Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Lunchbox love in January January 30, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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HE DROPPED HIS BLACK LUNCHBOX onto the kitchen counter upon his arrival home. “I have something for you,” Randy said, flipping latches to unlock the box.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of cheesecake.

 

I anticipated a sweet. Randy occasionally grabs a birthday treat for me from work. Not that I need sweets—because who does—but I enjoy the occasional piece of left-over cheesecake, square of apple pie bars, slice of chocolate cake. When Randy brings me a sweet rather than simply tells me about it, I am particularly happy. Already I craved whatever he’d stashed away for me.

“Here, I brought you spring,” he said, reaching inside.

Puzzlement flushed my face. Lemon bars? Rhubarb pie? What did he have inside that lunchbox?

 

 

Then Randy handed me a dead Monarch butterfly. Brittle. Wings folded. A dead butterfly when I’d expected dessert?

I regrouped my thoughts, put my disappointment on hold and reconsidered. In the midst of a record-breaking cold snap and recent snowfall (which required joint snowfall removal efforts that very morning), Randy decided I needed a glimpse of spring. Or, more accurately, summer, the season butterflies emerge. How sweet is that?

But where did he find this Monarch in January in Minnesota? Randy works as an automotive machinist. He found the butterfly—along with acorns and leaves—inside a cylinder head dropped off by a customer. More often he finds a mouse nest or evidence of mice.

 

The forecast for Minnesota on a Twin Cities TV station at noon-ish Tuesday.

 

He may not have given me what I expected. But Randy gave me exactly what I needed on an especially cold evening in late January. He gifted me with hope. That spring always follows winter. And that, even after nearly 37 years of marriage, love still offers sweet surprises.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Minnesota Faces: The butterfly-loving bookseller March 13, 2015

Portraits #11 & 12: Russell Mattson, purveyor of books

My first portrait of Russ, taken in October 2011.

My first portrait of Russell, taken in October 2011.

His eyes hold a certain depth of sadness that I can’t define. Or perhaps his eyes simply hold stories of hard times or too many good times, or wisdom that comes with aging.

Russell Mattson, St. Paul, Minnesota, native and owner of Chandler’s books in the Mississippi River town of Stockholm, Wisconsin, seems a free spirit, a character, a former hippie type.

I first met him in October 2011 at his cluttered bookstore along Stockholm’s main drag. I learned that he’s an amateur photographer, a candle maker, a car nut, a lover of Monarch butterflies and, clearly, a bibliophile.

Russell three years later in October 2014.

Russell three years later in October 2014.

Last fall I revisited Stockholm and Russell. I found him behind the counter of his book shop, the same blue print do-rag bowling his head, the same FUN METER button pinned to his apron.

Russell was still offering customers free milkweed seeds to maintain the Monarch population. Monarch larvae feed exclusively on milkweed, making the plant essential to the butterfly’s survival.

Personalities like this shopkeeper intrigue me for their individualism, their eccentricities, their uniqueness—all of which are synonyms really. The Russells of this world offer interesting portraits, interesting conversation, interesting studies in small town life.

I find a certain hope in meeting individuals like Russell who care about something as simple as Monarch butterflies.

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This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling