Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Thanksgiving of gratitude November 25, 2020

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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.

Start each day with a grateful heart.

This Thanksgiving, more than ever, those seem important words to consider and then follow.

I’m thankful to my friend Beth Ann, who back in January, before 2020 evolved into the year of COVID-19, gifted me with a daily gratitude journal. It helped me then, and helps me now, to focus on reasons to feel thankful.

A quick look back to the beginning of the year shows a much different gratitude mindset as I wrote of thankfulness for photos of the grandkids, a handwritten letter, a comment from a blog reader that my images of rural Minnesota calm her, time with friends and more.

On March 7, I wrote, “Grateful for another opportunity to spend time with Mom.” I didn’t know it then, but this would mark the last time I stepped inside her care center room, hugged her, kissed her cheek. My heart hurts now every time I think of Mom. It’s an ache that never leaves, that rises sometimes unexpectedly to the surface in raw emotions. But then I reshift my thinking and consider how grateful I am that Mom is still with us, in the care of kind, caring and compassionate individuals who truly value her.

Shortly after that last in-person early March visit, everything changed. There would be no more visits inside the care center. Life as we once knew it changed due to COVID-19. My gratitude journal reflects that as my writing focused more on thankfulness for beautiful days outdoors, for mask mandates, for a stop at a winery, for country drives. And, more recently, for loved ones recovered from COVID-19, for a day that passes without news of another person I know infected with the virus.

In this year 2020, gratitude takes effort. But it’s still there. And this Thanksgiving, more than any, I feel grateful for my health, for my loved ones, for all the blessings that define my days.

Dear readers, I wish you a blessed and joyful Thanksgiving overflowing with gratitude.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A mother’s gift to her writer daughter May 11, 2018

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The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my oldest brother.

 

I SOMETIMES WONDER how my mom did it? How did she raise six kids and manage a household without the modern conveniences of today? No microwave. No bathroom or telephone or TV or automatic washing machine (for many years). An endless list of “no” whatever.

She planted a massive garden, canned and froze fruits and vegetables. Baked bread and assorted sweets from scratch. Mended clothes. She could do most anything.

 

Mom’s journals stacked in a tote.

 

And she wrote. Daily. Mom documented the happenings of farm life in southwestern Minnesota, even before she became a wife and a mother. I have those journals now, stacked inside a plastic tote. Musty-smelling spiral bound stenographer notebooks filled with her words. History inked in her beautiful signature flowing cursive.

They are my most treasured tangible part of her, a collection of information that is not personal, yet is. She writes not of feelings, but of weather and work, going to church and town and to relatives’ homes. She writes, too, of illness and new babies and skinned knees. While I’ve only read bits and pieces of assorted journals, I know that eventually I will read every word. Her single-paragraph daily entries of three to six lines or so document rural life. From her perspective as a wife and mother.

She became a mother in mid-July of 1955, two months shy of celebrating her first wedding anniversary. She writes:

Got to the hospital at 1:15 a.m. & baby was born at 3:20 a.m. He weighed 8 lb. Has a lot of hair. Folks visited me.

On her first Mother’s Day—months before my birth—Mom visited her parents, noting that her mother had gone to the Heart Hospital two days prior. Seven months later her mother died of a heart attack. I was only months old. I will always hold a certain sadness in my grandma’s early untimely death, knowing her only through the memories of others who spoke of a woman with the kindest of hearts. Just like my mom.

Through all the challenges of life, Mom has maintained a positive and cheerful attitude. She’s kind and compassionate and uncomplaining. That has been part of her gift to us, her six children, born between 1955 and 1967. Three girls. Three boys.

 

My mom and I at our extended family Christmas gathering in late December 2017.

 

Eight days before my birth, Mom put up 32 jars of grape jelly and 18 ½ quarts of tomato juice with her sister Dorothy. “Sure was tired,” she wrote. If I was about to give birth, I’d feel tired, too. But she never complained.

On my birthday, Mom writes:

Woke up at 3:00 a.m. Got to hospital at 4:20 & baby was born at 4:56 a.m. She weighed 8 lb. 12 oz.

Talk about cutting it close. But then the hospital was a 20-mile drive and my parents had to find someone to watch my oldest brother. Dorothy stayed on for several days after my birth to help with washing, ironing, cleaning and other tasks while Mom recovered and adjusted to having two kids under two.

 

My mom saved everything, including this Mother’s Day card I made for her in elementary school. I cut a flower from a seed catalog to create the front of this card.

 

And so the years passed with more babies birthed. I wondered if Mom had any special memories of Mother’s Day. I paged through several journals from the 1960s to find entries about Mother’s Day programs at Vesta Elementary School. She noted the gifts we three oldest kids gave her—tomato plants, a hammered dish and on May 8, 1964, a writing pad. From me.

 

I took this photo nearly two years ago of my mom holding my granddaughter’s hand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2016.

Now more than ever, as age steals my mom’s memory and she no longer keeps a journal, I appreciate her writing. Her words reveal a hardworking woman who valued her family and faith and farm life. That Mom took the time to write shows her deep appreciation, too, for the written word. She passed that along to me. I am grateful. But most of all I am grateful for a mom who loved me and my siblings with such depth. She was, and remains even in her advancing octogenarian years, an example of kindness and compassion and goodness that I strive to emulate. She is my mother. And I love her.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling