Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A must-listen: “Tilly Remembers Her Grandfather” August 13, 2021

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

SHE DEFINES SADNESS in these words: an ocean filled with nothing.

That definition comes not from a poet or a songwriter, but rather from 12-year-old Matilda Breimhorst in a May 1, 2020, podcast interview with Michael Barbaro of The New York Times, The Daily.

I encourage every single one of you to listen to this 20-minute interview, “Tilly Remembers Her Grandfather.” It will leave you emotionally exhausted/drained/heartbroken as you hear Tilly speak about her beloved Papa.

The Rev. Craig Breimhorst died on April 16, 2020, due to complications of COVID-19. He was the first person in my county of Rice to die of the virus. That county death tally has since risen to 113. As shared in my post yesterday, Breimhorst’s life will be celebrated on Saturday during his funeral.

When I published that post, I was unaware of the podcast. But Minnesota Prairie Roots reader Sandy Varley directed me to the NY Times podcast and for that I feel grateful. Please, take 20 minutes of your time to listen to Tilly talk about her Papa.

About the grandfather who climbed with her onto their special spot on the roof of his house to talk and star gaze. About the grandfather who would show up unexpectedly at school to eat lunch with Tilly (even stealing her chips) and tell stories to her and her friends. About the grandfather whose t-shirt she slept in when he lay dying in the hospital.

I admire the strength of this 12-year-old in telling her story, sharing her grief. Her words are powerful, her insights remarkable for someone so young. Via this podcast, via the bravery and honesty of Tilly, Rice County’s first COVID-19 death transforms from a statistic to a granddaughter remembering and grieving her grandfather. Her beloved Papa.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A grandfather’s love April 20, 2016

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My granddaughter at 10 days old.

My granddaughter at 10 days old.

THERE IS A SIDE TO GRANDPARENTING I never considered. And that is the joy of watching my husband in the role of grandpa. Randy holds his little Isabelle with such gentleness, cradling her in his arms like the precious baby girl she is to all of us.

Grandfather and granddaughter.

Grandfather and granddaughter.

He is a man who works with his hands—pounding, fixing, drilling—as an automotive machinist. Oil and grease stain his skin and rim his fingernails. He works hard. But those same strong, rough hands wrap a swaddle cloth around Izzy and tuck in her bare feet as he gazes at her with such tenderness that my heart aches.

Two generations connecting.

Two generations connecting.

And then at one point, this 10-day-old baby reflexively wraps her tiny hand around her grandpa’s right thumb. A kiss before she can kiss him. Love so sweet, so beautiful, between a grandfather and his newborn granddaughter.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling