Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Oh, how Mom loved the Kentucky Derby May 4, 2022

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Watching the 2015 Kentucky Derby in the auditorium at The Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault, during a “Big Hats & Big Hearts event. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

MAY, MORE THAN any month, reminds me of my mom. And not just because of Mother’s Day.

Mom’s birthday falls in late May. She would have turned 90 this year.

A guest arrives for the Derby party at the Paradise Center for the Arts in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

May also means Kentucky Derby time, an annual event Mom looked forward to with unbridled enthusiasm. It wasn’t only the horses which drew her interest. It was the fashion. Mom loved the big hats, the showiness of this social gathering.

I remember phone conversations when Mom talked about the upcoming Derby. I regret that she never attended the Kentucky race. But she saw several horse races at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. I have no doubt she would have loved the Kentucky Derby events set there for Saturday, including the Derby Fashion Show followed by live screening of the actual race.

This year’s race holds special interest for Minnesota as two of the horses are owned by Minnesotans. I expect Mom would have chosen Zandon or Zozos to win. Jeff Drown of Clearwater owns Zandon, #2 in the leaderboard rank. And Barry and Joni Butzow of Eden Prairie own Zozos, ranked #17. Both Drown and the Butzows have a long history in racehorse ownership.

Dressed in Derby Day fanciness, attendees view a hat-themed exhibit in the Paradise Center for the Arts gallery in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

And my mom had a long history of loving horse racing. And of loving the fancy, wide-brimmed Derby hats adorned with flowers, feathers, bows, ribbons… Fashion focus didn’t fit Mom at all. She was a no-frills kind of woman. Basic wardrobe of nothing flashy or fancy. But when it came to the Kentucky Derby, she was fully-engaged in appreciating fashion.

Fresh mint leaves for the mint juleps. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

This year, especially (four months after her death), I remember Mom’s unbridled joy in the Kentucky Derby—both the fashion and the race. I wish I could sit by her side, both of us sporting fancy Derby hats, sipping mint juleps, watching the race live on the screen.

My friend Beth Ann gifted me with official Kentucky Derby glasses from 1986 and 1991. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Yet, I can honor her via memories and via the horse art which I pull out each May. A paint-by-number horse scene purchased at a second-hand store. A painting of horses by my father-in-law. And two Derby drinking glasses gifted to me by a friend.

I purchased this stunning 24-inch x 18-inch paint-by-number painting at a Wisconsin second-hand/collectible/antique shop. The scene reminds me of the Kentucky Derby. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

There is comfort in memories, in remembering how very much my mom loved the Kentucky Derby. This Saturday, when I settle in to watch the horse race, I’ll think of Mom and how she delighted in “Southern Belle” inspired fashion while watching the Derby on TV from her Minnesota home.

NOTE: This is the first in three mother-themed blog posts leading up to Mother’s Day on Sunday, the day after the Kentucky Derby.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling