Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Just in time for the Fourth: Made in the USA June 29, 2017

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IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR when patriotism swells/sells, when red, white and blue are the colors of choice. Count me in on this July Fourth fashion show of American pride.

The t-shirt I am wearing in this photo is one of several Thrivent Financial tees I’ve worn while recovering from a broken shoulder. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2017.

 

I’m not one who typically cares much about what I wear except for fit and comfort. But I am growing a tad tired of the same three t-shirt styles I’ve worn for the past 5 ½ weeks. A broken shoulder necessitated the easy-on-easy-off polyester and cotton Thrivent Financial shirts that ease up my right arm, over my neck and then onto my left arm. I acquired the tees while volunteering and now they will forever link to my Summer of the Broken Shoulder. I love these shirts for their soft comfort and stretch.

But, with the Fourth of July approaching, I wanted something festive. There would be no perusing clothing racks in multiple stores or even trying shirts on in dressing rooms. Such are the limits of a fractured humerus.

 

The front of my new patriotic t-shirt.

 

Rather, I found a style I was OK with at a mega discount retailer, chose my regular size and hoped it would fit. It did. And bonus, the shirt tag and graphic denote the garment as Made in the USA. The only downside—the year 2017 printed on the front, perhaps a marketing ploy to get customers to buy new again in 2018. While the date may make the shirt unwearable beyond this year for some, not for me. You can expect this $4.97 tee to remain in my closet for many summers.

 

My new tee came with this tag.

 

 

TELL ME: Would you wear this shirt beyond 2017? And is Made in the USA important to you?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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On the Road: About patriotism &, um, Zombies February 13, 2017

WHEN MY GIRLS were little—which would have been about 25 years ago—stickers were all the rage. Kids filled mini sticker books with page after page after page of stickers. Puppies and kitties and…, for my equine loving second daughter, horses.

I didn’t understand the rationale behind transferring stickers from one piece of paper to another. But the girls loved their sticker collections and paging through them.

 

patriotic-zombie-stickers-on-vehicle-5

 

That memory flashed through my mind Saturday afternoon when I spotted a mobile sticker collection on a vehicle heading north toward the Twin Cities on Interstate 35. At first glance, I thought the stickers purely patriotic: Home of the Free, Support Our Troops, Land of the Free Because of the Brave.

 

patriotic-zombie-stickers-close-up-3

 

But then, after examining the photos I shot of the vehicle, I discovered these stickers: Zombie Outbreak Response Team and Deep Inside We All Want a Zombie Apocalypse. Uh, no we don’t. Except perhaps in Illinois. Lawmakers in the House last week approved October as “Zombie Preparedness Month.” You just can’t make this kind of stuff up. The legislators aren’t really talking zombies here, but rather preparation for natural disasters, according to media reports.

But then again, who knows? The license plate on the patriotic zombie vehicle reads Illinois.

TELL ME: What do you think of any of this? The stickers? The legislation?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Faribault: A Willow Street welcome honoring Vietnam War vets August 31, 2016

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Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #72 group by my house

 

A DOZEN OF US GATHERED late Wednesday afternoon in my front yard to honor those who served and those who died in the Vietnam War.

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #4 drawing flag with chalk

 

As we waited for the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall to arrive from Owatonna, the adults chatted. And some of the kids chalked American flags onto the sidewalk fronting my Willow Street property.

 

Vietnam Memorial Wall processional, #1 woman waiting with flag

Across the street a woman waits for the processional to begin.

Three American flags, spaced evenly along the boulevard, lifted occasionally in the breeze on a stunning August day here in southeastern Minnesota.

Leading the way...

Leading the way…

The Wall processional presented a great opportunity to honor these veterans. How well I remember the protests of decades earlier, the unrest and open hostilities expressed toward Vietnam vets. On this day in my community, in my neighborhood, in my yard, we gave them the respect they deserved. Whether or not you agree with the war matters not. Respect matters.

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #16 back of beginning

 

I saw honor in the lengthy lines of bikes, cars and other vehicles, in the waves, the American flags…

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #19 watching

 

There’s something deeply moving about participating in an event like this. I can only imagine the emotions felt by the Vietnam veterans who today—from Owatonna to Medford to Faribault and in between—witnessed a warm welcome home.

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #25 jeep

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #29 red jeep with wall sign

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #30 row of bikers

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #32 trike

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #34 back of 2 bikes

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #40 bikes and flags

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #46 biker & POW flag

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #49 biker waving

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #50 bikes

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #57 Vietnam vet on bike

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #58 red car

 

The Traveling Wall arrives in a trailer near the end of the processional.

The Traveling Wall arrives in a trailer near the end of the processional.

Volunteers will be setting up the wall on Thursday morning at the fairgrounds.

Volunteers will be setting up the wall on Thursday morning at the fairgrounds.

The trailer and accompanying vehicles continue north on Willow Street.

The trailer and accompanying vehicles continue north on Willow Street.

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #71 vets van

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #76 utility vehicle

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #9 American flag in chalk

My friend’s teenage daughter chalks a message of thanks on the sidewalk in front of my home.

FYI: The Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall opens Thursday afternoon at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. Click here for a detailed schedule of events from now through Labor Day. Check back for a follow-up post on a pre-eve stop I made at the fairgrounds.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Faribault: Prepping & waiting for the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall

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IN A FEW HOURS, the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall arrives in Faribault.

I am prepping. And so are others.

 

Vietnam Wall prep, #1 bikers

 

Around noon, a contingent of bikers, motorists and others swept past my Willow Street home en route to the Steele County Fairgrounds in Owatonna. There the group will gather for a 3 p.m. departure. The entourage will travel through Owatonna, Medford and into Faribault, ending at the wall construction site, the Rice County Fairgrounds.

 

Vietnam Wall prep, #13 red vehicle

 

Here at my home, three flags are staked in the boulevard, a sight that prompted the Faribault group to honk horns and wave as they passed by.

 

Vietnam Wall prep, #24 basket of American flags

 

A basket of American flags sits inside my front door, awaiting kids I expect here for the processional. I’ve dug out the sidewalk chalk to keep them busy while waiting. Ice cream treats are stashed in the freezer. Water bottles are cooling in the fridge.

 

Vietnam Wall prep, #25 patriotic t-shirt

 

I’ve swiped my husband’s American flag t-shirt from his dresser drawer.

Shortly before invited friends, and maybe others, arrive, I’ll spray for mosquitoes.

Today’s processional promises to be a memorable and moving experience, especially for those of us old enough to remember Vietnam. I expect the kids to learn something today about this chapter in America’s history.

Faribault, I hope you will show your honor and respect by lining the processional route and by showcasing your patriotism with American flags.

Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

Rural Minnesota patriotism July 1, 2016

The Stars & Stripes Garage in Heidelberg, Minnesota, photographed several weeks ago. Normally I would crop the parking lot section of the image. But it's an important part of the scene with white stars painted upon asphalt.

The Stars & Stripes Garage in Heidelberg, Minnesota, photographed several weeks ago. Normally I would crop the parking lot section of the image. But it’s an important part of the scene with white stars painted upon asphalt.

I HAVE YET TO FIND a more patriotically-themed garage.

Painted red, white and blue and decorated with stars and an American flag, the Stars & Stripes Garage in the hamlet of Heidelberg in Le Sueur County stands out for its grassroots show of patriotism.

Copy of Garage, Stars & Stripes 1

The Stars & Stripes Garage. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009

I first came across the Stars & Stripes in 2009, subsequently writing a magazine article about the garage owned by Vietnam veteran Joel Kukacka.

The Stars & Stripes Garage, seven years after I first painted it.

The Stars & Stripes Garage, seven years after I first photographed it.

Recently I passed through Heidelberg, pausing briefly to snap a few images of Joel’s business on a bright Sunday summer afternoon. The paint is faded in some places, a few new stars have been added and the business sign moved. But, basically, the exterior appears unchanged.

This public show of patriotism still endures in this out-of-the-way spot along quiet Le Sueur County Highway 30 in rural southern Minnesota. It’s the type of place you discover when taking the back roads.

The bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, has performed at North Morristown the past seven years, presenting two concerts at the celebration.

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, returns to the North Morristown stage for two performances, at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Several other musical groups are also performing throughout the day and into the evening. There is no charge, although donations are welcome. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

TO ALL OF MY READERS, have a wonderful and safe Fourth of July weekend as we celebrate the birth of our nation.

If you’re seeking an authentic Americana experience of the holiday in rural Minnesota, attend the 124th annual North Morristown July Fourth celebration. From the Firecracker Walk/Run to a parade to a patriotic program to a medallion hunt to music to kids’ rides to bingo to fireworks and more, you’ll find a full day of activities. You also find the best homemade food (buy your slice of pie early) on the festival grounds. North Morristown is a few farm homes and Trinity Lutheran Church and School and is located north of Morristown/west of Faribault.

Click here to view a photo essay I published in 2013 on the North Morristown celebration.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memorial Day in Faribault’s Central Park May 31, 2016

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A sizable crowd gathered Monday morning in Faribault's Central Park for the annual Memorial Day program.

A sizable crowd gathered Monday morning in Faribault’s Central Park for the annual Memorial Day program.

FOR ME, PHOTOGRAPHING any place or event is about the details as much as the whole. Details are like words, which when strung together, create sentences and then a story.

Details are as precise as the properly placed gloved hands of a veteran.

Details are as precise as the properly placed gloved hands of a veteran.

On Memorial Day at Faribault’s Central Park, details were written into the annual post parade ceremony honoring our veterans and war dead.

The honor/color guard.

The honor guard.

Veterans dressed in pressed uniforms, formal in attire. Crisp. Snap. Salute. Precision marked their movements. Such formality evokes evidence of honor, most suitable for this occasion.

A veteran plays taps at the conclusion of the program.

A veteran plays taps at the conclusion of the program.

Taps mourned and guns fired. Flags rippled. Protocol held utmost importance.

A patriotic cap hangs from a bicycle.

A patriotic cap hangs from a bicycle.

Dressed appropriately for Memorial Day.

Dressed appropriately for Memorial Day.

And in the audience I observed a dress code of patriotic reverence for this day. Red, white and blue prevailed.

I noticed even the flag on the back of this man's cap.

I noticed even the flag on the back of this man’s cap.

A child waves a flag.

A child waves a flag.

Nestled on his grandpa's lap, this young boy holds an American flag.

Nestled on his grandpa’s lap, this young boy holds an American flag.

American flags, too, were noticeable.

Wreaths placed on the cross represent the wars in which the U.S. has been involved.

Wreaths placed on and below the cross represent the wars in which the U.S. has been involved.

On occasions like this, I feel a deep sense of pride that my community cares enough about those who have served to present, participate in and attend a Memorial Day program in the park.

Veterans walk through the crowd after advancing the colors.

Veterans walk through the crowd after advancing the colors.

We care about this great nation of ours, about our freedom, about our family members and others who have served in the U.S. military.

A member of the honor guard.

A member of the honor guard.

I noticed this poppy pinned to a veteran's uniform.

I noticed a poppy pinned to a veteran’s uniform.

Veterans wait.

Veterans wait.

I am grateful to live in this country, grateful to gather in a city park, grateful to have the uncensored freedom to photograph the details, to document this event in images and words.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Cannon City: A grassroots Americana commemoration of Memorial Day

The entrance to the Cannon City Cemetery is decorated for Memorial Day.

The entrance to the Cannon City Cemetery is decorated for Memorial Day.

THERE’S A CERTAIN SENSE of comfort in tradition. For nearly 100 years, folks have gathered each Memorial Day at the Cannon City Cemetery to honor our veterans.

This shows a portion of those gathered for Monday's semi-formal program.

This shows a portion of those gathered for Monday’s semi-formal program.

In the shade of spruce and cedar trees and surrounded by gravestones, I listened to natives read The Gettysburg Address, Freedom, What Heroes Gave and more; recite In Flanders Fields; and recall the history of this celebration. A Civil War veteran initially asked students from the village school to put on a Memorial Day program. In those early years, pupils marched from the school to the cemetery bearing floral wreaths. Today the cemetery board organizes this annual observance.

Mel Sanborn, left, emceed the program.

Mel Sanborn, left, emceed the program.

Song sheets were distributed to those in attendance and then collected to save for next year.

Song sheets were distributed to those in attendance and then collected to save for next year.

Don, on the guitar, and Judy Chester lead the singing.

Don, on the guitar, and Judy Chester lead the singing.

We sang patriotic songs like The Star Spangled Banner, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and America the Beautiful, some accompanied by a guitar, some not. Voices rose 40-plus strong above the shrill of a cardinal and the distant muffle of gunfire. Sun shone. Breeze rippled.

A bronze star marks a veteran's grave.

A bronze star marks a veteran’s grave.

The Cannon City Cemetery offers an ideal setting for a grassroots remembrance of those who have served our country. Therein lies its appeal to me.

Giving the history of and then reciting In Flanders Fields.

Giving the history of and then reciting In Flanders Fields.

I have no connection to this place where nearly 50 veterans are buried. But this ceremony reminds me of the Memorial Day programs of my youth. As an aging senior recited In Flanders Fields, I mouthed the words I recited so many years ago on the stage of the Vesta Community Hall.

Fields surround the cemetery.

Fields surround the cemetery where American flags marked veterans’ graves on Memorial Day.

In its peaceful location among farm fields, this cemetery reminds me of home. Of tradition.

Sam Wilson ends the program by playing taps.

Sam Wilson ends the program by playing taps.

And when taps sounded, I was reminded, too, of just how much some sacrificed so that I could stand here, in this cemetery, on Memorial Day, hand across heart reciting The Pledge of Allegiance.

Cannon City native Bob Lewis is a fixture at the annual Memorial Day program. Locals are already tapping his historical knowledge in preparation for the 150th anniversary celebration.

Cannon City native Bob Lewis is a fixture at the annual Memorial Day program. Locals are already tapping his historical knowledge in preparation for the 150th anniversary celebration in 2017.

FYI: Next year the Cannon City Cemetery turns 150 years old. Plans are already underway for a special celebration to mark the occasion. If you want to experience grassroots Americana on Memorial Day, this is the place to be.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling