Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Barn memories February 28, 2017

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MY APPRECIATION FOR and fascination with aged barns remains strong, steadfast, unwavering. That interest springs from childhood years of laboring in a southwestern Minnesota dairy barn.

 

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As the second oldest in a family of six children, I was tasked early on with doing chores alongside my eldest brother. Dad needed the help and I never resented it. I only resented that my brother would steal the silage I’d tossed down from the silo. I suppose I can’t blame him. He had to carry silage across two gutters and a barn aisle to feed cows on the east side of the barn. I had only to step outside the silage room door to distribute chopped and fermented corn on the west side. But still.

 

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Often I told my dad I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. He never encouraged it. But I loved working in the barn—maybe not the scraping manure part so much. Yet I always preferred farm work to anything Mom wanted me to do in the house.

 

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So I pushed a wheelbarrow down the barn aisle, then scooped shovels full of ground feed before stanchions. I hoisted myself into the haymow to throw down bales of hay and straw. I shook apart straw with a pitchfork, separated alfalfa with gloved hands. I carried pails of milk, washed buckets, mixed milk replacer, fed milk and pellets to hungry calves…

I hold memories of Point of Law booming from WCCO, of hot urine splashing from a cow’s behind, of frothy milk poured into the bulk tank, of a yellow jackknife stuffed inside my pants pocket, of cats clustering around a battered hub cap brimming with still warm milk.

 

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My dad was right. I never became a farmer, pursuing journalism instead. Only one brother farmed for awhile. He’s still in an ag-related industry as is my oldest brother. The rest of us, well, we left the farm. But I like to think that we’ve truly never left in the sense of a deep-rooted attachment to the place that shaped each of us. I write and photograph from a rural perspective. Another sister works as a floral designer. My youngest brother is an attorney in the Twin Cities metro, but maintains his connection to southwestern Minnesota through deer and pheasant hunting.

We were raised as the sons and daughters of a farmer. That remains, as part of our past and as part of who we became.

TELL ME: Did your childhood influence your direction in life, including career choices, where you lived/live, etc.?

FYI: These photos were taken in rural Rice County and in the Jordan/Prior Lake areas, not in my native southwestern Minnesota. This post honors my farmer father, Elvern Kletscher, who would have celebrated his birthday this week. He died 14 years ago in early April 2003.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The artsy allure of a Jordan antique shop February 22, 2017

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I’M DRAWN TO ANTIQUE SHOPS. Not necessarily because I’m scouting for an antique or collectible. Rather, the history, the art, the nostalgia, the connection to childhood memories draw me inside.

In an antique shop I find a certain comfort remembering days past, of simpler times, of stories, of the saving of an object that once meant something to someone.

 

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On a recent stop in the Minnesota river town of Jordan, I explored several antique and specialty shops, including LB Antiques along Water Street in the heart of downtown. Natural light poured through the lengthy front windows, adding warmth to a space that would work well as an art gallery. I always appreciate antiques grouped artfully in uncluttered settings.

Within LB Antiques, I saw the work of an artistic shopkeeper.

 

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I delighted in the graceful curve of an unadorned water pitcher symmetrically balanced between two ornate angel candle holders.

 

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Tucked into a mostly unseen floor space, a vintage clown graphic grabbed my attention. I’ve always appreciated graphics, a nod to my days working as a newspaper reporter, photographer and occasional page designer.

 

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On a shelf, the contrast of utilitarian textured metal pots created visual interest against signage in bold hues of yellow, orange, red and pink.

 

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Likewise, a fabric banner advertising the 1967 Saint Paul Winter Carnival contrasted with the day—an exceptionally warm February afternoon of temps reaching near 60 degrees.

 

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My eyes were drawn, too, to a beer bottle from Ernst Fleckenstein Brewery, a long ago brewery in Faribault. I alerted a local collector to this mint condition bottle with the lovely gold-edged type face.

 

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Even the block letters of a hand-printed sign soliciting merchandise caused me to pause and appreciate.

 

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In a back room, albums—two for $1—were stacked on tables, awaiting anyone willing to take the time to sort through them. For a collector of vinyl, this would equal striking a jackpot.

 

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That’s the thing about antique shops. What I might care about, another shopper would find of no interest. And vice versa. Our pasts shape our interests. And nowhere does that seem more evident than inside an antique shop.

TELL ME: Do you browse antique shops? Why? What draws you inside?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poking around Jordan on a Saturday afternoon February 21, 2017

A scene in downtown Jordan on Saturday afternoon, an exceptionally warm February day in Minnesota.

A scene in downtown Jordan on Saturday afternoon, an exceptionally warm February day in Minnesota.

JORDAN, MINNESOTA is quintessential small town, the type of place where kids bike to the ballpark, propel skateboards down the middle of the street and walk the dog with friends.

A Chinese restaurant is housed in one of Jordan's many historic buildings.

Empire Wok, a Chinese restaurant is housed in one of Jordan’s many historic buildings.

It’s an historic town of aged buildings, a creekside restaurant dubbed The Feed Mill and a collection of gift, specialty and antique shops clustered within walking distance of each other.

Two guys rested on a bench Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan.

Two guys rested on a bench Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan.

Here curbside benches encourage sitting for a spell.

This sign drew me into a wonderful little shop.

This sign drew me into a wonderful little shop.

Inside The Jordan Junker I found this creatively repurposed school desk.

Inside The Jordan Junker I found this creatively repurposed school desk with a U.S. map top-side. It would make for a unique end table. And, yes, the desk opens to storage inside.

Creative signage lures shoppers.

Customer favorites at Pekarna Meats are smoked pork sausage, ring bologna and baby back ribs.

Customer favorites at Pekarna Meats, family-owned since 1893, are smoked pork sausage, ring bologna and baby back ribs.

And the meat market sees a steady stream of customers.

Numerous shops are located downtown.

Numerous shops are located downtown.

Saturday afternoon my husband and I popped into this 1854 Minnesota River Valley community to poke around a few downtown shops. I appreciate the slower pace of Jordan, the Mayberry feel of this place with railroad tracks slicing through the business district. Here shopkeepers chat it up with customers in a welcoming way that is neighbor-friendly.

Two historic log cabins are situated downtown where bikers and others stopped on Saturday afternoon.

Two historic log cabins are situated downtown where bikers and others stopped on Saturday afternoon.

The community has a good vibe. And although our stay was brief and we didn’t see everything Jordan offers, I got a good sense of this small town. Only months earlier I visited Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store located along U.S. Highway 169 on the outskirts of Jordan. That place buzzes with busyness and the rush of traffic on the four-lane, so different from the quiet of downtown.

I delight in exploring small Minnesota towns like Jordan. This merchandise was displayed outside The Vinery Floral Home & Garden.

I delight in exploring small Minnesota towns like Jordan. This merchandise was displayed outside The Vinery Floral Home & Garden.

I’ll return to Jordan, next time better prepared with an itinerary. Seven years have passed since my last stop in the heart of the community. I won’t let that much time lapse before my next visit.

Another eye-catching sign outside a local garage.

Another eye-catching sign outside a local garage.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite small town? I’d like to hear.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for a close-up of a Jordan antique shop.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A spectacular February weekend in southern Minnesota in photos February 20, 2017

TO ALL THE SNOWBIRDS who’ve headed to Texas or Florida or Arizona for the winter. To all the people out there who consider Minnesota nothing more than a place of snow and cold. To any Minnesotan who complains about winter (and I have and I do), I present this weekend photo essay from balmy southern Minnesota:

Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan was shirt-sleeve warm for this teen on his cellphone.

Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan was shirt-sleeve warm for this teen on his cellphone.

Families were out and about everywhere, including this little girl with her baby doll in downtown Jordan.

Families were out and about everywhere, including this sandal-clad girl with her baby doll in downtown Jordan.

Snow clings to the edges of Sand Creek rushing through the heart of Jordan.

Sand Creek rushes through the heart of Jordan with only remnants of snow remaining.

Bikers were out all over, some powered by their two feet and...

Bikers were out all over, some powered by their two feet and…

others powered by fuel, like these bikes parked in downtown Jordan.

others powered by fuel, like these bikes parked in downtown Jordan.

Minnesotans fished, here Sunday afternoon from the banks of the Cannon River by the woolen mill dam in Faribault. Snow pushed from the parking lot edged the river bank.

Minnesotans fished, here Sunday afternoon from the banks of the Cannon River by the woolen mill dam in Faribault. Snow pushed from the parking lot edged the river bank.

Meanwhile, on Union Lake in northern Rice County, ice fisherman by the dozens fished Sat

Meanwhile, on Union Lake in northern Rice County, ice fisherman by the dozens fished Saturday afternoon despite water puddling atop ice near the shoreline. Vehicles lined the road in Albers Park next to the lake.

Saturday proved a perfect warm and sunny day for sitting on an overturned bucket on the frozen lake to fish.

Saturday proved a perfect warm and sunny day for sitting on an overturned bucket or lawn chair on the frozen lake to fish.

Just south of Union Lake Trail along Rice County Road 46, a bald eagle watched me...

Just south of Union Lake Trail along Rice County Road 46, a bald eagle watched me…

watching it.

watching it.

At Faribault Energy Park Sunday afternoon, geese dealt with frozen and partially open pond water.

At Faribault Energy Park Sunday afternoon, geese dealt with frozen and partially open pond water.

Runners ran along city streets and sidewalks and along rural roads in ideal weather conditions, here along Rice County Road 46.

Runners ran along city streets and sidewalks and along rural roads in ideal weather conditions, here along Rice County Road 46.

At Oak Ridge Cemetery in Faribault, moss greened the ground.

At Oak Ridge Cemetery in Faribault, moss greened the ground.

At Faribault Energy Park, the windmill was set against a beautiful sunny blue dky.

At Faribault Energy Park, the windmill was set against a beautiful sunny blue sky on a day that felt more like spring than winter.

Remind me of this glorious, stunning, unbelievably warm weekend of near 60-degree temps after the next snowfall and the next plunge to sub-zero temps. I want to remember this stretch of February days and how our collective Minnesota spirit soared.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo moment: Two ladies buying squash November 29, 2016

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AS A PHOTOGRAPHER, I strive to document, to tell a story, to record moments and emotions, to photograph people and places and events. Succinctly stated, I desire to present life. As it is.

Nothing gives me greater satisfaction in photography than capturing candid memorable moments. Yes, I take posed photos. But I prefer not to. So if I’m cruising with my camera and someone alerts others to my presence, I typically stop photographing. I want to be unseen. Just there. Blending in. Not always easy to do with a bulky Canon DSLR camera slung around my neck. But I try.

Recently I was rewarded with one of those prize shots while photographing at Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store, in Jordan. A moment of everyday life right there, outside the signature yellow building along US Highway 169.

Two elderly women were shopping for squash as if it was the most important thing in the world on a weekday afternoon in October. And to them, it was important.

I had one chance to photograph them. I love the results—the joy and concentration on their faces as they peruse the squash. I notice the clothing. I can’t recall the last time I saw a woman wearing a kerchief. There are details, too, of oversized purse (not bag) and cane in hand.

I note also the care the merchandiser takes in marketing the squash with historical information, flavor notations and graphics.

The subject of this image is not extraordinary, newsworthy or remarkable. It’s simply ordinary. Everyday. Two ladies buying squash. And therein lies its value to me as a Minnesota photographer.

#

Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store is now closed for the season and reopens in time for Memorial Day weekend.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The death of a most generous soul, the candy store’s nonagenarian November 28, 2016

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I NEVER KNEW HIM. Only photographed him in early October. But I saw in him—in the curve of his spine, in his hands, in the flour on his pant leg—a man passionate about his work.

Herbert R. (Hippy) Wagner, 91, entrepreneur, businessman, and owner of Jim’s Apple Farm and Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store in Jordan, died on November 21 following a sudden illness. So says his obituary published in the Duluth News Tribune.

 

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I regret not introducing myself to this man while visiting the signature yellow candy store along US Highway 169. There I spotted Hippy behind the pie counter, rag in hand wiping the countertop where I presume pie crusts are rolled and/or pies assembled. I purchased a caramel apple pie, still warm from the oven and tastefully delicious.

 

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While waiting in line for that pie, I snapped these images. They are favorites from my candy store visit. I learned of Hippy’s death while researching to publish these photos.

Timing.

As I read his obituary, it wasn’t Herb’s successes in business—he also operated the family-owned Wagner’s Supper Club back in the day— or his many years of community involvement/service that most impressed me, but his generosity.

While a Merchant Marine walking through Antwerp, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, he gave away all of his rations to starving children.

That giving spirit, according to his obit, continued throughout Herb’s life:

He was extraordinarily generous in large and small ways, from baking home-made bread and personally delivering it to the home-bound, to lending money to people who were “down on their luck” and could not get a bank loan for a business or home.

But there’s more. Faith and family were of utmost importance. He was the father of ten and a devout Catholic. He loved classical music and sometimes awakened his children to the rousing marches of John Philip Sousa piped throughout the family’s house. And I know that he also loved polkas, the only music played at the candy store.

To be remembered in an obituary with such loving words and memories speaks volumes to Hippy’s character.

I would have liked him.

FYI: Click here to read my recent series on Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. And please check back for one final post featuring my favorite photo from that visit.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Interesting finds inside a candy store, Part III from Jordan, Minnesota November 23, 2016

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BLACKBERRY PATCH SYRUPS in the most tempting flavors.

 

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A TARDIS tucked into a corner.

 

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Cotton candy in buckets.

 

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Dictator soda. Say what?

 

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Minnesota’s largest porta potties.

 

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Pop art.

 

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Seemingly unconnected, they are. All were photographed inside Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store, also known as Jim’s Apple Farm outside Jordan along US Highway 169.

I love discovering and photographing places like this to share with you. Jim’s has been around for more than 30 years. But I’d never been there until about a month ago. It’s not quite an hour’s drive from my Faribault home.

There’s so much to see in our own backyards…if we only take the time to discover, then appreciate.

TELL ME: What should visitors see in your backyard?

FYI: Check back for one final post, featuring my two favorite photos from my visit to Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. Click here to read my first post in this series and my second post.

Jim’s Apple Farm closes for the season on the last day of November.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling