Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on my husband’s 60th birthday October 12, 2016

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helbling-siblings-in-n-d-1963

 

IN THE PHOTO, one of the few from his childhood, he is a slim blonde-haired almost 7-year-old standing in front of three of his four sisters.

 

Grandfather and granddaughter.

One of my favorite photos of Randy: holding his 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

Fast forward 53 years and he is a 60-year-old father of three and a new grandfather. He is my husband, Randy. And today he turns sixty.

We’ve known each other for more than half our lives. I often wonder how those decades have passed, snap, just like that and we are each now sixty.

Birthdays for me today are more reflective and less celebratory. Not that I don’t appreciate another year of life. Rather, I find myself thinking about the past.

I have heard through the decades stories from Randy’s past. He was born in North Dakota and moved with his family to central Minnesota in his early elementary years. As he tells it, in the one-room country schoolhouse he attended in North Dakota, students were kept in from recess one day due to coyotes roaming the schoolyard. I love that story.

While attending a Catholic school in Minnesota, he apparently misbehaved and was punished by a nun drilling her thumb into his skull. I don’t love that story.

And then there’s the story about the day my husband saved his father’s life. On Saturday, October 21, 1967, my father-in-law’s left hand was pulled into the spring-loaded roller of a corn chopper. Blades sliced off his fingers. The roller trapped his arm. Randy was with him. As his father screamed, the 11-year-old disengaged the power take-off and then ran along cow pasture and across swampland to a neighbor’s farm for help. Randy saved his dad’s life. I love that example of courage and calm exhibited by a young boy, my husband.

That trait of quiet, reassuring strength has continued throughout Randy’s life. Not much rattles him. It’s an admirable quality, especially in times of stress and difficulty. And, as we all know, life brings many struggles and challenges.

He is strong. Strong in his work ethic, his faith and his love of family.

Today I celebrate and honor the man I’ve loved for some 35 years. Happy birthday, Randy! And many more!

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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What a little cash & a little kindness are doing in North Dakota April 30, 2016

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My creative graphic illustrating Kindness Cash.

My creative graphic illustrating Kindness Cash.

HOW WOULD YOU like to find $20 cash?

In our neighboring state to the west, Starion Financial has dropped 650 Kindness Cash wallets containing $20 each in eight North Dakota communities. The project celebrates Pay It Forward Day on April 28.

Now, if you do your math, that’s $13,000 left lying around in places like grocery stores, parks, hotels…

The idea is to use that money to do something good. And the finders are, according to Starion’s website. Organizations like a cancer support group, a domestic violence center and a humane society have already benefited from this project.

Others are enjoying treats from appreciative co-workers. Those are all great choices.

But the story that touches me most is that of Olivia, who found a Kindness wallet under a rock in a South Fargo park. Little Olivia is giving the money to someone at her school.

Likewise in Bismarck, someone found a Kindness wallet, added $80, and left it for two lucky women to find at the Comfort Inn.

I love sharing stories like this that uplift and restore my faith in the goodness of others. (h/t Fargo Forum)

TELL ME, HAVE YOU ever been the recipient of such a random act of kindness? Or have you engaged in a Pay It Forward project like this?

I’d like to hear about creative projects that encourage people to Pay It Forward, to be kind to one another.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Blessings in a box from North Dakota November 24, 2015

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WHEN THE MAIL CARRIER arrived at my door on Friday bearing a package, I was surprised. “I didn’t order anything. Who’s it from?” I asked.

“Looks like it’s from a relative,” he said.

And then I remembered my sister-in-law’s quick phone call several days earlier requesting my address. She was running errands and had no time to chat. This box with her return address solved the mystery of that call.

Inside, I found several sweet surprises—a pillow, a book and a clutch of notecards.

My niece worked all last winter stitching these yo-yos for this pillow.

My niece worked all last winter stitching these yo-yos for this pillow.

My 10-year-old niece crafted a yo-yo pillow for me. Fifty-six yo-yos, tiny circles of fabric gathered at the edges and sewn into circles stitched to a pink flannel pillow. Yo-yos were, Beth wrote in an attached note, popular during the Depression. Women made them from scrap fabric (oftentimes from old clothing) and then stitched them into quilts.

The story and history behind the yo-yo pillow.

The story and history behind the yo-yo pillow.

As much as I appreciate the pillow, I treasure even more the words Beth typed when she entered the pillow in her county fair and then the North Dakota State Fair. She earned two blue ribbons for this 4-H project. Here’s the part that especially touched me:

I made it for my Aunt Audrey’s birthday. She loves funky stuff and vintage, so I think she’ll like this pillow.

Beth’s wrong. I don’t just like this pillow; I love it.

And I like that my dear niece and her mom, Rena, know me so well. I do, indeed, value funky and vintage.

"When I discovered this historical gem from under junk and odds and ends (in a rummage store), I knew it was meant for you. Enjoy!" my sister-in-law wrote.

“When I discovered this historical gem from under junk and odds and ends (in a rummage store), I knew it was meant for you. Enjoy!” my sister-in-law wrote. This chapter explains how Land O’Lakes came to be the name of the Minnesota Cooperative Creameries Association’s butter. The Co-op launched a contest in 1924 to name its sweet cream butter, offering $500 in gold as prizes. Mrs. E.B. Foss of Hopkins and George I. Swift of Minneapolis submitted the same winning name. Contest entries of about 7,000 daily overwhelmed the company office. The contest topped news in the Midwest, second only to the Teapot Dome oil scandal, according to the author.

That leads to the second gift, the book Men to Remember: How 100,000 Neighbors Made History by Kenneth D. Ruble. Land O’ Lakes Creameries, Inc. commissioned the volume published in 1947. Perfect for someone who grew up on a dairy farm.

The "Spatial Odysseys" collection of notecards by David Paukert.

The “Spatial Odysseys” collection of notecards by David Paukert.

The last item in the package—a collection of rural-themed notecards—is a fitting gift also. The cards feature the work of Michigan, North Dakota, photographer David Paukert. Titled “Spatial Odysseys,” the photo cards showcase fields, a church, a barn and more from Paukert’s “Visions of the Prairie” Collection. Prairie. That reflects me, rooted in the prairie.

These gifts from Rena and Beth arrived at the end of a difficult week. They didn’t know this, of course, because the presents were originally intended for my birthday two months ago. But the timing of the delivery couldn’t have been better. Rena and Beth blessed me not only with the items they made and chose for me, but also with their thoughtfulness, love and care.

My sister-in-law also included a quote from Mother Teresa: “…do small things with great love.”

This week, please consider ways you can bless someone. Call a friend or family member who needs your support and encouragement. Listen. Avoid “hearing without listening.” Send a card with a heartfelt handwritten note. Or a gift. Volunteer. Be kind. Show your love. In whatever way you can.

Check back tomorrow for another “blessings” post.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bird out of the cage May 23, 2015

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Bird art perched on a front yard rock.

Bird art perched on a front yard rock in a Northfield, MN., garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

PLEASE TAKE TIME this weekend to read and/or view this story from Fargo:

http://www.inforum.com/news/3749387-fargo-tv-anchor-shares-personal-story-physical-emotional-abuse

It’s that important.

Be free. Be that bird out of the cage.

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship, seek help. Call your local domestic abuse hotline or the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. Have a safe plan to leave your abuser. You deserve to be free of physical, emotional, mental and verbal abuse, control and manipulation.

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In praise of Northern Prairie Culture: How Fargo of You April 16, 2014

This water tower is located in West Fargo, an area of shopping malls, restaurants, Big Box stores, hotels, etc.

This water tower is located in West Fargo, an area of shopping malls, restaurants, Big Box stores, hotels, etc. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

TWO DAYS AFTER I FINISHED reading Marc de Celle’s book, How Fargo of You, a 10-episode mini series, Fargo, debuted (yesterday) on FX television. Excellent. Timing is everything.

I receive my TV reception from a rooftop antenna, so there will be no watching Fargo for me. Rather I have to rely on synopses and reviews posted online. The series plays off the Coen brothers’ (native Minnesotans Joel and Ethan) 1996 award-winning film by the same name. (Click here to read my review of that movie.) The Coens are two of the executive producers for this new show penned by Noah Hawley and featuring Oscar winning actor Billy Bob Thornton.

The VHS cover of the movie Fargo.

The VHS cover of the movie Fargo.

You can expect dark comedy, crime, stereotypes and that noted, albeit not fully accurate, Fargo accent. About half of the Fargo series is set in fictionalized Bemidji, Minnesota. Since I haven’t seen the new series, I can’t accurately review it.

Marc de Celle's book cover

But I can talk about de Celle’s book. He’s also written a follow-up, Close Encounters of the Fargo Kind, which I’ve yet to read. This is a compilation of others’ stories rather than simply his own.

In summary, de Celle, who moved with his family in 2005 from Phoenix to Fargo, writes about his personal “How Fargo of You” experiences in his first book. That’s the tag line he’s attached to unfamiliar and unexpected positive experiences in his new home.

He’s not a Fargo native, his closest ties to the region in his Wisconsin native wife and her best friend, Melody, who lives in Fargo. That friend initially drew the family to Fargo for a visit. So de Celle views this area of the country with a perspective of someone unaccustomed to, as he defines it, Northern Prairie Culture. And, yes, that includes Minnesota.

The famous woodchipper from the movie, Fargo, is a focal point in the Visitors Center. Other film memorabilia is also on display.

The famous woodchipper from the movie Fargo is a focal point in the Fargo Visitors Center. Other film memorabilia is also on display. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Unlike the film and TV series, this writer promises: “No goofy accents. No murderers on the loose. No weird plot twists. Just real Fargo.”

And that’s exactly what you’ll read in de Celle’s first book—a compilation of all that is good about Fargo folks, and those living within several hundred miles of this North Dakota/Minnesota border town.

Shortly after the de Celle family arrives in their new community just outside of Fargo, they encounter their first Fargo moment in teenagers helping unload their belongings. And the neighbor-helping-neighbor stories and overall niceties of the region’s people just continue from there.

From the pump and then pay at the gas station, to the shared story of a Minnesota farmer assisting college students with a flat tire and the farmer’s wife then preparing a little lunch to motorist merging courtesy to homemade rhubarb pie served at a rural restaurant where a stranger picks up the tab for a cashless de Celle to Fargo residents’ efforts to save their community from the flooding Red River and more, you will read stories that warm your heart.

A scene from November in downtown Fargo.

A scene from downtown Fargo. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This is truly a feel-good book, one which makes you thankful, for the most part, to live in this region of the U.S.

De Celle does note, though, the environmental realities in Fargo’s harsh winters, the flat landscape and the strong and endless wind. I especially laughed at his fly-clinging-to-the-windshield wind story given my son spent his first year of college at  North Dakota State University on Fargo’s particularly windy north side.

In February 2013, I received this text from my then 19-year-old: “This cheap Walmart hat stands zero chance against the Fargo wind.” He then proceeded to order a Russian military surplus fur cap online to replace the mass-manufactured stocking cap.

While at NDSU, my son worked and volunteered in the Technology Incubator as part of an Entrepreneurial Scholarship. He is walking away from two major scholarships at NDSU to attend Tufts University.

The NDSU Technology Incubator referenced in de Celle’s book. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

After that first year, the son left NDSU and now attends college in Boston, where the climate is less challenging and his current university a better fit. While in Fargo, he worked at the NDSU Technology Incubator, which de Celle describes in his book as “the hippest looking building this side of Minneapolis.”

I’ll agree that the modern architecture looks pretty sleek situated next to open fields where the wind does, indeed, blow with determined fierceness.

A view of the 300 block on North Broadway, including signage for the Fargo Theatre, built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre. The theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a venue for independent and foreign films, concerts, plays and more.

A view of the 300 block on North Broadway in downtown Fargo, including signage for the Fargo Theatre, built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre. The theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a venue for independent and foreign films, concerts, plays and more. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

In the time shortly before my son moved to North Dakota and in the nine months thereafter, I got to know Fargo somewhat. It is the charming downtown, with its mostly old buildings, which most endears me to this community. And the people. They were, as de Celle has found, always kind and friendly.

He does expose, though, one issue—that of a workforce he terms as “the most overqualified, underpaid, competent and ethical” in the U.S. “Underpaid” jumps out at me, when really “overqualified, competent and ethical” should.

Then de Celle balances this with his summation that the majority of folks in Fargo value relationships over stuff. That apparently partially explains why people choose to live in Fargo when they could earn more money elsewhere doing the same job.

Now that’s my kind of place, my kind of people.

The landscape: flat and into forever.

The landscape: flat and into forever in the Fargo area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But I’m going to be honest here. Even though I grew up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, which I thought to be about as flat and open sky country as exists, I found the landscape of Fargo even flatter, the wind more fierce, the environment harsher.

Every visit to Fargo, I felt unsettled. Like my son before me, I doubt I could last more than a winter in North Dakota. Rather, I live across the border nearly 300 miles to the south and east, still within Northern Prairie Culture in a state known for “Minnesota Nice.” Probably a lot, I’ve concluded, like “How Fargo of You” nice.

Disclaimer: Author Marc de Celle purchased one of my photos for usage on his website and gave me complimentary copies of his two books. That, however, did not influence my decision to write this review or the content therein.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Looking out for the Girl Scouts in frigid Fargo March 15, 2014

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SHOULD WALMART ALLOW Girl Scouts inside their stores to sell cookies?

A West Fargo, N.D., man thinks the retail giant should show a little compassion and do exactly that, according to an article published Thursday in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

The sign posted in front of the West Fargo Walmart on Sunday morning.

The entry to the West Fargo Walmart, photographed on a Sunday morning in November 2012.

John Kraft raised his concerns in a newspaper ad after observing local Girl Scouts selling cookies outside of Walmart in temps that dipped near double-digits below zero with an equally brutal windchill.

A view of the 300 block on North Broadway, including signage for the Fargo Theatre, built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre. The theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a venue for independent and foreign films, concerts, plays and more.

Downtown Fargo. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Believe me, the wind whips across the flat terrain of Fargo. In all seasons.

Last February I received this text from my 19-year-old son, a then student at North Dakota State University: This cheap Walmart hat stands zero chance against the Fargo wind. He proceeded to order a surplus Russian military cap online. His observation seems especially fitting in the current context of the Girl Scouts-Walmart controversy.

Randy snapped this photo of me upon our return home from ringing bells. One donor suggested we receive "hazard pay" for ringing on such a bitterly cold day. There's no pay; this is a volunteer opportunity.

Me, dressed to ring bells for the Salvation Army.

Several months ago, I stood outside the Faribault Walmart, ringing bells for two hours for the Salvation Army in zero degree temps. Layered in a flannel shirt, jeans, insulated coveralls and a sweatshirt with my feet tucked inside wool socks in insulated boots and my hands shoved inside fleece-lined mittens, I still shivered. So I understand the Girl Scouts’ situation. They reportedly sold cookies for six hours in the frigid cold, four hours longer than my volunteer stint.

I managed the cold by staying in constant motion and occasionally stepping inside Walmart to warm my hands under the bathroom hand dryer.

Like John Kraft in West Fargo, I wondered why my husband and I and the other volunteers ringing bells on that cold cold Minnesota day could not at least stand inside the Walmart vestibule. Company policy, we were advised. Company policy.

It seems to me that sometimes common sense should prevail over policy.

BONUS PHOTO:

Girls and their moms peddled Girl Scout cookies in Courtland.

In March 2011, I photographed these Girl Scouts selling cookies from a truck along U.S. Highway 14 in Courtland, Minnesota. Temps hovered around 30 degrees that afternoon. Girl Scouts seem determined to sell cookies, no matter the weather.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photographic journey through the prairie to Fargo May 24, 2013

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Rural scene, I94

ON THE WAY WEST TO FARGO, the land is wide, the sky big.

Rural scene, Sauk Centre

Fields and farm sites—punctuated by occasional cities, like Sauk Centre, Alexandria and Fergus Falls, and exits to small towns—once west of St. Cloud, define the Interstate 94 corridor leading northwest to the North Dakota border.

Rural scene, Downer sign

It is a place that can be both unsettling and freeing, depending on your perspective, your mood, your experiences.

Rural scene, farmhouse

Raised on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, even I am sometimes overwhelmed by the infinite spaciousness of this prairie, this sky.

Rural scene, lone tree

I ground myself with my camera, locking on scenes that root me to the earth, give me the security of feeling tethered.

Rural scenes, barn and silo

And when I do that, I notice the details of lines and shapes—in fence posts and grain bins, a lone farmhouse or a single tree, the angle of a barn roof or the vertical rise of a silo.

Rural, bins

I still feel small in this expanse. But I, at least, feel less lost in the vastness.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling