Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Another Christmas with Mom December 20, 2017

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I pose with my mom for a photo during our extended family Christmas gathering several days ago at her care facility.


MORE AND MORE I am cognizant of the passage of time, of aging, of the realization that I am now in the demographic of senior citizen. I need only look at my ever graying hair and my multiplying age spots and feel the aches and pains of arthritis. I am growing old, which is a good thing if you consider the alternative.

But with my own aging comes more frequent grief. More and more I am writing sympathy cards and attending funeral home visitations and comforting friends at the loss of parents.

While my dad died in 2003, my mom is still living. I find myself more and more making sure I photograph her during our visits. She lives 2 ½ hours away. Often I ask my husband to photograph my 85-year-old Mom and me together, too. We almost lost her last winter to pneumonia, one of many critical health challenges Mom has faced during her lifetime.

But she shares the story that God told her he wasn’t ready yet for that stubborn old lady. I believe her. Mom doesn’t lie.

And so I am blessed with another opportunity to celebrate Christmas with Mom. I am thankful.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Aging, up close & personal July 17, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:59 AM
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MORE AND MORE I am experiencing the difficulties of watching a parent age. My husband likewise along with many of our friends.

Bodies are failing, memories fading, personalities changing as our parents move further into their eighties. I feel at times a profound sadness in all of this. Yet, I understand from an intellectual perspective that this is the natural progression of life. I feel in my own body the changes that occur with advancing age.

I want to turn back time to the days when Mom took care of me, to the days when my father-in-law would walk into a room. Roles are reversed, mobility now diminished. Walker and wheelchair. Dinner in a care center dining hall. BINGO and rare days out.

If I would allow it, melancholy would seep into my thoughts in their presence. But I shove it aside, replace it with a smile and encouragement.

On a recent visit with my father-in-law, I observed my husband pick up a toy truck and fiddle it in his hands. Before him rested his dad’s vacant wheelchair. I snapped a few quick photos with my smartphone because I saw something in that moment. I observed a depth of sadness my quiet husband would never share in words. But it was there, lingering in the silence, in the flood of sunlight through spacious windows, in the sparse room made homey by a recliner and a collection of replica small-scale vintage tractors and trucks.


TELL ME: Are you in a similar place of watching parents age and decline in health? What are your thoughts and how are you coping?

Note: My father died in 2003 at the age of 72. Randy’s mother died in 1993 at the age of 59. His dad remarried. My mom did not.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Snow peas at the farmers’ market February 18, 2011

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Faribault Farmers' Market sign, photographed during the summer.

MY HUSBAND AND I HAD some fun recently at our teen’s expense.

We were talking about food samples at the grocery store and I was raving about the bread. My spouse was telling me about the fish from Vietnam and how a shopper declared he wouldn’t eat anything from that country because of the parasites. I’m guessing he was a Vietnam War veteran.

Our son caught snippets of our conversation, remaining checked out for most of the exchange as is typical of him. Apparently any words said by the parents are not worthy of his full attention.

That is why, whenever he jumps into the middle of a discussion, his statements usually make no sense.

“What, you got bread at the farmer’s market?” he interjected into our grocery store sample conversation.

Now if we were teenagers, my husband and I would have rolled our eyes. But we didn’t.

One of us responded with something like, “You think there’s a farmers’ market in winter?” Well, maybe in some communities, but not in Central Park in Faribault, Minnesota, in February, even if the temp soared to nearly 50 degrees recently.

Besides, we added, it’s not like the local vendors would have any fresh fruits and vegetables to sell.

Then my husband, who possesses a sense of humor that balances my seriousness, thought for a moment.

Of course, he said, they could sell iceberg lettuce and snow peas, and, I added, freeze pops and snow cones.

And, oh, yeah, the Dairy Queen folks could peddle Blizzards.

By that time, the teen had already begun checking out. I could see it in his rolling eyes, in the dismissive shake of his head, in the vibe that indicated he thought his parents were nuts.

We just laughed.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Trying to sort through educational options February 16, 2011

I’M UNCERTAIN WHETHER I should admit this given I could be labeled as a “bad parent.” But I’ll risk criticism.

I am weary/tired/exhausted from trying to figure out every detail that goes into educating today’s child.

Can you blame me? I’ve had children in school for 20 years.

So…, given that, I felt a sense of relief last Thursday evening when my husband and I walked into Faribault High School to help our 17-year-old register for his last year of high school. I’m not sure why we had to be there, except to sign the registration paper. Our son knew, for the most part, what classes he wanted. He input the information into a media center computer without our assistance and questioned aloud why he couldn’t register online from home. I wondered too.

His Dad and I waited and pulled a few books from the library shelves. I scanned the magazine shelves—O, the Oprah Magazine; People; and periodicals about cats and dogs. I yawned, more than once. I was tired and really hadn’t wanted to venture outside on such a brutally cold winter night.

But I am the parent and this was required of me, to be here. I also had questions about AP classes, PSEO, SAT, PSAT and CLEP. Acronyms. So many. So much to consider and decide regarding my son’s education.

I’ve been pushing him to earn as many college credits as he can in high school. I know he’s capable and I also know he won’t get as much financial aid as his sisters given we have only one dependent now.

If all goes as planned, meaning he scores well on Advanced Placement tests, successfully completes several college classes and passes College Level Examination Program tests, my son should have a good semester of college behind him when he graduates from high school.

But we’re still trying to sort through the process, and it’s like panning for gold.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A rural Minnesota billboard packs a powerful message January 10, 2011

IF YOU TRAVEL OUTSTATE Minnesota, otherwise known as any place outside of the Twin Cities metro, check out the billboards.

They’re worth noting because of how they differ from advertising along freeways, where anyone from anywhere will see the signage.

In rural areas, the target audience seems much more localized.

For example, on a recent road trip to southwestern Minnesota, I spotted a billboard along U.S. Highway 14 near New Ulm advertising the Brown County Fair. Never mind that the fair happened last August.

Another sign promoted Chuck Spaeth Ford Mercury in Sleepy Eye and New Ulm. My automotive machinist husband tells me Ford no longer manufactures Mercury.

I also saw a billboard advertising Carhartts at the Runnings (“farm”) store in Springfield. This rugged clothing, footwear and more are almost a must-have for rural Minnesotans.


Pizza and Carhartts advertised on billboards along U.S. Highway 14.

Folks in outstate Minnesota like pizza, too. Just buy it at your local SUPERVALU, in this case Tauer’s SUPERVALU Foods in downtown Springfield.

But I spied my favorite billboard of this road trip in Sleepy Eye. Sponsored by the Brown County Underage Substance Abuse Coalition & The Parent Communication Network, this sends a strong message to parents: PARENT YOUR CHILD.


Brown County Underage Substance Abuse Coalition billboard in Sleepy Eye.

I wish such billboards weren’t needed, that underage substance abuse didn’t exist. But we know it does, always has and always will.

I appreciate how the billboard message encourages and empowers parents:

Parents…you are the #1 influence in your child’s life. Talk to your kids today! They really do listen to what you have to say!

I’d like to see replicas of this billboard elsewhere in Minnesota, even Rice County where I live. Rice County is among Minnesota’s most dangerous counties for drunk driving.

Just change the sponsor name on the billboard, and you’re good to go.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling