Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Fourth of July 2020, just a few words July 3, 2020

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An American flag flies in Cannon City, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo May 2020.

 

I WANTED TO WRITE a positive post about America and the Fourth of July. I couldn’t do it. I sat and stared at my computer screen with negative thoughts jumbling in my mind.

These are difficult days in this country. I will leave it at that with the following addendum.

I wish you a safe and healthy holiday. Please, mask up and social-distance if you are out and about. Avoid gatherings and crowds. And, if you’re not feeling well, please stay home. End of post that began with an idea that failed.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memorial Day 2020, adapted, from southern Minnesota May 26, 2020

A star marks a veteran’s grave in the Cannon City Cemetery, rural Faribault.

 

THE RADIO PLAYED in the background as I washed dishes Memorial Day morning. I listened to honored veterans speak of the war dead and freedom and why the American flag is folded 13 times. I listened to the local Legion leader read the names of all county veterans who died in the past year. Well over one hundred. And I heard, too, the honking of horns as attendees at my community’s annual Memorial Day program in Central Park “applauded.”

 

This flag pole sits just inside the entrance to the Cannon City Cemetery.

 

COVID-19 changed so many traditions this year—including here in Faribault. There was no parade, no ceremony at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial, no lunch at the Legion. Only the traditional program continued in the park, but with attendees sheltered inside their vehicles. Others, like me, listened at home to the live broadcast on KDHL radio.

 

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea, Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 1952.

 

And, as I listened, I thought of my dad, an infantryman in the Korean War. I thought, too, of his buddy Ray, killed by a mortar. Dad saw his friend die. Dad, who died 17 years ago, carried that grief and the horrors of war with him. He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, undiagnosed until decades after he left Korea.

 

Flags decorate veterans’ graves in Cannon City.

 

I continued washing dishes while the radio played. But when taps sounded, I stopped. To cry. Thinking of my dad. Missing him. The playing of taps often moves me into a place of grief for all the lives lost in war.

 

A past Memorial Day gathering at the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Later, Randy and I drove to the Cannon City Cemetery where, on a typical Memorial Day, we would attend a program under the cedar trees. We’ve grown to love this grassroots gathering of rural folks who honor the war dead with music and poetry and inspirational readings. But, because of COVID-19, that event was canceled, too.

 

Rhody Yule’s grave marker.

 

The tombstone of a Civil War soldier buried in the Cannon City Cemetery.

 

And so we roamed among the tombstones, pausing at the flag-marked graves of soldiers, including that of our friend Rhody.

 

I love this serene scene of a bird on a simple woven fence edging the cemetery.

 

Birds chirped.

 

One tombstone features a barn on one side, a tractor on the other.

 

Such beauty in this rural cemetery, from setting to nature’s details.

 

Inside and outside cemetery boundaries, the rural-ness of this place prevails in art. Natural and man-made. I delighted in that.

 

A dove on an aged tombstone brings thoughts of peace.

 

A single white rose, signifying everlasting love, lies on the bench marker for Kevin Kanne. Beautiful.

 

Tombstone art that drew my eye and reminded me of Psalm 23.

 

And the wind, which typically whips on this hillside cemetery, remained still, as if it also understood the need for calm, for reflection, for peace in the storm of COVID-19.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memorial Day 2020 observances, abbreviated May 22, 2020

A veteran salutes during the Memorial Day Program at Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

NEARLY EVERY MEMORIAL DAY, Randy and I honor our war dead in the same fashion. We head downtown Faribault to the parade and then go to Central Park to watch the Memorial Day program. Little changes from year to year with American flags waving, men and women in uniform marching, Scouts handing out flags, patriotic music playing, speeches given, wreaths hung by members of the American Legion Auxiliary…

 

The Rice County, Minnesota, Veterans’ Memorial in Faribault, located on the courthouse lawn.

 

There’s comfort in the familiarity of tradition.

 

Memorial pavers surround the monument, like this one honoring a fallen soldier.

 

KIA, Sgt Donald E. Ponto.

 

Another loss…

 

But this year, because of COVID-19, there will be no parade, no ceremony at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial and no crowd gathered at Central Park. This saddens me. I always look forward to these public ways in which we show respect and gratitude for those who lost their lives in service to country. But I understand. These are unprecedented times and we need to keep each other safe. The Central Park program will go on, but without audience members gathered on lawn chairs. Rather, the ceremony will be broadcast at 10 am over local radio station KDHL, 920 AM.

 

An overview of the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial.

 

Eagle and dove details.

 

Stone slabs honor branches of the military.

 

My attendance at Memorial Day events traces back to my childhood in rural southwestern Minnesota. My dad, a veteran of the Korean War and a recipient of the Purple Heart, was active in the local American Legion. Every Memorial Day our family attended—and often participated in—the program at the Vesta Community Hall. Several times I read the poem, “In Flanders Fields.” I also sold poppies. Afterward, we piled into the Chevy for the short drive north of town to the cemetery and the gun salute and mournful playing of taps. From early on, the importance of Memorial Day imprinted upon me.

 

A Civil War monument is part of the Veterans’ Memorial.

 

I carried that tradition in raising my three children. Each Memorial Day we attended the parade along Central Avenue in Faribault. And sometimes the program in the park. Some day I hope to take my grandchildren downtown to watch flag-carrying veterans, high school bands and Cub Scouts honoring those who died in service to our country. But not this year. Not during a global pandemic.

 

A story about Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe, published in the July 23, 1953, issue of The Wolbach Messenger.

 

THIS POST IS DEDICATED to the memory of Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe. Ray, 22, was killed by an exploding mortar on June 2, 1953, in Korea, the day before he was to return home to Nebraska, to his wife and baby daughter. He was my dad’s Army buddy.

 

Honoring fallen soldiers with a special monument at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial.

 

Blessed be Ray’s memory. And blessed be the memories of all those who have given their lives for this country.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happy Easter from snowy southern Minnesota April 12, 2020

My favorite Easter hymn. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

GOOD AFTERNOON and Happy Easter from southeastern Minnesota, where the snow falls thick and fast. The setting appears more Christmas than Easter as snow layers the landscape and slicks roadways. We expect up to eight inches in this winter spring storm.

Nearly everything about this Easter has changed. No in-house worship. No gathering with family. No Easter chocolate purchased (because I avoided crowded grocery stores). And now this snow.

But one thing remains unchanged. Christ is risen! Even though the doors of our houses of worship are closed, we can still celebrate. This morning I awoke at 7 to start my day, preparing my usual bowl of oatmeal and cup of coffee before the 8 a.m. Easter worship service live-streaming from my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault. (You can now view the service on YouTube.)

As I watched and listened to the service, I noted the lilies and other spring flowers adorning the sanctuary as usual on Easter. I heard the organ and other music and the joyful voices of selected singers. And I listened to the uplifting Easter message about the resurrected Lord.

 

Eggs dyed with my mom many years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Afterwards I reflected on Easters past—on my favorite childhood Easter hymn, I Know that My Redeemer Lives; on family gathered. Ham dinners. Easter egg hunts.

And I thought, too, about how, today, I expected to have our three adult children (and spouses) and our grandkids here. We haven’t all been together since Thanksgiving. If the power doesn’t go out in this storm, we’ll connect via video later this afternoon.

 

“I am the resurrection and the life.” A stained glass window in the Trinity Lutheran Church sanctuary, Faribault, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

So much has changed. And yet the essence of Easter remains, as shared in my blog post today for Warner Press. Click here to read that post, “Fear Not This Easter.”

A most blessed Easter to you, dear friends. Stay safe at home. Be well. And know that you are loved.

TELL ME: How are you celebrating this Easter?

Disclaimer: I am paid for my work as Warner Press blog coordinator and blogger.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanksgiving reflections November 26, 2019

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I created this Thanksgiving centerpiece using a vintage tray, vintage candles, pinecones from friends, shells from Detroit Lake and letters from my 1970s Scrabble game. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

THANKSGIVING. That singular word sparks strong visuals of family gathered around a table laden with a platter of sliced turkey, bowls heaping with potatoes and stuffing, steaming brown gravy, a small bowl of cranberries, salad, and, for dessert, pumpkin pie. I’ve missed a few foods. But I’ve covered the essentials.

 

Frazee, MInnesota’s claim to fame. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

That image is the traditional view of this day. Yet, it is not necessarily accurate. Not for everyone. Too many families, because of distance or other reasons, can’t be together on this holiday that focuses so much on family. I’ve been in that spot many times.

 

Randy shuffles meals and bags around as we prepare to deliver them during a previous Thanksgiving. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But I’ve learned through the years that I can feel sad about the absence of loved ones or I can choose to be thankful and celebrate the day in ways that remind me of gratitude. In recent years Randy and I celebrated by delivering meals for Faribault’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner. We experienced such joy in bringing turkey and the trimmings to those unable to otherwise enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. Their genuine gratitude blessed us. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive.

 

A message on a bulletin board at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This year, though, we will celebrate Thanksgiving at our house with family surrounding a food-laden table. All three of our adult children will be home, for the first time in years. I cannot wait. A son-in-law (one can’t be here) and two grandchildren, ages 3 ½ and almost 11 months, will add to the fun. I am a happy mama. I don’t ever take the presence of my family for granted because I’ve experienced many holidays minus the “kids.” I admit to feeling a bit melancholy through the years when I’ve heard friends talk about their Thanksgiving plans that often include multiple family gatherings. A lot of those friends grew up here and their kids live either in town or nearby as do a large contingent of extended family. But that is not me.

So this Thanksgiving I am especially grateful for the presence of those I love. I wish for you also a full table and a gathering of family or friends to bless your day.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends!

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thank you, veterans November 11, 2019

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A star marks a veteran’s grave. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I AWAKENED EARLY this morning writing this post in my head, before I fell back into a fitful sleep. Words flowed earlier. Now, though, I’ve forgotten the precise phrasing. But the essence of my thoughts remains. Thank you, veterans.

 

Howard Homeier, a WW II veteran from Kenyon, Minnesota, in his cherished 1950s pick-up truck. When I photographed him in 2009, he’d just participated in a ceremony honoring veterans. He was a member of the Kenyon Color Guard. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

 

Thank you for all you sacrificed to serve, to protect our freedom and that of other nations and peoples. Thank you for placing country before self. Thank you for your bravery and fortitude, for your resilience and strength, for your ability to forge on in the most difficult of circumstances.

Thank you for setting aside your personal and family lives, for all those days and nights apart from those you love. That could not have been easy. Separation never is.

Thank you to your families for enduring this separation, for supporting you, for recognizing the importance of your work.

 

My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

 

Those two words—thank you—don’t seem nearly enough. But I write them with sincerity and a depth of understanding founded in the experiences of my Korean War veteran father. I saw the toll war took on him, decades after he left Korea. He fought there in the rugged mountains of that nation, rifle in hand, firing at the enemy, hugging the earth of foxholes, taking out a sniper who killed too many of his brothers. War is hard.

And so thank you seems insufficient. But it is what I offer to you today. From my heart.

 

A veteran salutes during the Memorial Day Program at Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

ADDITIONALLY, I want to share that the above photo I took of a veteran at the 2018 Memorial Day program at Central Park in Faribault, recently won third place in the People category of National Mutual Benefit’s 2019 Photo Contest. National Mutual is a fraternal life insurance society based in Madison, Wisconsin and through which my parents purchased a policy for me as a baby.

I am honored to have this image chosen for recognition and publication. It is just one more way for me to say, “Thank you, veterans.”

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

North Morristown on the Fourth, the place to be in southern Minnesota July 2, 2019

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A glimpse of the North Morristown celebration grounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

NORTH MORRISTOWN, MINNESOTA, on the Fourth of July is grassroots Americana.

 

Buy your pie early for the best selection. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

From the country setting to the popular parade featuring the Candy House to a medallion hunt and flag-raising ceremony and concerts and offerings of homemade pies and much more, this celebration reflects rural America at its best.

 

 

If you haven’t experienced July 4 at North Morristown, I suggest you travel to this southern Minnesota holiday destination this week.

 

The BINGO callers of North Morristown. I won first place for this photo in a contest sponsored by National Mutual Benefit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration in 2016. This is one of my favorite close-up images and among those published in Fleur-de-lis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Craig and Kathy enjoying the Fourth at North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Here you’ll find BINGO and bands, burgers and beer, and, at day’s end, fireworks bursting over farm fields.

 

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performs twice at North Morristown, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

For many, this event represents an annual reunion with family and friends. Even with no roots to this place, I embrace this celebration, delighting in some really good food, visiting with friendly people and enjoying the music of crowd favorite Monroe Crossings, which returns year after year to perform at North Morristown on the Fourth.

 

One of several vintage kiddie carnival rides at North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

If you appreciate the company of good folks who value country, community, family and hard work, then North Morristown will appeal to you. Bring your lawn chair. Bring your appetite. Bring your kids and/or grandkids. And be sure to express your gratitude to the volunteers who make this event happen. Thank them. And buy a $2 celebration button to show your financial support.

 

This food stand served tasty BBQ pork and beef sandwiches and other food during a past celebration.  Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Billed as the longest-running Fourth of July celebration in Minnesota at 127 years, this is a must-attend for anyone interested in an authentic, down-to-earth way to commemorate our nation’s birthday.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memorial Day reflections May 24, 2019

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A veteran salutes during the Memorial Day Program at Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

IN THE BUSYNESS of this holiday weekend, please take time to remember the real reason for Memorial Day. It is about honoring the men and women who died in service to our country.

I direct you to a blog post I wrote for Warner Press and which published earlier this week. Click here.

 

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.

 

Read about my dad’s war memories in a shoebox and how he kept the faith on the battlefields of Korea. Read, too, about his buddy Ray, who died there.

Pause. Reflect. Honor. That is the essence of Memorial Day. Not the start of summer.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In honor of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. January 21, 2019

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

 

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. —from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

 

© Photo copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A glimpse of Northfield during the holiday season December 21, 2018

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Outside an antique shop in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

 

NORTHFIELD RATES AS ONE of my favorite Minnesota cities. It’s a charming/quaint/picturesque river town with a timeless small town feel.

 

Photographed through the front window of Quality Bakery, a snippet of the bakery’s holiday window display.

 

Signage directs families to Santa’s house in Bridge Square.

 

The Christmas tree in Bridge Square brightens the wintry landscape with bold red decorations.

 

For someone like me who prefers rural to urban, a 22-minute drive there with no traffic hassles, visual delights in a historic downtown, an artsy vibe (including sidewalk poetry) and more, make this college city of some 20,000 particularly appealing. Especially at Christmas.

 

Bridge Square in the heart of downtown Northfield.

 

An ornament on that community Christmas tree.

 

Santa’s house, where Santa has always been absent whenever I’ve stopped at Bridge Square.

 

Fancied up holiday window displays, a Santa House and Christmas tree in Bridge Square (the downtown community gathering spot), an annual Christmas Walk, the renowned St. Olaf College Christmas Concert and more transform Northfield into a magical place during the holiday season.

 

 

I recently spent some time Christmas shopping in the downtown made famous by The James-Younger Gang’s robbery of the First National Bank on September 7, 1876. Today that bank building houses the Northfield Historical Society. The museum sits right across the street from Bridge Square.

 

A wagon load of Wisemen awaits shoppers outside an antique shop.

 

It’s not that I like shopping—I don’t. But I’d rather shop in one-of-a-kind local shops than in Anywhere Mall, USA. Northfield offers an abundance of home-grown retail stores.

 

 

There’s a lot of creativity in Northfield. And an appreciation of that creativity. I once participated in a beer poetry reading at a local brewery. How cool is that?

 

Beau inside Marketplace @ 416.

 

Christmas or not, the Americana small town-ness of Northfield endears this river town to me.

 

 

TELL ME: Have you been to Northfield and, if so, what about it appeals to you? Or what town do you find especially charming wherever you live?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling