Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Passing a love of books onto the next generation November 30, 2017

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My granddaughter with a book.

 

I HAVE ALWAYS loved books. Always. They have taught, inspired, uplifted, entertained and challenged me and so much more.

 

I didn’t have many books as a young child because my parents couldn’t afford them. But I had this one, which I recently spotted (and should have bought) at a Pequot Lakes antique shop

 

A favorite childhood storybook, Three Billy Goats Gruff, instilled in me a fondness for goats and for fairy tales. And a beginning reader book, Joey the Kangaroo, endeared me to kangaroos. As my reading skills advanced, I treasured my hardcover copies of Little House on the Prairie, The Bobbsey Twins, Little Women and The Five Little Peppers.

Somewhere in that time-frame I discovered Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Those series led to a life-long love of mysteries, my favorite genre.

I thrilled in bringing home book orders from school and ordering a paperback or two to add to my bedroom bookshelf. Even though money was tight in our family, Mom allowed me to select books like Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle and Other Modern Verse.

 

When Izzy visits, she often heads straight for this basket crammed with 14 books (current count) and a few toys. While I washed dishes one morning, she pulled the books from the basket one-by-one and “read” each one.

 

When I became a mom in 1986 and birthed more children 21 months and six years later, my time to indulge in leisurely reading vanished. Instead, I found myself with a baby or child on my lap or snuggled next to me on the couch with hardboard and picture books in hand. When my eldest turned six, I was already reading The Little House and Betsy-Tacy series to her and her four-year-old sister.

 

When Izzy opened an I Spy book, I showed her how a matchbox bus matched the photo. I said the word “bus,” then repeated myself. At 20 months, she’s learning new words at a rapid pace.

 

I hold dear those memories of reading to Amber, Miranda and Caleb. All three of my kids love to read. Miranda fixated on horses for awhile, our local librarian Mary Jane always on the watch for new equine books.

 

I love this photo of Izzy “reading.” She didn’t even notice me with my camera, so engrossed was she in her book.

 

Reminders of those youthful passions for reading linger in bookshelves packed with science fiction and fantasy books in Caleb’s former bedroom. My son also frequented the nonfiction section of the local library seeking out books to teach himself juggling, magic tricks, computer programming and more. He loves to learn and never wanted to wait for a teacher to teach him. Today, with a computer science degree, he works in that field and continues to pursue learning. He holds an innate desire and passion for knowledge.

Both of my girls worked in the local library while in high school and later at their respective college libraries. They have never been far from books—whether listening to stories read at home or at library story hour, participating in summer reading programs, filing books on library shelves or simply just reading on their own.

 

One of Izzy’s favorite books to read at my house is All Year Round With Little Frog. When she pushes on the plastic frog, it squeaks. I read this book to Izzy’s Uncle Caleb more than 20 years ago.

 

My kids are grown and gone now. But the importance of reading remains, circling back now to the next generation. My granddaughter, Isabelle, loves to page through books and to be read to by her parents and others who love her, including me. She’s already completed her first summer reading program, attends storytime at the library and has a significant collection of books.

 

My husband, Randy, reads to his granddaughter during an overnight stay at our house several months ago.

 

Izzy has received, says my librarian friend Kathleen, “the gift of generational literacy.” I’ve never thought of the continuum of loving books in that way. But I love that phrase. “Miss Izzy loves books because you instilled that love in her mom (and her sister and brother)…and now, another generation benefits…and on and on,” Kathleen observed. Izzy’s daddy, too, enjoys reading, a gift of generational literacy also passed from his family.

 

Izzy pages through her mama’s childhood book, Moo, Moo, Peekaboo.

 

To watch Isabelle page through books I once read to her mama, aunt or uncle brings me much joy. The words I read some 30 years ago tumble from my memory as I hold Izzy close and recite from memory Moo, moo! Peekaboo, we see you, cow!

 

TELL ME: Have you received the gift of generational literacy and/or passed that gift along?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Beyond a mother’s love July 26, 2017

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WHEN I BECAME A MOM 31 years ago, a new love settled into my heart so profound and protective and encompassing that I was forever changed.

Decades later, my care and love for my two daughters and son remain as strong as the day they were born. Sure they are independent now, living as near as an hour away and as distant as 1,400 miles. But they are still as close as the love I hold for them.

 

 

My motherly love reaches higher than a prairie sky, wider than a prairie landscape, deeper than the prairie place that rooted me.

And just when I thought love could expand no farther, my granddaughter was born. Isabelle is nearly 16 months old now, growing into a little girl with a mind of her own. She walks with confidence, is single-word talking, cries sometimes when her mama leaves the room, offers hugs and blows kisses, loves books and brings incredible joy to my life.

 

 

At the birth of Izzy, a new love settled into my heart so profound and protective and encompassing that I was forever changed. I am a grandma smitten.

TELL ME: How has a little one (whether son/daughter, grandchild or niece/nephew) changed you?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on fatherhood June 16, 2017

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My husband and I with our three children, taken last Christmas. Rare are the times now when we are all together given the son lives in greater Boston and one daughter lives nearly six hours distant. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

“HAS YOUR DAD ever thanked you for saving his life?” I asked my husband. I doubted my father-in-law had, yet I had to ask.

“No,” Randy answered.

“You know, if this would have happened today, you would be in the news, considered a hero.” Randy agreed.

Fifty years ago this coming October 21, the then 11-year-old central Minnesota farm boy shut off the power take-off to the corn chopper that trapped his father’s arm. With the power off, Randy then raced across the field to a neighboring farm for help. His actions saved his dad’s life.

Why do I share this story just days before Father’s Day? It is an extreme example of how relationships between fathers and their children have changed. In the 1960s, the time frame in which this accident occurred, the rural men I knew worked long hard hours on the farm. By the time they exited the barn or field, they were too exhausted to interact much with their kids. They worked tirelessly to provide for families that often included a half dozen or more children. Rare were the two-kid families.

It was, too, the norm of the times for men to be distant, uninvolved and unemotional. I remember how I craved any time with my dad that didn’t involve farm work. Taking lunch to him and my Uncle Mike in the field provided some one-on-one contact. So did the few minutes I could grab to show Dad my latest sewing project. And I loved the Sunday afternoon drives our family took to look at crops.

The generation that followed—my generation—started an evolution of change. We were more opinionated, challenging of past stereotypes and undaunted by the past. Farm boys like my husband left the farm for jobs in town. And so the subtle changes in father-child relationships began.

 

A photo of our daughters in 1988.

 

When my husband became a dad 31 years ago, he forged relationships with his two daughters and son early one. Among my fondest memories is that of Randy sprawled on the living room carpet reading the Sunday comics to his children. He also read books and played infinite games of Monopoly with our son. One sweet photo shows him painting his daughter’s toe nails.

 

Watching our son graduate from Tufts University School of Engineering with a bachelor of science degree in computer science. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Our kids have always known they can count on their dad—to stick on a band-aid, cheer them on at a spelling bee, fix their cars, move them into and out of countless dorm rooms and apartments…

Randy has always been there—through the second daughter’s fitting of a back brace to treat her scoliosis, through the son’s being struck by a car, through the school programs in stuffy auditoriums, through the tears and joys and anguish.

 

My favorite photo of my husband holding our then 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

I am grateful for the strength my husband exhibits as a father and now a grandfather. Already 50 years ago, on that central Minnesota cornfield, he showed incredible strength by saving his dad’s life. Like his father before him, Randy is often quiet and unemotional. But I see at his core the love he holds for his family. And that is what matters most.

TELL ME: How do you think fatherhood has evolved? What makes a father? Or share a memory.

© 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 granddaughter turns one: A celebration in images & words April 18, 2017

 

TO WATCH MY GRANDDAUGHTER gives me such joy. To hold her and hug her and kiss her swells my heart with such love. To watch my eldest care for and love her baby girl along with her husband swells my heart with even more love.

I’ve only been a grandma for a year. But it’s long enough to know just how much I love this new role.

 

 

 

 

This past weekend family and friends celebrated the first birthday of our darling Isabelle with a The Very Hungry Caterpillar themed party. It was a perfect theme for a baby girl who loves books, who just weeks earlier sat on my lap flipping through the pages of this timeless story by Eric Carle.

 

 

 

 

Her mama, my daughter Amber, confessed that she felt a bit pressured to pull off the birthday celebration given my history of throwing detailed themed birthday parties. Amber needn’t have worried. She did great and impressed me with everything from decorations down to the caterpillar cupcake birthday cake.

 

 

 

 

It was the birthday girl, though, who spotlighted the attention of those gathered to celebrate her first birthday. Izzy did great, going to everyone and, as expected, finding tissue paper, gift receipts and a water bottle sometimes more interesting then the gifts she was supposed to be opening. Give her another year.

 

 

But for now, we all delighted in Izzy’s smile and cheered her on as she walked across the living room. We declared that Isabelle is now officially walking.

 

 

I was reminded again of how much joy a baby can find in the simple things. A textured ball released from a gift bag brought the widest smile to Izzy’s face as she shoved it across the floor. The sighting of a dog and later a squirrel through windows sent my granddaughter nearly leaping from my arms in excitement. In the craziness of life today, it is good to witness such exuberance from the perspective of a one-year-old.

 

 

 

 

Life is good when you’re one. And good, too, when you are the grandmother of a baby girl whom you love and adore.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The mystery box along the Cannon River April 12, 2017

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I MISSED THE BIG MOMENT by just minutes.

From the highway, I observed a group of people clustered along a recreational trail by the Cannon River in Cannon Falls. I had no clue what they were doing there on such a cold winter afternoon. But then, as our van drew closer, I saw the oversized box and a bouquet of pink balloons. My initial reaction to pink anything in public is related to breast cancer. Perhaps they were honoring a loved one.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Any guesses?

 

 

By the time my husband swung the van into a parking lot and I exited, the balloons were already tucked inside the major-appliance-sized cardboard box. I’d missed the prime photo opp.

Still, I needed to learn the story behind the riverside gathering.

 

 

Turns out…ready for this? The group was there for a gender reveal party as in “Is it a boy or a girl?”

The obvious answer given the pink balloons is girl. I congratulated the father-to-be as he climbed a stairway from the river to parking lot. Noticing grey tinging his hair, I asked, “Your first?” I’m nosy curious like that.

“My fourth, her first,” he answered.

What a joyous moment for the family and even strangers like me. A baby is always cause to celebrate.

TELL ME: What are your thoughts on gender reveal events/parties? Have you attended one? If yes, let’s hear details.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happy first birthday, Isabelle! April 6, 2017

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WHEN I BECAME A MOM 31 years ago, I was amazed at the depth of love I felt for my newborn girl. That repeated itself with a second daughter 21 months later and then a son six years thereafter. The love a mother holds for her children is unmatched, almost indescribable.

 

My new granddaughter, Isabelle (“Izzy” for short), photographed when she was about 17 hours old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

But then along came my first grandchild, Isabelle, born one year ago today. Izzy, as we call her, brought a new kind of love. Those of you who are grandparents “get it.” There’s something about a grandchild that weaves incredible joy into your heart.

 

My eldest daughter, Amber, and her husband, Marc, and their daughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

 

That we are not the parents frees us to love and care for a grandchild in a different and exuberant way. Sure, we still change diapers, cradle crying babies and more. But the primary responsibility of this little one lies with the parents. I delight in watching Amber and Marc care for Izzy with such tenderness, patience and love. It is obvious this baby girl is adored by her parents and by family on both coasts and many states in between.

 

One of my favorite photos of my husband and his granddaughter, taken when Isabelle was 10 days old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

I cannot get enough of Izzy. Occasionally the words, “You and Marc need to go on a date,” slip from my fingers into a text message. I cherish my Izzy time.

 

I snapped this photo of Izzy snuggling against her mom shortly after she awakened from a nap in her mama’s arms.

 

Several days ago I got lots of time with my granddaughter when she and her mom stayed overnight. Since they live only an hour away, these sleep-overs are rare. It’s just easier when a baby can sleep in her own bed in familiar surroundings.

 

Izzy reads a new book, a birthday gift from my friend Kathleen, former children’s librarian in Faribault. Izzy is also wearing the horse pajamas I gave her awhile ago. Photo by Amber.

 

Izzy and I settled on the couch, her tiny left index finger turning the cardboard pages of books I once read to her mother. From the stack of a half dozen or so books, Izzy repeatedly chose the same two, Ducky’s Seasons by Dick McCue and Baby Animals (photographs by Gerry Swart). Words tumbled in rote memory from my lips, from all those years earlier. Like her mama and grandma, Isabelle loves books.

 

Encouraging Izzy to try walking on her own.

 

She’s not walking yet, but she’s close. I witnessed several steps taken. It won’t be long.

 

Izzy pushed her baby around in the empty laundry basket.

 

Isabelle “helped” me with the laundry—a task she also does with her mom—by handing dried clothes for me to put away. Once done, she pushed her beloved baby doll around in the clothes basket. Izzy loves her baby, giving her hugs and reminding me of how Amber dragged her baby doll, Sal, around by the hair.

 

Mama Amber pushes her beautiful baby in the laundry basket just days before Izzy’s first birthday.

 

Izzy still has only minimal hair. But it’s filling in, growing thicker. She has beautiful hazel eyes from parents with brown and green eyes.

 

Izzy eats toast for breakfast.

 

She eats nearly anything put on her plate with an affinity for meat. Her parents enjoy cooking and eat healthy and that shows in Isabelle’s wide palate. I wish I held their interest in cooking; my two youngest likely would have been less picky eaters.

 

There’s a reason this image is blurry. Izzy was crawling as fast as she could toward the stairway.

 

Now that she’s one, Izzy’s personality is beginning to show. I am amazed at how smart these little ones, how imitating of adult actions. When I pet a kitty in a book, Izzy soon did the same. Efforts to keep her from the stairway, though, failed. She kept returning to climb the two stairs that could not be blocked by a gate. She is a determined girl. That will take her far in life.

 

Izzy plays with the same Fisher Price bus her mama played with as a child.

 

While it’s bittersweet to see my granddaughter turn one already, it’s also exciting. I wonder how she will develop, what her interests will be, where life will take her some day.

 

Mother and daughter.

 

To my sweet baby Isabelle, I wish the happiest of first birthdays! I love you and I love being your grandma.

 
© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling