Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Horse/Pferd crazy in Minnesota und Deutschland April 7, 2011

This isn't my stick horse; mine is long gone. But my parents made stick horses for my two daughters 20-plus years ago. This horse belongs to one of them.

GROWING UP ON A SOUTHWESTERN Minnesota farm, I wanted a horse. Bad. Really, really bad.

But Dad wasn’t buying my and my siblings’ pleas to “Please, please, pretty please, Dad, can we get a horse?”

He stood firm in his belief that horses were dangerous. And then he would give us the facts to back up his fear. Dad would regale us over and over again with the tale of the boy he’d seen lying in the Redwood Falls Hospital with a hoof print embedded in his forehead. Whether that story was entirely true or a bit of exaggeration, I’ll never know. I only knew, unequivocally, that Dad didn’t want any of his six kids kicked in the head by a horse.

I think he also had concerns about keeping an animal that wasn’t earning its keep on our dairy and crop farm. With tractors, he didn’t need horses that, in his opinion, would do nothing except consume corn and hay that he needed for the cattle.

And so my siblings and I improvised. Socks with eyes, mouths and ears and with yarn manes sewn on and then jammed onto sticks became our horses. Stick horses. I rode mine around the farmyard so much that I easily could have ridden to Montana and back.

These were the days, too, of television westerns like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Rawhide. These were the days of shooting cap guns and, even though this is certainly not politically-correct today, of playing “cowboys and Indians.”

When my siblings and I weren’t riding our stick horses with guns blazing, we were riding our bicycles. Up and down the driveway. On the rock-hard dirt paths we’d carved through the grove. We pedaled furiously, escaping robbers and savages on our bikes turned horses.

On occasion, we also straddled empty barrels, slipping our feet into stirrups we’d fashioned from baler twine. We were, if anything, innovative, resourceful and imaginative.

Dad wasn’t giving us our horse, so we made do.

For my oldest brother, making do also meant attempting to ride a steer. I don’t recall that he was ever bucked off. But I also don’t remember that he succeeded in his mission.


My second daughter went through a phase, when she was about four years old, of being obsessed with horses. She drew horse pictures non-stop. I read every horse book to her available through the southeastern Minnesota library system. And I bought her toy horses, all of which are still in a plastic tote for her to someday claim.

All of which brings me to this story. Have you heard about the 15-year-old German girl who trained a cow that she can ride like a horse? Her parents, like my dad, told her she couldn’t have a horse. So she improvised.

Shortly after Luna was born on the family’s farm two years ago, Regina Mayer started working with the animal. Her persistence paid off as she can now saddle up and ride the cow like a horse. Luna even is trained to jump over hurdles.

I like the spunk of this teen. Knowing what I know about cattle, I realize just how determined Regina had to be to get her “horse.”

Apparently my brothers, sisters and I weren’t determined enough. So, instead, we settled for sticks, bikes and barrels. And, on occasion, we cajoled a relative into riding her horse from several miles away to our farm. She would allow us to climb into the saddle for a walk around the farmyard. It was then that I discovered I really didn’t feel all that comfortable riding a horse. But I never told my dad. Not once.


One of the many horses in my second daughter's collection.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Sauerbraten and sauerkraut in Morristown November 15, 2010

Diners gathered in the fellowship hall at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Morristown for a German meal served by the Cannon Valley Lutheran High School German Club following a German Fest of Thanks & Praise.

THE LAST TIME I ATE an authentic German meal, I was in high school. The German Club, of which I was a member, was on a Christmas trip to New Ulm, that most Deutsch of all Minnesota cities.

After visiting Domeier’s German Store, a quaint import shop, and Christmas shopping downtown, we gathered at Eibner’s, a German restaurant. Of our ethnic meal there, I remember only the main dish, sauerbraten.

Fast forward nearly four decades to yesterday and a German meal served by the Cannon Valley Lutheran High School German Club at a fundraising dinner in Morristown. The group is traveling to Germany in February. The main dish sauerbraten, beef served atop spaetzle, tasted tangy and vinegary, exactly as I remembered. But then so did several of the other foods like the German potato salad and the purple cabbage, which my friend Mike claimed was transformed from green to purple in a sort of scientific experiment.

The plated portion of the meal included German potato salad, cabbage, brats with sauerkraut, sauerbraten served atop spaetzle (a German dumpling) and bread (rye may have been a more authentic choice).

Magic or not, the meal turned out by the kitchen crew (primarily German students’ parents and CVLHS board members) was worthy of any good German restaurant. I give it five stars.

That said, I honestly could not eat this food on a regular basis. Too much starch. Too heavy. Too all-one-boring blah white, except for that colorful dash of purple cabbage. I fear a steady diet of this would clog my arteries and cause me to gain weight more rapidly than I already am at my slowing metabolism mid-50s age.

In all fairness to the Germans, I’m certain they don’t eat this much or these types of foods daily just like I don’t eat pizza and potatoes every day. In fact, CVLHS language teacher Sabine Bill, who recently moved to Morristown from Germany, told me the German meal served on Sunday is representative of the food eaten in the Bavarian region of southern Germany, not the entire country.

Now I’m unsure where my German ancestors lived, but I know they liked their sauerkraut. My dad was the king of sauerkraut makers, a tradition carried on by my sister Lanae. We got sauerkraut on Sunday served with slices of brats.

Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly eat another bite of anything, I was handed a bowl of bread pudding laced with raisins and immersed in a decadent, over-sweet buttery sauce. My husband complained that his piece was smaller than mine and I offered to share. But I didn’t, not one single bite. I could have. I should have…

The decadent bread pudding...

Typically I don't drink coffee. But it was decaff, went well with the bread pudding and pfeffernusse and was served in the prettiest, sturdiest cups.

Diane, a CVLHS board member, made more than 1,000 pfeffernusse, tiny hard cookies which include black pepper, black coffee and several spices. Each diner got five cookies, served in festive cupcake liners.

On the way out of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church fellowship hall, where the German meal was served, I told my friend Mike that his group had started something. They would have to host this German Fest of Thanks & Praise and the German meal annually.

I could eat this ethnic food once a year. To my several-generations-removed-from-Deutschland taste buds, this homemade meal rated as authentically delicious.

Programs from the pre-dinner German Fest of Thanks & Praise lie on a pew inside Bethlehem Lutheran Church. The fest included prayers, songs and Scripture readings in German.

Between meal sittings, musicians entertained waiting diners inside the Bethlehem Lutheran Church sanctuary.

On my way to the church balcony, I found this CVLHS sign on a bulletin board.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling