Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A long ago kindness honored January 4, 2019

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Edited image of a single rose in a bouquet of 12.


FORTY SOME YEARS AGO, I bought lunch for her. In Mankato. Neither of us remembered exactly when or where. But my friend recalled one important detail which she shared shortly after arriving at my Faribault home late Thursday morning. It was the reason she carried a dozen pink roses.

That Debbie would bring me roses seemed a bit much I thought as she walked in the kitchen door and we hugged. We hadn’t seen each other in decades. Our connection is not a deeply-rooted friendship. It just did not make sense that lunch and a visit would prompt Debbie to bring flowers.

Then she explained. When I bought her lunch those four decades ago, she was a poor college student with only $1.50 in her pocket. We met then to talk shop as Debbie considered accepting a reporting job at the same Minnesota weekly newspaper where I once worked. She wanted the scoop. As a young professional earning a salary, I didn’t think about Debbie’s finances. I just said, “Let’s do lunch.” And Debbie showed up.

I had no clue back then of her meager monies. But Debbie arrived at the restaurant with a plan to simply buy herself coffee. And then I offered to pay for her meal.

All these decades later she recalled that simple act of kindness. I had no idea how much my generosity meant to her. But now she wanted me to know, expressing her gratitude with those roses.

Debbie would go on to work at the same newspaper where I once reported. On Thursday we exchanged war stories about sources and too many long board meetings and the challenges of being journalists at a small town newspaper. I blazed the path for her, she said. I’d never considered that. But I knew she was right.

We talked, too, about children and grandchildren and challenges in life and our faith and much more. Debbie is the kind of person who, even if you haven’t seen her in years, you can pick up the conversation and feel like time has never separated you. We share values and work experiences and a certain comfortableness that marks our friendship.

And to think it all started with conversation and mentoring over lunch and me picking up the tab. Sometimes you don’t realize the value in a simple act of kindness. You just do what’s right. And then one day the kindness circles back with unexpected joy. And the blessings of a friendship renewed.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Roses & cars in Kenyon August 25, 2014

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its recent Rose Fest.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its recent Rose Fest.

WOULD YOU EXPECT to find roses at a car show?

I thought not.

One of many beautiful roses spotted at the car show.

One of many beautiful roses spotted at the car show.

But in the small southern Minnesota community of Kenyon, organizers of the Rose Fest Car Show handed out roses to early arrivals. How sweet is that?

Another rose spotted...

Another rose spotted…

An unexpected surprise. A rose on a dashboard. A rose lying on a car seat. A rose on an engine.

Kenyon's Boulevard of Roses cuts through Minnesota Highway 60.

Kenyon’s Boulevard of Roses cuts through Minnesota Highway 60. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Now I’ve been to quite a number of car shows, but never to the one in Kenyon, where roses are planted for blocks in the boulevard of Minnesota State Highway 60 running through the heart of town.

This car show impressed me. I can’t pinpoint precisely why I so enjoyed this show. But I found lots to draw my eye from the quirky to the nostalgic to the shiny and more.

Enjoy these images from the Rose Fest Car Show. And then check back tomorrow for more photos.

Loved this car.

Loved this car.

My absolute favorite moment, and shot, for the wistfulness. He was so immersed in admiring those trophies that he didn't even notice me snapping away.

My absolute favorite moment, and shot. This boy was so immersed in admiring trophies that he didn’t even notice me.

But Chad noticed me because I asked him to stand still so I could photograph his tattoo

But Chad noticed me because I asked him to stand still so I could photograph the tattoo of his 1958 VW bus Westfalia…

...which looks like this from the front.

…which looks like this from the front…

...and this inside, all ready for camping.

…and this inside, all ready for camping.

Definitely not as family-friendly as Chad's VW bus art.

Definitely not as family-friendly as Chad’s VW bus art.

Another favorite of mine, the Roadrunner.

Another favorite of mine, the Roadrunner.

Every vehicle is marked, so if you're a serious student of vintage cars (I'm not), the necessary info is right there.

Every vehicle is marked, so if you’re a serious student of vintage cars (I’m not), the necessary info is right there.

I've never seen anything like this backward opening hood.

I’ve never seen anything like this backward opening hood.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Love’s memory May 17, 2014

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Bouquet 1

CERTAINLY HE DIDN’T RECOGNIZE the significance of his choice—yellow and orange sweetheart roses in a vase tied with a yellow gingham ribbon.

Even I didn’t realize until the day after how the color choice and the ribbon transcended time. Men don’t often notice these details. And I nearly missed them in the bouquet he gave me.

On May 15, 1982, yellow sweetheart roses and babies breath ringed my short-cropped hair on our wedding day.

Bouquet, roses close-up

On Thursday, our 32nd wedding anniversary, my husband gave me a bouquet of yellow and orange sweetheart roses accented with babies breath.

Yellow roses were my bridal day flower of choice, along with daisies.

Bouquet, yellow gingham ribbon

I also stitched yellow and white checked aprons for my cousins who waited on tables at our wedding reception.

Bouquet, orange roses

It took me an entire day to connect the past to the present. And when I did, I leaned in and breathed even more deeply the fragrance of love’s memory.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Two Minnesota businessmen pitch vacuums & flowers for Valentine’s Day via poetry February 12, 2013

VACUUM CLEANERS AND ROSES seem an unlikely pair. But for long-time Waseca businessmen and friends, Rick Morris and Charlie Mathern, pairing the two has become a pre-Valentine’s Day tradition that began some 20 years ago when Rick noticed Charlie had vacuum cleaners on sale.

Rick, owner of Waseca Floral, suggested he pitch flowers and Charlie, owner of Charlie’s Hardware, push vacuums in a joint half-page print ad with this long-standing lead-in:

On Valentine’s Day, Charlie & Rick say—Sweep her off her feet! Vacuum Cleaner?…or Roses?

Then the fun began as each tried to persuade potential customers, via poetry, to choose a vacuum over roses or roses over a vacuum. This year’s ad, published February 5 in The Waseca Area Shopper, features these poems, among others:


Thorny roses? Fussy violets?
Wow her with flowers and you’ll be the pilot


Roses are the language of Lust
Vacuums are the prattle of so much dust

Valentine's Day ad 2013

This shows all but the bottom portion of the 2013 print ad.

The back-and-forth bantering continues amid photos of vacuums intermixed with red poetry hearts on the left side of the ad and images of floral arrangements interspersed with poetry hearts on the right.

The valentine ad has always been about vacuums and flowers.

And, clearly, it’s also about fun.

“We just get silly with them (the poems),” says Ann Mathern, Charlie’s wife and the author of Charlie’s vacuum cleaner poetry. “The crazier, the better. I don’t know if we can call this poetry.”

Rick concurs: “I write a couple of lines at a time. It’s not exactly poetry.” He pulls out a blank sheet of paper and, in a few hours or less, pens floral-themed couplets like:

She wants roses, there is no doubt
Give her a vacuum and she may throw you out

Ann, a first grade teacher, meanwhile, sits at her computer and, in about 45 minutes, centers her eight rhyming poems around whatever vacuums Charlie is trying to sell:

Come on—admit it—flowers in a vase
Can’t compete with a Sebo, they’ll never keep pace

Rick Morris, owner of Waseca Floral for 40 years. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, February 2012.

Rick Morris, owner of Waseca Floral for 40 years. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, February 2012.

The poetry/sales competition gets exactly the results Rick and Charlie want—attention, laughter and sales. “People look for it (the ad),” Rick says, and will mention the ad when they purchase Valentine’s Day flowers.

Likewise, down at the hardware store, the ad generates sales. But it also sparks the occasional call from female customers angry about suggesting a vacuum cleaner as a Valentine’s Day gift, Ann Mathern says.

Charlie, who fields those sometimes unhappy calls, explains that the Valentine’s Day ad is all in good fun by mutual agreement with his good friend Rick. Occasionally Rick and Charlie need to remind themselves of that, especially when they read some of the barbed poetry.


Flowers are beautiful and oh so sublime
Vacuums are ugly and filled with grime


Your honey might settle for a pretty bouquet
But she’d choose a Hoover if she could have her way

Roses pack coolers for Valentine's Day 2012 in this Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Waseca Floral.

Flowers pack a cooler for Valentine’s Day 2012 in this Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Waseca Floral.

No matter what’s written, Rick and Charlie take it all in good humor. After 30-plus years of friendship and eating breakfast together between 6:30 – 7 every morning except Wednesday (when Rick has bible study) at various Waseca cafes, they know each other well, even sharing the same dry sense of humor, Rick says. Their wives, Ann and Sheila, join them for breakfast on Fridays.

Just like the daily breakfast tradition, Rick expects he’ll continue publishing the joint flowers versus vacuums ad with Charlie as long as the two are in business and he and Ann can keep writing their so-called poetry.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Disclaimer: My sister, Lanae, is a floral designer at Waseca Floral. That did not influence my decision to write this post. I know a great story when I see/hear one.


Roses & poetry September 29, 2012

Birthday roses from my husband, Randy.

WHAT WOMAN DOESN’T love roses and poetry?

After work on Wednesday, my 56th birthday, my dear husband brought me a dozen wrapped long-stem roses. Then he disappeared, tools and parts in hand, down the basement stairs to the laundry room to repair my clothes dryer which no longer was producing heat. Roses from the repairman. Perfect.

Simultaneously, I was upstairs in my office checking my email while my birthday supper, homemade lasagna, finished baking.

Crossings at Carnegie, housed in a former Carnegie library, is a privately-owned cultural visual and performing arts center in Zumbrota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Waiting in my in-box was this message from Crossings at Carnegie, a privately-owned arts center in Zumbrota:

Thank you for submitting poetry/prose to be considered for Crossings’ “It’s All One Water” exhibit. We received about 110 poems, from which jurors chose 28. It was exciting to receive such a fine outpouring of exceptional work from so many talented writers. Jurists told us they were a pleasure to read, and selecting those to be included was a difficult task.

We are pleased to inform you that your entry, “In which Autumn searches for Water,” was chosen to be part of this exhibit. Your poem will be on display, along with other written works and photographs, through the month of October.

How sweet is that? Another dozen roses, figuratively speaking.

I’ll admit that when I submitted “In which Autumn searches for Water,” I was confident my poem would be selected for Crossings’ joint collaboration with the Zumbro Watershed Partnership. I don’t mean that in an arrogant, haughty way. But I think those of us who write realize when we’ve written a piece that sings.

Not that I’m going to sing. You would not want to hear me sing. But I will read my water-themed poem during the Friday, October 19, “It’s All One Water” reception which begins at 7 p.m. A reading of written pieces, with screen projection of water-themed photos, will start at 7:30 p.m. next door to Crossings at the Zumbrota State Theatre.

A chapbook of selected photos and writing (maybe my poem?) also will be published.

There you have it, roses and poetry. Perfect.


ANOTHER FARIBAULT RESIDENT, Larry Gavin, a writer who teaches English at Faribault High School (he’s taught all three of my kids), is also among the “It’s All One Water” selected poets. Larry, however, is eons ahead of me in poetry. He’s already published three poetry collections. Like me, though, he also was published on Roadside Poetry project billboards (now ending after a run of 22 seasonal poems). You can learn more about this gifted Faribault poet in a post I published nearly a year ago by clicking here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Margaret’s Monet garden June 27, 2012

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This overview shows you the size of Margaret’s sprawling flower garden on Faribault’s east side.

OH, WHAT AN ABSOLUTE JOY to be Margaret’s neighbor, to gaze across the street into her flower garden reminiscent of a Claude Monet painting.

But, alas, I live down the hill, over the river and into the valley across town from this eastside Faribault garden.

I happened upon Margaret’s sprawling, Impressionist style garden on a recent Saturday morning. And because I’m not at all shy, I popped out of the van and approached Margaret as she weeded her flowers.

She obliged my request to photograph her flowers (but not her) and also answered my questions like, “What is that?” or “Is that …?”

Low-lying fuchsia sedum add a jolt of brilliant color.

Loved these dainty, pale pink flowers. Gardeners, what are they? No, I couldn’t ask Margaret to identify every single plant.

Margaret didn’t tell me I couldn’t photograph her hand. She kept working while we talked, bucket of tools nearby. She had more gardening tools in the garage, she said.

Margaret knows her flowers and her passion for them is irrepressible. She simply loves to garden. That’s apparent as her flower garden stretches nearly the entire 180-foot length of her and her husband’s lot and then extends 30 – 40 feet from the edge of the sidewalk, down the slope and to the garage. She began planting the garden about five years ago, partially so her husband wouldn’t need to mow the slope of the lawn.

From daisies to bee balm, sedum to clematis, lamb’s ears to lilies and dozens of other perennials, Margaret’s garden is awash in color and blooms. Her pride and joy, though, are her 50 some rose bushes.

Margaret’s garden is a rose lover’s paradise.

“I just love roses,” Margaret says. “They just have beautiful flowers and smell wonderful.”

Roses and more abloom with pieces of art tucked in among the flowers.

One of the many English rose bushes, which are Margaret’s favorite for their thick layers of petals and scent.

I roamed the perimeter of the garden, snapping photos as rain pittered and hastened my photo shoot. Yet, I took time to inhale the heady perfume of Margaret’s beloved English roses. English and shrub rose bushes compromise most of the roses in her garden.

The most gorgeous clematis I’ve ever seen, in full bloom.

Just look at Margaret’s eye for color, pairing purple clematis and coral roses.

I noticed this gardener’s talent for pairing colors—especially the striking contrast of royal purple clematis next to coral-hued roses.

Who knew a rain gauge could also be a piece of garden art staked next to lilies?

I appreciated, too, how she tucks garden art among her flowers with the skills of a designer.

A snippet overview of a portion of Margaret’s Monet garden.

If Margaret’s garden was a painting, surely it would be a Monet.

Margaret mixes the jewel tones of raspberries with flowers. She’s also incorporated strawberries and tomatoes into her flower garden.

FYI: Margaret’s garden is located at 1325 11th Avenue Northeast, Faribault.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The mysterious delivery of a dozen roses May 11, 2012

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The UPS delivery man dropped a dozen multi-colored roses and a box of chocolates off at my house late Thursday morning. I asked him: “Are those really flowers in that box?” He gave me a look like, “Lady, what do you think is in that box?” Well, sir, I’ve never received flowers in a box.

FOR SEVERAL HOURS, the mystery remained a mystery.

But I was determined to solve it—to learn the identity of the individual who sent me a dozen boxed roses and a sampler of chocolates, without a note.

I could have simply called the San Diego-based world-wide floral company listed on the return address label. But why opt for the easiest solution? I would play sleuth.

First I phoned a Minnesota floral shop and then sent two text messages before crossing my husband, floral designer sister and my oldest daughter’s boyfriend (because he is one of the few Californians I know) off the list.

Next I texted my other daughter who lives in eastern Wisconsin. She was working and couldn’t respond. I didn’t suspect her anyway given she is a recent college grad paying off student loans.

Finally, I had run out of ideas and phoned the San Diego floral company.

“We must have forgotten to put the note in the envelope,” the kindly woman on the other end of the line said.

Uh, huh.

After giving her the order number, the nice lady told me she couldn’t identify the sender, but she could share the missing message. I listened as she read an endearing Mother’s Day message from…the daughter in Wisconsin.

Thank you, Miranda, for the lovely, surprise gift. It’s the first time I’ve received a dozen roses. Ever.

They’re beautiful, just like you, my dear, sweet, precious daughter.

The chocolate sampler sent by my daughter Miranda.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A beauty queen moment April 9, 2011

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Six yellow roses and babies breath comprised the bouquet my husband gave to me.

HE STRODE ACROSS the living room with a bouquet of cellophane-wrapped buttercup yellow roses.

The flowers were unexpected, as flowers often are from him.

I stretched my hands to accept the roses, to pull him close, kiss him and tell him how very much this surprise meant to me, how I appreciated the sweetness of it all.

He intuitively seems to understand when I need a day-brightener, a gesture of love and care and concern. And I did, need the roses, to cheer me.

It’s been a difficult past month facing a sudden sensory hearing loss that has left me with near deafness in my right ear. He has been there to support me, to listen, to embrace me in the moments when I feel overwhelmed.

I love this about my husband. In his own quiet way, he understands.

I love that he is teaching our son the art of giving—from the heart—not for an occasion or a have-to or a celebration. Our son will understand that flowers should be all about love.

All of this I thought as I arose from the recliner where I had been reading, slanted the wrapped bouquet across my arms and spontaneously sashayed across the living room, hips swaying, right arm waving in a beauty queen wave.

At that moment I felt as if I had won the crown. And I had.

© Copyright 2011Audrey Kletscher Helbling