Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Shut-down fall-out ripples through southern Minnesota families January 16, 2019

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The art of Roosevelt Elementary School student Anzal Abdi displayed during a 2018 Faribault area student art show at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2018, Used here for illustration only. I prefer peace over conflict, resolution over discord.

 

I’M NOT ONE TO CREATE discord and division. I really don’t like conflict. So it’s not often I write on current political topics. Hot topics seem to bring out the worst in people, especially in online comments. So be forewarned. I moderate comments. I’m OK with disagreement. But only if it’s civil.

Here goes, the current day topic that has me shaking my head in disbelief:

This whole border wall funding-federal government shut-down makes zero sense. Why? Because federal employees and ordinary citizens who have nothing at all to do with the border wall are being hurt. Financially. Emotionally. I am surprised this situation has continued for this long. But then I’m not surprised. And, no, I won’t expand on that. You can read between the lines.

Only in recent days have I heard the stories of southern Minnesotans feeling the effects. My nephew for one. He is an air traffic controller. Currently unpaid. He and his young family of five are OK for now. They have enough money saved to cover expenses for the next several months. But they are expecting a baby in April and that’s a concern.

Another young couple is also expecting a baby soon. And they are in the process of buying a home. But with the partial federal government shut-down, the home loan process is stalled. Talk about stress.

The third family is also expecting a baby. The expectant father works for the federal prison system. For now, the family is OK. They still have their health insurance coverage, a major worry with that baby coming.

I can only imagine how many more individuals and families are feeling the financial fall-out of no paycheck. How many folks are awaiting loans and more, all delayed now because of the impasse? How many people on vacation now find they can’t visit federal sites they planned to see or are caught in long lines at airports? One can only hope a resolution is reached soon as effects of the shut-down ripple through our economy, our country.

TELL ME: Are you personally affected by the shut-down or do you know of someone who is affected?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Jayme Closs found alive January 11, 2019

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A widely circulated photo of Jayme Closs, a face we all came to know in the past three months.

 

I ARRIVED HOME from last evening’s poetry reading in Northfield on a high—the euphoric feeling a writer experiences from sharing her passion with an appreciative audience among other gifted poets.

But then I turned on the TV to watch the 9 p.m. news. And my joy doubled, no quadrupled, with the news that missing teen Jayme Closs of Barron, Wisconsin, was found late Thursday afternoon. Alive. The 13-year-old has been missing since her parents, James and Denise Closs, were discovered shot to death in their home on October 15, 2018.

Those murders and missing child case have been major news here in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Even nationally early on. But three months out, the hope that Jayme would be found alive faded. Not into hopelessness—because her family and many others never gave up hope. But reality wedged into thoughts as many of us remembered the high profile abduction of Jacob Wetterling in central Minnesota in October 1989. It took 27 years to find Jacob, shot to death by his abductor. We all know that if a missing child is not found within days of his/her disappearance, the likelihood of finding that child alive decreases substantially.

But now we have Jayme who, according to media reports, escaped from a home near Gordon in rural northwestern Wisconsin when she was left alone and sought help from a woman walking her dog. A suspect is now in custody.

The Barron County Sheriff’s Department has scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m. today. Yes, I’ll be watching. And reminding myself of the importance of never giving up hope. For hope, too, is poetry.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The “real” Fergus Falls as viewed by a Minnesotan December 28, 2018

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A view of downtown Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

IF YOU LIVE IN MINNESOTA, New York or Germany, you are likely familiar with the case of a now-fired Der Spiegel journalist who visited Fergus Falls and fabricated a magazine story about this west central Minnesota community and its people. If there’s one thing we Minnesotans don’t like, it’s lies about who we are. How this writer thought he could pen such a piece of fiction and get away with it is beyond my comprehension.

 

The iconic Dairyland Drive In in Fergus Falls. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, click here to read a post on Bob Collins’ NewsCut blog at Minnesota Public Radio. He offers a good summary. Fergus Falls folks set the record straight with their own investigation of Claas Relotius’ claims in a particularly humorous piece. It’s worth your read.

 

Visitors to the Kaddatz Galleries in downtown Fergus Falls peruse the art of Charles Beck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’ve been to Fergus Falls. Several times. And I’ve found it to be an artsy community with a lovely downtown and equally lovely people.

 

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls. This is the last of four billboards featuring my poem. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

Heck, I even had a poem posted on billboards there back in 2011 as part of the (now-defunct) Roadside Poetry Project.

 

The iconic The Viking Cafe with its vintage booths and lunch counter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

I visited several places that endear Fergus Falls to me—The Viking Cafe, Dairyland Drive In, Kaddatz Galleries, Otto the Otter statue and top of my list, Victor Lundeen & Company. Then third-generation print shop owner Paul Lundeen gave me a personal tour of his second floor print shop, showing me lots of vintage art and type. You can bet I was an appreciative visitor given my interest in all things print.

 

Victor Lundeen & Co. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This is the Fergus Falls I saw. Not some backward, gun-toting community of hicks, as portrayed by the German magazine writer.

 

The Otto the otter statue in Adams Park in Fergus Falls. The Otter Tail River runs through this city where the Fergus Falls High School mascot is the otter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Take a look at my blog posts for my view of Fergus Falls. It’s nothing like Relotius’ fabricated version. And that’s a good thing.

 

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/30/a-photographic-tour-of-downtown-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/06/13/dairyland-an-old-fashioned-drive-in-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/23/touring-a-third-generation-family-print-shop-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/22/up-on-the-rooftop-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/17/off-i-94-artsy-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/12/prairie-poetry-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/18/my-visit-with-otto-the-otter/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/15/lunch-at-the-viking-cafe/

 

TELL ME: Are you familiar with this story and how would you react if a foreign writer negatively fictionalized your community? Have you been to Fergus Falls? If yes, what’s your perspective of this Minnesota community?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the perspective of a former reporter: Thoughts after The Capital Gazette shootings June 30, 2018

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I’M A FORMER NEWSPAPER reporter and photographer. As such, the killings of five employees in The Capital Gazette newsroom just days ago affects me in a way it may not non-journalists.

The single phrase that repeated through my mind: He (the suspect) really did kill the messengers (newspaper employees). The alleged shooter apparently held a grudge against the Gazette for writing about his conviction for stalking a woman.

Too often I’ve heard people attack and criticize reporters for doing their jobs of reporting the news. Journalists are blamed for whatever is negative. It’s an unfair accusation. Do not kill the messenger. The reporter did not cause the bad thing that now banners the newspaper.

If journalists report only the good news or whatever is spun to them, then they are nothing more than pawns, propaganda tools, mouthpieces. These are difficult times to be a journalist with the constant spewing of the words “fake news” and open hostility and name-calling at the highest levels of government. Democracy needs a free and open press. The press is not the enemy.

I experienced firsthand efforts to suppress my reporting while working in the profession decades ago. In small town Minnesota. How dare I attend a school board meeting and quote a teacher who didn’t want his comment, made at an open, public meeting, printed. My editor backed me up. But I had to endure the ire of that teacher and his superintendent for the rest of my stay in that rural community.

Likewise, a prominent businessman in the same county seat town harassed me for quoting him at a city planning meeting. When I moved to another job with a regional daily working in a satellite news bureau, I encountered the same hostility from a superintendent who didn’t like my story on a student walk-out. He treated me with absolute contempt, behavior which I found (and still find) totally unprofessional for an educator.

Then there was the sheriff’s department employee who wanted to withhold public information from me when I was gathering facts in a drug case.

There are those who will argue that the media deserve the contempt and criticism heaped on them. There are those who will say media people are nothing but a bunch of biased liberals. There are those who will blame journalists for anything and everything. Everyone is entitled to an opinion in a free country. Not all journalists are fair or balanced in their reporting. I agree with that.

But I also come from that perspective of working in the news profession. I know how hard I worked (long and odd hours with low pay) to accurately and fairly gather and report the news. I cared that I got the story right. I think most journalists do.

A reporter at the Gazette tweeted after the shootings: “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.” That tweet shows remarkable strength when a man with a gun has just killed the messengers in a Maryland newsroom.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond recent headlines, my thoughts on domestic violence December 7, 2017

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Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coaltition for Battered Women. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Assault by strangulation charged in 3 separate incidents

Alleged assault leaves woman with fractured hip

The headlines, written within five days of each other, recently bannered the second page of my local newspaper, the Faribault Daily News.

From the bold headers, my eyes moved down to the copy that told of hands and belt around necks, black eyes, punches and threats and stalking and, finally, that push resulting in a broken hip.

 

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson. Barb was shot and killed by her ex-husband just before Christmas 2016 inside the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office where she worked. Her death rocked my community. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The news stories are difficult to read. Such violence perpetrated upon another human being seems unfathomable. Yet, it happens every day. Here in my community of Faribault. And in your community, too.

I am thankful none of these women died. They easily could have given the choking, the hits, the pushes and punches and more. Already in Minnesota this year, 21 people have been murdered due to domestic violence. Let’s call it what it is—murder. The term domestic violence has always seemed to me to diminish the crime.

 

Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were honored in The Clothesline Project coordinated by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Margie was the daughter of my former neighbor in Faribault. She and her unborn baby were murdered by her husband. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Semantics aside, we need to understand that domestic violence is pervasive in our society. And we need to understand that domestic abuse and violence are rooted in power, control and manipulation. The abuse often begins insidiously. That guy who seems initially charming early on in a relationship emerges as a controlling narcissist. He twists and turns words and situations to his advantage, to make himself look good, to degrade women, to get his selfish way, to gain power. He’ll lie, belittle, intimidate, mimic, isolate and the list goes on. He’ll never accept responsibility for his actions. The woman is to blame. Not him. So he claims.

But she isn’t to blame. No woman deserves psychological, spiritual, emotional, mental, financial, technological or physical abuse. Ever. We as a society need to recognize that.

We need also to stop blaming women for staying in relationships with abusers. We need to believe these women, support them, protect them, help them. I’m tired of abusers who get second and third chances—until they seriously injure or kill someone. Enough.

 

Reasons she stays, published on page 18, of She Stays, a book by HOPE Center (Faribault) Director Erica Staab. Text copyright of Erica Staab.

 

Leaving an abuser seems simple enough. Just walk away, right? It’s not that easy when someone is controlling you, monitoring you (including cell phone usage), threatening you in subtle, and not so subtle, ways. Fear, and “love,” hold great power.

 

Profound words for anyone who’s been abused or known someone who’s been abused or is in an abusive relationship. These words are from the book, The Help. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

For those of you in any type of abusive relationship, I encourage you to take that first bold step of confiding in someone you trust whether a friend, family member, co-worker, neighbor, clergy, advocate or whomever. Once you’ve done that, devise a safe plan to permanently leave your abuser. You are in greatest danger when you attempt to leave the person abusing you.

 

 

Turn to professionals. Within every county, if not community, you will find professionals (advocates in women’s shelters and resource centers) trained to help. You are so worth it. Don’t wait for fingers to press upon your airway, for hands to push you to the ground, for fists to blacken your eyes. Trust your gut and yourself. Get out. You deserve to live your life free of abuse. You are stronger than you think, stronger than the person who thinks he owns you.

To those women in my county who were allegedly assaulted, threatened and/or stalked by Michael, Triston, Mason, John, Richard and Jeremiah, I hope this marks a new beginning for you free of abuse. I hope, too, that the criminal justice system works for you. Stop believing your abuser’s lies. Believe in yourself and in your strength.

 

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship and in immediate danger, call 911.

Texting 911 is now available in Minnesota (and other states), a service which will be especially valuable to victims of domestic violence who are unable to safely call for help. Read all about that new service by clicking here.

Note: I realize that men can also be victims of domestic abuse and violence. But because the majority are women, I wrote this post from their perspective.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts from Minnesota after the Halloween Day terrorist attack in NYC October 31, 2017

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Assorted squash in Hayfield, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, October 2016

 

AT THE KITCHEN COUNTER, I position the knife across the squash, pushing hard to slice through the tough skin. When that effort fails, I thwack the squash against the cutting board, splitting the garden fresh produce in half.

 

 

As I work, the television blares a news conference from the living room. I sprinkle sea salt and grind fresh pepper onto the squash, add pinches of brown sugar and dabs of butter. In between I strain to hear the words of public officials talking about the latest terrorist attack, this time in my country, in Lower Manhattan in New York City.

Far removed from Minnesota, this attack still hits home. A bike path. A school bus. The selected weapon of terror—a rental truck from The Home Depot. Ordinary. Everyday. Unexpected. People just going about their daily routines. On Halloween afternoon.

As details unfold, I hear of eight dead and a dozen or more injured, bikers and pedestrians plowed down on that bike path. And then that school bus, with two adults and two children inside also struck by the rental truck.

Now he’s in custody, a 29-year-old suspect labeled as a terrorist. Shot. Hospitalized. Under investigation.

Back in my Minnesota kitchen, I slide the pan of squash into the oven. Soon the scent of autumn permeates my home. The TV still blares. And I think of family on the East Coast, although not in NYC. I grab my cell phone and text I love you! Happy Halloween! to my son in Boston. At times like this, I want nothing more than to hold close those dearest to me.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

This has to stop, these shootings July 19, 2017

Positive words posted near a garden in the heart of downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOMETIMES I COME across an article and accompanying video so profound that I am moved not to tears, but to sobbing.

Often I read those stories in Minnesota Public Radio blogger Bob Collins’ NewsCut column. He rates as one of my favorite writers for his ability to ferret out those stories that touch human emotions. You won’t necessarily see top news stories of the day featured online in NewsCut. But you will read stories that are deeply human, that elicit thought and emotions.

Sometimes Bob makes me laugh. Sometimes cry. Sometimes shake my head. And, almost always, he makes me think. His stories prompt plenty of reader interaction. Whether I agree with comments or not, I always find them interesting.

On Monday Bob published a story and linked to a video in a piece titled A wellness check by police ends with a son dead. The headline grabbed my attention. But it was the video of a grieving father that twisted my gut and made me cry in the deep sort of painful way that heaves your shoulders and unleashes primeval wailing.

In summary, the Massachusetts man’s 26-year-old son, despondent over a break-up with his girlfriend, holed himself up in his room with his dog and a gun. Police were called as was the SWAT Team. The parents were ushered from their home, the father pleading with police to just let his son sleep and to not over-react. I would encourage you to read the entire story and watch the video by clicking here.

 

I purchased this retro tray at an antique/vintage shop in St. Charles for its simple message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Admittedly, I came to this story with emotions on edge after the police shooting of Justine Damond, 40, in an affluent south Minneapolis neighborhood late Saturday evening. She called 911 to report a suspected assault in an alley by her home, her family says. The death of this Australian woman, who moved to Minnesota several years ago to be nearer her fiance’, has triggered outrage and world-wide attention. And rightly so. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is now investigating the shooting of the unarmed, pajama clad Justine. Few details have been released. The police officer who shot Justine in the abdomen has thus far refused to be interviewed. Justine’s death continues to top the news in Twin Cities media.

Nearly every evening I turn on the 10 o’clock TV news to hear of another shooting in the Twin Cities. A drive-by, a targeted victim, a domestic and, yes, more and more, a fatal shooting by a police officer.

All of this leaves me wondering. Why? Why so much gun violence? Why the increase in fatal shootings by law enforcement officers?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Repeatedly, I hear of the need for more officer training. A recently-passed Minnesota state law requires police officers to receive specialized de-escalation, mental health and implicit bias training beginning in July 2018. In my county, that training is already happening and may have factored into a positive outcome for a 61-year-old local man who last week threatened suicide. He survived his crisis when police responded.

With increased societal awareness and openness, we’re seeing an attitude shift in handling of suicide threats and other mental health related calls to police like the one in Massachusetts. Common sense should tell you not to roll in with an excessive show of force and upset an already struggling individual. Lights, sound, action may work in Hollywood, but not necessarily in reality.

 

Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield, Minnesota, carries a powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

We can choose to remain calm, to listen to one another, to be compassionate and caring, whether we are a neighbor, a family member, a police officer or a stranger. I know that’s not always easy in a fluid and tense situation.

But something has to change. Too many people are dying due to gun violence in their homes, in alleys, along city streets, on sidewalks…from Minnesota to Massachusetts.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling