Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A mother’s gift to her writer daughter May 11, 2018

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The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my oldest brother.


I SOMETIMES WONDER how my mom did it? How did she raise six kids and manage a household without the modern conveniences of today? No microwave. No bathroom or telephone or TV or automatic washing machine (for many years). An endless list of “no” whatever.

She planted a massive garden, canned and froze fruits and vegetables. Baked bread and assorted sweets from scratch. Mended clothes. She could do most anything.


Mom’s journals stacked in a tote.


And she wrote. Daily. Mom documented the happenings of farm life in southwestern Minnesota, even before she became a wife and a mother. I have those journals now, stacked inside a plastic tote. Musty-smelling spiral bound stenographer notebooks filled with her words. History inked in her beautiful signature flowing cursive.

They are my most treasured tangible part of her, a collection of information that is not personal, yet is. She writes not of feelings, but of weather and work, going to church and town and to relatives’ homes. She writes, too, of illness and new babies and skinned knees. While I’ve only read bits and pieces of assorted journals, I know that eventually I will read every word. Her single-paragraph daily entries of three to six lines or so document rural life. From her perspective as a wife and mother.

She became a mother in mid-July of 1955, two months shy of celebrating her first wedding anniversary. She writes:

Got to the hospital at 1:15 a.m. & baby was born at 3:20 a.m. He weighed 8 lb. Has a lot of hair. Folks visited me.

On her first Mother’s Day—months before my birth—Mom visited her parents, noting that her mother had gone to the Heart Hospital two days prior. Seven months later her mother died of a heart attack. I was only months old. I will always hold a certain sadness in my grandma’s early untimely death, knowing her only through the memories of others who spoke of a woman with the kindest of hearts. Just like my mom.

Through all the challenges of life, Mom has maintained a positive and cheerful attitude. She’s kind and compassionate and uncomplaining. That has been part of her gift to us, her six children, born between 1955 and 1967. Three girls. Three boys.


My mom and I at our extended family Christmas gathering in late December 2017.


Eight days before my birth, Mom put up 32 jars of grape jelly and 18 ½ quarts of tomato juice with her sister Dorothy. “Sure was tired,” she wrote. If I was about to give birth, I’d feel tired, too. But she never complained.

On my birthday, Mom writes:

Woke up at 3:00 a.m. Got to hospital at 4:20 & baby was born at 4:56 a.m. She weighed 8 lb. 12 oz.

Talk about cutting it close. But then the hospital was a 20-mile drive and my parents had to find someone to watch my oldest brother. Dorothy stayed on for several days after my birth to help with washing, ironing, cleaning and other tasks while Mom recovered and adjusted to having two kids under two.


My mom saved everything, including this Mother’s Day card I made for her in elementary school. I cut a flower from a seed catalog to create the front of this card.


And so the years passed with more babies birthed. I wondered if Mom had any special memories of Mother’s Day. I paged through several journals from the 1960s to find entries about Mother’s Day programs at Vesta Elementary School. She noted the gifts we three oldest kids gave her—tomato plants, a hammered dish and on May 8, 1964, a writing pad. From me.


I took this photo nearly two years ago of my mom holding my granddaughter’s hand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2016.

Now more than ever, as age steals my mom’s memory and she no longer keeps a journal, I appreciate her writing. Her words reveal a hardworking woman who valued her family and faith and farm life. That Mom took the time to write shows her deep appreciation, too, for the written word. She passed that along to me. I am grateful. But most of all I am grateful for a mom who loved me and my siblings with such depth. She was, and remains even in her advancing octogenarian years, an example of kindness and compassion and goodness that I strive to emulate. She is my mother. And I love her.


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Jell-O memories May 10, 2018

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A WEEK BEFORE MOTHER’S DAY, my sister-in-law showed up with a bowl of Jell-O at her granddaughter’s third birthday party. But this wasn’t just any Jell-O. This was Seven Layer Jell-O Salad, multi layers of gelatin in a fancy glass bowl.

Years have passed since I ate Jell-O. It was a staple of extended family gatherings during my growing up years in rural Minnesota. Every “little lunch” served at midnight included red banana-filled Jell-O. In addition to summer sausage sandwiches, homemade dill pickles and pans and pans of bars.


Peach Jell-O. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Sometime through the years, I stopped liking Jell-O. Especially if celery, carrots or marshmallows were added to enhance the basic recipe. I came to associate Jell-O with illness. And in recent years, prep for a colonoscopy (although not red or purple Jell-O).

Still, I admit that I ate a lot of Jell-O as a kid. And I liked it. I was willing to dip my spoon into the bowl of memories and eat a serving of Seven Layer Jell-O Salad prepared by my sister-in-law. She spent a lot of time making those seven layers and I could show some appreciation for her efforts.

But another reason existed for my decision to eat the Jell-O salad, which really is more dessert than salad given its sweetness. Seven Layer Jell-O Salad was a specialty of my mother-in-law, who died in 1993 at the age of 59. I think everyone in the family would agree that Betty wasn’t a particularly good cook. But she made the best homemade caramel rolls, chicken and cottage cheese pie (if you like cottage cheese pie, and I don’t). She also had perfected Seven Layer Jell-O Salad.


My in-laws, Tom and Betty. From the family photo archives of 25-plus years ago.

It’s interesting how food triggers memories. I suppose because so many memories are made over food. On this Sunday in April, I remembered my dear mother-in-law who died just months before my son was born. She wanted a grandson after a long string of granddaughters. If only she’d lived to see her oldest son’s son.

I’m certain, if Betty was living, that she’d still be making Seven Layer Jell-O Salad for family gatherings. It was one of her signature dishes. As in days past, I’d admire the jewel-colored layers, not because the salad is particularly delicious. But because it is layered in family memories.


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Pop goes the love May 16, 2017

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I’M SENTIMENTAL. I appreciate receiving greeting cards and handwritten notes and letters. There’s something about pen put to paper that conveys thoughts, feelings, emotions better than a text or an email. Perhaps it’s the writer in me. Or the traditionalist.



When I opened a Mother’s Day card from my second daughter, I actually gasped in amazement. And delight. Miranda purchased a Lovepop card, a work of sculpted art.



If you are a fan of the television show Shark Tank, then you likely know about this Boston-based card company. Two young entrepreneurs started this business that creates cards described as “intricate 3D paper sculptures designed…on cutting edge software and then hand-crafted in the Asian art form of sliceform kirigami.”

Simply put, these are pop-up cards that WOW you as works of art.


A patch of daisies. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Miranda took care in choosing the right card design for me. Daisies are one of my favorite flowers, reflecting the simplicity of my life-style and my appreciation for nature. Perfect. My daughter knows me well.


My daughter Miranda and me.


The giving of this card was made even better by the delivery method. Miranda handed the Lovepop to me Sunday morning. I can’t recall the last time my daughter, who lives 5 1/2 hours away in eastern Wisconsin, was with me on Mother’s Day. That makes this card even more dear, for the memories now connected to it.

TELL ME: What’s one of the most memorable greeting cards you’ve received?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



Especially grateful this Mother’s Day May 12, 2017

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Me with my mom in her assisted living room in 2014. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.


THERE WAS A THURSDAY about two months ago when fear gripped my heart. Our mother, my middle brother texted, was being rushed via ambulance to the hospital and might not survive.

I exited his message, scrolled to my favorites in my contacts and pressed the green phone icon that would link me to my husband. “You need to come home now,” I ordered as I fought to suppress my emotions. He needed to finish a job and then would be on his way.

As I threw clothing into a suitcase—uncertain whether we would be staying overnight—I worried that we might not reach the hospital in time. We had a two-hour drive to Redwood Falls.


I printed this message inside a handmade Mother’s Day card in elementary school.


We arrived to find Mom settling into a room after her transfer from the ER. That afternoon I said my goodbyes to a mother in such obvious physical discomfort and distress that she wanted to die. And I was OK with that. I couldn’t bear to watch her struggling to breathe.


The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my brother Doug.


Many hours later, I hugged Mom for what I thought would be the last time and left her room in tears. In the hallway, I attempted to compose myself before reconnecting with family in the downstairs waiting room. As we left, the next family members rotated in.

Once I’d expelled that initial grief, I didn’t cry. I managed, an hour later, to stand before an audience in a Mankato art gallery and read my prize-winning poem about detasseling corn. I find more and more in difficult situations that I am able to establish an emotional roadblock. Perhaps that’s inner strength. Or denial. Or self-preservation.

I fully expected that we would be heading back west in a few days with black mourning clothes packed. But once again, as she has multiple times in her nearly 85 years, my mom surprised us all by recovering from a major health crisis. Her condition improved overnight and days later she was released back home to a care center.

I am grateful this Mother’s Day to still have my mother on this earth. I am grateful, too, to be the mother of three and the grandmother of one.


My mom saved everything, including this Mother’s Day card I made for her in elementary school. I cut a flower from a seed catalog to create the front of this card.


If your mother is still living, express your love to her via a visit, a phone call and/or a card. If your mother has passed, I hope, rather than grieve, you will remember her with love.

And someone, please remind my son that Sunday is Mother’s Day.


TELL ME: How do you honor the women in your life who are mothers on Mother’s Day?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


My thoughts on motherhood after 30 years as a mom May 8, 2016

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My mother, Arlene, and me.

My mother, Arlene, and me.

IN THIS SEASON OF MY LIFE, in the year I reach a milestone decade, I have watched my eldest daughter become a mother to sweet Isabelle. This has proven a contemplative time for me as I think of my own aging mother, of my aging self, of my daughter now a mother.

Daughter to daughter to daughter to daughter, we are linked as family. Eighty-four years separate youngest and oldest.

I cannot help but feel a certain sadness in this passage of time. Wasn’t it just yesterday that my preschool daughter hovered over tulips in our front yard, observing that “the flowers are opening their mouths?”

Why do I remember that? And why do I remember my mom once so fed up with her six squabbling children that she threatened to run away?

There are certain moments in motherhood that stand out: My second daughter sticking a red hot up her nose when we were decorating Christmas cookies. My son struck by a car 10 years ago, the day before Mother’s Day. The first time my eldest went on a mission trip to Texas and I struggled with this long-distance separation. The call from my second daughter that she’d been mugged while traveling in Argentina.

I joke sometimes that I should have locked my kids in the basement in an attempt to keep them safe. While that may have spared me a lot of worry and heartache, it would have been wrong. Mothers instinctively want to protect their children. But we also instinctively guide them out the door into the world.

If only I’d known then what I know now. How true that adage. To every young mom who struggles with a night owl infant, a tantrum throwing two-year-old, a defiant middle-schooler, I want to advise her that these moments are nothing. Nothing. These are manageable situations.

We never know what life will bring to our families. Joys. Challenges beyond anything we ever could have imagined. But one thing remains constant for me as a mother. I love my children today as much as the day they were born.

To all of you mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


How I spent my Mother’s Day May 10, 2015

Heading here:

Airport, sign



Airport, terminal 1 sign


Waiting here (for an hour):


Airport, plane 1



Airport, plane 2



Airport, drivers waiting at airport



Airport, plane 3



Airport, plane 5



For this:

Airport, Delta plane landed



For these loved ones:

Marc and Amber eiffel tower



Who brought me (and my husband) this gift of Belgium chocolates:


Belguim chocolate



I hope your Mother’s Day was as great as mine with my eldest daughter, Amber, and her husband, Marc, safely back home from Europe and phone conversations with my other daughter, Miranda, my son, Caleb, and my mom, Arlene. There’s nothing more I wanted for Mother’s Day than to be with, or speak with, those I love. I am blessed.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thoughts on motherhood May 9, 2014

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I love this crazy, loving photo of my three kids, taken in February 2003.

I love this crazy, fun-loving photo of my three kids, taken in February 2003.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE a mother’s love?

Endless, unconditional, unshakable, fierce, enduring? I would choose all.

Yes, I’m repeating myself with some of these adjectives. But so what.

I am a mother of three now grown children, all in their twenties. I always find “adult children” to be an oxymoron. Yet, no matter the age of our offspring, they remain always our children. Once a mother, always a mother. You never stop caring and worrying and, for me, praying.

Have my kids frustrated and maddened me? Sure they have. But I expect I’ve done the same. None of us—parent or child—is perfect. Far from it.

As a mother, I try to do the best I can. I’ve praised when deserved. I listen. I offer advice when necessary. After all I do have a few decades more of experience and wisdom. I support my children. Not always their actions and decisions, but them. There’s a difference.

I cherish my kids. I love them enough to let them go. And we’re not talking geographical distance, although two of my trio live 1,300 and 300 miles away. I’m referencing that proverbial cutting of the apron strings, that realization that this has been my goal, to raise and then let go.

There are days when I’d like to turn back the clock, to swoop my three back into our home,

Busted in October of 1988 sneaking cookies and "hiding" in the corner of the kitchen to eat them.

My daughters, busted in October of 1988 sneaking cookies and “hiding” in the corner of the kitchen to eat them.

to admonish preschoolers for sneaking cookies from the cookie jar before lunch (all the while stifling laughter),

My Tufts University computer science and mathematics majors son played with LEGOs constantly while growing up. This photo was taken in June 2003.

My current Tufts University computer science and mathematics majors son played with LEGOs constantly while growing up. This photo, taken in June 2003, shows the zoo he created using his imagination. No LEGO kit involved here.

to step upon an errant LEGO,

My eldest stars as a flower in the May 1992 school play, "Leo the Late Bloomer."

My eldest (standing) stars as a flower in the May 1992 Trinity Lutheran School play, “Leo the Late Bloomer.”

to sit through one more end of the school year musical in a stuffy gymnasium.

The son, left, the eldest, the son-in-law and the second eldest daughter.

The son, left, the eldest, the son-in-law and the second daughter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, December 2013, the last time my kids were together.

But time has passed. Snap. Just like that my kids are grown up, two working, one married, another still in college (and working this summer).

I am nearing sixty.

My own mother recently entered a nursing home.

Life changes.

But a mother’s love endures. Forever.


HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to all of you moms out there!

And to my three children and my son-in-law, I love each of you now and forever.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling