Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Published in Oakwood: My latest rural-rooted poem honors my farm wife mom April 28, 2017

An abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta, my hometown. The house is no longer standing. This image represents my rural heritage and looks similar to the house I called home for the first 11 years of my life. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MORE THAN 40 YEARS removed from the farm, my creative voice remains decidedly rural, especially in the poetry I write.

My latest published poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” honors the woman who raised me, alongside my father, on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm. My parents were of good German stock, a hardworking couple who believed in God, in family and in the land. I carry that heritage with me, ever grateful for my rural upbringing.

 

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, taken in 1980.

 

Life in rural Minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s was hard. I see that now from the perspective of an adult. My dad worked long hard hours in the barn milking cows and equally long hard hours in the fields. Farming was much more labor intensive then.

 

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

 

Likewise, my mom’s job of caring for our family of eight required long hard hours of labor. She tended a large garden, preserved fruits and vegetables to stock the freezer and cellar shelves, baked bread from scratch, washed clothes with a wringer washer, did without a bathroom or telephone or television for many years, and much more.

 

My parents, Vern and Arlene, on their September 25, 1954, wedding day.

 

Sometimes I think how much easier my mother’s life would have been had she not married my dad and stayed at her town job in Marshall.

 

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That’s me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings. I write about this red-and-white checked floor in my poem.

 

But then I remind myself of how much family means to my mom and I could not imagine her life without any of her six children. She centered us, grounded us, taught us kindness and gratitude, instilled in us a loving and compassionate spirit.

 

Arlene’s 1951 graduation portrait.

 

She has always been mom to me, a mother now nearing age 85. But there was a time when she was Arlene, not somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother. There was a time when she and my dad danced away a Saturday night in a southwestern Minnesota dance hall. They met at a dance.

 

The promo for Oakwood 2017 features “Dancing with Fire,” the art of Samuel T. Krueger. Promo image courtesy of Oakwood.

 

Those thoughts inspired me to write “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” published last week in South Dakota State University’s literary journal, Oakwood. I am honored to have my poem selected for inclusion with the work of other writers and artists from the Northern Great Plains. It’s a quality publication that represents well those of us who call this middle-of-the country, often overlooked place, home.

 

Ode to My Farm Wife Mother

Before my brother,
you were Saturday nights at the Blue Moon Ballroom—
a bottle of Jim Beam whiskey in a brown paper bag,
Old Spice scenting your dampened curls,
Perry Como crooning love in your ear.

Then motherhood quelled your dancing duet.
Interludes passed between births
until the sixth, and final, baby slipped into your world
in 1967. Thirteen years after you married.
Not at all unlucky.

Life shifted to the thrum of the Maytag,
sing-song nursery rhymes,
sway of Naugahyde rocker on red-and-white checked linoleum.
Your skin smelled of baby and yeasty homemade bread
and your kisses tasted of sweet apple jelly.

In the rhythm of your days, you still danced,
but to the beat of farm life—
laundry tangled on the clothesline,
charred burgers jazzed with ketch-up,
finances rocked by falling corn and soybean prices.

Yet, you showed gratitude in bowed head,
hard work in a sun-baked garden,
sweetness in peanut butter oatmeal bars,
endurance in endless summer days of canning,
goodness in the kindness of silence.

All of this I remember now
as you shove your walker down the halls of Parkview.
in the final set of your life, in a place far removed
from Blue Moon Ballroom memories
and the young woman you once were.

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Four generations: Great Grandma Arlene, Grandma Audrey, mother Amber and baby Isabelle, all together for the first time in July 2016 in rural southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

I took some liberties with my poem. I doubt my mom ever drank whiskey. But back in the day, folks brought booze bottles in brown paper bags to dances for set-ups. She didn’t dance in the Blue Moon Ballroom, although one once stood in Marshall. Arlene went to dances in Ghent, in a dance hall whose name eludes me. Blue Moon sounds more poetic. But the rest of the poem is factual right down to the Naugahyde rocker and my mom shoving her walker down the hallways of Parkview.

FYI: You can view my poem on page 78 of Oakwood, found online by clicking here. My bio is published on page 89, listed among the other 40 contributors’ bios. I am grateful to SDSU in Brookings for the opportunity to be part of this magazine which showcases the creative voices of Plains writers and artists. I shall always feel proud of my rural upbringing, the single greatest influence on me as a poet, a writer, a photographer.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Embracing the writing & art of the Northern Great Plains at SDSU April 19, 2017

“The Prairie is My Garden,” a painting by South Dakota artist Harvey Dunn, showcases the prairie I so love. Here I’ve photographed most of a print which I purchased at a yard sale. I bought the art because I liked it and only learned afterward of its value and prominence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ONE OF MY FAVORITE PRINTS, “The Prairie is my Garden,” is rooted in South Dakota. The artist, Harvey Dunn, was born in a claim shanty near Manchester, west of Brookings.

I’ve been to Brookings. Once. While in college, I accompanied a roommate to her hometown where her dad owned the John Deere dealership. I don’t remember a lot about that visit except the fancy house in which my roommate’s family lived and our attendance at the annual Hobo Day Parade. That tradition of South Dakota State University, which peaks in a Jackrabbits football game, is going on its 105th year.

As you’ve likely surmised, Brookings is rural oriented, the university known for its ag focused majors. Students, for example, make ice cream and cheese from milk produced at the SDSU Dairy Research and Training Facility. This is a hands-on college that draws many a rural raised student.

 

The promo for Oakwood 2017 features “Dancing with Fire,” the art of Samuel T. Krueger. Promo image courtesy of Oakwood.

 

This university, where students work with farm animals and where the prairie paintings of a noted Plains artist are housed in the South Dakota Art Museum, seems the ideal setting for Oakwood, a literary journal. Featuring the work of SDSU students, staff and alumni and also of greater Brookings artists/writers and others in the Northern Great Plains region, the magazine releases this Thursday. According to the Oakwood website, the journal embraces a regional identity.

I am happy to be part of that identity with the inclusion of my poem, “Ode to my Farm Wife Mother,” inspired by my mom. She raised me and five other children on a dairy and crop farm about 1 ½ hours northeast of Brookings in Redwood County, Minnesota.

 

A gravel road just north of Lamberton in Redwood County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Most of the poetry I write is based on prairie life. I write with a strong sense of place. The endless open space and wide skies of the prairie lend themselves to creativity. Within the stark setting of rural southwestern Minnesota, I noticed details—the strength of the people, the blackness of the earth, the immensity of the setting sun, the sharpness of a winter wind, the quiet of stillness. I can trace my poetry, my photos, everything I create, to that rural upbringing. I am honored to have my latest poem selected for inclusion in Oakwood 2017 as a writer from the Northern Great Plains.

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FYI: A public reception will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 20, at the SDSU Briggs Library & Special Collections for writers and artists whose work is included in Oakwood 2017. Readings and talks will be featured. Because I live nearly four hours away, I can’t be there. When I can share my poem with you, I’ll do so.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My award-winning water story publishes April 8, 2017

 

 

“Water Stories from a Minnesota Prairie Perspective” has published in southern Minnesota based River Valley Woman’s April issue. My story won the nonfiction category in the “We Are Water” writing contest sponsored by Plum Creek Initiative with the support of The League of Women Voters and River Valley Woman. That honor includes a $250 prize.

I don’t have a hard copy yet, but I viewed the story online. And so can you by clicking here and advancing to page 50 of the April issue. The piece is lengthy per submission guidelines requiring 5 – 12 pages of copy.

No matter how many times I’ve been published, I still thrill in seeing my words out there for others to read and perhaps appreciate. You can find print copies of the magazine in many locations like Mankato, St. Peter, New Ulm, Redwood Falls and surrounding smaller communities. Click here for a complete list.

In reading my story, you will learn of my growing up years on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm, the place that shaped me into the person, writer and photographer I’ve become. Farm life as I remember it from the 1960s – 1970s no longer exists. So this story, while written for a competition, was also written for me and my family. There’s an importance in reclaiming memories through written words, in telling the stories that define a place, in sharing my roots with you, my readers.

FYI: Click here to read my first blog post about winning this writing competition.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots needs your nomination July 11, 2015

Best of Southern MN 2015 logo

ONCE AGAIN, I INVITE YOU to nominate Minnesota Prairie Roots as the best local blog in southern Minnesota, this time for 2015. But nominate my blog only if you consider me worthy of the honor bestowed by SouthernMinn Scene, a regional arts/entertainment/lifestyle magazine.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots has been voted the best in southern Minnesota.

Minnesota Prairie Roots was voted the best local blog in southern Minnesota in 2014.

 

Last year, because of your support, my blog was chosen as the best in southern Minnesota. Thank you.

To nominate Minnesota Prairie Roots, click here to reach the miscellaneous section of the ballot and scroll to the bottom. You are allowed one nomination per category per email address. You can vote for lots of other southern Minnesota favorites, too. Nomination deadline is July 31.

Top nominees will then move on to the official ballot with voting beginning August 3.

Thank you for your consideration and for reading Minnesota Prairie Roots. I am grateful.

 

Creativity unleashed at Bethany, my alma mater January 14, 2013

TYPICALLY, COLLEGE ALUMNI magazines hold my interest only long enough to thumb to the section where class updates are printed. I read those and then toss the publication into the recycling bin.

But recently, the bold, artsy cover of the November issue of the Bethany Report, the alumni magazine of Bethany Lutheran College, caused me to take a closer look at an article detailing the school’s new media arts program. I’m a Bethany grad, which in 1976 offered only a two-year associate arts degree to undergraduates.

Today this scenic hilltop campus in Mankato offers an array of four-year degrees, including one in communications, my eventual major at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Oh, how I wish majors and minors had been available back in my Bethany years, because I loved that small Christian college.

All of that aside, today’s Bethany students with an interest in communications, the fine arts and technology can enroll in the media arts major. I don’t pretend to know how Bethany’s program compares to that of other colleges.

I did my own editing on this recent photo of a Bethany billboard along U.S. Highway 14.

I did my own editing on this recent photo of a Bethany billboard along U.S. Highway 14.

But when I saw that magazine cover design emphasizing the media arts program and then an equally vivid, eye-catching billboard along U.S. Highway 14 near Janesville recently, I was impressed enough to visit the BLC website.

There I clicked onto a portfolio showcasing the creations of current and former students.

I’m no expert on the fusing of art, technology and communication. But I liked what I saw. And perhaps that uninformed spontaneous reaction counts for more than the dissected opinion of anyone in academia.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Meet 10 Minnesota bloggers, a contest winner & more January 11, 2012

THEY WRITE FROM EVERY section of the state—from the southwestern Minnesota prairie to up north on the Gunflint Trail and the Iron Range to the heart of the Twin Cities metro area and places in between.

They are your next-door neighbor, the guy in the office, the young mother down the street, the 20-something…just regular folks who write online.

They are bloggers.

Thus, dear readers of Minnesota Prairie Roots, begins a feature package on 10 Minnesota bloggers, plus one (that would be me), just published in the winter issue of Minnesota Moments.

As a writer for this central Minnesota based magazine, I have the opportunity to present story proposals to the editor and then, when approved, pursue those ideas.

In the blogger package, you’ll meet these Minnesota bloggers with distinct voices: Aaron J. Brown, Nina Hedin, Ada Igoe, Beth Johanneck, Laura Karsjens, Gretchen O’Donnell, Gary Sankary, Brenda Score, Michael Wojahn and Emily Zweber. (Click here to read the story online.)

Prior to my search, I’d already been following about half of these writers. Finding the remaining five proved more challenging than I anticipated. Eventually I found them and if you check out their blogs, I think you will agree that they write in a way that’s as comfortable as sharing conversation over a cup of coffee.

MY SECOND MAJOR PROJECT for this issue focused on a contest, “Snapshots of Love,” which I created and curated. Magazine readers were invited to submit vintage black-and-white candid photos on the theme of love and then share what the photos told them about love.

We received some truly impressive images and stories that made selecting a winner difficult. However, in the end, Jeanne Everhart of Erhard was chosen as the winner with a 1948 picture of her and her sister riding the tricycle they shared. Her story will move you. View all of our contest entries by clicking here.

Jeanne Chase hitches a ride from her sister Sylvia in this 1948 photo taken at the sisters' home in Inman Township, Otter Tail County, Minn.

Since I came up with this contest idea, I also had to find prizes for our winner. I didn’t need to look far. Nina Hedin, one of the featured bloggers, also runs an etsy shop, Camp Honeybelle, and agreed to contribute a $25 gift certificate toward the prize package.

Bernie Nordman Wahl, a Duluth native now living in Billings, Montana, graciously created a card-a-month collection of vintage style greeting cards for our winner. Bernie sells her handmade cards on her Budugalee etsy shop. You simply must see her cards; this artist possesses a delightful sense of humor. Be sure also to visit Bernie’s One Mixed Bag blog. If Bernie still lived in Minnesota, she most definitely would have been included in my Minnesota bloggers feature.

But…, Bernie is in this issue. Her story, “A simple wooden plate equals love,” was published in our “moments in time” reader-submitted stories section. It’s a sweet story of family love.

Mary Bruno of St. Joseph-based Bruno Press and the subject of a story in Minnesota Moments’ fall issue, rounded out the prize package by contributing a letterpress, vintage graphics fine art print. If you’ve read my post on the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, you know how much I appreciate vintage printing.

One of the 26 handmade cards with a vintage flair crafted by Bernie Nordman Wahl for contest winner Jeanne Everhart.

VINTAGE COULD ALSO DEFINE the subject of one other story I  wrote for this issue—a “back in the day” piece on The Last Supper Drama which will be presented for the 50th time this Palm Sunday at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault. Yes, that’s right: 50 consecutive years.

I’ve attended this interpretation of The Last Supper twice and blogged about it. Click here to read that blog post. The photos published in the magazine printed way too dark, so the quality is not what you have come to expect in my photography. Please try to overlook that when you read the story.

A scene from the 2011 Last Supper Drama at St. John's UCC.

FINALLY, THIS CANNOT GO without mentioning. Swanville, Minnesota, native Joanne Fluke, who is a New York Times best-selling author, has a full-page ad on the inside front cover of this issue. She writes the “Hannah Swensen Mystery with Recipes!” series. She was the subject of a feature I wrote several years ago for the magazine. Her “Hannah” stories are set in fictitious Lake Eden, Minnesota.

Anyway, Joanne’s publisher, Kensington Publishing, is sponsoring a contest right now with a chance to win a Joanne Fluke gift basket.

So there, dear readers, you have just one more reason to check out the winter edition of Minnesota Moments.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Give the gift of Minnesota writing December 20, 2011

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ALRIGHT THEN, I’m going to put in a days-before-Christmas gift plug idea here for Lake Region Review, a Minnesota literary magazine. Even though the founders, term it a “magazine,” I’d call this 138-page volume a “book.”

Anyway, magazine/book/journal, whatever word you choose, it’s a collection of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry by 27 Minnesotans, including me.

In my “This Barn Remembers” poem, you’ll read my memories of laboring in my childhood dairy barn on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. You may want to pull on your old boots as you muck your way through my true-to-reality poem. I tell it like it was, right down to “putrid piles of manure” and “streams of hot cow pee.”

I’m not going to choose a favorite piece of poetry or prose to highlight from Lake Region Review. But you’ll find regional writing from those as well-known as New York Times bestselling author Leif Enger to unknown college student Travis Moore in a collection that melds work by experienced and emerging writers. By the way, getting published in the Review was a competitive process. You’ll read quality writing here.

That all said, Lake Region Review would make an ideal gift for anyone who appreciates regional writing.

You can purchase the $10 volume in these Minnesota, and one North Dakota, locales:

  • Becker County Museum, 714 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes
  • Cherry Street Books, 503 Broadway, Alexandria
  • Lakes Area Theatre, 2214 Geneva Road, N.E., Alexandria
  • Minnesota Historical Society Bookstore, 345 W. Kellogg Blvd, St. Paul
  • Otter Tail County Historical Society, 1110 Lincoln Ave. W., Fergus Falls
  • Victor Lundeens, 126 West Lincoln Ave., Fergus Falls
  • Zandbroz Variety, 420 Broadway, Fargo, N.D.

Or click on this link for instructions on how to order. (Sorry, the anthology won’t arrive by Christmas.)

Thanks for supporting Minnesota writers like me (not that I earned any money from the Review—I didn’t). But I certainly appreciate readers who value regional writing.

IF YOU’VE READ Lake Region Review, I’d like to hear your review.

CLICK HERE to read a previous post I wrote about Lake Region Review and another Minnesota literary journal, The Talking Stick.