust, adapt or embrace, or flee to Arizona, Texas or Florida.

That got me thinking. If you’re not from the Bold (Cold) North, you may be unfamiliar with our winter weather obsession and terminology. Wind chill is an oft-referenced word in Minnesota winter weather forecasts. Defined, that’s the feels like temp on skin when wind meets air temperature. The result is not pleasant with repeated warnings of exposed flesh can freeze in just minutes. That’s the time to layer up, don long johns, pull out the heavy parka or down coat, shove hands into mittens (not gloves), wrap your face and neck in a scarf, clamp on a warm hat and lace lined boots over thick wool socks. Or stay indoors. Just for the record, recent Minnesota wind chills have been between 20-35 degrees below zero.

Experts, like the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, advise us to carry winter survival kits in our vehicles and to stay inside should we become stranded or go off the road. Call for help and wait. Exiting your vehicle is risky as in risk becoming disoriented and lost in a snowstorm if in a rural area or risk being hit by a vehicle if your vehicle slides into the ditch along a busy interstate. Just recently a driver was struck while doing exactly that; he’ll be OK.

Ice fishing on Union Lake in Rice County. Some anglers don’t fish in houses, but rather in the open air, sitting on overturned 5-gallon buckets. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

YES, MINNESOTANS REALLY DO DRIVE ONTO FROZEN LAKES

Regarding risk, Minnesotans continue to participate in a sem- risky winter sport. Ice fishing. As absurd as this sounds to those who have never lived in a cold weather state, this is the sport of angling for fish on a frozen lake. It can be (mostly) safe if anglers follow basic rules for ice safety, the first being that no ice is ever 100 percent safe and know your lake. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers basic ice thickness guidelines such as stay off ice less than four inches thick. If it’s four inches thick, you can walk on lake ice. Nine to 10 inches of ice will support a small car or SUV. You’ll need 16-17 inches to drive a heavy truck onto a frozen lake and so on. Every winter vehicles plunge through the ice and people lose their lives on Minnesota lakes.

Yet, we Minnesotans continue to embrace the sport, exercising caution. Clusters of simple pop-up temporary day houses to homemade wooden shacks to fancy sleep-overnight factory models create mini villages on our frozen lakes. Anglers hang out therein, drilling holes in the ice, drinking beer, playing cards and doing whatever while waiting for the fish to bite. Decades have passed since I participated in this winter sport. But I did. It was the cracking noise of the ice that got to me.

Randy shovels snow from our house rooftop during a previous winter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

PENGUINS, FIRE & UP ON THE ROOFTOP

Ice. I quite dislike that aspect of winter. And we’ve had a lot of ice this winter on roads, sidewalks, parking lots, every hard surface. As I age, my fear of falling and breaking a bone is real. I deal with ice by either staying off it or walking like a penguin.

Recently I observed my neighbor trying to remove ice from his driveway with fire fueled by a small portable propane tank. It was the weirdest thing—to see this flame in the black of evening aimed downward onto his cement driveway. It didn’t work well. The next evening, two of them were out chipping at ice the old-fashioned way with a long-handled bladed tool designed for that purpose.

Yes, we chip ice from our sidewalks and driveways. We shovel snow from our roofs in an effort to prevent ice dams (of which there are many this winter). Getting through a Minnesota winter, especially one as snowy as this season, requires fortitude and effort.

This oversized Minnesota driver’s license hangs above a rack of buffalo plaid flannel and other shirts at the A-Pine Restaurant near Pequot Lakes in the central Minnesota lakes region, aka Paul Bunyan land. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

CELEBRATING PAUL BUNYAN STYLE

Winter here also requires plenty of flannel, our unofficial winter attire. I recently purchased two flannel shirts to replace two that I’d worn thread-bare. I love my flannel. It’s comfy and cozy and warm and makes me feel Paul Bunyan authentic. If you’re unfamiliar with Paul, let me explain. He’s a legendary lumberjack, a symbol of strength and endurance. And he wears red buffalo plaid flannel. My community even celebrates flannel with the Faribault Flannel Formal, set for 5:30-9 pm Saturday, March 11, at Craft Beverage Curve (10,000 Drops Craft Distillers and Corks & Pints)). And, yes, that means attendees wear flannel, sample hotdishes (the Minnesota term for casseroles) and participate in lumberjack games. Yeah, sure, ya betcha. This is how we survive winter in the Bold (Cold) North.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

United Way opening community-focused used bookstore in Faribault January 31, 2023

Rice County Area United Way is opening a used bookstore in the vacant Dandelet Jewelry building. A bookstore was once located in the corner building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

ONCE UPON A TIME, Faribault was home to bookstores, the first inside the mall, the second downtown on Central Avenue. Both closed years ago. But soon we’ll have a bookshop back in town, located in the former Dandelet Jewelry store, right next to the corner building that once housed Central Avenue Books.

Elizabeth Child (Photo source: E. Child)

This new as yet unnamed bookstore, though, will be decidedly different. The bookshop, a project of Rice County Area United Way, aims to do more than simply provide the community with a place to purchase gently-used books. It will also become a welcoming community gathering space, according to United Way Executive Director Elizabeth Child. She envisions a colorful children’s area in the back of the store where kids can mingle and read. She envisions adults dropping in, coffee in hand, to browse bookshelves and engage in conversation. She envisions local art displayed and perhaps events featuring artists and writers.

Gordon Liu, board chair of the United Way, created a book-themed display for the Faribault Winterfest holiday window decorating contest. It reflects the bookstore plan for the Dandelet building and Liu’s love of books and reading. He was recently reappointed to the Library Advisory Board. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

A sense of community involvement defines the vision for this used bookshop. Child and her board of directors are open to ideas and possibilities and are actively seeking community input. They want this gathering place to reflect Faribault’s multi-cultural population; to add value to the downtown; to promote literacy via access to books; to inspire people to read; and to increase the United Way’s visibility in Faribault. The United Way currently has an office in Northfield following the merging of the Faribault and Northfield United Ways into a county-wide entity in 2019.

A small United Way sign lies atop “snow” in a window display inside the former Dandelet Jewelry building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

The nonprofit, funded primarily by workplace partner and individual donations, aims “to mobilize caring resources to improve lives,” Child said. That’s further defined on the website: Our focus is on education, health and financial stability—the building blocks for a good quality of life.

Faribault is a diverse community, shown here in Gordon Liu’s “Frosty the Snowman” window display. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

A bookstore fits within that mission with a focus on literacy, bringing people together and providing affordable books. The United Way is already collecting books, with an emphasis on “gently-used” in all genres. No textbooks, encyclopedias, business or outdated books needed.

The Art Deco style can be seen in the black and cream colors and the strong lines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Planning and work continue on the bookstore with an anticipated spring opening at 227 Central Avenue North, hours to be determined. The 1882 building, which is in Faribault’s Historic Commercial District and on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of 13 purchased by a local investment group in an effort to revitalize downtown. Originally, the structure housed Dandelet Dry Goods. It became a jewelry store and watch repair business in 1925 with the Dandelet family modernizing the original Italianate facade in the Art Deco style during the 1930s. Child noted the vacant building retains Art Deco elements inside, including a chandelier. Built-in shelves, which once displayed jewelry, remain. Those will be repurposed for books as the United Way readies the space with mostly cosmetic changes like painting, adding display tables and more. A first floor bathroom will be installed. Any exterior changes/improvements will be made by the building’s owners.

From jewelry to books, both gems… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Volunteers will run the bookshop with United Way board member Dave Campbell overseeing the operation. There’s already a sense of excitement within the community about the bookstore, Child said. She expects that interest to grow once the shop opens.

Faribault boasts a downtown brimming with aged, historic buildings. Revitalization and renovation are ongoing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Child’s efforts to open a United Way bookstore began seven months ago in a most unexpected way—in a conversation during a three-hour ride from North Carolina to the Atlanta airport. Her friend Florence, whom she first connected with via an online pandemic-inspired poetry group, mentioned how much she enjoyed volunteering in her small town nonprofit bookstore. That proved an enlightening moment for Child, who took the nonprofit bookstore idea and ran with it…to her board. And now, in a few months, Faribault will have a new, welcoming place to gather, a place to buy gently-used books, to engage in conversation, to connect as community.

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FYI: If you have gently-used books to donate, contact Dave Campbell at 507-210-4066 or email him at Davec1953 at gmail.com

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look at German POW camps, including in Faribault January 28, 2023

The Rice County Historical Society, host of the POW presentation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

JUST BLOCKS FROM THE VACATED SITE of the former Faribault Canning Company, a group packed a Rice County Historical Society Museum meeting room Thursday evening for a lesson in World War II-related regional history. Specifically, we learned about German Prisoner of War camps in Minnesota and Wisconsin from Matt Carter, executive director of the Dakota County Historical Society. He offered an overview of those camps, which included 15 in Minnesota, one at the canning company in Faribault. Carter is a native of Reedsburg, Wisconsin, home to a POW camp. Growing up, he never learned about the camp in school. That prompted him to later research, write about and present on POW camps in the US.

Former Faribault Daily News reporter Pauline Schreiber photographed the Faribault POW Camp barracks shortly before they were torn down in 1990. (Photo courtesy of the Rice County Historical Society)

WORKING AG-RELATED JOBS

I’ve always held an awareness of Camp Faribault and the prisoners who worked at the canning factory and on area farms. I also knew of the low-slung buildings housing the POWs who arrived here in June 1944. Those barracks were torn down in 1990 during an expansion of Faribault Foods, as the canning company came to be called. The business still exists today, in a sprawling manufacturing and distribution complex opened in 2017 in northwest Faribault’s industrial park.

Back during WWII, with millions of Americans off to serve in the military, POWs like those in Faribault offset the local labor shortage. Faribault Canning requested 200 prisoners to assist during the summer months with pea and sweet corn processing. The company paid the government 55 cents an hour for each POW laborer. That covered food and other living expenses. Prisoners received 80 cents a day for their work. Carter noted that the Faribault-based POWs worked within a 25-mile radius, some also laboring on farms, others installing power poles for Dakota Electric Association and 60 contracted to work for the local Andrews Nursery Company.

Some of the buildings remaining at the former Faribault Canning Co (Faribault Foods) site. I know nothing about the use or ages of the buildings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

SETTLING IN AT CAMP FARIBAULT & BEYOND

POW camps were scattered throughout Minnesota with other nearby branch camps, as they were termed, in Owatonna, Montgomery and St. Charles. Camps farther north focused mostly on logging. All were offshoots of barbed wire-secured base camps (where prisoners initially arrived and were processed) in Algona and Clarinda, Iowa. Once prisoners settled in community camps like Faribault, they still remained under guard, although much more loosely watched. An estimated 450,000 – 600,000* prisoners arrived in the US on Liberty Ships during WWII to live in repurposed Civilian Conservation Corps camps, on fairgrounds, even in tents, Carter said. In Faribault, the POWS moved into barracks built by the canning company.

WEDDINGS, PROPAGANDA & “CODDLING”

Within the confines of his just-over-an-hour-long presentation, Carter presented an excellent overview of POW camps, adding some details that I found notably interesting. For example, proxy weddings were performed by local clergy. Under Geneva Convention rules, German prisoners could legally marry women back in Germany. Prisoners would gather flowers for the missing-brides prison camp weddings. Across the ocean their brides perhaps did the same while marrying absent grooms not seen in years.

Carter also shared that prisoners watched newsreels of German war atrocities as part of a reorientation program in the camps. Viewed as propaganda by some POWs, they responded by distributing handwritten propaganda while traveling on secured trains. Baffled by how these leaflets were dropped, officials determined that the papers were dropped down toilets and then onto the rails.

The third bit of shared information that struck me involves food. Newspapers reported how well prisoners ate, how they were being “coddled,” Carter noted. He showed a list of menus, which confirms the generous meals. The reaction was an outcry from an American public living on rationed foods and upset about the treatment of German-held US soldiers. In 1945, POWs were no longer allowed to buy beer, soda or cigarettes. And some of their food choices became less desirable (like hearts and liver).

Once the war ended, prisoners were repatriated, a process that took time. Many later returned to the US because of how well they were treated here, according to Carter. That was encouraging to hear. Even in war-time, kindness existed.

Matt Carter referenced this book during his talk, citing it as a good source of information about POW camps in Minnesota.

DIGGING DEEPER

Today all that remains of the Faribault POW Camp is a marker by the former canning company. If there are stories and photos, I am unaware. But I’m inspired now to dig deeper. I’ve already checked out Prudence by David Treuer from my local library. The novel focuses on a German soldier who escaped from a Minnesota POW camp. I also intend to read Anita Albrecht Buck’s Behind Barbed Wire: German Prisoners of War in Minnesota during World War II.

And maybe some day I’ll travel to Algona, Iowa, to visit the Camp Algona POW Museum and learn more about this place which housed prisoners sent to Minnesota, including to Faribault.

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*Because of differences and discrepancies in record-keeping, the number of prisoners housed in US POW camps is uncertain. Some sources claim 600,000-plus, while Carter estimates closer to 500,000 prisoners based on his research.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on a Faribault first on this, MLK Day January 16, 2023

I took this photo of a St. Olaf College student watching a video in an exhibit, “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail,” in 2015. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is shown in this frame. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2015)

TODAY, THE DAY WE HONOR Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr with celebrations and a federal holiday, seems fitting to share my excitement over the election of Adama Youhn Doumbouya to the Faribault City Council. Elected in November and just recently taking office, the Liberian-born immigrant becomes the first person of color to serve on the Council in a city chartered on April 9, 1872.

I expect Dr. King, who advocated tirelessly for equality and human rights, would be proud. I feel not only pride, but also gratitude in knowing that Doumbouya will bring a new young voice (he was born in 1987) and perspective to my ever-changing city.

This is my all-time favorite award-winning photo showing diversity in Faribault. I shot this image at the 2012 International Festival in Central Park where kids gathered to break a piñata. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

Today’s Faribault is vastly different from the Faribault of the past, even of recent decades. It is decidedly more diverse in skin tones, religion, culture, customs, dress, language and more. Admittedly, those who have moved here from places like Somalia, Sudan and Mexico have not always been welcomed. Racism exists. Sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant. I wish that wasn’t true, but it is.

Faribault is a city rich in immigrant history. This banner hangs in the downtown historic district. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

In the context of this evolving, diverse Faribault, it’s important to remember that nearly all of us (with the exception of indigenous peoples) are descendants of immigrants. Too often we forget that. Our forefathers landed in America, then Minnesota, with dreams. Faribault’s newly-elected councilman, who witnessed civil war in his home country along the west coast of Africa, landed in New York City in 2013 with dreams.

Visitors could photograph themselves at the 2015 “Selma” exhibit at St. Olaf College and express their thoughts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

Although I’m not privy to Doumbouya’s personal dreams, I’ve read his backstory published in a Faribault Daily News feature. After moving to Minnesota, he worked at a meat-packing plant in Austin, south of Faribault near the Iowa border. He served on the Austin Planning Commission. Eventually, he pursued a college degree, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in urban and regional studies. He moved to Faribault in 2020, owns a home here.

That’s a nutshell summary of the background Doumbouya brings to city government. Responses to a Q & A published pre-election revealed a candidate eager to serve his community. Eager to advocate for affordable housing, transportation and inclusive workforce development. Eager, too, to improve city infrastructure and technology for residents and businesses. Eager to focus also on economic development. I’m confident he will work hard on those goals of improving life and expanding opportunities in Faribault.

This image from a 2015 Downtown Faribault Car Cruise Night shows the diversity in my city. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

It took a long time—going on 151 years—for my city to get here, to the point of a person of color serving on the City Council. It took time, too, for social justice activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to make progress towards equality and human rights for all. As we approach the 55th anniversary of King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, much work remains to be done.

A promo for the MLK Breakfast in Faribault. (Credit: Faribault Diversity Coalition)

The same can be said in Faribault. But I see progress. I see progress in the election of Doumbouya to the City Council. I see progress via the efforts of the Faribault Diversity Coalition, which today hosts its ninth annual MLK Breakfast and has also started a recent Speaker Series. I see progress in personal connections and communication and caring attitudes. Faribault’s future is as limitless as our dreams.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note: Adama Youhn Doumbouya’s photo is not included on the City Council website page, leaving me without an image to share here.

 

Winter photography along the Cannon River January 10, 2023

Randy follows the winding trail along the Cannon River through North Alexander Park in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

ON THE FIRST DAY of the new year, before Minnesota’s first big winter storm of 2023, Randy and I followed the paved trail along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. It’s one of my favorite walking paths, if the wind isn’t blowing biting cold off the frozen river.

I appreciate that the City of Faribault keeps the trail free of snow and ice. That’s always a concern for me. I don’t want to risk falling and breaking a bone.

On this first afternoon in January, I pulled my Canon EOS 60D from the camera bag with hopes of getting some interesting shots. Photographing in winter always proves challenging in a landscape mostly devoid of color. But on this day, blue skies accented with puffs of white clouds provided a backdrop contrast.

Dried milkweed pods rise from the riverbank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Still, finding scenes to photograph takes effort and an eye for detail. I zoomed in on dried weeds along the shoreline, where the riverbank is nearly indistinguishable from the snow-layered Cannon.

Person-made sculpture or random chunk of icy snow? (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

And then I noticed, on a riverside picnic table, an icy sculpture. It appeared intentionally placed there, although it could have been thrown onto the tabletop by a snowblower and simply have been a chunk of snow that happened to resemble an animal. Whatever, I found the art interesting, worthy of my pause.

Oak leaves cling to branches. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Pausing seems a necessity of January photography in Minnesota. I stopped to study trees, noting stubborn oak leaves clinging to branches as if defying winter.

Treetops against a textured sky. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

I saw, too, how barren branches curve in graceful bends unseen in the fullness of other seasons. Trees possess a certain sculptural beauty when posed in winter nakedness.

I’ve always loved this “BLANKETS” ghost sign on the Faribault Mill. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Across the river, the iconic 1892 Faribault Mill (formerly the Faribault Woolen Mill; it recently acquired a cotton mill in Maine) stands as a symbol of endurance and history. Inside the mill, craftspeople create quality woolen blankets and more that are acclaimed world-wide. I never tire of focusing on this local landmark which merges with the Cannon.

Walking the dogs before the Vikings-Packers game. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

My walk with Randy, who was well ahead of me given all my photographic lagging, proved a much-needed break to stretch my muscles, to breathe in the crisp air of January. As we aimed back toward the van, my fingers numbing from the cold exposure, we met a Green Bay Packers fan walking his dogs. His green and gold attire tipped me to his football allegiance. I greeted him, but, with head phones clamped on, he didn’t reply. Maybe that was for the best given the Packers 41-17 win over the Minnesota Vikings hours later.

The snow-chunked river bank meets frozen Cannon River meets Faribault Mill in the distance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

I missed the game kick-off, not that I care given my general lack of interest in football. But occasionally I pause to take in the scene, to see the fans in their Vikings attire, to listen to their rising SKOL chant, to appreciate the details, just as I do with my Canon along the Cannon.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Where is Paul Bunyan when you need him? January 9, 2023

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Paul Bunyan chainsaw art in Hackensack, MN. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2017)

WHEN WINTER WALLOPS MINNESOTA, Minnesotans get resourceful. Or at least that proved true for Randy on Saturday morning when he suited up in his Dickies coveralls and assorted winter gear to remove snow from the end of the sidewalk.

Before he exited the house, I advised him to pace himself given his age and the knowledge that the snow deposited by the city plow would be heavy. We had no idea.

Legendary Paul Bunyan is seen often in central and northern Minnesota, here on an ice machine outside Thurlow Hardware and Rental in Pequot Lakes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2018)

I watched from the window while Randy tossed scoopfuls of rock hard snow onto ever-growing mounds banking the sidewalk. He seemed to be following my take-it-easy advice by occasionally pausing to rest. But then he stopped, headed up the street toward the driveway, then the garage. I figured he was coming inside to warm up.

Not so. Rather he walked out of the garage with an ax. Yes, the tool used to fell trees, split wood or in the recreational competition of ax throwing.

It didn’t take long to see what Randy had in mind. Soon he was swinging the ax into the snow wall lodged at sidewalk’s end. The moisture-heavy snow bladed there by the city plow froze overnight, making it impossible to shovel without first splitting the solid chunks. Unbelievable.

Randy worked tirelessly swinging the ax blade into the rock pack. Swing. Swing. Swing. Then he set the ax aside, grabbed the scoop shovel and flung the snow rocks aside. He repeated the process until the sidewalk end was cleared.

A Paul Bunyan liquor bottle photographed in 2018 at Sarah’s Uniques & Jim Mantiques in St. Charles. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2018)

In all the decades of removing snow, and I’ve done plenty of snow-clearing, too (including sidewalk and driveway ends), we’ve never resorted to using an ax. But Paul Bunyan would have been proud of Randy’s resourcefulness. To survive in Minnesota, you sometimes need to think like a legendary lumberjack.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Historic mercantile building on the market in Faribault January 6, 2023

The Fleckenstein building centers this row of historic buildings in the 200 block of Central Avenue North, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

LONG BEFORE SHOPPING MALLS, downtown Faribault had everything…Fleckenstein’s Dry Goods, as an example, sold many household necessities like sewing machines, hats, cloth, and ready-to-wear clothing.

Information about the Fleckenstein mercantile imprinted upon a bench in downtown Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)

That information printed on an historic-themed bench in downtown Faribault references an iconic building that has stood since 1884 at 220 Central Avenue North. Today that impressive brick structure with signature green trim is on the market for $679,000. It’s among many aged buildings that have been renovated and restored through the years, defining downtown Faribault as architecturally and historically appealing.

My image from the July 2016 Car Cruise Night was printed on the Faribault tourism magazine cover in 2017. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2016)

Many times, I’ve photographed the long ago mercantile owned by Frederick Fleckenstein. In 2017, my image of a Faribault Main Street Car Cruise Night scene with the Fleckenstein building as a backdrop graced the cover of the local tourism magazine. My eye is continually drawn to this majestic structure.

This image from a July 2022 Car Cruise Night shows a building under repair next to the Fleckenstein building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

I appreciate the business owners and developers who value Faribault’s historic commercial buildings enough to maintain, improve, renovate and restore them. Funds are currently available through the Faribault Main Street Economic Revitalization Program to assist business owners and developers in repairing, renovating, developing and redeveloping properties in downtown Faribault, according to information on the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism website. Faribault Chamber Trust received a $750,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to fund the program.

This is great news for my community. While many buildings, like the Fleckenstein building, have been restored through the decades, many have not. One need only walk along Central Avenue and adjoining side streets to see failing facades, boarded up windows and other issues. And that’s just the exterior. I expect more problems inside. I recognize it takes money, lots of money, to keep up aging structures.

The lovely Fleckenstein building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

The Fleckenstein building, though, is ready-to-go with a beautiful interior of original tin, exposed brick and beamed ceiling, according to the listing agent at Edina Realty. A diversity of small businesses currently occupy the 12,155 square feet.

Businesses come and go in Faribault, as in any community. But the buildings that once housed mercantiles and other businesses of yesteryear along Central Avenue mostly remain, repurposed, meeting the needs of today while retaining the architectural charm of the past.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When another winter storm blasts Minnesota January 5, 2023

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Clearing snow from a parked car along Willow Street near my home Wednesday morning. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

HERE IT IS, only a few days into 2023 and Minnesota has already experienced its first major multi-day winter weather event of the new year. Snow. Ice. Freezing rain. Sleet. Drizzle. Everything.

With four months of winter remaining, I am already weary of snow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

This storm comes on the heels of a major pre-Christmas snowstorm that essentially shut down travel in the southern half of our state. The fall-out is much the same. Snow-packed, icy roads. Crashes and spin-outs. Schools closed. Flights delayed and cancelled. A Delta jet from Mexico slid off an icy taxiway early Tuesday evening at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. No one was injured.

Snow layers on everything from trees to power and telephone lines. There were power outages in some parts of Minnesota, but not in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Tuesday and Wednesday were a weather mess here. Randy’s commutes, typically a 35-minute drive, took nearly an hour. He drove on several miles of a snow-covered state highway untouched by a snowplow blade and on snow-compacted, icy roads the remainder of the way.

The name on this plow blade indicates this plow truck driver means business when it comes to quick and easy snow removal. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

And then we had to deal with removing snow from our sidewalk and driveway. We are fortunate to own a snowblower. But it is ancient, bulky, subject to break-downs. Sheered pins. A metal ground plate so rusty that Randy finally removed it.

A City of Faribault snowplow truck passes through my neighborhood Wednesday morning. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Heavy, wet snow like this is difficult to blow. The chute clogs, requiring frequent stops to clear the snow with something other than a hand. Chunks of snow bladed from the street into the ends of the driveway and sidewalk can’t be blown. That requires back-breaking shoveling. I felt like I was lifting rocks as I bent, scooped, heaved the heavy, moisture-laden snow atop the ever-growing mounds banking the drive and sidewalk ends. I paced myself, cognizant of my age and this heavy snow being “heart attack” or “widow maker” type snow.

Snowplow trucks have been out in full force for two days clearing snow from residential and business properties. I photographed this truck on Willow Street Wednesday morning. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Just as I’d nearly finished clearing the driveway end, the guy removing snow from my neighbor’s property with a utility vehicle pushed the remaining snow away from our driveway. I felt such gratitude for this act of kindness. I leaned on the scoop shovel handle with a thankful heart.

As I type this late Wednesday morning, snow continues to fall, as it did overnight. The snow removal of yesterday will repeat today. The ends of the driveway and sidewalk are once again blocked by snow chunks plowed from the street.

Snow layers a neighbors’ yard, tree and fence as snow falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

But when I look beyond that to the woods behind my house, to my neighbors’ trees and bushes and rooftops, I glimpse a winter wonderland. This landscape layered in snow is lovely. Almost like paint-by-number artwork. That is the scene I need to remember when I’m out shoveling later and muttering words best left unwritten about winter storms in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond books: Connecting at the library January 3, 2023

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2022)

I MET HER AT BUCKHAM Memorial Library on the final day of 2022 in front of the “Lucky Day” shelves. The two-unit section—one for fiction, one for nonfiction—features newly-released titles immediately available to library patrons. No reserving or waiting, just the luck of finding a new book on the shelves.

As I browsed the fiction, I noticed her approach from the right, pushing a walker. I scooted a tad to the left, giving her more space. I wanted her to feel comfortable as we stood side-by-side.

I don’t recall which of us spoke first, but I think I did. I rarely remain silent in the closeness of strangers. And she was close.

(Photo credit: Goodreads)

“Have you read that book?” I asked, pointing to Three Sisters by Heather Morris. She hadn’t. But she’d read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, also by Morris. I hadn’t. We talked about the books briefly, about the difficulty of reading these fictional stories of concentration camp atrocities. Yet, we agreed reading them was important, perhaps even necessary. She directed me toward the fiction section, strongly suggesting I check out The Tattooist. Now. I’d already learned this woman beside me was opinionated and strong.

I felt her eyes following me to the fiction shelves. “Did you find it?” she asked upon my return. When I shook my head no, my new book-loving friend called out to the reference desk librarian to find the missing book for me. The computer showed the book was lost. He ordered it from another library.

In the meantime, I indulged this older book lover as she handed me two novels pulled from the “Lucky Day” fiction shelves—Joy Fielding’s The Housekeeper and B.A. Paris’ The Prisoner. “Have you read these?” she asked. I hadn’t and accepted her choices. Turns out she likes thrillers and mysteries as much as I do, even referencing Nancy Drew as the books which long ago sparked her interest in mysteries. Those teen mysteries did the same for me. Her recommendation of The Prisoner, a psychological thriller, proved an excellent read. I finished it in three days. She also recommended New York Times bestselling author C.J. Box. I had too many books already, so tucked that name into my memory.

A section of my poem selected for publication in “This Was 2020…” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Next I’ll move on to The Housekeeper, the other psychological suspense novel she chose for me, ironically with a character named Audrey. I told the book enthusiast that I am a writer and that since she selected two books for me, I wanted her to read an anthology that includes a poem I wrote. I struggled to remember the lengthy name of This Was 2020—Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year, a collection of poems and short stories published by the Ramsey County Library. But I remembered enough for the reference librarian to find the book on his computer and then on the shelves. I thumbed through the pages until I found Funeral During a Pandemic. “That’s me, my poem,” I pointed. We conversed briefly about the difficulties of my father-in-law’s funeral during the COVID-19 pandemic. I didn’t tell her that my mom died in January 2022, at the height of omicron, in a time when most people were no longer masking and large funerals were allowed. I could have penned a sequel poem.

A Boomerang Bag available to patrons at Buckham Memorial Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2018)

Eventually we parted, me lugging a cloth Boomerang bag weighted by books, she shoving her walker with books inside a plastic bag. When I later aimed back toward the check out desk, she called out, “Can you mail this for me?” She thrust a bright yellow envelope toward my outstretched hand. I agreed to mail the get well card to her niece who’d fallen on the ice.

She left the library and I soon followed with my bag of books. She maneuvered beside a car parked in a handicap space. Even though offered assistance to wrangle her walker into a weathered white late 1980s K car, she refused. She had this. But she did express concern about navigating an icy patch of pavement leading to and next to her car. She feared falling and breaking bones, something that’s happened thrice already. I empathized, sharing that I’d also had a hip replacement and broken bones twice during falls. “We’re sisters,” I laughed. But I meant it. We share a broken bone history, a love of books and a habit of mailing greeting cards to those who are celebrating or grieving or in need of encouragement.

Some of the get well cards I received after a bone break. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

“I love that you’re sending a get well card to your niece,” I said, waving the yellow envelope. I like to send cards, too. I’ll be sure to mail this.”

She replied, “I’m old school. I don’t even have a computer.”

“I need one to do my work—to write.”

“I always wanted to be a writer,” she blurted.

“It’s not too late,” I encouraged. A look flashed across her face, albeit briefly. A flash of possibility.

I had one final question. “What’s your name?”

“Noreen.” (Or maybe it’s Norene; I didn’t ask for the spelling.)

I don’t recall our parting words. But it doesn’t matter. I’d made a new book-loving, opinionated friend who dreamed of becoming a writer. It was, indeed, my lucky day at the library.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Two friends, loss & resilience December 16, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Light, beautiful light, breaks through the grey as the sun sets. (Minnesota Prairie Roots edited & copyrighted file photo December 2017)

I READ A LOT. News. Books. Obituaries. And sometimes something touches me in a way that makes me want to cry at the cruelty of humanity. That happened this week when I read a tribute on an online obituary for a 45-year-old Faribault-born man.

I didn’t know Allen. I have no idea why he died. But he clearly was loved.

Yet, life wasn’t always easy for him, as his friend Rachel notes in her comment. She remembers the times they hung out on her front porch as teens “talking about nothing at all and everything.” I love the wordage of that remembrance. But then Rachel continues. “He always has (d) a smile and a kind word for everyone even though he was made fun (of) as much as I was.”

In that singular sentence, my heart simply broke. I know Rachel, enough to believe her truth. I admire her for writing that truth, not only about herself, but about the friend she says she will always miss.

Why were people mean to Allen and Rachel? And to me? I, too, was picked on as a child and pre-teen, sometimes even as an adult. Decades later the memories of those hurtful words still sting. Rachel’s comment reveals the same.

Yet, despite the teasing, Allen maintained a positive attitude with his always smile and kind words. That says something for his resilience, his ability to overcome, at least outwardly. He had a good friend in Rachel.

As I reflect on this, I follow the lead of these two friends. If you’ve endured meanness, I think you can go two ways—become just like the bullies or choose to be kind and empathetic. Allen, Rachel and I chose kindness. My compassion for those who are picked on/bullied/teased/made fun of, whether as children or adults, runs deep. In this moment of reading Rachel’s thoughts about Allen, my heart simultaneously breaks and swells with gratitude for these two friends who talked about nothing at all and everything.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling