Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Father’s Day reflections on, for, Randy June 18, 2022

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Randy takes a quiet walk along the beach of Horseshoe Lake south of Crosslake. (Minnnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020)

ON THIS DAY BEFORE FATHER’S DAY, I want to pause and reflect, not on my dad, but on my husband as a father. And a son.

He’s been a dad now for 36 years with an age span of eight years between our eldest daughter and our son in a family of three children. Coming from a large farm family—as the oldest boy of nine siblings—Randy understands the joys, the inner workings, the challenges within families, within life. And while he certainly parents differently than his father, basic core values are generational.

An Allis Chalmers corn chopper like this one exhibited at the 2010 Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show, claimed my father-in-law’s left hand and much of his arm in a 1967 accident. That’s my husband, Randy, who saved his dad’s life by running for help. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

I want to start by reflecting on an incident in Randy’s childhood in which he, undoubtedly, saved his father’s life. On that October day in 1967, Randy rode along with his dad as he chopped corn on the family farm in rural Buckman, Minnesota. Near the far end of the field, the chopper plugged and Tom hopped off the tractor to hand-feed corn into the machine. Along with the corn, his hand was pulled into the spring-loaded rollers. The blades sliced off Tom’s fingers and the rollers trapped his arm.

In that moment, when Randy’s dad screamed in excruciating pain, his 11-year-old son disengaged the power take-off, stopping the machine from causing additional injury and death. Randy then raced along a cow pasture and across swampland to a neighbor’s farm for help. That farm accident ended with the amputation of Tom’s left hand and most of his arm. But his life was spared because of his son’s quick action.

I asked Randy if his dad ever thanked him for saving his life. He never did, he acknowledged. That saddens me and now it’s too late. Tom died in 2021. Had this happened in today’s world, I expect Randy would receive public recognition for his actions. But this story has slipped, unnoticed and unrecognized, into family history.

I’m not surprised that my father-in-law never thanked his son. He was of the generation where displays of affection, of emotions, of gratitude mostly did not happen. That was my experience growing up also. Sure we knew our parents loved us. But they didn’t necessarily express that, although their actions did in their hard work of providing for us.

Randy grinds a flywheel in his job as an automotive machinist. He’s worked in this profession for more than 40 years. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

Randy models hard work, too. But his parenting differs from the prior generation in that his kids, our kids, hear their dad’s words of love and feel it in his hugs and more.

I carry visuals of him sprawled across the living room floor on a Sunday afternoon reading the comics to our girls. I see him, too, playing endless games of Monopoly with the kids or walking up the hill to the park with them. Swinging in the summer, sliding in the winter.

Grandpa and grandchildren follow the pine-edged driveway at the extended family lake cabin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2020)

In my memory, I see him tailing kids trying to balance on a bicycle without training wheels. I see him hunched over with our eldest daughter, helping her construct an igloo from water softener salt pellets for a first grade assignment. I see him aside our son gazing at the stars. None of these interactions are particularly profound. But they are the moments which comprise life and fatherhood.

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

There have certainly been hard moments too—watching our 4-year-old daughter clutch her Big Bird as she walked into a hospital operating room. Or racing down the street where our 12-year-old son was being loaded into an ambulance after he was struck by a car. Randy handled both with inherent calm.

Randy in the suit he selected at St. Clair’s for Men in Owatonna for our eldest daughter’s wedding. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2013)

In their adulthood, Randy has continued to be there for our three grown children. We’ve moved them many times from places in Minnesota to North Dakota to Wisconsin to Indiana. (The son had to do his Boston move on his own.) Randy’s repaired cars, offered advice, always been there. He walked our daughters down the aisle. And now he’s loving on our two grandchildren, extending his fathering skills to the next generation. I love watching him in that role, rooted in his experiences as a father and, before that, as a loving son who 55 years ago saved his father’s life in a central Minnesota cornfield.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Marking 35 years as an automotive machinist in Northfield October 3, 2018

Randy at work in the NAPA machine shop in Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MORE AND MORE, Randy hears the question, “When are you retiring?”

Not because people want him to retire. But because customers worry that he will retire before he completes work for them.

Today marks 35 years since my husband became the automotive machinist at Parts Department, Inc., Northfield, aka NAPA. He’s been in the profession even longer, beginning first as a parts man in Montana, Rochester and Faribault before shifting to automotive machining in Faribault, then Owatonna and for the long term in Northfield.

 

Randy grinds a flywheel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Thirty-five years. It’s a long time to work in one place turning brake rotors, resurfacing heads, grinding valves and flywheels, and doing a multitude of other automotive machining tasks I don’t understand. He’s a skilled tradesman, a pro whose work is in high demand. Few do what Randy does. Because of that and his exceptional skills, he’s in high demand. Locally, regionally and beyond.

 

Randy’s toolbox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’m proud of Randy. He is smart, talented and driven to do the best he can for his customers. He works hard. He works long days—up until a few years ago six days a week. And up until last year, he had only 10 days of vacation annually. Now he gets twenty.

 

Just one example of all the work that awaits Randy in the NAPA automotive machine shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

His farm upbringing instilled in him a strong work ethic. That and the cost of health insurance will keep him from retiring for a few years yet. Hopefully his back and his feet will hold out. I’ve seen the physical toll of a labor intensive, on-your-feet job.

For now Randy’s customers need not worry. He has no plans for immediate retirement. But good luck finding someone to do their machining work after he retires…hopefully in a few years.

PLEASE JOIN ME in congratulating Randy on 35 years as the automotive machinist at NAPA in Northfield.

Click here to read a post I wrote about Randy on this 30-year anniversary.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on my husband’s 60th birthday October 12, 2016

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helbling-siblings-in-n-d-1963

 

IN THE PHOTO, one of the few from his childhood, he is a slim blonde-haired almost 7-year-old standing in front of three of his four sisters.

 

Grandfather and granddaughter.

One of my favorite photos of Randy: holding his 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

Fast forward 53 years and he is a 60-year-old father of three and a new grandfather. He is my husband, Randy. And today he turns sixty.

We’ve known each other for more than half our lives. I often wonder how those decades have passed, snap, just like that and we are each now sixty.

Birthdays for me today are more reflective and less celebratory. Not that I don’t appreciate another year of life. Rather, I find myself thinking about the past.

I have heard through the decades stories from Randy’s past. He was born in North Dakota and moved with his family to central Minnesota in his early elementary years. As he tells it, in the one-room country schoolhouse he attended in North Dakota, students were kept in from recess one day due to coyotes roaming the schoolyard. I love that story.

While attending a Catholic school in Minnesota, he apparently misbehaved and was punished by a nun drilling her thumb into his skull. I don’t love that story.

And then there’s the story about the day my husband saved his father’s life. On Saturday, October 21, 1967, my father-in-law’s left hand was pulled into the spring-loaded roller of a corn chopper. Blades sliced off his fingers. The roller trapped his arm. Randy was with him. As his father screamed, the 11-year-old disengaged the power take-off and then ran along cow pasture and across swampland to a neighbor’s farm for help. Randy saved his dad’s life. I love that example of courage and calm exhibited by a young boy, my husband.

That trait of quiet, reassuring strength has continued throughout Randy’s life. Not much rattles him. It’s an admirable quality, especially in times of stress and difficulty. And, as we all know, life brings many struggles and challenges.

He is strong. Strong in his work ethic, his faith and his love of family.

Today I celebrate and honor the man I’ve loved for some 35 years. Happy birthday, Randy! And many more!

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring my husband as he marks 30 years with the same employer October 12, 2013

5:48 a.m.

The numbers on the clock radio glow red in the early dark of an October morning as he leans across the pillow to kiss my cheek, his beard brushing my skin.

Only minutes earlier, I awakened to the angular slant of light from the bathroom cutting across the carpet outside our bedroom, the rush of water from the faucet, the jingle of coins scooped from the dresser top into his work uniform pocket.

In minutes, after he’s laced his grimy Red Wing work shoes, I will hear the door shut, imagine him pulling the rag rug into place that protects the 1995 Chrysler upholstery from grease, picture him heading out of Faribault for the 22-minute commute to work.

For 30 years he’s followed this routine, although not always leaving the house before 6 a.m. But he is busy, crazy busy, in the NAPA automotive machine shop. This is nothing new; it’s been this way for three decades.

My husband at work in the automotive machine shop where he is employed.

My husband at work in the NAPA automotive machine shop where he has worked for 30 years. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

He, my husband Randy, possesses a strong work ethic that drives him to work well before the appointed 8 a.m. start and to leave well after the appointed 5 p.m. end of his work day and to labor most Saturdays. When he takes a rare week day off—from only 10 annual vacation days—he is stressed even more trying to meet customer demands.

Every time he takes a vacation day, and those are seldom and never more than five at a time unless combined with a holiday, he must labor doubly hard. Long days before he leaves. Long days afterward. Often it hardly seems worth the time away.

Just one example of all the work that awaits my husband in the NAPA automotive machine shop.

Just one example of all the work that awaits my husband in the NAPA automotive machine shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But Randy sometimes needs a break from pressing customers and the pile of work that never diminishes. His skills—the turning of brake rotors, the resurfacing of heads, the grinding of valves and flywheels and a multitude of other automotive machining tasks I don’t understand—is in high demand. Few do what he does and he’s good at it. Probably the best in southeastern Minnesota as evidenced by his wide regional customer base and the endless work load.

Everyone wants their car, their truck, their SUV, their van, their tractor, their combine, their snowblower, their lawnmower, their recreational vehicles, their whatever, repaired first.

In 2008, Randy was recognized by his employer for 25 years of service to Parts Department, Inc., Northfield. Randy received a plaque, dinner out and a drill.

In 2008, Randy was recognized by his employer for 25 years of service to Parts Department, Inc., Northfield. Randy received a plaque, dinner out and an air wrench. Photo by Dan Christopherson.

Did you catch that early on noted time frame of 30 years?

Randy grinds a flywheel.

Randy grinds a flywheel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

October marks 30 years since Randy started working as the automotive machinist for Parts Department, Inc. (NAPA), Northfield.

My husband's NAPA automotive machine shop toolbox.

My husband’s NAPA automotive machine shop toolbox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Thirty years at one business. Remarkable, isn’t it?

Even more remarkable, Randy’s labored in the automotive field for just shy of 40 years.  Only two years out of high school and with two years of trade school education, he packed his car in the spring of 1976 for Plentywood, Montana. He lasted there as a parts man for a month, returning from the middle of nowhere to settle in southeastern Minnesota.

My husband at work with a hammer, a tool he uses often as an automotive machinist.

Randy at work. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Randy was employed as a parts man in Rochester, eventually relocating to K & G Auto Parts in Faribault. There he worked as a parts man before moving into the machine shop and learning that skilled trade. He also worked in an Owatonna machine shop until the previous owner of the Northfield NAPA enticed Randy to join his business.

He genuinely loves his job, working solo in the machine shop, although Randy says he always dreamed of being a rural mail carrier. Had he chosen that career path, he would be retired by now, collecting a pension. Taking vacations. Sleeping in. Saturdays off.

Instead, dirt and grease outline his fingernails. Faded white scars mar his skin. Flecks of errant metal, from work projects, lie beneath the surface of his skin.  Sometimes, too often, his back aches. He rises early. Works long days. Sometimes falls asleep in the recliner as the evening fades. Takes well-deserved Sunday afternoon naps.

He’s worked hard to provide a steady income for our family, allowing me to stay home and raise our three children and work part-time from home and continue to pursue my passions in writing and photography. We are not wealthy in monetary terms. But the mortgage is paid on our modest house, food is always on the table, clothing on our backs, bills covered.

And it is because of my farm-raised, blue collar hardworking husband.

Please join me in congratulating Randy on his 30-year anniversary as the automotive machinist at Parts Department, Inc., Northfield. And also wish him a happy birthday, for today, October 12, is his birthday.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling