Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Remembering & honoring my hardworking dad this Labor Day September 7, 2020

Dad farmed, in the early years with a John Deere and Farmall and IH tractors and later with a Ford. (Photo by Lanae Kletscher Feser)

A photo of my dad, Elvern Kletscher, taken in 1980. He died in 2003.

 

MY DAD WORKED HARD. Really hard. He was a farmer, beginning back in the day when farming was incredibly labor intensive. Pitching manure. Throwing hay bales. Milking cows by hand. Cultivating corn. He worked from the rising of the sun to beyond sunset. Hours and hours in the barn. Long days in the field. Few, if any, days off.

 

The milkhouse, attached to the barn on the farm where I grew up just outside of Vesta, MN. I spent a lot of time in these two buildings. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

It was a life he knew from childhood, as the son of a southwestern Minnesota farmer. Dad quit school after eighth grade to work on his family’s farm in the 1940s. And when he grew into adulthood, he served on the frontlines during the Korean War, then returned to farm just down the road from the home place. There he worked his own land, milked cows and raised (along with my mom) his family of six children.

 

Some of the acreage my dad farmed in Redwood County, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Like my father, I grew up with a strong work ethic rooted in the land. Walking bean fields to pull unwanted weeds. Picking rock. Throwing hay bales into feed bunks for the Holsteins. Carrying buckets of milk replacer to thirsty calves. Climbing up the silo and forking smelly silage down the chute. The work never ended. And the next day we repeated the process.

 

Corn and soybean fields define southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But it was, in many ways, a good life. Time together. Time outdoors. Time to reflect. Time to learn and grow and stretch, just like the corn stretching toward the sky.

 

Growing up on our crop and dairy farm, my eldest brother, Doug, photographed the cows and recorded details about them. My middle brother treasures this compilation of information from our farm. And so do I. Memories… Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Working on the farm made me strong and resilient and fostered a sense of independence. I have always been a self-starter, preferring to work on my own. I trace that to the spirit of independence I observed in my farmer dad, who stood up for what he believed. I remember him dumping milk down the drain as the National Farmers Organization aimed to get better prices. I possess a streak of that feistiness, especially when it comes to those who are bullied/oppressed/looked down upon. I do what I can, with the talents I have, to make a positive difference. To uplift and encourage. And to really listen rather than talk.

I always told my dad I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. He didn’t encourage that thought. None of my five siblings farm, although two work in ag-related businesses. It’s a credit to my parents that each of us pursued diverse careers as a partsman (and part owner) at an implement dealership, as a writer and photographer, a florist, CEO of an ethanol plant, teacher and lawyer. That’s a wide range of occupations among siblings. Our parents did not tell us what to do, and for that I shall always be grateful.

 

Our southwestern Minnesota farmyard is buried in snowdrifts in this March 1965 image. My mom is holding my youngest sister as she stands by the car parked next to the house. My other sister and two brothers and I race down the snowdrifts.

 

We were not a perfect family. Still aren’t. There were, and are, struggles. Financial and other. We were poor as in outhouse poor and no gifts for birthdays poor and wearing hand-me-downs poor and only rice for dinner poor. And only two vacations my entire childhood—one at age four to Duluth and one to the Black Hills at around age 12. Yet, I never felt like we were missing anything. We had enough. Food. Shelter. Clothes. And hardworking parents—for my mom worked equally as hard as my dad—who loved and provided for us.

My parents may not have hugged us or told us they loved us. But they showed their love by their care, their provision, their raising us in the faith. Their efforts, from parenting to farming, were a labor of love. And I shall always feel gratitude for that.

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CLICK HERE TO READ my post, “Many Reasons to Feel Blessed this Labor Day,” published last week on the Warner Press blog.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From sunshine to storm on Labor Day September 4, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:55 PM
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Looking to the north and the Minnesota River Valley just outside Delhi around 4 p.m. Monday.

 

TO THE NORTH, storm clouds bruised the sky late Labor Day afternoon.

 

To the east of Delhi heading toward Redwood Falls.

 

Brooding blue, then masses of grey before the rain gushed near New Ulm as we drove east from the southwestern Minnesota prairie toward home. The rainfall, while heavy at times, seemed nothing more than a September downpour.

 

Sky and corn define this area of Minnesota.

 

Well before we got to Mankato, the rain stopped.

 

The farther east we drove, the more ominous the clouds appeared.

 

Yet clouds continued to stack and I began to consider the possibility of severe weather as we entered Waseca, then Steele, counties. Randy switched on the radio to a local station but then turned it off when our son called from Boston. I ended the conversation as we reached Owatonna and exited U.S. Highway 14 onto Interstate 35.

Rounding the entrance ramp, Randy noticed a state highway patrol car and, then, a short distance later, another. By that time the rain had ramped. Wheels hydroplaned. And the wind blew so fierce the van rocked.

“I’m scared,” I said. “I want to get off the interstate.” Randy steered the van off the next exit, much to my relief. But I was still scared. I don’t like storms or strong winds like these of probably 50 mph. I’ve seen the damaging power of tornadoes and straight line winds and I respect them enough to fear them.

 

Just a few miles from Faribault on Rice County Road 45.

 

We drove through part of Owatonna, the wind still whipping trees. The short detour off I-35 proved enough to semi calm me before Randy directed the van out of town along a back county road. I wanted nothing more than to get home to Faribault. I’d had enough of the wind and the rain on an otherwise glorious September day in southern Minnesota.

 

TELL ME: Have you ever been caught on the roadway in a storm that scared you? I’d like to hear about your experiences.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Labor Day reflections: Jeff’s job isn’t just a job September 7, 2015

Jeff Lerum sands a chair in his shop, where he restores and repairs furniture.

Jeff Lerum sands a chair in his shop, where he restores and repairs furniture.

ON THIS LABOR DAY, a day to rest from our labors, consider the craftsman I met on Thursday in Pine Island, Minnesota. He is Jeff Lerum. And he loves his job. Can you say that about your life’s work?

The shop is located in downtown Pine Island, which is north of Rochester.

The shop is located in downtown Pine Island, which is north of Rochester.

For 25 years, Jeff has operated Green’s Antiques and Green’s Stripping and Refinishing. He calls his businesses a “glorified hobby.” That word choice shows passion. As I spoke with Jeff and meandered through his shop, I understood.

A beautiful handcrafted piece of which Jeff is especially fond because of the unique craftsmanship.

A beautiful handcrafted piece of furniture, unique in craftsmanship.

Some of the furniture in the showroom.

Some of the furniture in the showroom.

The side door into Jeff's workshop.

The side door into Jeff’s workshop.

Furniture, finished and unfinished, fills this place. But it’s not just furniture to Jeff. Some are customers’ family heirlooms. Others are treasures he’s rescued from auctions and elsewhere and restored. He especially likes early 1800s handmade furniture. Cupboards are his specialty. He values good solid wood; you won’t find shabby chic style furniture in his shop. Stripping finishes from wood is the main part of his business.

Everywhere there are works in progress, including these stripped chairs.

Everywhere there are works in progress, including these stripped chairs.

He’s a guy who works seven days a week. If he’s not in his shop, he’s making the evening and weekend auction rounds. “I was a picker before there were pickers,” Jeff says.

I spotted this religious icon among all the furniture.

I spotted this crucifix among all the furniture.

He once hit the jackpot with his picking. Inside a cupboard purchased at an estate auction, he found a hidden safe. And $1,700 inside. Jeff checked with the auctioneer on ownership and was told the money was his to keep. As the father of four, I imagine the unexpected windfall was welcome.

A snippet of family photos and more displayed in Jeff's workroom.

A snippet of family photos and more displayed in Jeff’s workshop.

Family photos, a child’s artwork, handmade cards and more plaster his shop door and a section of wall. That tells me a lot about Jeff and the importance of family to him. His business is a family business of 40 years.

Signage for Jeff's business spotted inside his shop.

Signage for the business inside the shop.

This Baby Boomer appears much younger than his 51 years. And I wonder if that comes from doing what he loves or being his own boss or both. Whatever the reasons, it was a joy to meet someone as genuinely enthusiastic about his labor as Jeff.

Artfully displayed furniture that Jeff has restored.

Artfully displayed furniture that Jeff has restored.

In this photo, you can see the harvest table Jeff built.

In this photo, you can see the harvest table Jeff built.

A beautiful table showcased in the showroom.

A beautiful table showcased in the showroom.

His passion shows. In the front showroom space, where furniture is displayed like artwork in a gallery. In the hefty harvest table Jeff crafted from repurposed posts and lumber. In the way Jeff wraps sandpaper around the leg of a chair and sands the wood.

Even Jeff's business cards are displayed in a way that's simple and unique--in a box on a door.

Even Jeff’s business cards are displayed in a way that’s simple and unique–in a box on a door.

His hands, his face, his personality all convey that contentment that comes from making one’s passion one’s life work.

BONUS PHOTOS:

There are other antiques and collectibles in Jeff's shop besides furniture. I absolutely adore this floral print.

There are other antiques and collectibles in the shop besides furniture. I absolutely adore this floral print.

Love this vintage light, too.

Love this vintage light, too.

This cubby unit was among many many pieces of furniture crammed into a space between the showroom and the workshop.

This cubby unit was among many many pieces of furniture crammed into a space between the showroom and the workshop.

More treasures...

More treasures…

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling