Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Barn memories February 28, 2017

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MY APPRECIATION FOR and fascination with aged barns remains strong, steadfast, unwavering. That interest springs from childhood years of laboring in a southwestern Minnesota dairy barn.




As the second oldest in a family of six children, I was tasked early on with doing chores alongside my eldest brother. Dad needed the help and I never resented it. I only resented that my brother would steal the silage I’d tossed down from the silo. I suppose I can’t blame him. He had to carry silage across two gutters and a barn aisle to feed cows on the east side of the barn. I had only to step outside the silage room door to distribute chopped and fermented corn on the west side. But still.




Often I told my dad I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. He never encouraged it. But I loved working in the barn—maybe not the scraping manure part so much. Yet I always preferred farm work to anything Mom wanted me to do in the house.




So I pushed a wheelbarrow down the barn aisle, then scooped shovels full of ground feed before stanchions. I hoisted myself into the haymow to throw down bales of hay and straw. I shook apart straw with a pitchfork, separated alfalfa with gloved hands. I carried pails of milk, washed buckets, mixed milk replacer, fed milk and pellets to hungry calves…

I hold memories of Point of Law booming from WCCO, of hot urine splashing from a cow’s behind, of frothy milk poured into the bulk tank, of a yellow jackknife stuffed inside my pants pocket, of cats clustering around a battered hub cap brimming with still warm milk.




My dad was right. I never became a farmer, pursuing journalism instead. Only one brother farmed for awhile. He’s still in an ag-related industry as is my oldest brother. The rest of us, well, we left the farm. But I like to think that we’ve truly never left in the sense of a deep-rooted attachment to the place that shaped each of us. I write and photograph from a rural perspective. Another sister works as a floral designer. My youngest brother is an attorney in the Twin Cities metro, but maintains his connection to southwestern Minnesota through deer and pheasant hunting.

We were raised as the sons and daughters of a farmer. That remains, as part of our past and as part of who we became.

TELL ME: Did your childhood influence your direction in life, including career choices, where you lived/live, etc.?

FYI: These photos were taken in rural Rice County and in the Jordan/Prior Lake areas, not in my native southwestern Minnesota. This post honors my farmer father, Elvern Kletscher, who would have celebrated his birthday this week. He died 14 years ago in early April 2003.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Bullying in Minnesota: In the news again & a look back January 22, 2015

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WHO AMONG YOU has been bullied?

If I could see you all, I expect many a hand would rise.

Both my arms would be waving wildly, high above my head. Me. Me. Me.

That bullying occurred more than 40 years ago. Yet, it feels like yesterday when my junior high classmates picked on me and other kids from a nearby farming community. We, apparently, did not meet their standards given our rural addresses outside the county seat.

Countless days I arrived home from school in tears. Crying over mean words. Crying and wishing with all my might that things would change or that I would never need to return to that school.

A teacher who also bullied students added to my angst as did other teachers, who simply looked the other way.

These horrible memories flash to the forefront because of a bullying incident in Minnesota that is, today, big news. News because the father of the girl being bullied created a YouTube video that shows just how mean bullies (and their parents) can be—mean as in using the “N” word against the father’s African American daughter. Click here to read background on this bullying case and to watch the father’s video.

You would think in the year 2015, with all of the discussion on bullying, all of the awareness, all of the laws, that bullying would not exist. Wishful thinking. All the talk and rules in the world will not close mouths that speak words of hatred and racism and just plain meanness. Yet we need to keep trying.

What to do. There’s no single solution. I wished back in the late 1960s that my parents would have done something—anything. But that can backfire, too, make the bullying worse.

When our son was bullied as in being spit on, pinched, pushed and kicked by a classmate, my husband and I met with his teacher. Her response: Befriend the bully. Are you kidding? Place the responsibility for solving the problem on our elementary-aged son and not hold the bully accountable? Not going to happen. Eventually we pulled our son from the school.

Recently, I was shouted at during a meeting. I sat there stunned, struggling to hold back tears. Soon thereafter I left, unable to suppress my emotions. But this time the reaction was different. Concerned individuals approached me, assuring me that I didn’t deserve the verbal attack for asking a legitimate question.

After the meeting, the man who launched those angry words at me apologized. He phoned again early the next morning to apologize. I accepted both apologies.

If only every case of bullying ended that way, with a sincere apology, acceptance of responsibility and determination to change.

That would be hoping for Utopia.

A snippet from a sign at the International Peace Garden, Nerstrand Elementary School, Minnesota.

A snippet from a sign at the International Peace Garden, Nerstrand Elementary School, Minnesota. The sign and garden do not specifically address bullying. Rather the Peace Garden advocates peace and getting along, despite our differences. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Yet, I can take my experiences and find some good therein. Because I was bullied, I am a more compassionate, caring and empathetic person, championing for others. I may have been that way without the bullying. The qualifying word would be “more.”

I can use my words in a positive way to affect change, to show others I care, really care. As we all know, words are powerful.

Now it’s your turn to speak. Please share your thoughts on bullying.

FYI: To learn more about bullying prevention, click here to reach the Pacer Center’s Kids Against Bullying website. And then click here to reach the site for teens.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling