Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My yard is not the landfill & other examples of littering May 19, 2017

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AS A TEEN, I LABORED one summer for the Redwood County Highway Department through a program for low income youth. Our team of four high school students mostly plotted surveyors’ work onto graph paper, but also flagged one day and picked up litter in road ditches.

That experience of gathering debris which motorists and their passengers tossed out windows left me with zero tolerance for litter. Pick up a dirty disposable diaper, too much paper (with the exception of the torn love letter we found and pieced together over lunch) and too many beverage containers and you can appreciate my perspective.

I don’t understand why people use the roadside as a public dumping grounds for trash they are too lazy to toss into the garbage.

 

 

What prompted this post? The first was the recent deposit of a McDonald’s bag into the middle of the side street by my Faribault home. The second was the dropping, or tossing, of a beer bottle onto the sidewalk in my front yard a few days later. At least the glass didn’t shatter.

 

I found this tire repair tool in a street corner flowerbed.

 

I live along a busy street on a corner lot which means lots of stuff—newspapers, Styrofoam containers, plastic bags, cans, bottles and even a tire repair tool—ends up on my property.

 

This ball rolled into my yard this winter.

 

I’ve acquired a few balls over the years that have rolled down the side street hill and into my yard. Typically I have no idea from whence they’ve come.

 

 

To the left in this image, you can see the black tire mark on the siding.

 

Once a tire broke loose from a car and careened down the hill, just missing the gas hook-up on the side of the house. A black rubber streak still marks that near disaster. Thankfully the motorist claimed his tire.

A driver also claimed his car when it rolled, driverless, down a steep side street and struck my next door neighbor’s house many years ago.

The run-away tire and car are not exactly litter. But I expect tread-bare tires are dumped in ditches and vehicles are abandoned where they shouldn’t be. I don’t understand this illegal dumping. Why do people do this?

 

Photographed at River Bend Nature Center on Saturday afternoon.

 

I especially don’t understand the leaving behind of trash at a nature preserve. On Saturday I spotted a Burger King cup on a bench in the outdoor amphitheater at River Bend Nature Center. A nature center, for gosh sakes. This is the last place I would expect to see improperly disposed of trash.

 

TELL ME: What’s the worst example of littering you’ve seen?

Recently, the Trinity Faribault Radio Club cleaned a section of Interstate 35 near Faribault through the Adopt-a-Highway program. Seven individuals picked up 13 (40-gallon) bags of trash. The traveling trophy for the most unusual find was awarded to the volunteer who found a 10-foot long motor home awning.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, for the poetic beauty of sunrises & sunsets in Minnesota May 1, 2017

 

SOMETIMES I WONDER if nature can offer anything more beautiful than a sunrise or a sunset. But then I have not seen the mountains of the West or the deserts of the Southwest or the ocean other than the Atlantic once.

 

 

Still, the sunrise and sunset are universal. We all see the same sun, just in different places.

 

 

Farm fields and a wide sky backdropped my youthful vision of the sun. To this day, for me, there’s nothing quite like a prairie sunset, the blazing ball of the sun overwhelming the southwestern Minnesota landscape. Those childhood memories leave me grieving for the sunsets I’ve missed while living in a valley within a city for 33 years. Hillside and trees filter and block the sinking sun.

 

 

Still, living in Faribault, a southeastern Minnesota community situated along rivers and lake, gives me an opportunity to view the sunset waterside. And there is beauty in that, too, in the reflections that dance poetry across water backdropped by a day shifting from twilight to dusk to dark.

 

 

FYI: These images were taken in mid-March from the shores of Wells Lake at King Mill Park along the Cannon River in Faribault. Click here to see additional photos of the above sunset as I entered Faribault along Highway 60 from the east.

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Writing poetry as the sun rises

My fingertips linger within a mere whisper of the keyboard
as I pause, half-thought, words interrupted mid-phrase,
to tilt my head toward the window and the sunrise
spreading gold and pink across the sky like jam on toast.

In that morning moment, I desire nothing more
than to dip my fingers into the jar of dawn,
to sample her sweetness, to taste of her earthy goodness,
to delight in sunshine and rain and succulent fruit plucked from vines.

But language beckons me back to the keyboard,
to dip my fingers into the jar of words,
to choose and shape and share the poetry that rises within me,
in rhythm and verse upon the breaking day.

 

FYI: My poem about the sunrise published in Poetic Strokes, A Regional Anthology of Poetry From Southeastern Minnesota, 2012.

© Copyright 2017 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.

                                         #

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

 

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

 

Westward, ho: A surprising discovery at the Cannon Mall March 16, 2017

 

I’VE SHOPPED MANY ANTIQUE stores and malls. But this is a first: an 1840 Conestoga wagon for sale. Not to be confused with a covered wagon, this heavy-duty wagon hails from the Conestoga River region of Pennsylvania.

 

Beautiful lighting marks Thora Mae’s inside the Cannon Mall.

 

Inside the Cannon Mall, which houses about a half-dozen businesses.

 

Storefront windows to Thora Mae’s Timeless Treasures, 31284 64th Avenue Path, Cannon Falls.

 

If not for my husband noticing a fabric Antiques sign fluttering in the breeze along the highway, we would have missed this rare find inside the Cannon Mall in Cannon Falls. We didn’t even know the mall existed and we’ve visited this southeastern Minnesota community numerous times.

 

Vintage and other signage directs shoppers to Thora Mae’s.

 

Thora Mae’s has lots of vintage signage, most of it rural, for sale.

 

Another sign at Thora Mae’s…

 

But there is was, hidden from our view and housing a hardware store, Chinese restaurant, dollar store, an occasional shop and Thora Mae’s Timeless Treasures. This is one antique shop worth your visit. It’s bright, well-organized and filled with an abundance of yesteryear merchandise.

 

 

Given our late arrival shortly before closing on a Saturday afternoon, Randy and I had minimal time to poke around. And I spent some of that precious shopping time focused on the Conestoga wagon. Signage reveals the wagon traveled four times along the Oregon Trail and was used on the set of the TV western “Wagon Train.” That series ran from 1957 – 1965.

 

 

Dr. Joseph Link Jr. donated the wagon to the Hamilton County Park District in, I believe, the Cincinnati area in 1975. I couldn’t access online info to learn more during a quick search.

 

There’s even a western theme in a portion of this Thora Mae’s window display.

 

Now, if you’re my Baby Boomer age, you grew up watching and re-enacting westerns and appreciate anything that jolts those childhood memories. Right now I’m thinking straw cowboy hats, cap guns, stick horses and a red wagon, aka an improvised covered wagon.

 

 

For $6,000, I could have the real deal, the real experience and a genuine piece of early American history.

 

 

TELL ME: What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever seen for sale at an antique shop?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Barn memories February 28, 2017

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barn-85-barn-fence

 

MY APPRECIATION FOR and fascination with aged barns remains strong, steadfast, unwavering. That interest springs from childhood years of laboring in a southwestern Minnesota dairy barn.

 

barn-15-barn-2-silos

 

As the second oldest in a family of six children, I was tasked early on with doing chores alongside my eldest brother. Dad needed the help and I never resented it. I only resented that my brother would steal the silage I’d tossed down from the silo. I suppose I can’t blame him. He had to carry silage across two gutters and a barn aisle to feed cows on the east side of the barn. I had only to step outside the silage room door to distribute chopped and fermented corn on the west side. But still.

 

barn-84-farmhouse

 

Often I told my dad I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. He never encouraged it. But I loved working in the barn—maybe not the scraping manure part so much. Yet I always preferred farm work to anything Mom wanted me to do in the house.

 

barn-80-barn-silo

 

So I pushed a wheelbarrow down the barn aisle, then scooped shovels full of ground feed before stanchions. I hoisted myself into the haymow to throw down bales of hay and straw. I shook apart straw with a pitchfork, separated alfalfa with gloved hands. I carried pails of milk, washed buckets, mixed milk replacer, fed milk and pellets to hungry calves…

I hold memories of Point of Law booming from WCCO, of hot urine splashing from a cow’s behind, of frothy milk poured into the bulk tank, of a yellow jackknife stuffed inside my pants pocket, of cats clustering around a battered hub cap brimming with still warm milk.

 

barn-81-barn-w-green-patched-roof

 

My dad was right. I never became a farmer, pursuing journalism instead. Only one brother farmed for awhile. He’s still in an ag-related industry as is my oldest brother. The rest of us, well, we left the farm. But I like to think that we’ve truly never left in the sense of a deep-rooted attachment to the place that shaped each of us. I write and photograph from a rural perspective. Another sister works as a floral designer. My youngest brother is an attorney in the Twin Cities metro, but maintains his connection to southwestern Minnesota through deer and pheasant hunting.

We were raised as the sons and daughters of a farmer. That remains, as part of our past and as part of who we became.

TELL ME: Did your childhood influence your direction in life, including career choices, where you lived/live, etc.?

FYI: These photos were taken in rural Rice County and in the Jordan/Prior Lake areas, not in my native southwestern Minnesota. This post honors my farmer father, Elvern Kletscher, who would have celebrated his birthday this week. He died 14 years ago in early April 2003.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reclaiming an appreciation for winter through photography February 2, 2017

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winter-landscape-12-treeline

 

IN THE DAYS OF MY YOUTH, I embraced winter. I saw potential in every snowfall. Snow caves and tunnels. Snow forts. Sledding.

 

winter-landscape-14-sky-field

 

Snow pushed to the edge of the farmyard and rock-hard snowdrifts formed a mountain range, a seasonal anomaly on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. It was the ideal setting to role-play the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or to challenge siblings in King of the Mountain.

 

winter-landscape-9-farm-site-2

 

I can’t reclaim those carefree days lingering now only in memories. But I can still appreciate winter, an attitude I’m relearning. That is easiest accomplished through the lens of my camera.

 

winter-landscape-7-interstate-35

 

Heading out of Faribault last Sunday afternoon for Owatonna along Interstate 35, I felt the sun radiating warmth through the van windows. And I noticed, too, the blueness of the sky scuttled by white clouds. I welcomed the blue after too many grey January days.

 

winter-landscape-6-farm-site

 

Aiming my camera to the west toward farm fields layered in a thin coating of snow, I was nearly fooled into thinking I was back on my native prairie. The land appeared familiar in the winter commonality of bare trees and open fields. And I found comfort in that—in the uncluttered landscape, in the simplicity of lines, in the visual vulnerability the earth shows in winter.

 

winter-landscape-10-trees

 

TELL ME: What do you most appreciate about winter, if you appreciate it? If you don’t, why not?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling