Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

TV memories prompted by a vintage sign in Faribault May 13, 2020

A vintage sign at a former TV shop in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

TELEVISION. I remember my life without a TV. I am that old and of a poor rural upbringing which made a TV unaffordable for many years.

At some point in my youth, maybe when I was around nine-ish, my parents purchased a small black-and-white TV that rested on a wheeled metal cart. Set along a living room wall, the rack could be pushed and turned for TV viewing from the kitchen.

How exciting to get a TV and watch Lassie, Lost in Space, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Sky King and popular westerns like Gunsmoke. Our show choices were limited to CBS, the only network reception we got on our southwestern Minnesota farm. The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite became a favorite as my interest in national and world events and journalism grew.

 

Randy remembers buying a TV here decades ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

I’m getting sidetracked here. But all of this traces to recent photos I took of a former TV service shop along Central Avenue in Faribault. I’ve passed by the place many times with the thought of stopping to photograph the vintage signage. Finally, I did, because I’ve learned the hard way that, if you wait too long, the opportunity will be lost. And I do appreciate the art and history of old signs.

 

The front window of the closed TV shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Who remembers Zenith TVs, like those sold at Modern TV Service? Or Sylvania, RCA, Maganox? Companies that once dominated the U.S. television market. I can’t tell you the brand of my childhood TV. But I recall the excitement of getting a television and later watching a color console TV at my dad’s cousin Ruby’s house when we visited the Meier family. What a treat.

 

A few weeks ago I photographed the cloud-studded sky, I also photographed the TV antenna atop our house. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Unlike most people today, Randy and I don’t have cable TV or subscribe to any streaming services. Instead, we still rely on a rooftop antenna for reception on the single television in our house. And, living in a valley, that reception often proves unreliable. Spotty. Affected by weather (especially the wind), by a medical helicopter flying over or nearby, even a vehicle passing on the busy street. I am most frustrated that the public television station typically does not come in on our TV. Oh, well, at least we have a TV and it’s color, right? And let’s not forget the remote control, although I wish every set came with two…

TELL ME: Do you remember a time when you didn’t have a television? Anyone out there old-school like us with reception coming only from a roof-top antenna?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Gratitude for Mother’s Day photos & the love of a rural Minnesota care center staff May 11, 2020

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I printed this message inside a handmade Mother’s Day card for my mom back in elementary school. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SUNDAY PROVED A MOTHER’S DAY unlike any other due to COVID-19. A day of mixed emotions—of laughter and of sadness. Of smiles. Of missing those I love with an unexplainable pain that comes from separation and of wanting nothing more than to hold and hug those I love most. My mom, who is on hospice. My daughters and son and two grandchildren. Hugs for the sons-in-law, too.

I began the day with no expectations. There would be no seeing family in person, only in a video chat late in the afternoon. Randy tried his best to make my day special. And I am grateful for his effort. For the brunch he cooked, the delicious pork he smoked and grilled. And for the afternoon drive in the country, which proved joyful and therapeutic.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009. Used for illustration only.

 

But two things stand out from Sunday above all. Mid-morning, my eldest sent a photo of her with my sweet grandchildren—Isabelle, 4, and Isaac, 16 months. Izzy beamed a wide smile with Amber in the background holding an open box of specialty doughnuts. While the girls looked at the camera, Isaac did not. His eyes fixed on those doughnuts. I laughed, oh, how I laughed. The image couldn’t have been more perfect.

 

My sweet mom, featured on the Parkview Facebook page.

 

Then hours later, after that delicious supper of smoked pork, grilled veggies and s’mores, Amber texted a photo of my mom posted on the Parkview Senior Living Center Facebook page. It was the most lovely photo of Mom, with oxygen tubes momentarily removed, a slight smile curving her lips and a corsage pinned to her plum fleece jacket. I broke down. Crying. Tears of gratitude. Tears of happiness mixed with sadness. But mostly, above all, thankfulness for this Mother’s Day gift.

To the staff at Parkview, who took the time to pamper the resident mothers and then photograph them, I am especially grateful. I’ve always known them to be a caring and compassionate family in small town southwestern Minnesota. But these images reaffirm that. I am thankful for the extra love given to these moms, and indirectly to us, their families, on Mother’s Day. What a gift. What a blessing.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photo from Parkview Senior Living Center Facebook page

 

Mother’s Day 2020 from southern Minnesota May 8, 2020

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Me with my mom during a January visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling.

 

I STOOD BEFORE THE CARD RACK at the dollar store, pink cotton print mask covering my face, eyes scanning the choices before me. I filtered through a few Mother’s Day cards before choosing one for my eldest daughter and one for my mom.

It was an emotional moment for me as I selected the card to send to my mom, who lives in a senior care center 120 miles away in southwestern Minnesota. I last saw her on March 7, the weekend before Parkview closed to visitors to protect them from COVID-19.

Mom is on hospice, which makes a difficult situation even more emotionally challenging. How do you work through the guilt of not being there for your mom when she most needs family? How? The intellectual part of me understands the closure. The “I love my mom” side does not.

So I stood there, in front of that display rack of flowery cards with sweet messages, and considered that this could be the last time I would buy a Mother’s Day card for Mom. I wanted to rip off that mask and plop down on the floor and cry away my pain in heart-wrenching sobs. Because that’s how I felt. Overcome with sadness.

But, instead, I clutched my two cards and walked to the check-out lane, strips of orange tape marking social distancing lines on the worn carpet. I waited while the cashier scanned the biggest pile of merchandise I’ve ever seen a shopper purchase at a dollar store. I tried to be patient and wait my turn while an unmasked young woman edged closer to me, closer than my comfort level. It didn’t help that I’d just heard someone coughing repeatedly minutes earlier.

I recognize my heightened awareness created by COVID-19. I recognize, too, my heightened emotions. I considered for a moment just leaving the cards and walking out of the store. But I wanted, needed, to get the card for Mom without another visit to another store and more possible virus exposure.

So I refocused, wondering about that heap of merchandise the masked woman ahead of me was buying. Teacher, I thought to myself, then asked, “You must be buying for a bunch of kids?” Her answer surprised me. She was not. The goods were rewards for potty training. I nearly laughed aloud. Not because of the concept. But because of the sheer volume of rewards purchased for a preschooler who might just be smart enough to manipulate Mom.

Humor got me through that check-out line and out the door with a card for my mom and another for my daughter. Memories will carry me through this Mother’s Day as I think of Mom. Still here on this earth, yet so far away.

To all of you who have lost your moms, I am sorry. To those of you who still have your moms, cherish them. And to those of you who are mothers, like me, Happy Mother’s Day!

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The progression of COVID-19 in Minnesota & my thoughts May 6, 2020

The marquee at the Paradise Center for the Arts, photographed on March 17, 2020. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A SERIES OF PHOTOS I’ve taken in historic downtown Faribault represent, in many ways, a visual timeline documentation of the progression of COVID-19 in Minnesota.

Just three days after touring the annual Faribault Area Student Art Exhibit and shopping the Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market at the Paradise Center for the Arts, I photographed this message on the PCA marquee:

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 17, 2020.

 

That was 10 days before Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued his initial Stay-at-Home executive order. On the date of that first photo, March 17, the state was already shutting down due to the global pandemic that has changed every facet of our lives. Among the closures, our local center for the arts.

 

PCA marquee photographed on April 11, 2020. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I next photographed the marquee on April 11, when the “closed until” date had changed to May 1.

 

Photographed on April 19, 2020. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And then, only eight days later, I stopped to photograph the marquee message again. This time no “closed until” date was noted. Rather, the posted words offer encouragement. That seems the best approach. One of hopefulness, of unity and of strength rather than focusing on dates that continue to change.

None of us really knows how long COVID-19 will be around, although every indication is that it will be here for a long time. Infection and deaths are rising at a rapid rate here in Minnesota. Yes, testing has increased, resulting in higher numbers. But so has the spread. Just ask my friend who lives in Worthington. Or my extended family who live in Stearns County. Even in my county of Rice, which still has a low rate—30 positive cases as of Tuesday—in comparison to many other counties, numbers are on the rise.

 

A helpful reminder posted on the Paradise Center for the Arts marquee. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

 

These are difficult days for so many of us. My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Like my friends Raquel and Bob. Randy and I are concerned about my mom and his dad, both in the high risk elderly group living in care centers. But worry doesn’t fix anything. So we do what we can to tamp our fears, use common sense, and try to keep ourselves and others safe. We aren’t gathering with family or friends. We limit our travel to local. Shop only for necessities. Wear masks. Social distance. Wash our hands often and use hand sanitizer.

 

Posted in the front window of the Paradise Center for the Arts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2020.

 

But this is about much more than just our individual behavior. The current marquee message at the Paradise states, WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. Our choices, our actions, our decisions affect others. Our families, friends, neighbors, strangers… That, I believe, is especially important to remember during this global pandemic. This is about the health and safety of all of us.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Adapting worship in rural southwestern Minnesota during a global pandemic May 4, 2020

The Rev. Adam Manian leads worship services at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Vesta, Minnesota, on Sunday, May 3, 2020.

 

HIS ROBE BILLOWED in the wind as he stood atop the hay rack on a stunningly beautiful spring Sunday morning in southwestern Minnesota. A simple wooden table adorned with a gold cross formed a makeshift altar behind him.

To the south, vehicles filled the parking lot next to a farm field bordering the Redwood River. Across the river bridge, more fields and farm sites define the landscape, including my childhood farm a half-mile distant.

I visualized this rural scene as I focused on my computer screen. I watched the Rev. Adam Manian prepare to lead Sunday morning worship services outside St. John’s Lutheran Church, the church where I was baptized, confirmed, married, and have attended weddings and funerals of many loved ones.

 

The one-block Main Street of downtown Vesta. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2018.

 

It seemed fitting that the pastor would preach from atop a hay rack backed up to the church entry. This place in Minnesota is through and through rural, centered on agriculture. It is also a place centered by church and its importance in the faith lives of most and in the social fabric of the Vesta community. I can only imagine how much locals—including aunts, uncles and cousins—miss gathering at St. John’s. I miss seeing my faith family, too, at Trinity Lutheran in Faribault.

 

I watched the St. John’s service live-streaming Sunday morning. Drive-in worship will continue next Sunday at 9 a.m.

 

During these weeks of social-distancing, stay-at-home orders and the need to protect our most vulnerable and each other, churches have gotten creative in continuing with worship. On this first Sunday in May, the pastor of this very rural congregation in a community of some 300 launched drive-in worship. Worshipers sat in their vehicles and tuned in to 102.1 FM on their radios while he led the service. And 120 miles away to the east, I booted up my computer and watched live-streaming of St. John’s service.

It did my heart and soul good to see that on this Sunday, “Good Shepherd Sunday,” the pastor at my hometown church was tending his flock—providing for their spiritual needs through the familiarity of liturgy, beloved hymns, preaching and prayers. What a blessing, especially to the many seniors in the congregation who now find themselves isolated, alone, separated from loved ones. An aunt even washed her car in preparation for Sunday’s service.

I thought back to decades earlier when my paternal great grandparents, Rudolph and Matilda Kletscher, arrived here and St. John’s grew from a mission church that met in their farm home. My faith is rooted here, in this church, in this place, among these prairie people.

 

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As Rev. Manian preached, I noticed the wind, ever-present in this landscape of wide open space. His robes billowed. His audio caught the wind. The camera shook on occasion. Tree branches swayed. Birds flew and some chirped in morning birdsong. It was as if creation joined in worship.

Occasionally I heard the start of a motor, presumably to run the air conditioning.

And when the pastor’s family, inside the sanctuary, sang “Have No Fear, Little Flock,” I experienced such a connection to St. John’s, such a renewed sense of confidence that we will get through this COVID-19 crisis, that God stays close beside us, that we are all in this together.

 

These grain bins sit just down a gravel road from St. John’s church in Vesta. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I realized, too, that we are writing stories every day of overcoming, of adapting, of being here for one another, of resilience. We are writing stories of hope and of community. These are our stories. Faith stories. Community stories. Personal stories. Stories connected by the commonality of living during a global pandemic.

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Thank you to my cousin Lori for tipping me off to St. John’s drive-in worship service.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The greening of Minnesota May 3, 2020

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THIS TIME OF YEAR—early spring in southern Minnesota—I become a tree watcher.

 

 

That may sound odd to an outsider. But to us Minnesotans, who’ve come through another winter, watching trees leaf into a canopy of green doesn’t seem all that strange.

 

 

You can almost see the buds grow and leaves unfurl, a process now well underway. Green tints the skyline. And with warmth and sunshine, those once dormant trees are beautiful to behold.

 

 

Likewise the hillsides are awash in green with plants pushing through the cold earth.

 

 

And tulips open petals, popping vivid hues into the landscape. This is spring in Minnesota. Lovely. In color and in warmth.

 

These tulips from Paula in Holland are popping color into my life. They are in full bloom now in three vivid hues. Just beautiful!

 

See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in the land. (Solomon’s Song of Songs 2:11-12 NIV)

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sisterhood in bloom on May Day May 1, 2020

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The tulip bulbs arrived in a pot and covered by moss.

 

THE RATE AT WHICH THE TULIP bulbs erupted, then bloomed, surprised even me.

 

The bulbs, once exposed to light, grew at a rapid pace.

 

A week after receiving a surprise cluster of bulbs from my blogger friend Paula in the Netherlands, I now have a flower pot of wine-hued tulips in bloom and yellow ones about to open. I’d wondered at the color and that proved part of the fun, waiting to see.

 

Just beginning to bloom…

 

What a delight this gift of flowers from someone I’ve never met but to whom I’m connected via writing and being home-grown Minnesotans. But even more, there’s the connection of spirit, of understanding how supporting one another, especially now, is so important.

I can tell you that Paula, who blogs at The Cedar Journal, loves the outdoors, especially canoeing in her cedar strip canoe. She returns to Minnesota often to paddle and explore. She’s a military veteran. Strong. Opinionated. Resilient. Respectful of the natural world and appreciative of its beauty. She’s compassionate and kind.

I’ve never talked to Paula. But I feel like I know her via her blog and the comments she posts on my blog. There’s a sisterhood that comes from a shared love of Minnesota and of blogging and of the simple beauties in life. So when I see those lovely tulips in bloom, I think of Paula so distant, yet so close.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling