Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A tender moment honoring Justin August 31, 2017

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



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



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



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

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Memories of a boy who loved fireflies June 30, 2012

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A plaque marks the entry to Justin’s Memory Garden.

I NEVER IMAGINED, when I published a post here on June 16 about the Memory Garden which honors my nephew Justin, that you, dear readers, would so fervently embrace a sculpture from that garden.

But I suppose my enthusiasm for the little boy holding a jar of fireflies ignited in the words I wrote.

Now, because of that story and accompanying photos, five more gardens—four in southeastern Minnesota and one at a Colorado hospital—will become homes for the little boy.

My husband, Randy, and Little Justin on the back steps before I moved Justin to a spot on the patio by the brilliant pink wave petunias.

He’s already in my backyard, my Little Justin, as Justin’s uncle, my husband, calls the garden sculpture.

Every evening as darkness settles in, the fireflies in the jar begin to glow, reminding me of my nephew who died too soon of Hodgkin’s disease 11 years ago at the age of 19.

Fireflies glow in the sculpture I recently purchased in memory of my nephew Justin.

Says his mother, Vivian:

Justin liked watching fireflies, especially when sitting at a bonfire. He loved looking at the stars and he loved Christmas tree lights, especially blue ones. He would often holler, “Mom/Dad, come and look at the sunset,” or the rainbow, or “there’s a shooting star.”

He didn’t want us to plant a tree in a particular spot because it would ruin the sightline for the sunsets—we never have planted one there.

Though we never talked about it specifically, he enjoyed light, from the heavens, in various forms.

And so, when the mother of the boy who loved light and fireflies and the heavens, saw the “Lightning Bugs with Boy” sculpture in a brochure the day before Mother’s Day, she felt moved to purchase it for Justin’s Memory Garden.

“As I’ve gotten older, I follow those instincts more readily,” Vivian says.

It is the first sculpture she’s purchased for the garden that honors her son. The other garden art—a plaque, dove, angel and birth bath—have come from friends as have most of the plants.

That, she says, makes it a true Memory Garden.

If you’re one of the gardeners who has purchased/is purchasing a Little Justin, hold close this story and imagine the little boy who loved light and is now living in the light.

A close-up of my Little Justin’s endearing face.

FYI: Vivian and I both ordered our “Lightning Bugs with Boy” sculptures from our local True Value hardware stores, hers in Morris, mine in Faribault. My sculpture had to be shipped in from Oregon. The product cannot be ordered online from True Value, but if you would like to view it, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A summer evening in my Minnesota backyard June 23, 2012

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The setting in my southeastern Minnesota backyard Friday evening.

GIVE ME A PERFECT summer evening in my Minnesota backyard.

I set my margarita on a vintage TV tray and settled into a lawn chair next to the fire.

Mix it with a margarita or a bloody Mary.

Add a dash of fire flaming from the fire pit and from tiki torches.

I purchased this garden art at a dollar store many years ago. Tea light candles can be placed below each flower head. It’s one of my favorite pieces of garden art.

Toss in the soft glow of candlelight flickering on a whisper of wind.

My husband relaxes with the local daily newspaper as we enjoy the evening in our backyard.

Give me a magazine or a book and the man I love relaxing next to me, the two of us, side-by-side in our lawn chairs. Quiet conversation and the rustle of papers.

Fireflies court, flitting across the yard on an uncharted course to find love.

Fireflies glow in the sculpture I just purchased in memory of my nephew Justin.

We observe them. I wish aloud to photograph their magical light and my husband rises to capture a firefly, to clasp it between his hands. I try, without success, to photograph a bug I cannot see. “This is impossible,” I say, and settle back into my lawn chair near the fire.

I resume reading, thumbing through recipes for cheesecake until pinpoints of intermittent rain splatter upon my magazine.

It is time to put away the reading materials, to grab the ingredients for smores and roast marshmallows. Just as I extend the marshmallows over the fire, the rain begins falling at a rapid rate, soaking my bent back.

My husband picks up lawn chairs and tiki torches and tends the fire.

I hurry along the toasting and then rush inside to assemble the smores.

Even with the rain, it’s been a perfect summer evening in my Minnesota backyard.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling