Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hope, joy & kindness at the clinic April 16, 2021

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Photographed along the bike trail in the Atwood neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

AS I WAITED POST VACCINATION in the clinic waiting room for the mandatory 15-minute observation, I observed. I am a people-watcher. A listener. A person who notices her environment.

After texting family, I set my cellphone aside to watch. Nearly every other person was on their phone, one guy even answering two calls. But, with magazines absent from tables and time to pass, few options remained. I’d left my library book, Funeral for a Friend by Brian Freeman, at home.

I wondered about all these people, if they felt as happy and thankful as me to receive the Pfizer vaccine protecting us against COVID-19. I expect they did.

Occasionally the nurse overseeing the small cluster of vaccinated individuals circulated among us. Checking times. And us. We each had labels stuck to our clothing, noting our dismissal time. I moved mine from just above the denim on my right knee to the right of my Army green jacket, making the label more visible.

Patients filtered in and out of the clinic as I sat there. Watching. A young mother entered, baby balanced on her hip. I was surprised to see her little one, perhaps six months old, wearing a face mask. I felt gratitude toward that mother who understands the value of face masks in protecting others and in keeping her child safe. The baby wore the mask with ease.

Photographed at LARK Toys in Kellogg, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Soon my eyes shifted to another mother and child waiting nearby, outside the vision clinic. I watched as the observation nurse walked over and asked if she needed help. Her kindness touched me. I expect this mother, a Muslim woman dressed in a black niqab with only her eyes showing through a rectangular slit, may struggle with English. But she understood enough to reply, although I didn’t hear her response. And then the nurse bent toward the child, perhaps nine months old, waving and talking and engaging her. The baby waved back, a broad smile spreading across her sweet face. In that moment I felt joy. Joy in seeing this very basic human interaction. Culture and dress and skin tone and religion mattering not. Just one human being interacting with another in the most loving way.

Photographed several years ago in the window of a downtown Faribault business. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Moments like this give me hope. Hope that we can accept one another. Connect. Express kindness to one another. Care about each other. And realize that, at the core, we are all simply human beings living on this earth. Individuals with wants and needs, no matter our skin tone, our beliefs, our culture, our language, our job status, our anything.

Love in three languages (Spanish, Somali and English), printed on a mirror along Faribault’s Virtue Trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

Understanding and acceptance start with each of us. Like the interaction I witnessed between nurse and mother and child at the clinic. When the observation nurse cleared me to leave at 3:38 pm, I thanked her. Beneath my face mask, I smiled. And although she couldn’t see that smile, I hope she heard the joy and gratitude in my words.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My story: Insights learned from whooping cough April 16, 2020

 

The gravestone of Deloris Edna Emilie Bode, my aunt who died of highly-contagious whooping cough at age nine months. A great aunt, Ida, also died of pertussis at the same age. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

FROM THE BLOG ARCHIVES

In the summer of 2005, when I was 48, I came down with what I initially thought was a bad cold. Turns out the horrific sore throat, followed by the equally horrific cough, was actually whooping cough. After three doctor’s visits and a misdiagnosis of bronchitis, I was correctly diagnosed with pertussis, the first case my physician had ever seen in his longtime career.

When he informed me that pertussis is also known as the 100-day cough, he was not joking. I was racked by uncontrollable fits of coughing from around July Fourth until well after Labor Day.

For me, the summer of 2005 was spent languishing on the couch, feeling like absolute crap, exhausted from lack of sleep (ever try sleeping when you are constantly coughing), utterly worn down, unable to barely function.

The worst, and I mean absolute worst, moment came when I awoke one night gasping for air, my windpipe narrowed. In retrospect, that asthmatic type attack warranted a 911 call and I now consider myself fortunate to have survived. Yes, it was that bad and necessitated another visit to the doctor for a regiment of the inflammation reducing steroid prednisone and an inhaler.

I don’t know why I experienced a particularly bad case of whooping cough. Typically the young and elderly are most harshly affected. Unvaccinated infants can even die.

Nor do I know how I got a disease I thought had vanished decades ago and which claimed the life of my Aunt Deloris in 1935 at nine months old. My doctor speculated that I could have been exposed waiting in the check-out line at the grocery store. I’ll never know.

 

FAST FORWARD TO 2020

Why do I share this experience, which I first blogged about in 2010? I reblog this because it’s a very real example of how easily I became infected with a highly-contagious bacterial disease simply by being out and about in public. To this day, I have no idea where I picked up whooping cough and then passed it along to two family members. Since then, I’ve learned that the vaccine for pertussis, a serious respiratory tract infection, wears off and re-vaccination is needed.

When I consider how ill I became from whooping cough at age 48, I can only guess how the much more serious COVID-19 might affect me 15 years later at age 63. I recognize the two differ—one is bacterial, the other viral, for example, with many other differences. But some similarities.

Having contracted pertussis via community spread illustrates and underscores the importance of social distancing, of staying at home, of recognizing how quickly and easily the highly-contagious and potentially deadly COVID-19 virus can spread.

 

WHAT I’M SEEING

I shop at the grocery store weekly because, you know, I eat. I’ve seen too many people who don’t seem to care about social distancing. I can tell right away. They hog the aisle, don’t move over, come too close. In all fairness, many people are being safe, careful and respectful and I appreciate that.

While en route to the grocery store or to a park (about the only places I go now days), I’ve observed groups of obviously unrelated people chatting, even leaning into car windows. No social distancing. I’ve seen landscapers clustered around the back of a pick-up truck.

I recognize that we live in a free country and that people will make choices that are unwise, unsafe and not in the best interests of their health. But when those decisions affect the health of the general public, it’s different. We are all aware that COVID-19 is highly-contagious, even deadly. Every single one of us ought to care because our lives, and the lives of those we love, of our friends, our neighbors and, yes, even the woman in the grocery store, depend on us caring. Whether we live in New York or Minnesota, this virus does not distinguish between rural and urban. No one is immune.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The latest observations & developments on COVID-19 from my area of Minnesota March 15, 2020

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Art from my files that seems to fit this story. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of random growth on a bridge.

 

IN A REVERSAL OF ROLES, the daughters are now concerned about their parents. Randy and me. Both daughters advised us not to attend services at our church this morning. They live in major metro areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The second daughter even texted a link to a news story about a Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, church with three positive cases within the congregation.

“Is this an effort to convince the parents not to attend church?” I replied.

“Yes,” she answered. Services at our daughters’ churches have been canceled.

The Wisconsin daughter works as an independent healthcare contractor in close contact with patients. She views the current pandemic from an insider, as well as a personal, perspective. Her concern for her parents is certainly valid. But I worry about her, too, although plans are in place now to protect her and other professionals in her field.

It’s really difficult to know what to do, how much to limit your activities when you’re not in the highest risk population. But many in my Faribault congregation are and that is especially concerning as the coronavirus situation develops. Minnesota now has 35 confirmed cases, up from 14 on Saturday. Two of those newest cases are in rural areas—Renville County in southwestern Minnesota and Waseca County, right next to my county of Rice. And three have been linked to community transmission.

In a news conference today, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced that all K-12 schools in Minnesota will close by Wednesday while “transitioning to a different way of delivering education.” That new plan of extended distance learning is expected to be in operation by the end of March. He’s ordered schools to close from March 18-27. Faribault public schools are closing already starting Monday.

But the information that really jumped out at me today was delivered by Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. She “strongly encouraged” those 70 and older and those at risk due to underlying health conditions to isolate themselves and to reduce interaction with the public. Perhaps I missed this in previous news conferences or statements. But this is the first time I’ve heard something this specific targeted to a specific age demographic.

Following the declaration of a peace-time state of emergency in Minnesota on Friday, state officials recommended no gatherings of more than 250 people and social distancing of six feet for groups under that. That’s resulted in thousands of cancellations, including at some houses of worship.

Malcolm also told Minnesotans to stay home from work if they’re sick rather than follow the strong Minnesota work ethic of toughing it out (and going to work sick). Randy received a text from his employer this afternoon telling all employees to stay home if they are ill. More discussion follows tomorrow at this small business.

 

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Everywhere I see the ripples of this pandemic. Yesterday, when I stopped at the local public library to stock up on reading materials, I found the facility nearly empty. On a typical Saturday, all computer terminals would be in use, kids would be playing in the children’s area and the place would be filled with patrons.

The grocery store, however, was packed with people stocking up. In addition to our usual Saturday meat counter purchases, we picked up a few extras—canned fruit (which I never eat), Ibuprofen and Gatorade (just in case we get sick). I looked again, even at the hardware store, for hand sanitizer, to no avail.

But I picked up tidbits of information from random people I don’t know. One, from Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a private college prep school in Faribault with a sizable international population, shared how parents of students from China just want to get their kids home. As a mom whose adult son returned to Wisconsin last evening from an international conference in Florida with a layover in New York, I get it. I wanted him safely back in the Midwest.

An employee at the grocery store told me about his Waldorf College friend who is trying to get home to Barcelona, Spain. A friend worries about her pregnant daughter and family in Spain, now basically under lockdown. Many family and friends are canceling vacations and my church has canceled a March mission trip to Nicaragua.

Then there’s the dad I met at Walgreens who encouraged his daughter to go on a recent cruise and have fun. His attitude toward the whole pandemic seemed relaxed. Maybe too relaxed. But I recognize that everyone reacts differently.

None of us knows what will happen, how this pandemic will develop. I feel confident in our leadership here in Minnesota, that we are getting accurate information and good advice and that state officials are working hard to manage the growth of coronavirus. That eases my mind. Somewhat.

Today we attended services at our church, despite the daughters’ protests. We kept social distance during the service, didn’t touch the collection plate and used hand sanitizer. Maybe next week I will feel differently.

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JUST A NOTE: I feel it’s important to continue documenting what’s happening in my small corner of the world—what I am observing, what I am thinking, feeling and experiencing. It helps me to write about the situation. I want to hear from you, too, and deeply appreciate those of you who have already taken the time to add your thoughtful (and sometimes humorous) comments. We are experiencing something historic, something unprecedented and something that touches every single one of us. Be well, my friends.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beer, conversations & creativity on a winter day in Minnesota March 5, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

AS I SIPPED my double IPA at Chapel Brewing in Dundas on Sunday afternoon, I snuggled under a fleece throw inside the revamped long ago chapel. I couldn’t shake the brutal cold of the winter day, even inside this cozy, albeit not particularly warm, building. I removed my mittens, keeping my coat zipped over a flannel shirt and hooded sweatshirt.

I perched on a stool next to the wall, next to a window overlooking a snow-covered deck, snow layering locked down tables and chairs. I wondered how many months before the snow melts, before craft beer lovers will sit outdoors on the riverside deck. It’ll be awhile.

For now, they settled for glimpses of spring on a corner TV screen broadcasting a pre-season Twins game. I was in the minority with no interest in baseball. Only a lush flower commercial for Gertens drew my attention and a personal public service announcement of “Hey, look, spring.”

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

They laughed. The mostly men dressed in mostly flannel shirts. Some, like me, kept their stocking caps clamped on their heads. I felt a sense of closeness in this gathering of strangers unknown to Randy and me. There’s something about the craziness of coming out on a bitterly cold March afternoon during a forever winter of too much cold and snow that builds community. We’re all in this together. We’re surviving. We’re trying to make the best of what this winter has handed us.

 

Inside Chapel Brewing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

And then in walked the two guys from Cannon Falls, one dressed in striped bib overalls. I flashed to my farmer dad, who would have celebrated his birthday on Monday. He’s been gone now for nearly 16 years. Dad always wore striped bibs. The stranger’s attire offered me no choice but to comment on his clothing. He’s a farmer, too. Prior to arriving at the brewery, he stopped near Medford to look at a digger dug from the snow by the seller. Now that’s gumption, braving bone-chilling cold to shop for a piece of farm equipment.

 

Kolsch beer served at Chapel Brewing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

The things you learn when you decide to strike up a conversation over a beer. I also learned the bibbed farmer appeared in a campaign commercial for a Minnesota politician. He showed me the clip on his phone.

When another beer drinker overhead me say I grew up in Redwood County near Vesta, he chimed in. He’s familiar with the area, having attended Southwest Minnesota State University in neighboring Marshall back in the 1970s. He knew Vesta then as “the cult town,” a term I’d never heard but which likely traces to a religious sect in my hometown. A Twin Cities area native, he didn’t fit into the ag-oriented college all those decades ago. I also learned he lost his wife a year ago and offered my sympathies.

It amazes me sometimes what I learn by observing, by starting conversations, by reaching out to people. I am, by nature, an introvert. I’d rather listen than talk about myself. But I am, by nature and by educational and professional backgrounds, curious. I notice details. I observe. And by observing and caring about others’ stories, I discover connections that spark my creativity. Even in the depth of a long Minnesota winter.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Scenes along the interstate in Minnesota May 8, 2017

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Driving toward downtown St. Paul along Interstate 35-E.

 

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT you’ll see while traveling the interstate. Too many motorists engage in risky behavior like tailgating, weaving from one lane to the other, texting, talking on their cells when their full attention should be on the roadway and more. It’s a crazy driving world out there.

 

I admire these MnDOT responders who aid motorists, here in the thick of interstate traffic near downtown St. Paul. It appears a mighty dangerous job.

 

I’m no fan of heavy traffic or travel in the Twin Cities metro. But then I suppose many people aren’t. Rural roadways can be just as unsafe.

 

Is the tanker actually carrying coffee or simply advertising it? Photographed northbound on I-35 toward the Twin Cities metro.

 

What’s the final destination of this outdoor enthusiast headed eastbound on I-35E?

 

How does the boss drive?

 

All of that aside, I always spot interesting scenes along the interstate. Interesting to me, anyway.

 

Southbound into St. Paul along I-35E.

 

TELL ME: What have you observed while traveling along the interstate?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling