Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Love defined on Valentine’s Day February 14, 2018

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This fabric heart, crafted by one of my children in elementary school, hangs on my back door.

 

AS A TEEN, I clipped Love is… cartoons from the newspaper and tacked them onto my bright yellow smiley face bulletin board in my lime green and partially paneled basement bedroom with the candy stripe carpet. I found the cutesy cartoon created by Kim Casali dreamy in the context of a dreamy teen.

 

I have several vintage valentines from my mom’s collection and have displayed them for Valentine’s Day.

 

Above my twin bed, I also taped a black-and-white poster photo of Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, stars in the 1970 movie, Love Story. Oh, how I loved that movie of love and tragedy and a rather feisty Jennifer Cavelleri who used shocking words like bulls**t.

Back then I believed the famous Love Story line: Love means never having to say you’re sorry. That, my friends, is BS.

 

I created a love vignette on a chest of drawers in my dining room. Included are this wood cut-out, wedding photos and vintage and homemade valentines.

 

After 36 years of marriage, I’ve learned the importance of apologizing. And I’ve learned that love deepens and widens and grows with each shared experience. Good and bad. Love bends. Love changes. Love listens, understands, forgives, encourages, supports, serves.

 

Friends who moved from Faribault to near Fargo crafted and mailed this cute owl valentine to us.

 

That definition extends to all who love each other, whether as partners, friends, family.

Love is care and compassion and kindness. It is being there through the joys and the challenges. It is also exercising self-control—clamping your lips, stopping your fingers from sending a hurtful text or email… It is about calling a friend or family member who needs support. It’s about asking, “How are you?” and really meaning it.

 

A snippet of the valentine my 22-month-old granddaughter, with the help of her mama, crafted for me and her grandpa. I love it.

 

This Valentine’s Day, I hope we can all be a little kinder to one another. I hope we can show love in ways that extend beyond chocolate and flowers and dinner out. I hope we can truly be there for one another in ways that surpass some Hollywood version of love. I hope we can listen and believe and care. I hope we can love how we were meant to love.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers. I value and appreciate you.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Watching the 2018 Winter Olympics from the perspective of a Minnesota soldier’s daughter February 13, 2018

My dad, Elvern Kletscher, at Camp McNair in Korea, photo dated February 14 (1953).

 

WATCHING THE WINTER OLYMPICS the past several days, I’ve felt a closeness to my deceased father. He walked this soil, this mountainous land so different from the flat, open farm land of his southwestern Minnesota home.

 

This photo from my dad’s collection is tagged as “Kim, Rowe, Allen & me, May 1953 Machine Gun Crew.” That’s my father on the right.

 

He landed here in 1952 with a ship full of other U.S. Army soldiers, gun in hand. A young man sent here by his government to fight on foreign land in a region that still is without solid peace. He fought on the front lines. Kill or be killed. Buddies dying. Explosions and hungry Korean orphans begging for food across barbed wire and him eating bark from trees and cold that felt even colder than the coldest of Minnesota winters.

 

This photo, pulled from the shoebox which holds my dad’s military photos, is simply labeled “front line.” That would be “front line” as in Korea, where my soldier father fought.

 

When I see the blowing snow and rugged mountain ranges during Olympics coverage, I think of my foot solider infantryman father, ranging through and over those Korean mountains. Scared. Yet doing what he must to survive. Kill or be killed.

 

My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

 

I think of him on Heartbreak Ridge, picking off a sniper who had taken many of his buddies. And I think of the fiery shrapnel piercing his skin and the Purple Heart he would claim decades later, when he was an old man. Because a fire had destroyed his military records. Because he had tucked most of his war memories away. Because no one cared about what happened on a Korean mountaintop in 1953.

 

On the back of this photo, my dad simply wrote “a letter from home.” I appreciate this photo of my dad taken by an unknown buddy in Korea.

 

I regret that I didn’t understand him and the inner turmoil he carried with him from Korea back home to Minnesota. I regret that I didn’t ask more about his war experiences, that I didn’t recognize the trauma he suffered as a result. I regret that healing never fully came, although he found understanding and solace in the company of other veterans with similar shared experiences late in life.

All of this I consider when I view the Olympic athletes in their designer clothing, medals around their necks, applause of crowds, praise of many.

All of this I consider when I see the sister of the North Korean dictator seated behind our Vice President.

All of this I consider when I view those Korean mountains flashing across my TV screen.

 

Dad penciled on the back of this 1953 photo from Korea: “Sgt Smith & me from the States to Korea.”

 

I think of my dad as I retrieve a shoebox full of his black-and-white Korean War era photos. I sit on the sofa filing through those curled images while Olympic athletes ski and skate and propel themselves down an icy tunnel. On the back of one photo, I read my dad’s cursive notation: me in Korea May, 53.

Sixty-five years have passed since he left Korea. I wish I could sit with him now, ask him about his time in Korea, about the stories behind those photos. Perhaps he would talk, perhaps not.

 

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea.

 

I wonder, would he turn off the television or would he watch the Olympians perform? Could he handle seeing the backdrop of those rugged mountains where too many of his buddies died? Would he flash back to the horrors of war?

 

My dad carried home a July 31, 1953, memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe.

 

The reality is that I can’t ask him. He died in 2003. But I can write. I can use my words to tell his story, to apologize for my lack of understanding, to honor him. And this I do as Olympians cross country ski, stop, sprawl stomach down, then fire their rifles in this land, this Korea. This land where my soldier father from Minnesota shot his weapon, too. Kill or be killed.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In celebration of my daughter & son on their February birthdays February 9, 2018

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A cake made by my niece, also named Amber, for her daughter several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

FEBRUARY BRINGS NOT ONLY the dreaded time of year when I must prepare information for the tax preparer. But it, thankfully, also brings joy as two of my three now grown children celebrate birthdays. Today and tomorrow.

 

Amber at six months old. File photo.

 

Eight years apart in age, Amber and Caleb are at two distinctly different points in their lives. Amber is well-settled into married life and life as a mom to Izzy, nearly two. Caleb lives with several other guys in a greater Boston apartment and is just beginning his career in technology.

With nearly 1,400 miles separating my oldest and youngest and with their sister living in between in eastern Wisconsin, we manage to gather as a family about once a year—the last time for a family reunion in August. I don’t like that such distances separate us. But it is our reality and we rely on technology to stay connected.

 

Caleb at 1 1/2 days old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

When I think back on the connection between my eldest daughter and her brother, I smile. From the day I came home from the hospital with my 10 lb., 12 oz. bruiser baby boy, Amber doted on him. She was at the perfect age to embrace a baby. Later Amber assumed the role of teacher, teaching Caleb his numbers, the alphabet and more. She read books to him, too, and simply loved on her brother.

 

Caleb and Amber. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2017.

 

That love still shines strong. When I observe the two of them together, I see the depth of love they hold for each other in the gentle teasing, the arm draped across the shoulder, the warm hugs. Amber has been there for her brother, always, whether working a puzzle with him at age four or flying across the country to Boston years later.

I see in Caleb an admiration for his sister, a genuine desire to spend time with her when he’s back in Minnesota. I note him bonding with his niece. When I see Caleb holding Isabelle and reading to her, my mama’s heart overflows with love. Love is coming full circle.

On these two February days, the ninth and the tenth, I celebrate Amber and Caleb. I have watched them grow into two loving, caring and strong individuals. I am honored to be their mom. While geographical distance separates us, love keeps us close. For that I am grateful.

 

Amber at three months. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Happy birthday, Amber!

 

One of my all-time favorite photos of my son at age five. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Happy birthday, Caleb!

I love you both more than pizza. And, yes, that is an inside-the-family saying.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Angels we have seen on high December 15, 2017

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YEARS HAVE PASSED since I thought about this observation: The angels are baking cookies.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

But when a family member recently noticed the gold and pink tinge of the evening sky, she suggested the cherubs were busy baking Christmas cookies.

Unless you’re a Helbling family member, you’ve likely never heard this comparison of the sunset, or sunrise, to angelic bakers. It’s an interpretation attributed to my late mother-in-law, passed on to her children and then to her grandchildren.

Many times while they were growing up, my three kids directed me to look outside, to see the fiery sky, to see the angels baking cookies. It is a sweet part of family lore passed from one generation to the next.

This time of year, traditions and stories seem more important than ever. What are some of your family stories and/or traditions? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Passing a love of books onto the next generation November 30, 2017

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My granddaughter with a book.

 

I HAVE ALWAYS loved books. Always. They have taught, inspired, uplifted, entertained and challenged me and so much more.

 

I didn’t have many books as a young child because my parents couldn’t afford them. But I had this one, which I recently spotted (and should have bought) at a Pequot Lakes antique shop

 

A favorite childhood storybook, Three Billy Goats Gruff, instilled in me a fondness for goats and for fairy tales. And a beginning reader book, Joey the Kangaroo, endeared me to kangaroos. As my reading skills advanced, I treasured my hardcover copies of Little House on the Prairie, The Bobbsey Twins, Little Women and The Five Little Peppers.

Somewhere in that time-frame I discovered Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Those series led to a life-long love of mysteries, my favorite genre.

I thrilled in bringing home book orders from school and ordering a paperback or two to add to my bedroom bookshelf. Even though money was tight in our family, Mom allowed me to select books like Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle and Other Modern Verse.

 

When Izzy visits, she often heads straight for this basket crammed with 14 books (current count) and a few toys. While I washed dishes one morning, she pulled the books from the basket one-by-one and “read” each one.

 

When I became a mom in 1986 and birthed more children 21 months and six years later, my time to indulge in leisurely reading vanished. Instead, I found myself with a baby or child on my lap or snuggled next to me on the couch with hardboard and picture books in hand. When my eldest turned six, I was already reading The Little House and Betsy-Tacy series to her and her four-year-old sister.

 

When Izzy opened an I Spy book, I showed her how a matchbox bus matched the photo. I said the word “bus,” then repeated myself. At 20 months, she’s learning new words at a rapid pace.

 

I hold dear those memories of reading to Amber, Miranda and Caleb. All three of my kids love to read. Miranda fixated on horses for awhile, our local librarian Mary Jane always on the watch for new equine books.

 

I love this photo of Izzy “reading.” She didn’t even notice me with my camera, so engrossed was she in her book.

 

Reminders of those youthful passions for reading linger in bookshelves packed with science fiction and fantasy books in Caleb’s former bedroom. My son also frequented the nonfiction section of the local library seeking out books to teach himself juggling, magic tricks, computer programming and more. He loves to learn and never wanted to wait for a teacher to teach him. Today, with a computer science degree, he works in that field and continues to pursue learning. He holds an innate desire and passion for knowledge.

Both of my girls worked in the local library while in high school and later at their respective college libraries. They have never been far from books—whether listening to stories read at home or at library story hour, participating in summer reading programs, filing books on library shelves or simply just reading on their own.

 

One of Izzy’s favorite books to read at my house is All Year Round With Little Frog. When she pushes on the plastic frog, it squeaks. I read this book to Izzy’s Uncle Caleb more than 20 years ago.

 

My kids are grown and gone now. But the importance of reading remains, circling back now to the next generation. My granddaughter, Isabelle, loves to page through books and to be read to by her parents and others who love her, including me. She’s already completed her first summer reading program, attends storytime at the library and has a significant collection of books.

 

My husband, Randy, reads to his granddaughter during an overnight stay at our house several months ago.

 

Izzy has received, says my librarian friend Kathleen, “the gift of generational literacy.” I’ve never thought of the continuum of loving books in that way. But I love that phrase. “Miss Izzy loves books because you instilled that love in her mom (and her sister and brother)…and now, another generation benefits…and on and on,” Kathleen observed. Izzy’s daddy, too, enjoys reading, a gift of generational literacy also passed from his family.

 

Izzy pages through her mama’s childhood book, Moo, Moo, Peekaboo.

 

To watch Isabelle page through books I once read to her mama, aunt or uncle brings me much joy. The words I read some 30 years ago tumble from my memory as I hold Izzy close and recite from memory Moo, moo! Peekaboo, we see you, cow!

 

TELL ME: Have you received the gift of generational literacy and/or passed that gift along?

© Copyright 2017 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

 

Brainerd memories November 20, 2017

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Life could be compared to a beaded necklace, each bead representing a memory. Together the beads form a necklace, an accumulation of our life stories. Artist Cyrus Swann created this necklace with handmade porcelain beads and displayed at Crossing Arts Alliance in downtown Brainerd as part of the recent “ART TO WEAR, TEXTILES AND BEYOND” exhibit.

 

MORE AND MORE THESE DAYS, the quickness of time catches me by surprise like the first brisk wind of winter stinging my face.

 

Like the varied art in the “ART TO WEAR, TEXTILES AND BEYOND” exhibit, we each hold unique qualities, shaped by our experiences, our personalities and more. The center showcased garment is the work of Carolyn Abbott and is titled “Missus Carolyn Quite Contrary.”

 

I pull my wool jacket closer, tighten my scarf, wrap my hands in the warmth of gloves. Those actions won’t stop winter. But they keep me warm, comfortable.

So do positive memories.

 

This art by Lisa Jordan seems to hold years of memories.

 

Many decades of memories—difficult and joyful, mundane and remarkable, everyday and extraordinary—crowd my brain. Some seem so distant, as if another person lived that life in another place in another body.

In reviewing my life, I page through the chapters of growing up, of college and jobs and then marriage and family and, finally, today, the reality of a house now empty of children with Randy and me back at start.

 

 

We brought to our marriage those years when no connection existed between us. And those are the 25 years that still yield discoveries. On a recent trip to central Minnesota, we stayed two nights in Brainerd. Randy attended vocational school there more than 40 years ago. He knows the town. I don’t.

 

Chain businesses, and homegrown businesses, edge main routes in Brainerd. Many are new since Randy lived here in the mid 1970s.

 

But in four decades, things change. That proved the resounding theme. “That wasn’t there. That’s gone,” Randy repeated. And on and on. In the context of revisiting a community you left long ago, the reality of aging strikes hard.

 

I always appreciate public art, including this sculpture of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox on a downtown Brainerd street corner.

 

One of my favorite discoveries: this gathering space for knitters inside Utrinkets, a yarn, antiques and boutique shop along Laurel Street. Loved the place and the people.

 

It was nice to see this locally owned bridal and formal wear shop downtown.

 

Downtown carried a sense of emptiness, surprising us both as we pulled into Brainerd on a late mid-week afternoon in September. I held a preconceived image of a city crammed with mom-and-pop shops. Sure, they exist. But not as in you can’t find a place to park and we’ll never have enough time to get to all these shops (like in Park Rapids or Stillwater).

As a side note, while writing this post I learned that Brainerd is among two Minnesota cities recently selected as one of 20 finalists competing for the coveted spot of featured town in Small Business Revolution–Main Street, Season Three. The other is Owatonna, just a dozen miles from my home. The winner garners a substantial monetary prize and a Main Street revitalization plan.

 

No photo ban at the bridal shop, but a shoe ban instead, which makes sense.

 

But back to my Brainerd visit, where, after our stop downtown and a long day of travel, I wanted a craft beer. Much searching and many wrong turns, later, we eventually found Roundhouse Brewery in a railroad yard posted with signs forbidding photography. Photo bans irk me when I view so much visual storytelling potential. So I drank my beer, chatted it up with locals and simply enjoyed the evening before we headed to a hotel and dinner out.

 

I laughed at this sign outside Hockey House Minnesota in downtown Brainerd.

 

The next day we aimed north to Nisswa and Pequot Lakes, returning to our Brainerd hotel and a second town tour as the sun edged evening toward night. I tried to be patient while Randy wove the van down street after street, even snailing by Granny Growler’s house where he and two friends rented rooms and strained spaghetti in the bath tub. (The upstairs lacked a kitchen.) I’ve heard the tale too many times not to believe its truth.

 

The Crow Wing County Courthouse.

 

Randy talked of walking to the nearby vo-tech, now part of the high school campus, and reminisced about working in the tire shop at JC Penney. Or was it Sears? His words blurred, the memories he spoke holding much more meaning for him than for me.

 

The historic water tower, photographed as we drove by it.

 

The landmark Lions head drinking fountain, here since 1968.

 

 

Still, in the decades of change, some things remain unchanged in Brainerd—like the water tower and the lion’s head drinking fountain. There’s comfort in that, in tangible places that endure time, that still hold seasons of memories.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling