Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating the birthday of Charles M. Schulz November 26, 2022

Peanuts characters adorn the former Kay’s Floral building in downtown Faribault during a 2015 holiday decorating contest. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

IF YOU READ A COMIC STRIP TODAY, November 26, you may notice something different. Something that honors Minneapolis-born cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. Cartoonists are celebrating what would have been Schulz’s 100th birthday by incorporating tributes into their comics today. I love this idea. It seems fitting for the Peanuts’ creator who died in 2000.

Generations have followed the antics, trials and stories of the Peanuts characters, 70 strong, since the comic strip debuted in October 1950. The beloved Charlie Brown. Vocal Lucy. Security blanket carrying Linus. Inquisitive Sally. Piano pounding Schroeder. The imaginative Snoopy. The list goes on and on.

When our kids were little, they sprawled across the living room floor on Sunday afternoons aside Randy as he read the funnies to them. I would watch from a corner of the couch, content and smiling as they progressed through the Sunday comics, Peanuts a favorite.

Linus greets visitors to the Dyckman Free Library in Sleepy Eye. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2015)

Schulz and his cast of characters will always hold a special place in the hearts of Minnesotans. Minneapolis-born, Schulz grew up in neighboring St. Paul. Eventually, he taught at Art Instruction Schools in Minneapolis, where he initially studied art through a correspondence course. There he met Linus Maurer, a native of Sleepy Eye in southwestern Minnesota. Maurer also taught at the school and was a successful syndicated cartoonist, magazine illustrator and painter. And, yes, Schulz honored his friend by naming one of his characters Linus van Pelt, brother of Lucy and best friend of Charlie Brown.

I lived and worked in Sleepy Eye for six months in 1980 as a journalist. Whenever I return to my home region, I typically go through Sleepy Eye, passing by Dyckman Free Library. A statue of Linus clutching his blue blankie and a red heart proclaiming love for Sleepy Eye sits on the library lawn bordering the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway/US Highway 14. Next time I need to stop, see Linus up close, step inside the library if it’s open.

Lucy van Pelt at MSAD. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Here in Faribault, I discovered a statue of Lucy van Pelt while wandering the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus earlier this year. There an over-sized rural-themed Lucy stood outside the entrance to Quinn Hall. It has since been relocated during a renovation and construction project. I don’t know the backstory on how Lucy came to be at MSAD. But I believe she is part of the 2002 “Peanuts on Parade, Looking for Lucy” artistic endeavor.

When I last stopped by the post office for stamps, I picked up a sheet of Peanuts stamps, not realizing at the time why Schulz and his characters were selected for postage stamp publication. I overlooked the “CHARLES M. SCHULZ CENTENNIAL 2022” wordage. But today I’m not overlooking this Minnesota-born creative who brought so much joy, so much insight (yes, insight), so much happiness into the world. Yesterday. And still today, 100 years after his birth.

TELL ME: Who’s your favorite Peanuts character and why?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Focusing on gratitude from family to creativity November 23, 2022

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A reason to feel grateful, hung on a Gratitude Tree outside the Northfield Public Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2019)

EVEN IN A DECIDEDLY DIFFICULT YEAR, as 2022 has been for me, many reasons exist to feel grateful. I fully realized that upon putting pen to paper to compile a gratitude list during this, Thanksgiving week.

Me with my mom. Oh, how I miss her. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling)

The year started with the death of my mom on January 13, during the height of Omicron. It was, undeniably, a challenging time to lose her, not that any time is easy. But COVID compounded the situation, affecting my grief process. Memories from her funeral will always be really hard for me. Ten months later, my focus is one of thankfulness for my mom. She instilled in me care, compassion, kindness…and left a legacy of faith. What a gift. I will also forever feel grateful to the staff at Parkview, who so lovingly cared for Mom for many years like she was family. I am thankful, too, to the many friends who sent comforting sympathy cards and memorials and to my friend Kathleen, who created a memory book honoring my mom.

Wedding guests toss rice at Randy and me as we exit St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta following our May 15, 1982, wedding. (Photo credit: Williams Studio in Redwood Falls)

May brought a milestone wedding anniversary for Randy and me. Forty years. I don’t recall how we celebrated, but nothing splashy. I feel thankfulness every day for this man who loves me unconditionally, supports me and still makes me laugh.

Randy and our grandchildren, Isabelle and Isaac, follow the pine-edged driveway at the lake cabin in one of my all-time favorite family images. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2020)

My immediate family means everything to me. That my two young grandchildren live only 35 minutes away is not something I ever take for granted. From celebrating birthdays and holidays to picking strawberries and apples together to overnights at our house to being there in a crisis, this grandma is grateful for the geographic nearness. There’s nothing like the joy I hold in being a grandmother. The hugs. The snuggles. Reading books. Baking together. Getting down on the floor to play. Scooping the almost four-year-old off the floor and into my arms, little lips pressing a moist kiss upon my cheek.

Twice this year I also embraced dear uncles and an aunt whom I haven’t seen in awhile. I hosted Aunt Rachel and Uncle Bob, visiting from Missouri, for lunch. And I met Uncle John and his son Justin and family for lunch in Northfield. Oh, goodness, the happiness I felt in those hugs from extended family I love dearly.

Flying into Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

Soon my son, who lives in Indiana, will be back for a short Christmas stay. I cannot wait. I haven’t seen Caleb in a year and I miss him so much at times that it almost hurts. But before then, my second daughter and her husband arrive from Madison, Wisconsin, to celebrate Thanksgiving in Minnesota. You bet I feel grateful for the time we will have together. I miss my girl.

Randy and Isabelle on the dock at the lake cabin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

As I write this thanksgiving list, I realize that most gratitude centers on family. That includes time together at a lake cabin owned by a sister-in-law and brother-in-law who open their guest cabin to extended family. Their sharing of this blessing shows such love and generosity of spirit and I feel forever grateful for this place to escape, to enjoy nature, to rest and relax, to rejuvenate, to make memories.

Following a gravel road in Rice County, near Dundas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo autumn 2022)

I am thankful also for (in no particular order), country drives with Randy; gathering around a bonfire with friends; writers and journalists and poets and artists; vaccines; medical professionals who provided emergency and extended care this year for those dearest to me; democracy…

My two poems, far left, and center, in an exhibit at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

Lastly, I am grateful for my creative abilities. To write and photograph bring me incredible joy, and some side income. I appreciate that my creative work is valued, published. My creativity came full circle this autumn when I traveled back to my native southwestern Minnesota to view an exhibit, “Making Lyon County Home,” at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall. Two of my poems, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” and “Hope of a Farmer,” are posted in the exhibit along with a four-generation family photo and my mom’s high school graduation portrait. After touring that exhibit, I visited Mom’s grave site in my hometown. I stood there atop the hillside cemetery surrounded by corn and soybean fields under a spacious prairie sky feeling overwhelmed by sadness, yet grateful for the love we shared.

TELL ME: What are you especially grateful for this Thanksgiving? I welcome specifics, especially.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Music, memories & a heartwarming moment November 17, 2022

This shows a portion of the recital program cover. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted & edited photo November 2022)

RECENTLY I ATTENDED a senior voice recital for a vocal music education major whom I cared for as a preschooler. His mom, my friend Jane, invited me. I was delighted to join the family in celebrating Nick’s musical accomplishments and those of another music student, Josie.

I didn’t know quite what to expect. I’ve never been to a senior voice recital at a college. And I haven’t seen Nick in a really long time. He and his family moved from southern Minnesota to Duluth when he was about four. Sure, I’ve seen the yearly Christmas photos. But that’s not the same as seeing someone in person after a significant time span.

When Nick walked onto the performance stage in that beautiful recital hall at St. Olaf College in Northfield, my jaw nearly dropped. The preschooler I remembered had stretched lean and tall. Yet the Nick I recalled was still there, just a grown-up version of himself.

Then, when Nick opened his mouth and a deep bass-baritone boomed, I experienced another jaw-dropping moment. There was no resemblance to the voice of the four-year-old who loved to sing pa-rum pum pum pum, repeating the refrain from “Little Drummer Boy” as he played on my living floor all those years ago. Yet, the same love of singing remained, now refined and flowing with ease from the depths of a young man clearly gifted in and passionate about music.

From my side seat, I had a good view of Nick and his mom, who never stopped smiling. It was such a joy to watch both of them and to hear “my” little boy, all grown up, performing with such skill, such talent, such grace and, occasionally, drama.

Afterwards, I approached Nick, realizing he wouldn’t recognize me. But, since he knew I was coming, he was prepared and wrapped me in a hug. It was a heartwarming moment, this embrace from the little boy who once held, and always will hold, a piece of my heart.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I thrift & some thrifting finds November 2, 2022

Vintage glasses found in a Northfield thrift store, Used-A-Bit Shoppe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

VIA UPBRINGING AND FINANCIAL NECESSITY, I am a thrifter. I believe in recycling, reusing, repurposing, upcycling, whatever term you peg to using that which has already been used.

Thrifting is a great way to find affordable art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As a child, I occasionally wore clothes stitched from feed sacks. Or maybe they were flour sacks. Doesn’t matter. The point is that farm women like my mom were innovative in crafting clothing for their children. Clothes were passed down from oldest to youngest (ask my sister how much she “hated” my hand-me-downs), from cousins to cousins. Store-bought clothes were always selected from the sales rack.

Furniture crams a space at Used-A-Bit Shoppe in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Throughout my entire life I’ve held that perspective of passing along, of not needing new. My first furniture—a worn green arm chair and sofa from the 1950s—in my first apartment came from my parents’ living room. My waterfall desk and kitchen table and chairs came from my maternal Grandpa, chest of drawers from my childhood bedroom. My coffee table was a wooden crate that once held newsprint or some print-related part from Crow River Press, the Hutchinson press that printed The Gaylord Hub, my first place of employment out of college.

These colorful plates caught my eye. Dinnerware is always in stock at thrift shops and garage sales. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Into marriage and child-rearing, I purchased used. Baby equipment and kids’ clothes came from garage sales. Likewise I’ve amassed a vast collection of original art from thrift shops, rummage sales and recycled art sales. Furniture passed down from family or acquired at garage sales or auctions defines most of the furniture in my house. Even today. My dishes are the indestructible Spring Blossom Green Corelle dinnerware, once my mom’s company dishes, now my everyday dinnerware.

An overview of used merchandise in the households section of Used-A-Bit Shoppe, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I’m pleased that items made decades ago continue to function in my home. I feel no need to update. Old is often constructed better than new. Old often holds memories, too. That matters.

A sandwich board outside Used-A-Bit Shoppe, River Park Mall, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Even though I’m at that age when I no longer want more stuff, that doesn’t keep me from occasional thrift shopping. That differs from thrift purchasing. If I notice a garage sale while out and about, I’ll stop. The same goes for thrift stores like Used-A-Bit Shoppe in Northfield. Recently I popped into the shoppe in the River Park Mall. Housed in two separate spaces, one area features furniture and the other a mix of glassware, dinnerware, home décor, collectibles, puzzles, books, linens, toys and much much more. Proceeds from the volunteer-run nonprofit benefit FiftyNorth, a gathering place for older adults (and a whole lot more).

Smiley faces were popular when I was a teen in the 1970s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Each time I meander through a thrift store, I find goods that draw me close. Something will trigger a memory, evoke a feeling, catch my eye. On this visit, a smiley face bowl took me back to the 1970s when sunny yellow smiling faces were everywhere. I even had a smiley face bulletin board in my lime green bedroom.

One of several quilt blocks, some finished, others not. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

I delight, too, in art and vintage glassware. When a Used-A-Bit volunteer showed me a stash of finished and unfinished quilt blocks, I paused to appreciate the handiwork and consider the woman who stitched them. I wondered why anyone would give up this connection to a loved one. We all have our reasons for letting go.

A colorful beverage cart from Costa Rica. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The furniture side of the shoppe, where I last purchased a framed vintage print of University Hall at Purdue for my son, a graduate student there, presented the most unusual finds of the day. A colorful ox cart/beverage cart from Costa Rica is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I could envision this reused in some utilitarian, fun way. On a patio. At a restaurant. In another shop.

This image shows the size of the 1968 world wall map. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

But the show-stopper of my Northfield thrift shopping was a pull-down 1968 world map. That massive map took me straight back to Vesta Elementary School, to the maps teachers unfurled to open our minds to places beyond the farm fields of southwestern Minnesota. Priced at only $75, I considered the vintage map a work of art, a piece of history, a memory-keeper.

Interesting artsy vessels at Used-A-Bit Shoppe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Colorful kids’ chairs just waiting for the right buyer at Used-A-Bit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An artsy vase… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

There’s so much to be found when thrifting. Art. History. Enough to furnish a home. Entertainment. Memories. And in the all of it, this recycling of goods benefits our planet by keeping stuff out of landfills.

The 1968 world wall map up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

TELL ME: Are you a thrifter? If yes, where do you thrift and what are some of your most treasured finds?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the 70s to today, caring about Earth September 12, 2022

A massive wind turbine at Faribault Energy Park dwarfs my husband, Randy, walking near it. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

COMING OF AGE in the early 1970s, I held a general awareness of environmental concerns. A respect for the earth and the environment was beginning to emerge as young people and others raised their voices.

Cattails flourish in the park wetlands. Restoration, rather than draining, of wetlands is the norm today. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I remember the anti-littering campaigns. The concerns about water and air pollution. The efforts to limit billboards. I recall, too, Earth Shoes, although I’m uncertain what that footwear had to do with anything environmental.

This trail leads to the wind turbine, a teaching tool inside Faribault Energy Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Perhaps previous generations cared, too, but it seems the young people of the 70s started a new environmental movement that pushed personal and societal responsibilities in caring for our planet. Those efforts continue today, but with additional focuses: climate change, alternative energy, electric-powered vehicles and more. Today’s young adults are among those leading the way in discussions and effective change.

I grow milkweeds in my Faribault yard. I photographed this milkweed flower with an unknown insect atop at the energy park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I feel such hope. Within my own family circle, my eldest daughter and son-in-law compost food and bio-degradable paper products. My son owns an e-bike, not a car, his primary mode of transportation between his Indiana apartment and Purdue University. We recycle, donate or give away items we no longer need. Every little bit helps. My young granddaughter wears hand-me-downs from her cousins. Just like her mother before her, whom I outfitted primarily via rummage sale purchases.

Unlike this dead frog flattened on a road at the energy park, thrifting/recycling/upcycling is very much alive. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Thrifting is in vogue. I recently spoke with a shop owner in Northfield who said local college students flock to her antiques and collectibles store to buy vintage clothing from one particular vendor.

Solar panels inside the park focus on alternative energy. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Across the Minnesota countryside, solar fields are replacing crop fields. Wind turbines are popping up, too, adding to those that have been around for decades.

Bold red berries burst color into the park’s landscape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

It makes a difference—these seemingly small and big changes. A shift in attitudes with a new-found appreciation for our natural world can preserve, and hopefully, improve this place we call home.

A sign posted inside Faribault Energy Park lays out the rules. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Faribault Energy Park, owned and managed by the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, aims to model environmental responsibility and innovation, according to its website. The power plant is a dual-fuel (natural gas and fuel oil) facility which runs only during periods of high demand for electricity.

Dirt roads wind around two ponds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Although I’ve never been inside this power plant (tours are offered, primarily to schools), I’ve walked the grounds many times. The MMPA created a public park here on its 35 acres of wetlands. I love following the dirt roads that wind around ponds. And while it’s not the most peaceful place given the location along busy Interstate 35, the park still holds an appeal for me.

Beauty even in a thistle growing along pond’s edge. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

On this particular visit, I didn’t see any waterfowl, unusual, but perhaps not due to avian influenza. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

One of many birds observed inside the park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

That enjoyment comes in vegetation—cattails, flowers, trees, grasses—and in the birds, including waterfowl.

Anglers fish this pond next to the Faribault Energy Park power plant. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Other visitors fish here, in the large pond next to the power plant. This is also an educational grounds with a massive wind turbine and a stand of solar panels in place.

I especially like walking this park around sunset. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Combined, these elements remind me that I cannot take the natural world for granted, that I need to be environmentally-aware, that I need to do my part to protect and preserve Earth. I continue to learn, some 50 years after an awareness sparked within me that I really ought to care about this planet on a personal level.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rural Dundas show prompts tractor memories September 4, 2022

John Deere tractors parked near the log cabin at the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

GROWING UP ON A CROP and dairy farm in southwestern Minnesota, tractors are part of my history. I am familiar with the putt-putt-putt of an aged John Deere, the maneuverable size of a B Farmall, the necessity of a dependable tractor.

Rumely Oil Pull tractors were sold between 1910-1930. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The tractor is the workhorse of the farm. That remains as true today as it did 50 years ago when I still lived in rural Redwood County.

The Massey-Harris is the featured tractor at this year’s show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

So when I attended the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas on Friday, I began reminiscing. I expect many others did the same while meandering among the rows of vintage tractors or watching the daily high noon parade. This event is heavy on the tractors, threshing machines and farm equipment in general. And that holds appeal for those of us rooted in farms.

Guiding a vintage Allis Chalmers along the parade route on Friday. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I am old enough to remember tractors without cabs, air conditioning, GPS or other technology. Instead, my dad’s tractors were shaded from the hot summer sun by an umbrella, protected from the winter cold by canvas and guided solely by the skill of hands on the steering wheel.

John Deere tractors like the one I rode in winter to catch the bus to school. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

My most memorable tractor story is that of Dad driving my brother Doug and me the mile into Vesta on the open cab John Deere in the dead of winter so we could get to school. We were both in junior high then, attending school in the county seat some 20 miles to the east. It was a particularly snowy and brutal winter, so awful that buses couldn’t venture onto rural roads to pick up students. If we could get into town, we could catch the bus at the local cafe. From there, the bus took a state highway to the school in Redwood Falls.

Not a B Farmall, but an IH tractor none-the-less. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Dad wasn’t partial to any tractor brand. He owned John Deere, International Harvester and Ford tractors. The B Farmall remains my favorite as I drove that small scale IH tractor in the farmyard, pulling the flatbed trailer up to the feed bunk to unload hay for the cows.

I found this toy John Deere tractor for sale from vendor Shippy’s Toys. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

John Deere likewise will always hold a special spot in my heart. I remember once a year attending John Deere Days at the farm implement dealership in Redwood Falls. That included a free meal followed by a John Deere promotional movie at the local theater. To eat ice cream from a plastic cup with a little wooden “spoon” and to see a movie on a screen were treats, not to mention the door prizes. Like silver dollars. And bags of seed corn.

Aged threshing machines, well before my time, on exhibit. There are threshing demonstrations during the show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Aging has a way of making us view the past through a nostalgic lens. Yet the reality of life on the farm in the 1960s and 1970s is one of hard work and challenges. Uncontrollable factors—weather, prices and more—have always made farming a gamble. Yet, for those of us who grew up on the land, there’s an undeniable sense of hardiness within us, even decades removed from the farm.

Allis Chalmers tractors are among those displayed in the field of tractors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

When I attend an event like the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show, I reconnect to my past. Remembering. Appreciating. Thankful for the land and hard work that shaped me personally and professionally. I expect that’s true for many who walk the show grounds at this rural-rooted annual event in southern Minnesota.

A 1921 Titan International. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

FYI: The Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show continues today (Sunday, September 4) with gates opening at 7 am and closing at 5:30 pm on the grounds south of Dundas along Minnesota State Highway 3. For more information, visit the club website and/or read my first post on this year’s event. This show is about much more than tractors and other farm equipment.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A tale from Buckman, not of Billygoats but of a ballpark August 24, 2022

Outside Bell Field in Faribault, two oversized baseballs flank the ballpark entry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

AH, SUMMER IN MINNESOTA. It is, unequivocally, a season packed with outdoor activities. Like baseball. I’m not a fan. But many are.

Beautiful and historic Bell Field in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A banner welcomes baseball fans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A section of the stands at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My community of Faribault, along with neighboring Dundas and Miesville, is currently hosting the Minnesota Baseball Association State Amateur Tournament in Classes B and C. That means lots of teams and fans are in town on the weekend to watch baseball at Faribault’s Bell Field.

Brackets posted at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My husband, Randy, was among the spectators Saturday evening when his hometown team, the Buckman Billygoats, faced the Cannon Falls Bears. In the end, the Billygoats defeated the Bears 7-1. They will be back at Bell Field at 4:30 p.m. Saturday to play the Luverne Redbirds.

Downtown Buckman, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020)

Even though 48 years have passed since Randy left the family farm southeast of Buckman, he remains forever rooted to this small town in Morrison County in central Minnesota. He is connected to the baseball field there, just south of St. Michael’s Catholic Church. Not because he played ball. No, not that. There’s a story, though…

The playing field at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the summer of 1972, Randy joined a team of teenagers in painting a new outfield fence. When I write fence, I mean 4 x 8-foot plywood panels pieced together. The six teens went through lots of barn red paint, purchased in 5-gallon buckets.

Businesses advertise at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Local businesses could pay to advertise. Randy and his co-workers, employed through a summer community action program for low income families, stenciled, then painted the business names onto the fence panels. Cindy and Marge traced the stencils, then they all (including Randy’s older sister Vivian) brushed the letters in with white paint.

Rules posted in a Bell Field dug-out. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But as Randy tells the story, the owner of the local grocery store deviated from the plan and decided to craft his own bold advertisement. He removed the two centerfield panels, painted them green and stenciled his business name thereon. And, remembers Randy, those fence sections stuck out like… Exactly as intended.

Bell Field has its own version of Bottle Cap Stadium in its BEER CAVE. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Randy holds other memories from that summer of working at the ballpark in Buckman. He remembers a homemade sign labeling the field as Bottle Cap Stadium. Somebody (he has his suspicions) picked up beer and bottle caps from the grounds, formed the identifying words from the caps and then nailed them onto plywood.

Bell Field is home to The Lakers, who just missed making this year’s tournament. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

He also recalls a sign tagging the ball field as “The Home of the Buckman Saints.” Whether the ball team was ever called the Saints is uncertain. But it makes sense given St. Michael’s Catholic Church and School just to the north.

On rainy days when the team of teens couldn’t work at the ballpark, they painted classrooms. Randy recalls the day he and the rest prepared to paint Mrs. Weber’s classroom. Rose Weber, mother of Minnesota author and forensic psychologist Frank Weber, was Randy’s fifth grade teacher and is likely related to current Billygoats player Aaron Weber. She chose pink and blue for her classroom. “Who picked these colors?” Reuben at the hardware store asked. Mrs. Weber was later called in to assess a section of newly-painted wall in her chosen color combo.

“She looked at it, didn’t like it and picked green and yellow, John Deere green and yellow,” Randy said. I can only imagine how those farm kids viewed the tractor colors chosen for the fifth grade classroom.

A baseball lodged in overhead netting at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Circling back to the beginning…, if not for Randy’s attendance at the Buckman Billygoats’ baseball game last Saturday evening in Faribault, I never would have heard these stories from the Summer of 1972. Nor would I have learned this about my husband of 40 years: “You wonder why I don’t like to paint,” he said. “I was sick of painting that summer.”

Point taken.

More stories will be written at the state tournaments. Here’s hoping the Buckman Billygoats win on Saturday. If anyone knows where Randy can get a Billygoats t-shirt, please comment. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But, my sister-in-law Vivian noted, “We sure had a lot of fun!” Some Buckman ballpark-related stories shall remain unwritten…

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Southern Minnesota bird stories, past & present July 27, 2022

A tiny bird perches in a fountain at the Rice County Master Gardeners Garden, Faribault, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

I HAVE A MIXED OPINION of birds. I appreciate them at a distance, but not necessarily up close, although I’ve grown more comfortable with their nearness as I’ve aged. Just don’t plunk me in an enclosed garage or other space with a trapped bird. Outdoors is mostly fine.

Unfolding of wings to splash in the fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Recently I observed a cute little yellow bird, a finch, I think, dip into a tree stump water feature at the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens at the county fairgrounds in Faribault. With a zoom lens on my 35 mm camera, I photographed the finch briefly splash in the water before flitting away. There was something joyful in that sole moment of focusing on a tiny winged creature.

Water droplets fly as this bird bathes in the fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

We need such moments of simplicity. Of peace. Of birdsong, even if this bird isn’t singing. Moments to quiet our souls in the midst of too much busyness and too many distractions. And too much technology.

I remember how my mom loved the Baltimore orioles that one year, quite unexpectedly, showed up on my childhood farm in southwestern Minnesota flashing orange into the trees. She thrilled in their presence among all the blackbirds, sparrows and barn swallows. In her delight, Mom taught me that not all birds were like the swooping swallows I despised.

In my years of doing farm chores, I grew to dislike the swallows that dived as I pushed a wheelbarrow of ground feed down the barn aisle or shoved cow manure into gutters. That the barn ceiling was low only magnified their, to me, menacing presence. The swallows, I now acknowledge, were only protecting their territory, their young, in the mud nests they built inside the barn. And they ate mosquitoes, which I should have appreciated.

Yet I don’t miss the swallows or the rooster that terrorized my siblings and me, until the day Dad grabbed the axe and ended that.

More than 40 years removed from the farm, I seldom see barn swallows. Rather, in my Faribault backyard, I spot cardinals, wrens, robins and occasionally a blue jay. The front and side yards, however, bring massive crows lunching on remnants of fast food tossed by inconsiderate motorists who find my property a convenient place to toss their trash. I’ll never understand that disrespectful mindset of throwing greasy wrappers and bags, food bits, empty bottles and cans, cigarette butts, and more out a vehicle window.

And so these are my evolving bird stories—of shifting from a long ago annoyance of swallows to understanding their behavior, of delighting in the definitive whistle of a cardinal flashing red into the wooded hillside behind my Faribault home, of observing the feeding habits of crows in my front and side yards drawn to garbage tossed by negligent humans.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear your bird stories, positive or negative.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Garden connections in Faribault, Part II July 25, 2022

In early July, lilies bloomed in the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

IN MY FARIBAULT BACKYARD, wild tiger lilies stretch above a tangled mess of greenery, popping orange into the hillside. On the other side of town, domesticated orange lilies grace the neatly-cultivated Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

The master gardeners’ milkweed patch. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Also in my yard are scattered milkweeds, food for Monarch caterpillars. In the gardens tended by the experts, a mass of intentionally-planted milkweeds flourishes.

Clematis. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Blocks away from my home, Donahue’s Greenhouse grows one of the largest selections of clematis in the U.S. That’s their specialty. Across town at the master gardeners’ garden, clematis climb an arbor, lovely blooms opening to the summer sky.

The Berry-Go-Round. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Within a short distance of my home is the birthplace of the Tilt-A-Whirl, a carnival ride no longer made in Faribault but in Texas. On the edge of the master gardeners’ garden, a giant strawberry sits. It’s a Berry-Go-Round, a spin ride produced by Sellner Manufacturing beginning in 1987, before the company was sold.

Prickly pear cactus. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

More than 150 miles to the southwest of Faribault near the South Dakota border, prickly pear cactus thrive in the rocky lands of the prairie. I’ve seen them at Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne. And now I’ve seen them in the gardens at the local fairgrounds.

An overview of the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens, photographed in early July, with an historic school and church (part of the county historical society) in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

It’s interesting how, in life, so many connections exist. Even in a garden.

One of several benches in the master gardeners’ garden in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Gardens connect us to people, places, memories. A life that touches others goes on forever. I come from a family of gardeners tracing back generations. Vegetables grown in my mother’s massive garden fed me, and my family of origin, for the first 18 years of my life. I worked that garden with her, planting, weeding, tending, harvesting. I left gardening when I left southwestern Minnesota. But I still appreciate gardeners and gardens.

An artsy scene of clematis on arbor. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I value the beauty of flower gardens, the purpose of vegetable gardens to feed. And I appreciate, too, the peace a garden brings. To sit among the blooms and plants in a garden oasis like the Rice County master gardeners created is to feel a calm, a sense of serenity in the midst of chaos and struggles and challenges.

The water feature is shaped like tree stumps. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Water, especially, soothes me. The Rice County master gardeners understand that and added a water feature to their garden plot. I delighted in watching a tiny yellow bird (I think a goldfinch) splash in the water. Such a simple joy.

One of many educational signs in the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

And isn’t that part of a garden’s purpose—to bring joy? Joy to those who work the soil, seed or plant, tend and care for that which grows. Joy to those who delight in the all of it.

A sedum patch planted by the master gardeners. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I feel such gratitude for gardeners, for the nurturing hands that link me to nature. It’s all about connecting to each other in this world we share, in the commonality of humanity.

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Please click here to read my first post about the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens. Watch for one final post in this three-part series.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Car stories July 22, 2022

I expect the driver of this 1956 Plymouth Plaza has stories to share about the vintage car he drove to the Faribault car show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

ATTENDING THE July 15 Downtown Faribault Car Cruise Night prompted the stories I am about to share. Experiences create stories, which help us to understand and connect with one another. What are your car memories?

Mine are of my bachelor Uncle Mike’s blue-green Nash Rambler, a small (for 1960) boxy car. He didn’t need a roomy car. I remember the Rambler for its size, its color and its name. And its novelty among all the Chevys and Fords.

And then there was Grandpa Bode’s salmon-hued car, make and model unknown to me then and now. The color imprints upon my mind as does the rapid blink-blink-blink of the blinker. If I heard the sound now, I would still recognize it. But to describe the distinct blink proves impossible. I remember also the clear plastic that covered the seats and how, on hot summer days, the bumpy plastic stuck to my legs.

Heading north on Central Avenue in Faribault near the end of the July 15 Downtown Car Cruise Night. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Grandma Kletscher drove a boat of a car. Large, white. Occasionally she threaded a garden hose into the exhaust pipe, started the car and gassed the moles tunneling through her yard. She was stubborn, determined, innovative. I recall, too, riding with her in that car to nearby Belview to shop for fabric at the general store. She would choose yardage for shapeless dresses I stitched for her. Simple. Zipper tracing down the back. Darts at the bustline. Short-sleeves. Basic dresses to cover her stout frame.

I recall, too, my dad’s 1959 black-and-white Chevy Impala, our family car until he sold it to a neighbor boy and later wished he hadn’t.

Dad liked spacious Impalas. I remember his second Impala, blue in color, and how our family of eight, plus Grandpa, piled inside for our once-a-year trip to visit relatives in The Cities. We packed like sardines, shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip with no wiggle room between kids. If not for the excitement of actually leaving the farm for some distant travel, I doubt we would have managed the miles. But the adventure kept us focused as we watched for the Flying Red Horse and Caterpillar landmarks, our GPS of sorts along with a paper road map pulled from the glove box.

All the vehicles along Central Avenue hold stories. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

And then there was my first car, a 1976 yellow Mercury Comet purchased right after my graduation from college. It soon garnered the nickname, Vomit. Two flat tires on the day I bought the former rental car from Florida should have sent me back to the Minnesota dealer. The car seemed to have endless mechanical and other problems. A door that wouldn’t close all the way in the depths of winter. A black interior that heated like a sauna in the summer. And too many other issues that fit the Vomit moniker.

Yet, my Vomit with the “press” sticker adhered to the windshield got me to where I needed to be during my early days as a newspaper reporter: chasing fire trucks, interviewing sources, attending endless local government and school board meetings, trying to source information about a murder in New Ulm, covering a homecoming celebration in Odin in 1981 for Bruce Laingen, an American diplomat held hostage in Iran for 444 days…

Those are my car stories. We all have them. What are yours?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling