Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Mixed message December 3, 2019

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AS A WORDSMITH, I’m especially drawn to signage, including this one spotted Sunday afternoon along Division Street in downtown Northfield.

I laughed given the falling snow, the snow banked on the front of the pick-up truck parked curbside and the mixed message sent.

Cacti are not warm and fuzzy, although the environment in which they grow is warm, even hot. I suppose that was the idea—to get us Minnesotans thinking about warmer places like Little Joy Coffee with its hot brew.

While the words and art seem especially mismatched to me, I noticed, photographed and remembered them. Thus, marketing accomplished.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota or North Dakota? November 1, 2019

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TRAVELING ALONG INTERSTATE 90 in southeastern Minnesota about 10 miles from La Crosse, Wisconsin, I noticed this sign. And I laughed. I was nowhere near North Dakota. Yet this road sign appeared to indicate otherwise, seemingly directing motorists to North Dakota.

Dakota is a town of some 325 in Winona County, Minnesota just off I-90.

Signs can be simultaneously informative and confusing. I love when I spot such signage to break the monotony of a long road trip.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The unlucky leprechaun April 17, 2019

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2015.

 

NEARLY 40 YEARS after I left my first newspaper reporting job, I still receive The Gaylord Hub each week. The third-generation family-owned Hub holds a special spot in my heart. Here I initially put my journalism education to work, covering the southern Minnesota town of Gaylord and surrounding areas in Sibley County.

Part of my job included checking reports at the Sibley County Sheriff’s office where I sometimes had to push to access public records. Being young, a woman and the first full-time staff writer (outside of family) put me in the occasional challenging position of not being taken seriously. Locals quickly learned, though, that I would stand my ground and intimidation didn’t work with me. Jim Deis, the editor and publisher, always backed me up and for that I was grateful.

All that serious talk aside, I met plenty of wonderful folks who embraced my writing and photography. The diversity of my job ranged from writing a feature about current WCCO TV sports director Mike Max and his brother Marc’s sizable baseball card collection to covering massive church, school and chicken barn fires to filing through initial complaint reports.

But I don’t ever recall anything quite as unique or humorous as the story I read in the April 4 issue of The Hub under a column labeled Sibley County District Court. As I read the story aloud to my husband, I couldn’t stop laughing. Here’s the line that prompted my laughter:

According to court documents, the Sibley County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to Westgate Apartments in Gaylord at 3:55 a.m. on March 25 for a complaint of a man dressed as a leprechaun running up and down the halls and creating a disturbance.

My first questions: Why would a man dress as a leprechaun? It wasn’t St. Patrick’s Day. And what exactly does a leprechaun wear? Green clothes, hat, pointy shoes?

I read on that the responding deputy spotted a man “with something red on his head” driving a vehicle out of the parking lot. The driver took off but was eventually stopped, admitted to drinking and also driving with a canceled license. He’s now been charged with multiple crimes.

Randy listened without interruption. Then he offered this assessment: “Sounds like his luck ran out.” And that would be right.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The humor of Hendrum November 7, 2018

The Hendrum welcome sign is posted next to the dike.

 

WHEN MY FRIEND Tammy gave me directions to her family’s home in Hendrum, she failed to give me the exit number. Not that I expected multiple exits into this community along U.S. Highway 75. But there, on the sign welcoming me into this Red River Valley town of some 300, I read Welcome HENDRUM MINNESOTA Next 9 exits.

 

 

I laughed. Simply laughed at the absurdity of nine exits. Already I appreciated the humor of Hendrum, further expounded in the message If You Lived Here You’d be Home Now! Indeed, I would. But my home lies about five hours to the south and east in southern Minnesota, far from this community 30 miles north of Fargo-Moorhead.

 

Entering Hendrum from the south.

 

Exits into Hendrum are not exits in the sense that most would think of exits. Rather, Hendrum’s exits are the streets spoking off Highway 75 with the grain elevator, Red River and North Dakota to the west

 

 

 

 

and the business district, school, Lutheran church and residential neighborhoods to the east.

Tammy told me if we passed the dike protecting Hendrum from Red River flooding, we’d driven too far north. Only a line of trees separates my friend’s backyard from the grassy earthen dike ringing this small town. Her kids use the dike as a sledding hill. Good luck finding a natural hill anywhere near here. This place is flat.

 

Inside the entry into my friend’s house stands this statue of Bigfoot. It was a gift to her husband, who appreciates this creature that may or may not have been sighted in the area. I saw Bigfoot art on a nearby farm site. Whatever the truth, this Bigfoot art fits well with the humor of Hendrum.

 

But what Hendrum lacks perhaps in landscape appeal, it makes up for in appealing to those wanting a quiet place in which to raise a family. The median age of Hendrum residents is 37. I was delighted to see that my friend’s younger children built stick and log forts and tended chickens in a backyard coop. They’re actually outdoors, using their imaginations, playing, having fun.

 

 

This family of seven could be the poster family of Hendrum, fitting the demographic target market. The town’s website, banners EVERYTHING YOUR FAMILY NEEDS TO SHINE. That would be a low student-to-teacher ratio (although my friend’s kids are homeschooled), a strong and loyal local economy, and no traffic. I can vouch for that lack of traffic congestion.

The creative who put together the city’s website recognizes the strengths of this town:

Our commuters bask in their own quiet retreat, leaving the traffic and hustle in the rearview mirror every day as they head home.

Unlike other small communities surrounding Fargo-Moorhead, Hendrum resides on a quiet MN highway—not a thoroughfare of hurried weekend traffic.

We’re a small community of farmers, bankers, teachers and friends, and we’d love to show you around our neighborhood. We’re the first town with a speed limit north of Moorhead on Highway 75. Come take a tour… you’ll be home before you know it.

Just take one of the nine exits into town…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond salad, a Minnesota Halloween horror story October 31, 2018

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I’M NOT A BIG FAN of scary anything. Reality is scary enough. So if you want to talk about things that go bump in the night, exclude me from the conversation.

Yet, when Halloween rolls around, it’s pretty difficult to avoid that which frightens. Right now, as I write, I look out my office window across the street to a Scream face. I’ve never seen the movie, or whatever, that features this character. But I recognize the image as something meant to frighten.

I can’t exactly stride across the street and yank the cloth from my neighbor’s front yard tree. That wouldn’t be nice. But if I had little kids…

Kid talk brings to mind a particularly memorable Halloween from my youth. As a member of the Junior Legion Auxiliary, I attended a Halloween party held in the basement of the local veterinarian’s house. Can you see where this is going?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of grapes in a Minnesota vineyard. Grapes used for wine, not salad.

 

The vet’s daughter blindfolded me and then asked me to touch something. “Cow eyeballs,” she said. Now you can only imagine how horrifying that experience to an impressionable elementary-aged girl. As my fingertips landed on the cold orbs and those frightening words were uttered, I shrieked. Cold grapes feel an awful lot like cow eyeballs, let me tell you. Not that I’ve ever touched a cow’s eyeballs.

Likewise, cold spaghetti feels like guts. I don’t know that I touched anything else in that vet’s basement after that. But the experience has stuck with me as a particularly memorable Halloween.

And, yes, I eat grapes.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear your memorable Halloween stories. Keep in mind that I’m not a big fan of scary.

NOW, IF YOU’RE WONDERING about the title of this piece, flash back to November 2014 when a New York Times reporter wrote an article listing the Thanksgiving recipes that “evoke each of the 50 states.” For Minnesota, he chose Grape Salad. That unleashed The Grapes of Wrath from Minnesotans who found that an absurd choice for our state. Most of us, but not all, had never heard of, let alone eaten, Grape Salad. Oh, the horror of eating cow’s eyeballs.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What’s the point of this message from Blue Point? June 28, 2018

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SOMETIMES I WONDER, what don’t I understand? What am I not getting here?

 

 

Isn’t it obvious that when you want to drink a bottle of beer, you need to twist or pop off the cap?

 

 

Maybe it’s an attempt at creative and memorable marketing via humor. That must be the reason New York-based Blue Point Brewing prints Please Remove Bottle Cap Before Drinking on a bottle neck label. Website content convinces me this may be the case. I’m not amused by some of the words published there. But then I’m not a New York brewer.

 

 

Now take a turn. Tell me why you think Please Remove Bottle Cap Before Drinking is printed on Blue Point bottles. Or tell me about an off-the-wall message you’ve read on a label or on packaging.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Healing & hospital humor, Part II June 26, 2018

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Me, the day before surgery, with my hair cut easy-care short. The praying woman oil painting behind me was done by my friend Rhody Yule (now deceased) and hangs on my living room wall.

 

SURGERY DONE. CHECK.

Healing and recovery. In progress.

With a plate screwed into my broken left wrist during surgery Monday morning at District One Hospital Allina Health, Faribault, I am now moving toward mending the bone I broke after falling on rain-slicked wooden steps at a friends’ house 10 days ago.

This marks my second simultaneous summer with a broken bone In late May 2017, I missed the bottom step on a hospital stairway, plunged into the concrete floor and broke my right shoulder. And, yes, that would be the very same hospital where I underwent surgery yesterday morning. That May evening a year ago, I was on my way to donate blood. Yesterday a nurse asked if I would accept a transfusion if needed. I didn’t require one. But the nurse wondered aloud if you get free units of blood if you’re a donor. Nope, not that I know.

 

 

Her comment sparked from a document I created on my computer and brought to the hospital for my surgeon yesterday. Dr. Bryan Armitage has a great sense of humor or I wouldn’t have crafted the Frequent Flyer Discount card I handed to him. He was ready with a quick suggestion to submit my “one free surgery after 10 visits” card to the billing department given he just does the surgery. I persuaded him to accept the card, which he intends to hang above his office desk.

You have to find humor in a serious situation. And, believe me, I needed laughter yesterday prior to surgery.

On a serious note, I am grateful for the skills, compassion and care of my entire medical team. Seasoned nurse Kris and about to graduate nurse Shelby provided excellent pre op and post op care. And there’s that I just do the surgery orthopedic surgeon who worked his magic. I am grateful to all the reassuring (no, you won’t be awake during surgery, I promise) staff who cared for me during my six-hour outpatient hospital stay.

And I am grateful to my husband, Randy, for his attentive and loving care. He’s the best.

Likewise, I appreciate the many prayers and well wishes; cards, gifts and food sent and delivered (thanks, especially, to my niece Amber for the meals); and for the flowers from my wonderful husband. I feel so loved.

 

Me, several hours after surgery. I’m so happy to have more of my fingers exposed.

Other than being overly tired and experiencing some pain, swelling and tingling, I am doing remarkably well. Given my dislike of pain meds, I am taking only the minimum dosage paired with icing and elevating. That plan is working thus far.

That’s the latest from here as I continue in recovery mode.

One more thing: I weighed 20 pounds less on the hospital surgery scale than I did on the ER scale nine days prior. Vindicated for the third time. Read all about that miraculous weight loss by clicking here.

© copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling