Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on the life of Barbara Walters, from a Minnesota journalist’s perspective January 4, 2023

The cover of Walters’ book, published in 1970. (Photo credit: Amazon)

WHEN NEWS BROKE that broadcast journalist Barbara Walters died on Friday at the age of 93, I reacted with disbelief. I didn’t think she was 93, older than my mom would have been if she was still living.

Once I got over that surprise, I began to reflect on Walters’ career as a journalist. As an experienced journalist myself, albeit in print journalism, I connect on a professional level.

BLAZING THE WAY FOR WOMEN

I have always admired Walters, called “a trailblazer” in her field. The description fits. She blazed the way for women in a profession dominated by men. This was true for many women of her time, not just those in journalism. Even I, nearly 30 years her junior, experienced challenges as a female newspaper reporter in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I often felt the sense that men, especially those in positions of power, did not like me. They ignored me, tried to intimidate me, pressured me not to report what had been said at a public meeting. I never caved.

I felt fortunate to have a publisher/editor who backed me up every time, who supported, encouraged and mentored me in my first job at a rural Minnesota weekly. I hope, expect, Walters had the same behind-the-scenes support because some male co-workers didn’t hide their disdain for her. When I watched a clip of her co-anchor dismissively addressing her on the ABC Evening News, I cringed. That Walters maintained her composure is admirable.

SHE DID HER HOMEWORK

There are many reasons to admire Walters. She had a way with interviewees that prompted them to open up to her. Part of that came from being well-prepared. She did her homework—researched backgrounds and prepared questions (written on index cards) well in advance. I followed that same preparatory process for interviews. It works. I relied on my advanced list of questions, my listening skills, my copious note-taking (no recording an interview ever) and my observations to get a story.

Walters never backed down. She asked the tough questions. She perfected the art of the interview. To watch her interviews, especially those from her “The Barbara Walters Special(s)”, is to observe a gifted journalist. She ended each interview with an open-ended opportunity to add what may have been missed in her questioning. I did the same. We were thorough, an indication of the perfectionist trait we share.

THE LESSER-KNOWN FACTS ABOUT WALTERS

In recent days I learned other facts about Walters that reveal her personal side. She learned patience and empathy from her older sister Jackie, who had “a mental disability” (I’m uncertain what that means), Walters once said. She named her daughter Jackie (whom she adopted, following multiple miscarriages) in honor of her sister.

And one final thing. Walters sent handwritten thank you notes and other cards. I do, too. She understood, and I do also, the value in taking time to express gratitude, in the power of the word, whether written or spoken.

Walters leaves a legacy that stretches beyond her trailblazing the way for female journalists. She leaves a legacy, too, of kindness.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on July-December 2022 December 31, 2022

AS I CONTINUE MY REVIEW of 2022 with a focus on messages found and photographed while out and about in the second half of the year, I hope you will feel moved to reflection and thoughtfulness. Words can hurt or heal. Words can diminish or build up. Words can defeat or encourage. Words are powerful and we need to remember that. Always. In 2023, I wish for more kindness and understanding, more compassion and love, more goodness in the words we speak and write.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

JULY

Inspirational messages on benches in public spaces always draw my attention and my camera lens. Whether at a nature center, city park, garden or elsewhere, I will pause and read such uplifting quotes. I loved this message on a bench at the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens in Faribault. Touching the lives of others in a compassionate and meaningful way is among the greatest legacies one can leave.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2022)

AUGUST

Some time after the Rice County Fair ended, I meandered through the fairgrounds. During that look-around, I found a 4-H food stand sign leaning against a building. Painted with the 4-H theme of hearts, hands, head and health, it offered qualities we should all strive to follow: a heart to greater loyalty, hands to larger service, a head to clear thinking and health to better living. How much better this world would be if we followed the 4-H motto, and supported 4-Hers by dining at “1 great food stand.”

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

SEPTEMBER

September took me back to my native southwestern Minnesota to view an exhibit, “Making Lyon County Home,” at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall. Two of my poems, “Hope of a Farmer” and “Ode to my Farm Wife Mother,” are included in that exhibit. To see my writing displayed there along with the work of other noted southwestern Minnesota writers was truly an honor.

A posted quote from poet and essayist Bill Holm speaks to the influence of the land on writers. He notes the difference between the woods eye and the prairie eye. As prairie natives, Holm (now deceased) and I see with prairie eyes. He summarizes well the influence of the prairie on creativity. I’ve always felt the prairie influence in my writing and photography.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2022)

OCTOBER

In a world that today feels more divisive than ever, I am encouraged by messages like the “EVERYONE WELCOME” sign posted in the window of a downtown Faribault business. I like how each colored line layers atop the previous one until the words emerge in a bold black, EVERYONE WELCOME.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

NOVEMBER

I laughed when I read the poster in the window of my local library: Because not everything on the internet is true. Duh? Yet, it’s a message that needs to be posted because too much inaccurate and blatantly false information circulates online and people believe it. That’s the scary part. And then the falsehoods are repeated and they grow into something awful and horrible and detrimental.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2022)

DECEMBER

My chosen words for December come from the Adopt-a-Tree program in Faribault. Businesses, individuals, non-profits and more purchase and decorate trees to give to families in need of a Christmas tree. But before those trees go into homes, they are displayed at Central Park.

One donor focused on suicide crisis intervention and prevention and support for those who have lost loved ones to suicide. Anything that opens the conversation about mental health gets my backing. We need to continue talking about mental health. We need to reduce the stigma.

But beyond conversation, we need to “do.” We need to show care and compassion for those living with mental health struggles. We need to support and encourage them, and those who love them. We desperately need more mental healthcare professionals so people in crisis can access care immediately. Wait times of six weeks or more are unacceptable. Try waiting six weeks if you’re having a heart attack. That’s my comparison.

As we move into 2023, I am hopeful. Hopeful that we can grow more compassionate and kind. Hopeful that I will continue to discover positive messages posted throughout southern Minnesota.

Happy New Year, everyone!

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In small ways, we can make a positive difference November 22, 2022

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Photographed several months ago in Pine Island, this scene epitomizes love and care. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I’VE FELT IN A RATHER reflective mood recently. Perhaps it’s the shift in seasons. Perhaps it’s the approach of Thanksgiving. Perhaps it’s the deep concern I hold for those who are struggling. In reality, all three and more contribute to these present feelings.

November—with shortened daylight, colder temps and a landscape devoid of color—always brings a noticeable change within me. I prefer snuggling under a fleece throw with a good book in the evenings. I feel more cocooned, not as connected. That’s not necessarily negative, just different.

But what doesn’t change is my awareness that these months of family-centered celebrations can be really hard for some. Not everyone will gather with those held dearest. Geographical distance, death, illness and more separate. I, for one, seldom have my entire family together on holidays given distance and work schedules. Yes, that can be tough when others share about all of their loved ones back home. I’ve learned to feel grateful for the family I do see.

A welcoming message spotted in a downtown Faribault business. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

I’ve found also that focusing on others goes a long way in creating a mindset of care and compassion. A lot of people, at least in my circle, are dealing with a lot right now. Death. Illness. Job loss. Financial struggles. It’s almost overwhelming, the amount of need, the grief, the pain, the trauma.

I can’t fix things, but I can be there in meaningful ways.

This inspiring message on a business in downtown Pine Island uplifted me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

We have this capacity, each of us, to make a difference in this world. Not necessarily on a grand scale. But in small ways that touch individuals in our communities, our families, among our friends and beyond. Something as simple as opening a door for a stranger; mailing an encouraging handwritten note; treating people with kindness and respect; dropping off a gift card or a bag of groceries; calling; and listening can make a big impact on someone.

My mom, Arlene, who died in January, taught me the importance of caring for others. As a mother of six, she always put her children first. Beyond our farmhouse, she did the same within her community, volunteering at church, blood drives, veterans-related groups and with other organizations. She left a legacy of love, faith and compassion.

We can all learn a lot from the Arlenes of this world.

Whenever I’m out and about, I feel especially grateful when witnessing the goodness of people. One of those moments came in early September while in Pine Island. Near the Hardware Hank, I watched two women, presumably mother and daughter, walking hand-in-hand down the sidewalk. I nearly cried at observing such love, care and compassion.

A welcoming message on Just Food Co-op in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

I celebrate, too, when I see welcoming signs posted at businesses or on homes.

This loving inscription is posted at the State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children’s Cemetery in Owatonna. The school (orphanage) was open from 1886-1945. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Even a message of love imprinted in stone at a cemetery touches me. When I intentionally look for the positive, I see it, hear it, feel it. There truly is more good than bad in this world if we allow the light to break through the grey and outshine the darkness.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Heartache. Hope. Help. October 19, 2022

Sunrise on Horseshoe Lake in the central Minnesota lakes region. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I’M FEELING A BIT INTROSPECTIVE these days. Perhaps it’s the season. Perhaps it’s the state of the world. Perhaps it’s the challenges faced by people I love, people in my circle. I can’t pinpoint a specific reason for feeling this way, only a recognition that my thoughts seem more reflective.

(Book cover credit: Milkweed Editions)

My reading follows that thread. I just finished Graceland, at Last—Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South by Margaret Renkl. A friend recommended this award-winning book published by Minneapolis-based Milkweed Editions. She knew I would appreciate the essays therein which cover topics ranging from politics to social justice to the environment to family, community and more. So much resonated with me, inspired me, focused my thoughts. To read about these issues from a Southern perspective enlightened me.

Yes, this book includes political viewpoints that could anger some readers. Not me. Equally as important, Renkl also writes on everyday topics like the optimism of youth. I especially appreciated her chapter, “These Kids Are Done Waiting for Change.” In that essay on youth activists, she concludes: They are young enough to imagine a better future, to have faith in their own power to change the world for good.

Sam Temple, 21, is running for county commissioner in Rice County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

That quote fits a young candidate running for Third District county commissioner in my county of Rice. Last week I attended an American Association of University Women-sponsored debate between the two candidates, one 21, the other 67. It’s refreshing to see a young person running for public office, someone who cares deeply about his community, about issues, about history, about humanity. He is well-informed, experienced in public service, thoughtful, a good listener, invested, and brings a new, young voice into the public realm. I felt hopeful as I listened to the two candidates answer written questions submitted by the audience. There was no mud-slinging, no awfulness, but rather honest answers from two men who seem decent, kind, respectful and genuine. Those attributes are important as I consider anyone running for public office. Candidates may disagree, and these two do on some issues, but that didn’t give way to personal or political attacks.

Among Faribault’s newest apartment complexes, Straight River Apartments. Many new apartment buildings have been built in the past year with more under construction. Yet, this is not enough to meet demand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

Renkl, in Graceland, writes on pertinent topics of concern to many of us, including those seeking election to public office. In “Demolition Blues,” an essay on housing changes in her neighborhood, she shares how housing has become unaffordable for many who work in the Nashville metro. The same can be said for my southern Minnesota community, where high rental rates and housing prices leave lower income and working class people without affordable housing. That’s linked to a severe shortage of rentals and single family homes.

It would be easy to feel discouraged by real-life issues that flow into our days whether via a book, an election, personal experiences, media… But then I think of those young activists, the young candidate running for office in my county, and I feel hope for the future.

Among the many sympathy cards I received after my mom died. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2022)

I feel hope, also, within. We each possess the capacity to “do something.” That needn’t be complicated as Renkl writes in her essay, “The Gift of Shared Grief.” She reminds readers of the importance of sending handwritten condolences. I understand. My mom died in January and I treasure every single card with handwritten message received. There’s something profoundly powerful and personal about the penned word, about connecting beyond technology. It doesn’t take much effort to buy a greeting card, write a few heartfelt sentences and mail it. Yet, the art of connecting via paper is vanishing. I’d like to see more people sending paper birthday cards again…I miss getting a mailbox filled with cards.

I photographed this message along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, WI., several years ago. To this day, it remains one of my favorite public finds and photos. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

One final essay penned by Renkl, “What It Means to Be #Nashvillestrong,” took me back to that candidate forum last Thursday. When asked to identify the most pressing issue people face locally, the younger candidate replied with “personal issues.” He’s right. No matter what we face jointly as a society (such as inflation), it is personal issues which most challenge us. Author Renkl, referencing a text from a friend, calls those—cancer, death, etc—our “private Katrina.” That in no way minimizes the death and destruction of large-scale disasters like Hurricane Katrina. But we all have something. Her friend texted: One day the sun is shining and all is intact, the next day everything is broken. And the rest of the world goes on. You’re trapped in your own crazy snow globe that’s been shaken so hard all the pieces fly loose.

And when those pieces fly loose in our circle, in our community and beyond, what do we do? We can, writes Renkl, be the hands that help our neighbors dig out.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Reflecting on 9/11 from Minnesota September 11, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:45 AM
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My son drew this image of the attack on the Twin Towers for a class assignment some 20 years ago. To this day, this drawing illustrates how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted image)

TODAY I REMEMBER, honor, grieve.

I remember the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on our country, my heart heavy with the weight of loss. Nearly 3,000 individuals died on that day when terrorists hijacked four planes—two hitting the World Trade Center twin towers, another crashing into the Pentagon and the fourth slamming into a field in rural Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Twenty-one years later, I recall exactly where I was when I learned of the attack. I expect that is the same for most every American, that moment in time forever locked in to memory.

I was in my living room with my 7-year-old son, who was not feeling well and home from school, and his friend, whom I was caring for that day. My husband called from work to inform me of the events unfolding in New York City. I switched on the television and watched in horror as the second plane targeted the second tower.

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Perhaps I should have switched off the TV, not exposed two young boys to the horrific scenes. But I didn’t. Soon Caleb and Sam were building towers from wooden blocks and flying toy airplanes into the stacks, the blocks cascading into a pile.

That visual sticks with me and in many ways reflects how, even in Minnesota, far far away from the epicenter of death and destruction, the impact on ordinary life was experienced. Something as simple as two children playing on my living room represented reality.

On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors alumna Ann N. Nelson, who died on 9/11. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I recall, throughout that day and in the weeks thereafter, feeling unsettled, wondering if more attacks would follow. It was a time of uncertainty and certainly of fear in our country. But it was also a time of unity. We were united in our horror, our grief and in our determination to stand strong as a nation. At least that’s my observation.

Perhaps today, on the 21st anniversary of 9/11, we can temporarily reclaim that sense of unity which has seemingly vanished. We can, whether in Minnesota or New York City, pause to mourn those who died, to support those who grieve personal losses and to reflect on this memorable moment in American history.

TELL ME: Where were you when you heard about the 9/11 terrorist attacks? And how are you feeling today?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inspired by Maria Shriver’s reflective book, “I’ve Been Thinking…” August 5, 2022

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Published in 2018, a bestselling book I found at my local library. (Cover source: Amazon)

BE STILL. Two words. Two words that, at their core, seem so simple to follow. Yet, in the busyness and chaos and struggles of life, they often prove difficult to remember, then practice.

What does it mean to “be still”?

New York Times bestselling author, journalist, mother and celebrity Maria Shriver addresses the topic in “A Time to Rest,” a chapter in her book, I’ve Been Thinking…Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life. In the chapter focusing on the importance of rest and reflection, Shriver reminds us to “be still.”

Those two words are a reference to Psalm 46:10 which, several years ago, became a bit of a mantra for me thanks to my friend Steve. Steve is quiet, a man of sparse words. So when he speaks, people tend to listen, really listen. He holds a deep faith. And when he pointed me to a specific verse in a Psalm that would remind me often to “be still” and hear the voice of God, he knew exactly what I needed.

A contemplative and peaceful photo I took, and edited, in December 2017. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

This past week, Shriver’s book has based my morning time of quiet, of prayer and devotional/inspirational reading. I recommend this reflective collection of short themed chapters ending in prayer to anyone, whether a person of faith or not. I fully agree with Shriver’s advice to take time each day for quiet reflection, for thought and for a centering that calms. Be still.

Her inspirational book covers so many topics—empathy, listening, gratitude and much more—that, if we choose to practice them, will make our lives better and this world a much better place, We are, after all, all connected, Shriver writes as she calls for kindness and love to prevail. None of this is new. Yet, to read her words, from her perspective and experiences, reminds me that none of us are truly alone, unless we choose to be alone. Each of us deserves to be valued and appreciated. Heard.

An important message displayed at LARK Toys, Kellogg, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

She encourages each of us to pause before we pass along something we’ve read or heard as truth. Like Shriver, I have worked in journalism and understand the necessity of verification, of truthfulness. She calls for a social kindness movement. I’ll take kindness period in a world where kindness feels more and more elusive.

This quarter-sized token, gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann, lies on my computer desk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In the end, Shriver holds hope. And I do, too. Hope has been my focus word for many years. Hope, centered in my faith, has carried me through some especially difficult times. We’ve all had them—the struggles that stretch and challenge us. I hope you’ve never felt alone in difficulties. I haven’t.

I need to read books like I’ve Been Thinking…, to remind me of hope. To uplift and encourage and inspire me. To remember always to rest and reflect. To be still.

TELL ME: How do you work at being still? And what does “be still” mean to you?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering the 35W bridge collapse 15 years later August 1, 2022

This photo shows the opening spread of the feature article published in the November/December 2007 issue of Minnesota Moments. Casey McGovern of Minneapolis shot the bridge collapse scene. To the far left is Garrett before the collapse, to the right, his rescuer. The next photo shows his Ford Focus which plummeted into the Mississippi River. And to the right are newly-engaged Garrett and Sonja, before the collapse.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO THIS EVENING, 13 people died and 145 were injured when the 35W bridge collapsed during rush hour in downtown Minneapolis. Vehicles plunged into the Mississippi River. Others clung to the tilted, broken span of roadway. Lives were forever changed at 6:05 pm on August 1, 2007, when faulty gusset plates gave way and the bridge broke.

Garrett with his mom, Joyce Resoft, about a month after the bridge collapse. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2007. Photo courtesy of Garrett’s family)

Among those most seriously injured was then 32-year-old Garrett Ebling, former managing editor of The Faribault Daily News. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, severed colon, broken left arm and ankles, a spinal injury and more after his Ford Focus nosedived 110 feet, the equivalent of an 11-story building, into the river. That he survived seems miraculous. He spent weeks in the hospital, where he underwent multiple surgeries. A lengthy rehab followed. His life, physically, mentally and emotionally, was forever changed.

Within months of the collapse, I penned a feature story about Garrett for Minnesota Moments, a now-defunct magazine. Mine was one of the few initial interviews Garrett granted and I was both humbled and honored to share his story as a freelance writer. Prior to his departure from the editorial job in Faribault, we had connected. I remember Garrett’s kindness and compassion toward me after my son was struck by a hit-and-run driver in May 2006. I took great care in writing his story, recognizing that another journalist was trusting me to get it right.

Garrett Ebling’s book.

In 2012, Garrett wrote about his experiences and life thereafter in a book, Collapsed—A Survivor’s Climb From the Wreckage of the 35W Bridge. I reviewed that revealing and emotional book in which this survivor held nothing back.

A section of the then now wow exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul features the 35W bridge collapse. This image shows the collapsed bridge and the emergency exit door from a school bus that was on the bridge when it collapsed. All made it safely off the bus (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

Since then, I’ve lost track of the “author, father and 35W bridge collapse survivor,” as Garrett labels himself on his Twitter account. But I expect today, the anniversary of the bridge collapse, is difficult for him as it is every survivor and every single person who lost a loved one 15 years ago in downtown Minneapolis when the unthinkable happened. When a bridge fell.

All the children and adults on the bus signed the door on display at the Minnesota History Center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

There are moments in history that we never forget and, for me a Minnesotan, August 1, 2007, is one of those dates. When I heard the breaking news of the bridge collapse, I worried first about extended family who live in the metro. They were not on the bridge. While that diminished my personal angst, it does not diminish the tragedy of that day for those who were on that bridge. Like Garrett Ebling, the 144 others injured and the 13 who died. It is a tragedy, too, for those who loved them and for us, collectively, as Minnesotans.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on slavery & race on Juneteenth June 19, 2022

Photographed in August 2018 in a storefront window of a business in downtown Faribault, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018)

AS A WHITE WOMAN and writer living in rural Minnesota, writing on the topic of Juneteenth isn’t easy or comfortable. Yet, it’s important for me to do so, to publicly recognize the federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.

Why? Simply put, I care. I care that African Americans were treated with such disrespect, that they were “owned,” for no one should “own” anyone. Yet, these men, women and children were owned, used and abused by White slave owners who worked them, controlled them, imprisoned them, built our country’s early economy on their hardworking backs.

Artist Susan Griebel crafted this quilted art from fabric her mother-in-law, Margaret Griebel, acquired in Africa. Margaret’s husband served as a missionary in Nigeria. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert on slavery. But the very thought of it shakes me to the core. I can only imagine the emotions felt by those whose ancestors worked in servitude—in cotton and tobacco fields, in homes, in barns, on vast plantations…

Taking time on one June day to reflect on the freeing of slaves seems the least I can do. June 19th marks the date in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to ensure the freedom of all enslaved people.

One of many hearts incorporated into a sculpture, “Spreading the Love” by Geralyn Thelen and Dale Lewis, located in downtown Northfield, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

Beyond reflecting on this date in history, I’ve tried to educate myself by reading, a skill most slaves were denied. Reading, whether stories written by reliable media, nonfiction or even fiction rooted in history, opens my mind to understanding. And with understanding comes compassion and an unwillingness to remain silent.

Too many times during my 60-plus years of life I’ve seen (think Confederate flags) and heard the animosities expressed toward people of color. And while this doesn’t apply specifically to Black people and slavery, I will speak up if someone starts bashing our local immigrant population with false claims and other unkind words. I fully recognize that, because my skin is colorless, my life is likely easier without preconceived ideas/prejudices/denied opportunities.

Love this uplifting message posted along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I appreciate that thoughts in this country are shifting, that we as a people are acknowledging past wrongs, that we’re trying. On the flip side, I see, too, hatred rising in ways I would never have imagined possible.

I admit that I grew up in a household where my father occasionally used the “n” word. It hurts to write that. The “n” word was part of his rural vocabulary, of the time, of growing up among others just like him. White. I grew up similarly, totally surrounded by those of Scandinavian, German, Polish, Irish and other descent, none with roots in Africa.

But I moved away, grew my knowledge and experiences, grew my exposure to new ideas and people and places. I’ve also gained insights into the challenges Blacks face from a biracial son-in-law. Today I live in a diverse neighborhood of Americans who are White, Latino, African…and I’m thankful for that. They carry, in their family histories, struggles and joys, the imprints of those who came before them. Today I honor those African Americans in Texas who 156 years ago first celebrated their freedom from slavery with “Jubilee Day” on June 19, 1866. And I honor all those slaves forced into lives not of their choosing, without freedom, but determined to be free.

© Copyright 2022 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

 

Reflecting on 2021 December 31, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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This quarter-sized token, gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann, lies on my computer desk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

AS 2021 DRAWS to a close, thoughts naturally turn reflective as I look at the year behind and, tomorrow, to the beginning of a new year. Never did I think we would still be in this pandemic, entering year three.

For me, 2021 brought grief, hope, frustration and many other emotions. Grief at the death of my father-in-law (not from COVID) in February. Hope in the availability of COVID vaccines to protect us from severe illness and death. Frustration over the ongoing resistance to those life-saving vaccines. Frustration in the failure of too many to follow simple measures, like masking in public, to prevent the spread of the virus.

HOPE

I want to focus on the word “hope,” which surged within me when I received an email from my clinic that I could schedule an appointment to get the vaccine. I fit the high risk category. I’ve never determined exactly why, but I speculate due to a severe case of whooping cough 16 years ago which left me coughing uncontrollably, gasping for air and, eventually, using an inhaler and on Prednisone. I was sick for three months then. So when I got my COVID vaccine on March 14, I felt such joy, gratitude and hope. I felt the same following my second dose a month later and then after my booster in October.

Spring brought such hopefulness. I remember thinking this would be the summer of reclaiming my life as I once lived it. That proved short-lived as COVID cases surged once again. Yet, there were moments of normalcy pre-surge—attending outdoor events, dining out a few times, even attending church twice (until masking became optional, not required). The brief spring/early summer respite lifted my spirits. But now here we are, back to an out-of-control situation.

GRATITUDE

Despite how the pandemic has affected my life in negative ways, I have many reasons to feel grateful. Twice this year, my family circle has been together. All of us. Nothing surpasses the happiness of family togetherness. My grandchildren, especially, bring me such joy with their hugs, kisses, cuddles. I feel fortunate that they live only a half hour distant.

And several times this year I’ve been allowed to visit my mom in her long-term care center, most recently right before Christmas. Mom is in hospice. It’s not been easy. But I try to focus on the blessing of having her here on this earth for 89 years. Not everyone has their mother around for that long. My mother-in-law died at age 59, only months before the birth of my son.

PEACE

Time at a family lake cabin in central Minnesota also provided a break from everything. Thrice Randy and I headed north for some R & R. Our eldest daughter and her family joined us twice. Lots of time immersed in nature calmed, recharged, brought peace. Many country drives and hikes in parks produced similar feelings.

Now, as 2022 begins, I expect much the same as 2021. I wish I could feel more optimistic. But I just don’t. Not today. Yet, hope remains.

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TELL ME: How was your 2021? What proved challenging? What brought you joy?

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NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-science, anti-health, please don’t comment. I moderate all comments and will not publish those “anti” views and/or misinformation on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling