Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Looking back to my “firsts” in 2018 December 31, 2018

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THE END OF THE YEAR offers a time for reflection. I could spew generalities about 2018, telling you it was a year of positives and negatives. And that would be true. But it’s a summary nearly anyone might make about 12 months of life.

Instead, I decided to list 10 firsts for me in 2018. They may seem trivial compared to what many of you have done in the past year. But I live a relatively quiet life in what is considered flyover country. And that’s just fine with me. Minnesota that is. And my small town (open to interpretation depending on where you live) life. I’m mostly content here, except when winter starts in October and stretches into April or May. But pros and cons exist wherever you live.

So let’s get to it—that list of 10 firsts for me in 2018, in no particular order.

 

Randy on the beach outside our lakeside condo timeshare in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2018.

 

1) Randy and I stayed in a lakeside condo timeshare in Detroit Lakes in west central Minnesota late this fall. (Thanks to friends who offered several days they couldn’t use.) Late October into early November isn’t the best time to visit this resort area with trees stripped of leaves and a brisk wind sweeping across the lake. But our time there proved quiet, peaceful, relaxing. I kind of liked, OK really liked, my first time ever at a lakeside condo timeshare.

 

A water feature at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, Wisconsin, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

2) As long as we’re on the travel topic, this year I discovered Madison, Wisconsin, after my second daughter and her husband moved there last spring. It’s a lovely city of abundant green space and one I look forward to exploring more.

 

An inside look at VR goggles.

 

3) Virtual reality took me on another adventure as the son brought his VR goggles home at Christmas and introduced me to a whole new world. Wow. I could go places without going places. It really was an amazing experience. You gotta remember that I grew up without a telephone and a TV (until I was about ten). Virtual reality, now that’s something.

 

 

 

4) I read my first Stephen King novel, Elevation. I’ve always steered clear of King’s books given the genre. But something prompted me to pull this short title from the library shelves. As strange as the storyline, I found some current day truths within and I’ll try another King novel soon. Even though I shied away from his fiction, King’s nonfiction book On Writing rates as my favorite book on the craft of writing.

 

A graphic illustrating options to consider due to unaffordable health insurance. Our health coverage will cost $1,603/month in 2019 with $4,000 individual deductibles. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

5) Prior to the mid-term elections, I sent my first email ever to my local state representative addressing my concerns about the high cost of health insurance. He never responded. There you go. He didn’t get my vote. If you can’t reply pre-election to a constituent…

 

Two of my posts published on Warner Press this summer. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

6) This spring I landed my first paid blogging gig. With Warner Press. I’m grateful for the opportunity to further share my writing talents with this Christian publisher. I’ve written greeting card verses for Warner for years.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a mural in Farmington, Minnesota.

 

7) I also shared my time and talents this summer by, for the first time, organizing a silent auction fundraiser for a friend in need. You can bet I was humbled and honored to hand my friend a hefty check.

 

Site of trivia night in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2018.

 

8) I learned this year that I, for sure, suck at trivia. While vacationing in Detroit Lakes, Randy and I dined at a local pizza joint on trivia night. We decided to join the fun, even enduring the stink eye of another player after Randy responded to a text from our eldest during the game. Apparently that’s a no-no. In all fairness to the host, we were told beforehand that looking up answers on our smartphones constituted cheating. We clearly weren’t cheating given our solo correct answer. Try convincing the guy at the table next to us that we didn’t cheat. We left midway into the second round.

 

Faribault tourism’s newest billboard along Interstate 35 promotes attractions in our Minnesota community, including the new 10,000 Drops Distillery. Photo edited.

 

9) A month or so ago, after an evening of theater in Faribault, Randy and I walked a half-block to 10,000 Drops Distillery, our first visit to a cocktail lounge. It won’t be our last, even though we aren’t much for drinking. It was the setting of exposed brick and wood and cozy seating areas designed for conversations that will bring us back. It’s simply a really cool place that you would expect to find in the Twin Cities metro area, not necessarily Faribault. Yes, my city may just surprise those of you who haven’t been here for awhile or who’ve never been here.

 

A sign marked the location of my granddaughter’s first birthday party in 2017. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017.

 

10) Finally, for the first time, I missed my granddaughter’s birthday party. Because of a late April snowstorm. Never mind that Isabelle was only turning two.

There you go…my memorable firsts for 2018.

TELL ME: What firsts happened in your life during the past year?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Vintage snowmobiles & memories of a snowmobile misadventure December 20, 2018

Staying warm trumps fashion during a Minnesota winter. This vintage parka accented snowmobiles on display at Sleds on Central in historic downtown Faribault.

 

MY TIME SNOWMOBILING, even though I’m a life-long Minnesotan, is limited to several ride-alongs as a teenager. I never had that much interest in the sport. Either you’re really into snowmobiling or you’re not. That’s my assessment anyway.

 

 

Even with that minimal interest, I still wanted to check out Sleds on Central, Vintage Snowmobile Show, this past Saturday as part of Faribault’s second annual Winterfest.

 

 

Once there, I focused initially on keeping my 2 ½-year-old granddaughter safe after a pick-up truck unexpectedly drove through what I thought was a closed street. Alright then. I was tempted to move orange safety cones into the traffic lanes of Central Avenue to keep vehicles out.

 

 

Instead, I steered Izzy to two pink snowmobiles. She loves anything pink. That distraction worked briefly.

 

 

Then Grandpa scooped her up…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

so I could take photos without that traffic worry.

 

 

 

 

I don’t really know much about snowmobiles, just that they can go fast, make lots of noise and break down. An avid snowmobiler would likely emphasize the positives of speed, the outdoors and winter fun.

 

Polaris snowmobiles are signature Minnesotan. The company opened in the 1950s in Roseau in far northwestern Minnesota.

 

I recall some fun rides with my cousin Kevin as he raced across the flat farm fields of southwestern Minnesota. But I also recall the not-so-fun time my older brother invited me to hop on his snowmobile for a ride across the field to the gravel pit on our family farm. Doug stopped in the pit and somehow persuaded me to get off. Then he left. Just drove away. I’ll never forget that moment of watching him speed away as I stood there in the deep snow in the cold of winter with no way back to the farm site. He must have picked me up eventually. But that abandonment is seared into my memory. I’d never trust him again on a snowmobile.

TELL ME: Are you a snowmobiler or have you ridden on one?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Autumn on a rural Minnesota acreage, a photo essay October 4, 2018

A restored windmill towers above a refurbished mini barn (soon to be art studio) on my brother and sister-in-law’s rural Redwood County acreage.

 

OF SIX FARM-RAISED SIBLINGS, only two live in the country. Neither farmers. But two work in the ag industry, one as the CEO of an ethanol company, the other as part owner in an implement dealership.

 

 

My middle brother remains in our home county of Redwood and welcomes us back for extended family gatherings, most recently our annual autumn tradition of making horseradish—157 jars this year. The tradition honors our deceased farmer father. He dug and processed horseradish roots for many years. Now we do the same but with easier methods than using an old meat grinder powered by a drill. Like Dad, we give away the condiment.

 

Sunflowers ripen and dry under the prairie sky.

 

Our annual gathering in rural Lamberton isn’t about the horseradish as much as it is about family.

 

I’ve always delighted in milkweed pods bursting with seeds.

 

 

 

While I enjoy our time together, I usually slip away to meander, to take in the rural setting, to photograph. I need that peacefulness amid all the chattering and joking and loudness of a group with some strong personalities.

 

How lovely the broom corn rising and swaying in the prairie wind.

 

My artsy sister-in-law creates vignettes like this that change with the seasons.

 

A sunflower, heavy with seed, bows to the earth.

 

I need quiet. And I need to take in the shifting of the seasons, the artful autumn displays, the aged buildings, all the visual reminders of a rural life I still miss decades removed from the country.

 

A gazing ball in a flower garden reflects sky, land and dried black-eyed susan seed heads.

 

I am grateful for the opportunity to escape to this acreage, to reclaim the serenity of rural Minnesota.

 

An old shed recently moved onto the acreage, to be rebuilt or salvaged for the wood.

 

I realize nostalgia tinges my view of country life. Much has changed since I left the farm nearly 45 years ago. But not the love I hold for the land, for the quiet and grace and muted tones of harvest time.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The value of no child left inside August 21, 2018

I appreciate the message on this license plate, photographed last fall in Nisswa, Minnesota. For every National Wildlife Federation license plate purchased in Montana, $20 goes toward programming that encourages kids in that state to get outside and play.

 

GROWING UP IN RURAL SOUTHWESTERN MINNESOTA in the 1960s and 1970s, I spent most of my time outdoors. There was nothing to keep me inside. No TV for a long time. No electronic games. No anything. Except books. And the few toys we had.

 

I love this scene of two boys who dumped their bikes at the edge of a pond to look for life in the water. I photographed this scene in October 2016 at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault.

 

The outdoors offered so much more. A grove in which to carve paths. Trees for a treehouse. A spacious farmyard for a game of softball. Tall grass for a journey West via imaginary covered wagons. Gravel drive and gravel roads for biking. Snow mountains and drifts to sled and slide and travel across. Vast expanses of grass upon which to lie and gaze at animal-shaped clouds.

Outside of play, the outdoors presented a place to work—to pull weeds from soybean rows and tassels from seed corn, to pick rocks from fields, to haul hay and buckets of milk replacer, to wheel grain and do all those chores necessary on a farm.

The house was mostly a place to sleep and eat and, on Saturday evenings, wash away the grime in the galvanized bath tub hauled from porch to kitchen.

It all sounds so nostalgic. So wonderful. And it was in many ways. But life was also admittedly hard in the kind of way that day-in-day-out, the physical labor circled in a never-ending cycle. We had little in material possessions. I suppose you could say our family lived in poverty, although I had no recognition of that at the time.

 

Boys at the turtle pond, River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.

 

We were rich, though, in our love of the outdoors, of the land. I wanted to be outside. I am thankful for having grown up in a place and time when I could roam outdoors without fear and in free play.

 

It’s important to take time and notice nature. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.

 

Most kids today are missing that unstructured free time outdoors to just be kids, to stretch their imaginations. Sometimes I wonder if kids are even capable any more of playing on their own, without adults planning an activity, a game, a sport, for them. It’s a different world. If I was a kid today and lived as I did then, I would be considered free-range and my parents probably would be the object of concern and likely under fierce attack on social media.

 

Minnesota Praiire Roots file photo, October 2016.

 

Despite the changes in society, it’s still important for kids to get outdoors–away from electronics and scheduled activities–to simply play. To use their imaginations. To be in nature. To appreciate the warmth of the sun, the waft of the wind, the scent of flowers, the smell of earth, the feel of dirt between their fingers, the taste of a sun-ripened tomato, the birdsong of morning…

THOUGHTS?

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

https://www.nwf.org/Northern-Rockies-and-Pacific-Region/Northern-Rockies

 

 

Looking for farm work June 29, 2018

A southwestern Minnesota cornfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

BEAN WALKERS and detasslers. I haven’t thought about those two farm jobs in a long time. Because I’d rather forget those summer jobs that found me laboring as a pre-teen and teen in the fields of southern Minnesota. Intense heat and humidity made those hours in corn and soybean fields nearly intolerable. But it was a way to earn money in rural Minnesota back in the 1960s and 1970s.

 

 

And still today apparently. I was surprised to read a recent ad placed in a south central Minnesota shopper by crews looking for work pulling weeds in soybean fields, detasseling corn and picking rocks. Yes, I picked rocks from farm fields, too.

 

Bins peek above a cornfield between Faribault and Dundas. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Hire on to any of those jobs and you will understand hard physical labor. I realize conditions have improved since I yanked tassels, hoed cockle-burrs and heaved rocks from fields. But still, that farm work isn’t easy.

Tell me, have you ever worked any of those three farm jobs? Or tell me about a summer job you worked as a teen. What did it teach you?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Father’s Day love in memories & greeting cards June 15, 2018

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A greeting card from my sister and me to our dad, circa early 1960s.

 

AFTER MY DAD DIED 15 years ago, Father’s Day lost significant meaning to me personally. I had no dad to give a card to or to call.

 

The message inside the duck card, signed by our mom for her daughters.

 

I love giving and receiving greeting cards. But I’ve observed that fewer people send cards these days, choosing instead to text, email, call or simply ignore important personal days of loved ones. I noticed that with my birthday last fall. Birthday cards, especially from family, once stuffed my mailbox. No more.

 

The verse inside this card reads: “For being all that a Father could be/ Loving, gentle and good;/ For your patience and generosity/ In caring for your brood;/ For the happy glow of family love/ That other folks can see–/ Darling, for all of these and more/…A million thanks from me!” My mom signed the card, “Love, Arlene.”

 

Greeting cards, past and present, still hold a place of importance for me. I especially treasure the cards my mom saved through the decades. I have some of those, among them a handful of Father’s Day cards given to my dad.

 

Three of the four of us were old enough to sign this Father’s Day card to our dad. Two more siblings would be born after this.

 

I selected a few to share here because they hold a certain sweetness in messages, graphics and signatures. They are all vintage early 1960s.

 

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

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

 

While I don’t have my dad anymore, I still have those greeting cards. And I hold memories of my farmer father who loved me and my five siblings deeply and taught us the value of faith, family and hard work. He wasn’t perfect—no one is. But he was a good man, an honest man, a man of the earth. And if I could, I’d send him a card today telling him how much I appreciated him and loved him.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

7:04 PM, June 13, 1968, Tracy, Minnesota June 13, 2018

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ELLEN HANEY. Mildred Harnden, Barbara Holbrook. Ellen Morgan. Fred Pilatus. Paul Swanson. Walter Swanson. Nancy Viahos. Otelia Werner.

They ranged in age from two to 84. The same age as my granddaughter and just a few years younger than my mom.

On this evening 50 years ago, the nine died in an F-5 tornado that ravaged the rural farming community of Tracy in my native southwestern Minnesota.

At 7:04 p.m. today, church bells will ring in Tracy, marking the precise time the twister, with wind speeds surpassing 300 mph, roared into town killing those nine residents, injuring 125 and desecrating the landscape.

 

A residential street, once covered in branches and debris, had to be plowed to allow vehicles to pass. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma, Tracy native and author of Out of the Blue, a book about the Tracy tornado.

 

All these decades later, the visual memories of that devastation still flash before my eyes in twisted, broken trees and piles of jumbled lumber, once homes. I was an impressionable almost 12-year-old when my dad drove our family 25 miles southwest from our farm to Tracy just days after the storm. You don’t forget a scene like that—such utter and chaotic destruction that a place no longer resembles a town. For that reason I’ve always feared and respected tornadoes.

I’ve written many times about the Tracy tornado. I’d encourage you to read those posts by clicking here.

 

Some of the injured at the Tracy Hospital. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma.

 

Tracy residents, current and former, remain committed to honoring the memories of those who died in the June 13, 1968, tornado. Last weekend the town held events to commemorate the 50th anniversary. That included tolling of the Lutheran church bell and the release of nine black balloons. A noted Twin Cities meteorologist and storm chaser came to town as did Scott Thoma, hometown boy who authored a book, Out of the Blue, about the tornado. Locals shared tornado stories in words and in photos posted on a memory wall. A Tornado Tree Memorial has long been in place. Selected 2018-2019 Tracy area high school graduates will receive scholarships given in the names of those who died. Monies from the sale of “Never Forget” t-shirts are funding those financial gifts.

Never Forget. Those two words have themed this 50th anniversary remembrance.

 

Surveying the destruction at Tracy Elementary School, which was destroyed. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma.

 

Down in Nashville, Tracy native and award-winning songwriter Dennis Morgan, penned, performed and recorded a song, “The Ballad of the Tracy Tornado, 50 Years Later.” Morgan was just 15 and cleaning a calf pen when he and his family spotted the twister from their farm west of town. They raced to get their father from a field where he was cultivating corn before sheltering in a neighbor’s basement. Morgan sent 300 copies of his ballad CD to his hometown with all sale proceeds designated for the Tracy Fire Department and Ambulance Service.

 

Eric Lantz, 16, of Walnut Grove, shot this award-winning photo of the Tracy tornado as it was leaving town. He often took photos for the Walnut Grove Tribune, owned by his uncle, Everett Lantz. This image by Eric was awarded third place in the 1968 National Newspaper Association contest for best news photo. This copyrighted photo is courtesy of Scott Thoma with the original copyright retained by Eric Lantz.

 

While researching this post, I also noted an iconic, award-winning tornado photo on the City of Tracy website. The image was taken by then 16-year-old Eric Lantz for the Walnut Grove Tribune. Today that photo takes me back to this small town on the prairie as, at 7:04 pm 50 years later, I schedule this post to publish. I shall never forget…

 

© Text copyright of Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Images copyrighted as noted.