Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Honoring Emmett Till on MLK Day January 17, 2022

My community is marking MLK Day, not with a breakfast as planned and promoted in this poster, but rather virtually, due to COVID. (Source: Faribault Diversity Coalition Facebook)

EMMETT TILL. I should recognize that name, right? But, up until watching a limited ABC television series, “Women of the Movement,” I hadn’t heard of this 14-year-old African American murdered in August 1955. Two white men were charged with the crime, and then found not guilty by a Mississippi jury. Till’s death led his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, to take action. And that sparked the Civil Rights Movement.

A St. Olaf College student watches a video that includes Martin Luther King Jr. during a “Selma to Montgomery Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail” exhibit at the college in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

I should haven known all of this. And the reality that I didn’t weighs on me as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day today.

Eight years to the date after Emmett died, 250,000 people gathered in DC for the March on Washington for jobs and freedom. During this event, King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Skin color matters not, as showcased in this section of a Stephen Somerstein photo featured in a 2015 exhibit, “Selma to Montgomery Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

I expect young Emmett, who lived in Chicago with his mother, but was visiting family in Mississippi when he died, had dreams. He had his entire life ahead of him. His mother warned him, before he headed south on the train, that attitudes toward African Americans differed from those in the north. She advised him to be careful. Cautious around white people. He was reportedly killed after flirting with a married white woman in a shop.

It’s encouraging to see signs like this in small town Minnesota. I photographed this in October 2020 in Kenyon, MN. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

His death is tragic beyond words. His grieving mother determined to carry on, to reveal the truth, to raise awareness. Mamie Till Mobley spent the rest of her life speaking about racial injustice. And that began with her decision to have an open casket. She wanted the world to see her son—how he had been beaten, shot, his eyes gouged out before his body was tossed into the river.

As I watched this real-life story unfold in the television drama, I sobbed. At the unfathomable cruelty. At the senselessness. At the grief of a mother who endured the unthinkable.

Just months after Emmett’s death, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama. Soon thereafter, a 26-year-old pastor, Martin Luther King Jr., called for a city-wide bus boycott.

Messages on a house in small town Dundas, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)

And here we are today, decades later, with racial injustice issues still existing. Certainly, progress has been made. But in recent years, it feels like we’ve regressed. Discrimination. Efforts to squelch voting rights. Murder. Hatred flaring.

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

I admire Mamie Till Mobley for her courage and tenacity. Her strength. Now it’s up to each of us to honor her son by doing our part. Love. Respect. Speak up. Care. Do what we can to assure that no other mother—although there have been many since—loses a child to hatred.

Photographed in a storefront window of a downtown Faribault, Minnesota, business. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2018)

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

No air travel nightmares on Tuesday for this passenger January 5, 2022

The drive to Terminal 1 early Tuesday afternoon was easy, just like in December 2015, when this photo was taken. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

HE EXITED JUST IN TIME, hours before snow moved into Minnesota on Tuesday evening. Followed by high winds and, then, returning arctic cold.

If you were to ask my 20-something son, he might say he didn’t leave soon enough. After moving to Indiana in late 2021 to pursue his PhD at Purdue University, he’s found the climate there warmer. And, for him, warm is good. The body acclimates quickly. He did not appreciate the cold snap of subzero temps in Minnesota during his two-week holiday visit or the overnight temperature of 62 degrees in our house. I handed him a stack of blankets.

My gratitude for his exit relates to air travel, which has been nightmarish with cancellations and delays seemingly unending. Some due to weather. Others due to staffing shortages attributed to COVID. When he booked his flight, I suggested a direct flight rather than a lay-over in Chicago. I figured there would be less chance of problems flying directly from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Indianapolis. That held true.

When we headed up to the airport at noon Tuesday, we fully expected congestion. Long lines of traffic creeping. A replay of the scene during his arrival several days before Christmas. Instead, we found minimal traffic, breezing to departures and even able to step outside the van for goodbye hugs. It was wonderful.

No snow. No waiting in traffic at the terminal. No delayed flight.

“Just landed in Indianapolis,” he texted at 5:11 pm Tuesday CST. All is good.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts & thanks as 2022 begins January 1, 2022

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As we begin 2022, please remember this, that you are loved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo; image taken along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin)

HERE WE ARE, on the first day of a new year. Days and weeks and months unfolding before us. Full of unknowns, possibilities, whatever life brings. Happiness. Sorrow. Sickness. Health. Joy. Sadness. To be human is to experience all. Sometimes alone. Sometimes together.

I expect that, without much thought, you can recall particularly challenging times/events in your life. In those difficult days, you likely felt overwhelmed, wondered whether you would make it to the other side. To the days when the pain and stress and anguish would lift. And light would shine again.

And I expect also that you did not go it alone. Perhaps faith carried you. Family and/or friends, too. Maybe professionals. And your inner strength. It often amazes me just how strong and resilient we humans can be. Even in the toughest of circumstances.

The support and friendships I’ve formed via blogging amaze me, too. I’ve connected with some really kind, caring and compassionate individuals. Some friendships remain virtual. But others developed in to in-person friendships. Regardless, these individuals are now part of my circle, part of my life. Their generosity of spirit has uplifted me countless times.

Me behind my first Canon EOS 20D. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

Most recently, a blogger friend asked what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted/needed only one thing. A camera. Just like the one I’ve used for the past decade plus. A Canon EOS 20D. I’m on my second 20D and it was failing, just like the first. Locking up. I knew its days were numbered and I would need a different camera. The 20D is an older camera. But I’m comfortable and familiar with it. I checked two camera shops online in the Twin Cities metro to find only a few used cameras, none of them a 20D. No surprise there. A new camera was not an option. Have you looked at camera prices lately? Then came my blogger friend’s email asking what I would like for Christmas. She hoped to send me something after the holidays.

Days later, a package landed on my front steps. I hadn’t ordered anything. Wasn’t expecting anything. But when I slit the box, I found a camera body inside. A Canon EOS 20D. I actually shrieked, nearly cried with joy at this most thoughtful gift which allows me to continue to create. I’m delighted to have my third 20D in my hands. I’ve always believed that good photography is more about the skills of the person creating with a camera than about the equipment. I couldn’t believe my blogger friend found this coveted aged camera, and so quickly. I am beyond grateful.

Now, entering into another year of creativity, I fully intend to use my talents to share, in images and words, the world I discover. I will continue to take you into small towns. Along gravel roads. Into woods and along rivers and lakes. To community events. I will show you art and natural beauty, the places I go, the things I see and do. And I hope that in doing so, I bring you joy, expand your world, perhaps uplift you.

Thank you, dear readers, for following Minnesota Prairie Roots. Thank you for supporting my creativity. For recognizing that creativity connects all of us. And that creativity matters.

Happy New Year!

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Christmas message from Minnesota Prairie Roots December 24, 2021

Baby Jesus stitched by my cousin Traci Sanford. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

SIX COUNTED CROSS-STITCH CARDS depicting the birth of Christ grace an aged chest of drawers anchoring a corner of my living room. I’ve leaned the cards against the backdrop mirror reflecting my Christmas tree.

These works of art visually tell the Christmas story minus a few important characters—Joseph and the Three Wisemen, who would later come bearing gifts. Perhaps those cards were lost. Or maybe my cousin Traci, who stitched the art, didn’t complete the series. She gifted my mom with these cards. One each Christmas.

A few years back, after Mom moved into assisted living and eventually long-term care, my extended family divided the Nativity sets our mother collected. And, among those I chose were these cards. My mom was also an avid counted cross stitch artist.

I cherish the stitched collection. Not only for its artistic value but also for the emotional connection to a mother celebrating her final Christmas on this earth. That is reality and I’ve reached a sense of peace in that certainty.

This Christmas, I hope you, too, experience peace. I hope you find a connection to those loved ones no longer on this earth via treasured memories or objects. I hope you feel connected also to those still here. To those who can still hear the words, “I love you.”

Have a blessed Christmas, dear readers!

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas homecoming December 23, 2021

Nearing Terminal 1 at MSP on a quiet December day in 2015, a very different scene from Tuesday evening. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

NEARLY AN HOUR after picking him up outside Terminal 1 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Tuesday evening, my son and I embraced.

I wanted to wrap him in my arms immediately. But vehicles jammed the pick-up area. The hug would have to wait 45 minutes until we arrived home in Faribault. I recognized that if everyone stopped to hold their loved ones close, the traffic delays would only worsen. So he shoved his suitcase inside the van and climbed into the front passenger seat while I skirted the bag and slid the side door shut.

Randy and I’d already spent too much time waiting, creeping along toward arrivals. Mostly unfamiliar with the roads and lay-out of this terminal, Randy took a wrong turn and we ended up looping back around, back into the gridlock. In the end, that error proved OK timing wise.

I felt gratitude for drivers who allowed us to nudge into line. We did the same. I felt not so much appreciation for the driver of the big black pick-up truck with Wisconsin license plates. I observed bullying moves. But I suppose when you’re piloting a bulky truck…

I felt thankfulness also for the airport traffic director, attempting to create order from a traffic mess. I didn’t envy his job of keeping motorists and pedestrians safe.

Flying into MSP. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

In the end, I got that long-awaited hug. Six months have passed since I’ve seen my son, who moved to Indiana in August to pursue his PhD at Purdue University. Oh, the joy in that first hug. The love that filled my mama’s heart. We held each other tight. Lingering. Savoring the moment.

In only days, that will repeat with my second daughter, whom I have not seen since mid-May. I’m anticipating the moment when she and her husband pull into the driveway after a 4 ½ hour drive from Madison, Wisconsin. I will wrap her in my arms. Lingering. Savoring the moment.

On Sunday, the eldest daughter, her husband and our two grandchildren will join us, completing the family circle. This will be our first Christmas together in five years. There will be more hugging and lingering. And joy filling this mother’s heart.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. December 21, 2021

After the Community Christmas Dinner. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2012)

IN THE DAYS LEADING to Christmas, busyness can cause us to lose focus. Busy baking. Busy cleaning. Busy buying. Busy wrapping and trying to do too much. I invite you to pause and reflect.

Reflect on hope.

Reflect on peace.

Reflect on joy.

Reflect on love.

Those four words centered a bulletin board display I photographed in 2012 at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church. I love this image. For the message. And for the story behind it. The Faribault church annually (except during COVID) hosts a free Community Christmas Dinner in mid-December. Volunteers serve a full holiday meal in the church basement. I’ve attended many times and enjoyed not only the food, but also the coming together of my community.

In this particular photo, a woman awaits a ride home. I’d just finished my meal and came across her standing at the top of the stairs, poinsettia in hand. The holiday flowers decorated dinner tables and diners were welcome to take them home. She was unaware of my presence. I framed the moment. A moment that, against the backdrop Advent message, captures the reason for the season.

Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. May all be yours as we draw near to Christmas.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Finding the perfect imperfect Christmas tree December 6, 2021

A family searches for just the right tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

TYPICALLY, WE DON’T BUY our Christmas tree until later in December. But this year we purchased ours the day after Thanksgiving. Why? Because I didn’t want to risk Ken’s Christmas Trees running out of trees.

Like so many other items (remember the run on toilet paper?), there’s a supposed shortage of Christmas trees. True? I’m uncertain. But the fact is that Faribault has far fewer places to purchase real trees than just a few years ago. Faribault Garden Center closed. Farmers Seed and Nursery closed. And Donahue’s Greenhouse stopped selling Christmas trees a while back when they opted to open only in spring and summer.

Of course, trees can still be found in multiple locations in and around Faribault. But none of the trees are quite like Ken’s. If you prefer old-fashioned/Charlie Brown style, this is your go-to place. I prefer imperfect to perfect, short-needled to long and short to tall.

Customers flock to Ken’s tree lot post Thanksgiving. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

So on the day after Thanksgiving, Randy and I headed to Ken’s Christmas Trees in his pop-up parking lot location at 1407 Fourth Street Northwest across from Arby’s in Faribault. When we arrived, the place was buzzing with customers. When I saw a tree I liked, I asked for it to be set aside while I continued my search. I wasn’t about to risk losing my perfect tree to a perfect stranger. In the end, that first tree made it atop our van.

That’s Ken, far right, walking towards us. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

We chatted a bit with Ken Mueller, who has operated this seasonal business since 1988. The tree lot has been in existence since 1939 under a different name, different locations. Randy knows Ken from back whenever. He’s a down-to-earth, hardworking guy with a big smile and a friendly attitude. Perfect for vending trees. Ken shared that he raised his prices this year (we paid $35, his lowest price) to offset increased costs of hauling all those trees from Up North to southern Minnesota. He’s bringing in 630 trees in four loads. That may sound like a lot, but not when you draw customers far and wide who are looking for trees like Ken’s.

You’ll find more than just trees here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Besides trees, customers will also find porch pots, wreaths, garlands, evergreen gnomes and dogwood.

Choosing a tree… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Our tree isn’t inside the house yet. This early in December seems too early to bring it into the warmth and heat. But soon. When I untangle and layer the lights, hang vintage and homemade ornaments, and then drape the branches in strands of tinsel, I’ll flash back to the Christmas trees of childhood. The Charlie Brown trees. So imperfectly perfect.

Folksy signage adds to the charm. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

FYI: Ken’s Christmas Trees is open from 2 – 7 pm Monday-Friday; 9 am – 6 pm Saturday; and 11 am – 6 pm Sunday.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault celebrates Winterfest December 3, 2021

A city of Faribault snowplow in a past Winterfest parade. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

THROUGHOUT MINNESOTA, including in Faribault, December brings holiday and winter-themed events. In a typical year, I’d embrace all of these celebrations. But, like last December, we are still very much in the middle of a pandemic. And, for me, that means skipping most crowded events. Even those which are outdoors. If people masked and were mostly (all) vaccinated, I would feel more comfortable. But that isn’t happening. At least not locally.

Crowds gather along historic Central Avenue as the sun set prior to a past Parade of Lights. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

With that as a disclaimer, I want to share that Faribault is celebrating Winterfest, which began on Thursday and continues through Saturday. It’s a wonderful celebration with a wide range of activities. And I expect because COVID-19 canceled Winterfest in 2020, lots of folks will join in this year’s festivities. I encourage you, if you attend, to remember that our county is still in a high community transmission rate for COVID and to take care to protect yourself and others.

The dining room table set for the holidays during the Christmas open house at the Alexander Faribault house. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

Friday, December 3:

  • Horse-drawn wagon rides along Central Avenue
  • Shattuck-St. Mary’s snow sculpting by Burkhartzmeyer Shoes (weather permitting)
At the 2018 Sleds on Central Vintage Snowmobile Show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2018)

Saturday, December 4:

  • Sleds on Central Vintage Snowmobile Show, 1 – 4 pm, 400 block of Central Avenue (food and beverages available for purchase)
  • Fireworks, launched near the viaduct, 5:30 pm
  • Parade of Lights on Central Avenue between 1st and 6th Streets, 5:50 pm
  • Street Dance with music by Fender Bender, 400 block of Central after the parade (food and beverages available for purchase)
  • Elf, The Musical, 7:30 pm at the Paradise Center for the Arts (also showing at 2 pm Sunday, December 5, and other dates; check the Paradise website) Masks recommended per CDC guidelines.
Last year’s Holiday Tree Display. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2021)

Also check out the Faribault Parks & Rec Department Holiday Tree Display in Central Park, now through December 9.

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© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanksgiving thoughts from Minnesota Prairie Roots November 25, 2021

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Words of thanks in the Psalms. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

ON THIS NATIONAL day of Thanksgiving, I realize that gratitude may feel elusive.

Perhaps you are mourning the loss of a loved one, grief shadowing your thoughts. Perhaps a loved one is seriously ill, near death. Maybe you are struggling with new or ongoing health issues. If this describes your situation, I’m sorry. Holidays like today, focused on family, can be hard, really hard.

We’ve all had those years when we’d rather skip the holiday for all the pain it brings.

But within and over and under and through and beside and between, gratitude can still find a way into our hearts. In photos. In memories. In a phone call or a text or a video chat. In time together, whether in-person or virtually. In a prayer offered. In a prayer received.

This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for you. For your support of my creative work. For the connections we’ve made, the friendships formed. For being part of my world. I value you. I count you among my reasons to give thanks, especially today.

A blessed and happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, dearest readers of Minnesota Prairie Roots!

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reasons I feel grateful this Thanksgiving November 23, 2021

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Given my love of words, I created this Thanksgiving display with thrift store art purchases and Scrabble letters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

WITH THANKSGIVING ONLY DAYS AWAY, my thoughts shift to gratitude. I must admit, though, that feeling grateful in the midst of this ongoing global pandemic takes effort. Yet, it’s important, even necessary, that I reflect on my blessings.

Now, I could simply list the usual broad categories most of us would choose as reasons to feel grateful—family, food, faith, health… But hovering a magnifying glass over those words for a close-up look really focuses gratitude.

With that introduction, I am feeling thankful for…

Grandpa and grandchildren follow the pine-edged driveway at a central Minnesota lake cabin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

My immediate FAMILY circle, including my husband, three grown adult children, two sons-in-law and two grandchildren. I feel grateful for their love and for the last time we were all together in May. Although I yearn to see my out-of-state family more, I’m happy for that spring visit.

The grandchildren, especially, bring joy. Most recently, before temps plummeted into the 20s here in Minnesota, Isabelle, Isaac and I swirled sticks in a mud puddle in our backyard. What a simplistically memorable moment. Later, inside the house, we crafted snow people from paper and birthday cards for their Aunt Miranda. More moments of connecting and bonding and loving.

Time spent at an extended family member’s guest lake cabin this past summer with the eldest daughter and her family rate particularly high on my gratitude list.

The reason the Rare Pair in Northfield gave for wearing face masks early in the pandemic. I love this message. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

HEALTH, mine and that of those I love most, gives me pause for thankfulness. But this year I’m stretching that to include the scientists and researchers who created COVID vaccines and to those in healthcare who strive to keep us healthy and also care for us, whether doctors, nurses, public health officials or others. And to businesses who recognize the importance of COVID mitigation/safety measures (and to the people who follow them).

Along the topic of health, I feel relieved and thankful to now be on MEDICARE. That gives Randy and me affordable healthcare coverage and thus accessibility to healthcare. Paying about $500/month in premiums compared to nearly $1,900/month (with $4,200/each deductibles) lifts a great financial burden.

I photographed my mom’s hands during a visit with her. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

These days my thoughts often turn to my dear mom, 120 miles away in a long-term care center, health failing. I feel overwhelmed by emotion, my heart aching in the missing of her. I last saw her in early July (and not since due to too much COVID in my home county, and now all of Minnesota). Too long.

But I think back to THAT SUMMER VISIT with such gratitude. Per the social worker’s suggestion, I brought along a stash of old family photos. As I held the black-and-white images close to Mom so she could see them through eyes clouded by age, joy blossomed. “That’s my dad,” she said. “That’s me.” And then the moment that brought me to tears. “That’s my husband.” It was a photo of my dad, in his 20s, when he met and married Mom. She recognized him. He’s been gone now nearly 18 years.

If I never see my mom again this side of heaven, I carry that cherished visit with me. The brief period of time when she connected, remembered, celebrated the love of her parents and her husband. Even as she likely forgot within minutes of my departure that I’d visited and shown her those vintage photos. But I realize, still realize, that this is not about me, but about her.

The light, the colors, the water…love this photo of leaves in the Cannon River, Cannon River Wilderness Park, rural Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2021)

NATURE gives me another reason to feel blessed. During these pandemic years, especially, I’ve embraced the natural world with a deepened sense of the peace it brings. River Bend Nature Center in Faribault remains a cherished place to walk through the woods and prairie. To feel the calming effects of the outdoors, of solitude and quiet, and escape from reality. Likewise I feel the same when following a back country gravel road.

Jordyn Brennan’s “Love For All” mural in historic downtown Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

ART continues to hold importance for me. I’m thankful for all creatives. I consider myself among them. That I can create via images and words brings me unlimited satisfaction and joy. I’m thankful for those who value my work.

And I’m grateful for the work of others like Minneapolis artist Jordyn Brennan who crafted Faribault’s newest mural, themed on love. Likewise, I appreciate the efforts of Ramsey County Library in crafting This Was 2020: Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year. To be part of that anthology with my poem, “Funeral During a Pandemic,” is such a gift in that my poetry holds value and can, perhaps, make a difference. Just like love.

An important message posted along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, WI. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

LOVE centers gratitude. I feel grateful for the love of God, the love of my husband and children and grandchildren. The love and support of friends. To love and to give love tops reasons to feel grateful this Thanksgiving. I love, especially, to observe how my grown children love and support one another. My heart overflows with gratitude this Thanksgiving, even during a pandemic.

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TELL ME: What are you feeling especially thankful for right now? Please be specific.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling