Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

July Fourth thoughts from southeastern Minnesota July 4, 2022

An American flag graces Welch Mill Innertubing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

BACK IN NOVEMBER 2021, I photographed this symbol of America in the unincorporated village of Welch. Today, the birthday of our country, seems a good day to finally share this image from southeastern Minnesota.

There’s something about the simplicity of this scene which I find particularly appealing. An historic mill. Faded signage. Blue sky on a perfect autumn afternoon. And then the jolt of bold colors in the American flag. It all comes together visually, leading to thoughts of history and what that flag symbolizes. Freedom. Democracy. Maybe even hope in the face of so much division.

A flag inspires us to ponder, to reassess, to consider, to feel gratitude. To celebrate.

In this spot along the Cannon River and the Cannon Valley Trail in Welch Township in Goodhue County, American pride runs strong at the former Welch Feed Mill, now home to Welch Mill Innertubing. The business rents inner tubes, canoes and kayaks.

During my stop eight months ago, I viewed the scene through a photographic lens, with an artist’s eye, grateful for the freedom I have to come and go, to photograph, to express myself as an artist, unencumbered.

Happy Fourth of July from southeastern Minnesota!

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About as Americana as it gets, July 4 in North Morristown July 1, 2022

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performs at 1:30 pm and 4 pm on July 4 in North Morristown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2016)

YOU LIKELY HAVE PLANS for the Fourth of July. But, if you don’t and live in southern Minnesota, I’d suggested attending the North Morristown July 4 celebration. This event is grassroots rural Americana through and through.

The homemade strawberry pie I ordered at the Pie Stand last Fourth of July. All pies are homemade. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

It’s vintage food stands, homemade pie, old tractors packing the parade, music by Minnesota musicians (like Monroe Crossing), handcrafted kiddie rides and games, BINGO, a patriot program, fireworks and so much more.

One of the many vintage food stands which add to the nostalgic charm of this celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

I direct you (click here) to my most recent photo essay and accompanying copy published this week in the July issue of Southern Minn Scene, a regional arts and entertainment magazine. I create a column, “Through a SoMinn Lens,” for this monthly publication. My latest piece, “North Morristown on July 4, a slice of Americana,” features 24 of my photos in a 3.5-page spread, beginning on page 22 of Scene.

Kids’ activities are to the left, food and beverage stands to the right and the entertainment stage straight ahead. This event is well-attended. Admission is free, but please purchase a button to help cover costs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Perhaps my column will convince those of you who live in Minnesota to attend the Fourth of July celebration in North Morristown, which is not an actual town. This is simply a place in the middle of farm fields, west of Faribault and north of Morristown. The festival grounds sits across from Trinity Lutheran Church and School and next to farm sites and acreage.

The kiddie rides are homemade and vintage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

I’ve attended many times and love the down-home feel of this celebration, which is also a reunion of sorts for those who grew up in this area (which is not me). I recognize many of you, my readers, come to my blog from afar. So please enjoy North Morristown on the Fourth via my images and words.

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration in 2016. I make no apologies for the grease-stained fingernails of this hardworking automotive machinist. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

Happy Fourth!

TELL ME: How are you celebrating the Fourth of July?

Note: If you have seen my story on newsprint, please view it again online. The paper copy of the magazine has issues with clarity of images, and not just mine. All photos I submitted for publication are sharp, clear and focused, unlike the end printing results.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on slavery & race on Juneteenth June 19, 2022

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

AS A WHITE WOMAN and writer living in rural Minnesota, writing on the topic of Juneteenth isn’t easy or comfortable. Yet, it’s important for me to do so, to publicly recognize the federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.

Why? Simply put, I care. I care that African Americans were treated with such disrespect, that they were “owned,” for no one should “own” anyone. Yet, these men, women and children were owned, used and abused by White slave owners who worked them, controlled them, imprisoned them, built our country’s early economy on their hardworking backs.

Artist Susan Griebel crafted this quilted art from fabric her mother-in-law, Margaret Griebel, acquired in Africa. Margaret’s husband served as a missionary in Nigeria. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert on slavery. But the very thought of it shakes me to the core. I can only imagine the emotions felt by those whose ancestors worked in servitude—in cotton and tobacco fields, in homes, in barns, on vast plantations…

Taking time on one June day to reflect on the freeing of slaves seems the least I can do. June 19th marks the date in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to ensure the freedom of all enslaved people.

One of many hearts incorporated into a sculpture, “Spreading the Love” by Geralyn Thelen and Dale Lewis, located in downtown Northfield, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

Beyond reflecting on this date in history, I’ve tried to educate myself by reading, a skill most slaves were denied. Reading, whether stories written by reliable media, nonfiction or even fiction rooted in history, opens my mind to understanding. And with understanding comes compassion and an unwillingness to remain silent.

Too many times during my 60-plus years of life I’ve seen (think Confederate flags) and heard the animosities expressed toward people of color. And while this doesn’t apply specifically to Black people and slavery, I will speak up if someone starts bashing our local immigrant population with false claims and other unkind words. I fully recognize that, because my skin is colorless, my life is likely easier without preconceived ideas/prejudices/denied opportunities.

Love this uplifting message posted along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I appreciate that thoughts in this country are shifting, that we as a people are acknowledging past wrongs, that we’re trying. On the flip side, I see, too, hatred rising in ways I would never have imagined possible.

I admit that I grew up in a household where my father occasionally used the “n” word. It hurts to write that. The “n” word was part of his rural vocabulary, of the time, of growing up among others just like him. White. I grew up similarly, totally surrounded by those of Scandinavian, German, Polish, Irish and other descent, none with roots in Africa.

But I moved away, grew my knowledge and experiences, grew my exposure to new ideas and people and places. I’ve also gained insights into the challenges Blacks face from a biracial son-in-law. Today I live in a diverse neighborhood of Americans who are White, Latino, African…and I’m thankful for that. They carry, in their family histories, struggles and joys, the imprints of those who came before them. Today I honor those African Americans in Texas who 156 years ago first celebrated their freedom from slavery with “Jubilee Day” on June 19, 1866. And I honor all those slaves forced into lives not of their choosing, without freedom, but determined to be free.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Focusing on the true meaning of Memorial Day May 28, 2022

My dad carried home a July 31, 1953, memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

THIS HOLIDAY WEEKEND, as you fire up the grill, perhaps gather with family and friends or head Up North to the lake cabin, please pause to remember the reason for Memorial Day.

Helmet on rifle in boots is the universal symbol honoring fallen soldiers, this one at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2020)

It’s not about the unofficial start of summer or a day off work or whatever. Rather, Memorial Day is a day for honoring those military men and women who died in service to their country. It is a day to reflect on that sacrifice of life, to honor, mourn, remember.

Printed on the back of a Memorial Day program folder in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

As the daughter of a Korean War veteran who served as an infantryman with the US Army on the frontlines in Korea and decades later received the Purple Heart, I grew up understanding the significance of Memorial Day. I attended the annual Memorial Day program in my hometown of Vesta, publicly read the poem, “In Flander’s Fields,” multiple times, went to the cemetery afterwards, listened to the haunting playing of taps.

A story about my dad’s Army buddy, Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe, killed in action and published in the July 23, 1953, issue of The Wolbach Messenger. Dad witnessed Ray’s death and was forever haunted by that awful memory. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

My heart holds those Memorial Day memories which prompt me, to this day, to attend a local event honoring fallen soldiers.

A veteran plays taps at the conclusion of the 2016 Memorial Day program in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

Yet it is not the pageantry of a parade, the flying of flags, the singing of patriotic songs, the delivery of speeches or even a poppy pinned to a lapel that moves me the most. Rather, it is the singular playing of taps. Mournful and heartwrenching in a way that grips my soul with grief. For those who died in service. For those left behind.

A paver at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial notes the tragic death of Sgt. Donald E. Ponto, killed in action. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2020)

Memorial Day is, to me, a profoundly powerful day. It brings not only emotions of sorrow, but also of gratitude.

© Copyright 2022 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