Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I’ll miss you, family July 26, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , ,

The potluck offerings at a past Kletscher Family Reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ON THIS, THE LAST SUNDAY in July, for decades, the descendants of Henry and Ida Kletscher have reunited in the small southwestern Minnesota community of Vesta. We—siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles and in-laws—gather in the Vesta City Park to reconnect. To share updates on our lives. To laugh. To enjoy a potluck meal of homemade dishes that cover several picnic tables. We are a big group given my grandparents raised 10 children. And we know how to cook and bake. Hotdish. Desserts. Too much food, but, oh, so good.

 

In this game, played at a past reunion, contestants race to move gummy worms from a pie plate into a cup, with their mouths. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This is our annual July tradition of family, fun and food. Our one time a year, other than funerals, when we now meet. Most years I attend. Last year I couldn’t. So I anticipated the Kletscher Family Reunion of 2020.

 

The one-block Main Street of downtown Vesta. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But, because of COVID-19, the reunion is canceled. And rightly so. Even though my home county of Redwood has only 28 cases (as of Saturday), many of us come from hotbed areas. Like the Twin Cities metro. Or my county of Rice with 944 cases, including eight deaths.

Sometimes I think it’s easy to feel insulated, protected, from the virus in rural areas. But COVID-19 knows no geographical boundaries. No age limits. No nothing. COVID cases in Minnesota’s more rural counties are increasing.

 

Contestants in the Minute-to-Win-It competitions gather around a table right after the potluck at a reunion held several years ago in the Vesta Community Hall because of the heat. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The call to cancel the reunion was the right one. I would not have attended had it been a go. I have been careful for five months about trying to protect myself and reduce my risk. And, as much as I love visiting with family, it’s not worth the risk to see them. I can wait.

Kris Ehresmann, Minnesota’s infectious disease director, reported this week that her department is seeing more cases directly linked to family gatherings. I am not surprised. The relaxed setting, the desire to hug and get close and more, seems the making of the perfect storm.

 

My plated food from a previous reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And so today, on the final Sunday of July, I won’t see the extended family that means so much to me. I won’t indulge in a plate filled with incredibly delicious homemade foods. I won’t engage in conversations with cousins or admire the newest babies. But I will think of them and hope that, next summer, I can reconnect in the community of our roots with the family I love.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My crazy family reconnects at a rural Minnesota reunion July 29, 2014

My cousin Kirt leads his team in the first Kletscher Fear Factor competition by "agreeing" to a beauty make-over.

My cousin Kirt leads his team in the first Kletscher Fear Factor competition by “agreeing” to a beauty make-over.

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS Vesta stays in Vegas Vesta.

My cousin Kirt sports the family name on the back of his shirt.

Kirt sports the family name on the back of his shirt.

That mantra was repeated by several of my cousins on Sunday afternoon as my extended family gathered in my hometown for the annual Kletscher family reunion.

We gather in the Vesta park across the road from corn and soybean fields. Here a John Deere tractor drives past on Sunday afternoon.

We meet in the Vesta park across the road from corn and soybean fields. Here a John Deere tractor drives past on Sunday afternoon.

Every year I anticipate this weekend celebration which brings the descendants of Henry and Ida Kletscher to the small southwestern Minnesota prairie town of Vesta. The reunion kicks off with a Saturday evening campfire and then continues the following day with a noon potluck followed by games and visiting.

The playground proves a popular area for elementary-aged through high school.

The playground proves a popular area for elementary-aged through high school.

Laughter, play, competition, conversation and great homemade food define the weekend. I love my extended family and I love this reunion.

My mom, left, and several of the aunts line up to watch the afternoon games.

My mom, left, and several of the aunts line up to watch the afternoon games. Elaine, bundled in the fleece blanket, was the oldest attendee. She’s 91.

Since adding competitive games several years ago, the connectedness between generations has grown stronger:

Teams formed and then the make-up case was opened for beauty make-overs on three guys.

Teams formed and then the make-up case was opened for a beauty contest.

First, fairy wings for Lucas...

First, fairy wings for Lucas…

Prettying up Lucas...

…and then a little make-up.

Denver undergoes a make-over for his team.

Denver undergoes a make-over for his team.

Kirt, hamming it up for the crowd.

Kirt, who wanted what happens in Vesta to stay in Vesta, puckers up.

Kirt hams it up for the crowd, which voted by clapping and hooting and hollering. He won the beauty contest.

Kirt hams it up for the crowd, which voted by clapping and hooting and hollering. He won the beauty contest.

Just like my cousins and I hold dear our childhood memories of family get togethers in a time when we all lived near one another, now our offspring and theirs, are, once a year, experiencing a similar family closeness.

Dorothy, hands behind her, races to pluck raisins from rice cereal during a contest.

Dorothy, arms behind her, races to pluck raisins from rice cereal.

My cousin Terri, who co-hosts the Emmy-nominated television show, "Nature Adventures with Terri and Todd," brought a snake for part of the Fear Factor competition. She was attempting to get many family members to overcome their fear of snakes.

My cousin Terri, right, who co-hosts the Emmy-nominated television show, “Nature Adventures with Terri and Todd,” brought a snake for part of the Fear Factor competition. She was attempting to get family members to overcome their fear of snakes.

My cousin Sandy's grandson Keelan shows no fear of snakes. Some contestants kissed the snake to earn the highest number of points.

My cousin Sandy’s grandson Keelan shows no fear of snakes. Some contestants kissed the snake to earn the highest number of points.

My cousin Dawn apparently wasn't too fond of the tapioca pudding she was racing to eat during a competition.

My cousin Dawn apparently wasn’t too fond of the tapioca pudding she was racing to eat during a competition.

I can’t emphasize too much the importance of such reunions in this crazy busy world. Grandpa and Grandma would be proud to know their children and families still care enough about each other to gather every July in the place where my great grandparents, Rudolph and Mathilda Kletscher, put down roots.

The youngest attendee, 3-week-old Maddison.

The youngest attendee, 3-week-old Maddison, came with her parents from Lakeville, 120 miles away.

Henry and Ida’s offspring of all ages came to the reunion—from their oldest daughter, Elaine, age 91, to the youngest great great granddaughter, Maddison, born only three weeks ago.

Kids and families played together in the sand, too, building memories.

Kids and families played together in the sand, too, building memories.

And as for that Vegas mantra, I warned my cousins that I couldn’t keep what happens in Vesta, in Vesta. They just laughed and said they were OK with that.

But I’m not sure my cousin Bob was OK with unknowingly eating tofu in the chocolate cream pie I brought to the potluck. When I revealed the secret ingredient, he could not hide his disgust.

“I’m supporting the soybean farmer,” I told this farmer. That didn’t seem to matter. Another memory…

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling