Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflections after 38 years of marriage May 15, 2020

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My husband, Randy, and I exit St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta following our May 15, 1982, wedding. Photo by William’s Studio, Redwood Falls.

 

TODAY RANDY AND I CELEBRATE our 38th wedding anniversary. He is taking the day off from his job as an automotive machinist. It’s a much-needed break in this, his especially busy season. COVID-19 or not, vehicles, tractors, recreational toys and more still need repair. And rare are the specialists like Randy who do this type of work anymore. It’s labor intensive, demanding and requires knowledge that comes from decades of experience.

But I digress. Today is our anniversary, a day to reflect on our marriage and each other, not on a global pandemic and work.

 

MAY 15, 1982

Thirty-eight years ago, I married Randy in my small southwestern Minnesota home church, surrounded by family and friends. The ceremony included singing of my favorite hymn, “Beautiful Savior,” by the congregation and a solo of “O, Perfect Love” by a friend. The selected scripture reading was Genesis 2:22-24. There are no recordings of our wedding service, only still photos and a worship service bulletin. And memories.

 

The Vesta Hall, a community gathering place in my hometown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

After the ceremony at St. John’s Lutheran, we gathered at the Vesta Community Hall a few blocks away for a meal catered by HyVee, followed by socializing and then a dance, with a live band. There was nothing fancy about any of this. Strips of twisted crepe paper and vases of single carnations decorated long tables. My cousins waited on guests, green and yellow gingham cotton aprons, stitched by me, protecting their dresses. Diners sat on metal folding chairs pulled up to uncovered tables.

Randy and I toasted with green punch my mom prepared. Randy still reminds me of the putrid hue. Hey, our colors were green and yellow. Not John Deere shades, though. We posed for photos with our three-layered wedding cake with my husband insisting we not smash cake into each other’s faces. I’m thankful for that request. Smart guy.

Afterward, we danced across the worn wooden floor, twirling and linking arms and enjoying the evening with family and friends. I kicked off the ballet style shoes that pinched my toes. Around midnight we left for the short drive to nearby Marshall and a hotel room that reeked of cigar smoke. Funny how you remember details like that.

 

MAY 15, 2020

Fast forward to today. It seems unfathomable that 38 years have passed since our May 15, 1982, wedding. Three kids and two grandkids later, here we are, much older, much more seasoned in life. When I think on all that’s transpired in nearly four decades, I feel especially thankful for Randy. He remains the calm and steady man I married, a good balance for me.

 

Me, next to my poem, River Stories, posted along the River Walk in Mankato as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Photo by Randy Helbling, November 2019.

 

Together we have grieved the loss of parents and other loved ones, dealt with family crisis, faced health issues, raised a family, found joy in the simple things in life, been there for one another. When he married me 38 years ago, I doubt Randy ever envisioned attending poetry readings. But he has, many times, supporting me in my writing. That says a lot for a guy who likely never cracked open a poetry book before marrying a writer. I appreciate, too, that Randy supports my photography, sometimes even pointing out photo ops I miss.

We both enjoy country drives, small towns, craft breweries, summer concerts in the park, church dinners, time with our grown children and now, especially, our sweet grandchildren. I’ve learned to like car shows, but not for the same reasons as Randy. While he’s looking under hoods, I’m looking at hood ornaments, appreciating the artistic aspect of vintage vehicles. He enjoys reading historical non-fiction. I prefer fiction. He does Sudoku. I tried once, but failed miserably. Our interests are similar, yet separate.

 

Randy grills nearly every weekend year-round. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I appreciate Randy’s many talents, from his grilling skills (and, yes, he even grills veggies like Brussels sprouts and broccoli for me) to his ability to fix almost any mechanical issue with our vehicles to his compassion in “leading” Sunday morning video church services at a local nursing home (pre-COVID).

My love for Randy remains as strong as 38 years ago. Changed, yes. But not at its core. We have done life together. Celebrated good times and, together, managed many difficult times. He has been there for me and I for him. For 38 years. And for that I am grateful.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts as I welcome 2020 January 1, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

TODAY THE SUN rises and sets on a new decade, 2020. That number sounds so surreal to me, someone who came of age in the early 1970s, at the end of the Vietnam War, a time of unrest and discord, of young people raising their voices.

But has anything really changed? The sun still rises. Discord still exists. And if it didn’t, I’d worry.

These are certainly trying times. But every generation has faced challenges. The difference now is the instant speed at which we become aware, how close our world has grown (or maybe not) due to technology, how rapidly untruths spread. I remember my mom telling me once how frightened she felt following the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a nine-year-old living in rural Minnesota, she had no concept of place, of distance. She thought the attack occurred only towns away.

I am, of course, simplifying the differences between yesteryear and today. One could argue more points about the ever-changing world. And I likely would not disagree.

But at the very basic, we are all just human beings with wants, needs, desires, hopes and dreams. For some those are grand and far-reaching and social media attention grabbing. For others, life is less complex. I, for example, am content with a quiet life, with loving and being loved, with serving others, with experiencing joy in everyday moments, with finding delights in the simple. A sunset. A sweet, “I love you, Grandma.” A good book. A Sunday afternoon drive. A hoppy IPA from a local craft brewery. Chats with friends after church.

In 2020, I desire more of those moments that frame a life of contentment. I desire, too, more time with my adult children and their families; I’d love for all of us to spend a few days together. I pray for improved health for family members.

Whatever happens in 2020, I am grateful for another year. To live. To love. To write. To photograph. To be the best person I can be. To treat others with respect and kindness. To show care and compassion. To listen, an art that seems in short supply in a me-driven world of talking over others. To empathize and make a positive difference whenever and wherever I can. Thank you for being a part of my life, for embracing my creative endeavors and for all you do to make this world a better place.

Happy 2020, dear friends!

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When fact & fiction twist together December 19, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo, March 2019.

 

THE ROUTE TOOK US along a twisting river road past decaying and broken trees in dense woods. I worried a limb might drop atop our van as we drove north out of Lucan in southwestern Minnesota.

Then we reached a spot abuzz with people—campers and anglers mostly—stopping at a store to stock up on supplies. We decided to stop, too, and explore this rustic place in the middle of nowhere. Randy parked. Then we, with kids in tow, crossed a narrow walkway over a stream as we hiked toward the store some distance away.

Once inside, a maze of rooms awaited us at this lakeside property. People swarmed the shop. We browsed.

I decided, at some point, that I needed photos of this unique rural general store. But I’d left my camera in the van, a choice I sometimes make when I opt to simply enjoy being in the moment.

But once outside, I couldn’t find the van among the vehicles jammed into parking spaces scattered through the woods. By that time the rest of the family had exited the shop and we began, in earnest, to search for the van. I remembered then, as I crossed the narrow walkway over the stream, that we’d parked on the other side of the waterway. Near an ice cream shop I hadn’t initially noticed. How could that be?

After searching to no avail, I inquired about the missing van. They had it towed, the dispenser of ice cream said. I understood none of this. Sure, we’d experienced problems with the van, but nothing tow-worthy. We needed our vehicle to get to our niece’s 3 p.m. wedding and to visit my mom prior. By this time I was crying, sobbing really, frantic words pouring forth. “My mom is in hospice. She’s dying,” I wailed. “We need our van.”

And then I awakened from my nightmare. Partially. The setting, the general store, the ice cream shop, the story-line are all fictitious—part of a dream I experienced a few nights ago. But snippets are real. Too real.

On the rare occasions when I recall my dreams, I can connect them to thoughts and emotions. My mom is in hospice. For real. I thought I was mentally and emotionally prepared for her ongoing decline in health. I am not. And our 2003 van, just days ago, was in the repair shop, causing me additional angst.

We have places to go, family to see, goodbyes to say…

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections at summer’s unofficial end September 4, 2019

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THE SIGNS EXIST EVERYWHERE. In the sunny warm days that give way to nights so cold I’m now closing windows overnight. In the melodic chirp of crickets. Of leaves tinged red.

 

 

These days feel of summer’s end, of autumn slipping in, of days that are shorter, nights that are longer.

 

 

And, unofficially, Labor Day marks the end of summer.

 

 

I expected a different summer from my previous two of broken bones and subsequent therapy. I expected a fun summer of relaxation and exploration. Joy of carefree days. Sunday afternoon drives.

 

 

But sometimes life delivers the unexpected (worse than broken bones) and we learn that we are made of much more than we ever thought possible. Strength stretched. Faith strengthened. Patience tested. Endurance not a choice.

 

 

I learned that I can be assertive and strong and persistent and a fighter. I learned the definition of selflessness, not that I’m a selfish person. I learned the incredible depth of love. Beyond what I even thought possible.

 

 

I learned to prioritize, to drop the unnecessary, to focus on what was most important.

 

 

I learned the enduring value of friendship from those friends who cared from day one and continue to care. It is true what they say about finding out who your friends really are during difficult days.

 

 

When I look back on the past four months, I see a spring and summer that seem unrecognizable. It’s been a journey, one that continues. But as the season of autumn arrives, life is better, calmer. And for that I am thankful.

 

All of these photos were taken last week during an evening walk through Faribault Energy Park.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on listening, understanding & more, plus a poem April 25, 2019

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I’LL BE THE FIRST to admit that I am not bold. I am not a risk taker. I dislike change.

But to read this poem I crafted with magnetic word tiles and posted on my fridge, you might think I am a bold risk taker. Not all of us are. Not all of us can be. And that’s alright. We each hold value in who we are. This poem simply expresses my creativity.

I don’t pretend to be someone I am not. Call me authentic. I like that word.

I am not loud, but I will speak up when necessary. Sometimes the quietest voices are louder than the loudest.

I value listening more than talking. Too many people like the sound of their own voices. We should all strive to listen better. It seems a mostly lost art.

When we listen, compassion and understanding happen. When we place ourselves in the shoes of someone struggling with challenges, we begin to understand. Begin to understand how words and actions can hurt. Or heal.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of judging, of thinking we have all the answers, that everything in life is black-and-white. It isn’t.

Life is a mix of colors. Some days vibrant. Other days muddied. But it is a life we are in together. If only we recognize that and try harder to care for one another. With ongoing understanding, love and compassion.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The joy of time with family-plus November 14, 2018

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I TOLD MYSELF I wouldn’t cry. And I didn’t. Not until they had exited the van, scooped together their luggage, hugged me tight and entered Terminal 2 at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport.

Then, even before Randy pulled away from the curb late Monday afternoon, the choke of parting sadness erupted for a brief moment. Until I refocused on the joy of seeing my son, of meeting his girlfriend. Of the hours during their 2 1/2-day visit from Boston that filled my mama’s heart to overflowing with love.

 

Siblings together for the first time in 15 months. My eldest is due with her second child in less than two months.

 

Caleb’s sisters joined us from an hour away and from four hours away in Madison, Wisconsin, as did the 2 ½-year-old granddaughter and a son-in-law. This marked our first time together since August 2017. Too long.

We spent most of our time just hanging out at home, gathering around the dinner table, cozying on the couch, viewing images from Paris and delighting in the novelty of a Polaroid camera. Preschooler Izzy now has a stash of photos. We celebrated my second daughter’s birthday early with gifts and well wishes and birthday candles—one on her mint bar, one on Izzy’s piece. When you’re the granddaughter, you can have a candle to blow out, too.

 

Our friendly waitress offered to take our photo before we ate our pizza.

We talked and laughed and ate too much—including the requested mint bars and potato soup and delicious meals grilled by Randy and lots more. I made hotdish, albeit not tater tot, but Amy Thielen’s Classic Chicken and Wild Rice Hotdish. You can’t host a first-time visitor to Minnesota without serving hotdish (not casserole). One evening we ate out, enjoying Caleb’s (and our) favorite Italian sausage pizza at The Signature Bar & Grill.

We toured Sunny around Faribault, showing her the places of Caleb’s youth—his schools, church, the hospital of his birth. Disappointment showed when I told Caleb the library, where he spent a lot of time while growing up, was closed on Sunday. Likewise, we couldn’t hike at River Bend Nature Center. No one wanted to risk a walk with archery deer hunting happening there. But we walked the new Virtue’s Trail, fighting a brisk wind and abnormally winter cold temps to do so.

I tried to think like someone who’d never visited Faribault. We stopped at the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store and downtown (unfortunately little is open on Sunday), drove past historic Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and pointed out the sliding hill near our home. Sunny delighted in all of it and expressed her desire to attend a county fair as we drove through the Rice County Fairgrounds. I jumped on that and invited her back. Any time.

 

Before going to the airport, we met our eldest daughter and granddaughter at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

 

It was a joy to have Sunny here. To see southern Minnesota through her eyes—to appreciate her appreciation for cozy homes, the quiet of the night, the darkness of the night sky pinpointed by stars, the spaciousness of open land, even cattle glimpsed from Interstate 35.

But mostly, it was a joy to have my house full. To be with those I love, to widen the circle of that love to include Sunny.

My mama’s heart overflows with happiness at the memories.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating a moment in life in Cannon Falls September 17, 2018

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THE NUANCES OF RURAL MINNESOTA delight me.

On a recent Saturday afternoon stop in Cannon Falls, population around 4,000, I spotted a John Deere tractor driving through the heart of downtown, wagon in tow. A bride and groom sat on straw bales as the tractor paraded past First Farmers Merchant Bank, Brewsters Bar, antique shops, the side street leading to a winery and brewery, and on down the road.

I love moments like this when I can pause to take in a joyful scene, to smile, to celebrate the happiness of another, to appreciate the rural character of southeastern Minnesota. This is why I live where I live, why I document people and places and events and life in general. It isn’t always the big things that define life, that mean the most. It is the moments of unexpected delight that bring me joy. And if I have my camera in hand, I delight in sharing these snapshots with you. In today’s world, we need more of this—more reasons to pause, to just stand there, to take it all in, to feel moments of joy.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

To have and to hold, 36 years later May 15, 2018

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Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982

 

I FLIP THROUGH THE PAGES of the photo album looking at the faces. Young. Smiling. Happy.

Thirty-six years have passed since those formal portraits were taken on my wedding day. It seems so long ago, 1982. We were just 25 then, Randy and I. But as anyone who’s now in their sixties knows, time has a way of flying. It’s not just a saying. It’s the truth.

 

A selfie of Randy and me taken in September 2017 at the walleye statue along Mille Lacs Lake in Garrison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Tomorrow soon becomes yesterday and all of a sudden you aren’t that newlywed on the cusp of life but rather that married nearly four decades couple entering the golden years of life.

I would be lying if I said married life is fairy tale perfect. Maybe in the fantasy world of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. But not in real life. We’ve faced many challenges from health to personal and family issues to injuries and accidents and deaths of loved ones. We’ve managed tight budgets and long hours of hard work and even survived many home improvement projects. And we’ve come through on the other side stronger, more appreciative of each other and maybe even better people for having endured difficulties.

Recently, Randy informed me he’s a legend. I laughed, said I would need to treat him with a higher respect. He’d been dubbed a “legend” by a customer referred to my automotive machinist husband as an expert in his field. He is. Randy is really really smart about all things automotive. And with something like 40 years of experience, he rates as a legend. I don’t know what his customers will do when he retires in a few years. I don’t care, frankly.

A favorite photo of my husband holding our then 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

Life isn’t all about work. It’s about finding time for each other and those you love. And those we love has now expanded to include our two-year-old granddaughter. I love watching my husband in his relatively new role as Grandpa to Isabelle. There’s such sweetness and tenderness in the moments they share whether reading a book or crawling around on the floor pulling Brio trains.

Thirty-six years ago I didn’t see beyond the front of the church and the face of my groom on our wedding day. I saw only the man I loved. And still love, all these decades later.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanksgiving reflections on life November 22, 2017

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A few years ago I found this vintage 1976 calendar at a garage sale. Each year prior to Thanksgiving, I hang it in my dining room as a representative reminder of life’s blessings.

WHEN I CONSIDER THANKSGIVING, I visualize the tapestry of my life woven with gratitude and blessings and, yes, even sadness. Sometimes I’d like to yank the black threads and pull away the darkness, leaving only vivid hues of happiness.

But to do so would present an imitation of my life, a cheap knock-off work of art that portrays the idealistic rather than the realistic. I don’t care who you are, where you live, what you do, you are the accumulation of life’s experiences—positive and negative.

Challenges, whether financial, health-related, personal or otherwise, shape us, make us stronger, teach us empathy and compassion and how to handle grief and anger and disappointment and frustration and pain. At the time we battle difficulties, we usually fail to see the good, the reason to give thanks. Often that comes later, as time passes, acceptance comes, situations change and reflection happens.

For example, I was bullied as a pre-teen by junior high classmates so ruthless and mean that I hated school. I cried every day, wished the teasing would end. It should have. But in those days, no one stepped in to stop the abuse. And one teacher in particular was himself a psychological abuser. Because of those two unbearable years, I hold zero tolerance for abuse whether perpetrated by a child, teen or adult. I use my words now as a way to educate, to help others, to advocate, to make a positive difference.

When I consider personal health challenges like severe osteoarthritis and resulting hip replacement, a broken shoulder, and near deafness in my right ear, I see how my empathy for others has grown, how my patience lengthened, how my thankfulness for my husband deepened. Threads of gold shimmer in the tapestry of my life, outshining the underlying less-noticed darkness of difficulties.

My life remains a work of art in progress. There are days when life circumstances seem overwhelming, when the mother in me wants to make everything better. But then I hear an uplifting song, get an encouraging email or text, hold my granddaughter, hug my husband, write something especially meaningful, talk to my son too far away in Boston, gather with friends, reach out to someone hurting. Then threads of silver and gold sparkle gratitude and thanksgiving for this life I live. Not perfect. But beautiful in blessings.

Today, may you find many reasons to give thanks for your life. Happy Thanksgiving!

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Time for a positive focus August 18, 2017

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MY THOUGHTS WEIGHED heavy earlier this week. So today I focus on the positive.

It is important in the midst of chaos, unrest and discontent to reconnect with whatever brings you joy, peace and purpose.

 

Four generations: Great Grandma Arlene, Grandma Audrey, Mother Amber and baby Isabelle, all together for the first time in July 2016. This photo represents the love of family to me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

I find my joy in my family,

 

A snippet of Jesus’ face in a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

peace in my faith,

 

Photography and writing are my passions. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

and purpose in my passions.

 

This image of a boy feeding ducks in Morehouse Park, Owatonna, Minnesota, exudes pure and simple joy to me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo November 2016.

 

May you find your place of contentment, your sense of peace, your happiness in life. You are worth it.

TELL ME: Where do you find yours?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling