Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A country drive to see fall colors northwest of Faribault October 6, 2022

A view of the colorful foliage along Seventh Street in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

ON THE THIRD CONSECUTIVE DAY of viewing fall colors in southern Minnesota, Randy and I headed northwest of Faribault to area lakes. But even before we got out of town, we drove along two city streets—Second Avenue by Bethlehem Academy north to Seventh Street and then Seventh Street—which are particularly beautiful in autumn. There’s no need to leave Faribault to see stunning trees of orange, red and yellow mixed with brown and green.

A sweeping view of Kelly Lake and the colorful treeline. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Yet, there’s something about a colorful lakeshore treeline against the October sky that is particularly lovely. Thus I suggest a country drive. Perhaps my favorite area autumn color viewing spot is at the public boat landing on Kelly Lake. We return there each fall and Randy joked that I could just use the same photos taken last year. I didn’t.

Belview Trail just outside Faribault winds past farm sites. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Hay bales line a hillside along CR 64. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)
A well-kept barn near Roberds Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

We edged Roberds Lake after trailing a winding gravel road past farm sites. Country drives are, by definition, about immersing ourselves in the country. Appreciating ripening corn and soybean fields, stately barns, ginormous round hay bales staged in a field… And then hugging the side of the road upon meeting a massive combine.

Sun and clouds mix over colorful woods near Roberds Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Mostly, I take in the landscape, this October day set against moody clouds on blue sky. Clouds create interest, depth, interesting patterns to backdrop fields and trees.

Shoreline and lake merge to create a “painting” of Kelly Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

I see curves and lines and the way everything flows, first with my eyes, then through the viewfinder of my aged Canon EOS 20-D camera. Water flows into trees, trees into sky. It all comes together to create this scene, this autumn.

A view of Lake Mazaska through the shoreline grasses. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

At the west-side boat landing in Shieldsville, Randy noted the low water level of Lake Mazaska. It would be impossible to launch a boat here. I photographed the lake through a stand of grass, perhaps bulrushes. A peeling, aged sign a block away landmarked Bulrush Bay.

Brilliant sumac by Kelly Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Individual leaves and stems of grass don’t go unnoticed. The singleness merges into the whole. This whole of autumn in Rice County.

A picturesque creek along County Road 64/Irwin Trail. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

We lunched at McCullough County Park on Shields Lake, swatting bees and beetles, before continuing our drive along County Road 64/Irwin Trail. An especially picturesque creek cutting through the land called for a stop, a photo.

One of many winding gravel roads we followed through the countryside, around lakes… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

And then onward we drove, up and down and all around on gravel roads, the van kicking dust.

Among the many wooded hillside ablaze in color. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Traveling at a slower pace allows for taking in the unfolding landscape. Cornfield nudging a clump of colored trees. So much to see if only we look.

The historic Czech church and surrounding cemetery in Shieldsville Township. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

And then a stop, an opportunity to stretch our legs and explore Trebon Cemetery surrounding an historic Czech church, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, established in 1886. We discovered this sacred place at the intersection of County Road 63/Kanabec Avenue and County Road 37/160th Street West several years ago. Like last visit, I wished I could get inside the church, but had to settle for peering through windows. The view of the countryside from the cemetery grounds is stunning.

This smiley face is a local landmark along Roberds Lake Boulevard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Aiming back toward Faribault, we passed the smiley face painted on the side of a building at the intersection of Roberds Lake Boulevard and County Road 37/West 185th Street. It’s been there forever, a rural landmark that makes me smile every time I see that happiness icon.

I appreciate homemade signage, including this well-worn sign by Lake Mazaska. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Several hours in the rural Rice County countryside filled my spirit with happiness. Autumn has a way of weaving joy into my life with her color, her last hurrah before winter arrives. So I say, get out there. Take a country drive. Slow down. Pause. Delight in these October days.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The creative side of a southern Minnesota farm show September 5, 2022

The Milk Shakes booth has a decidedly rural theme with Holstein cow art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

AS A WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER, I view life through a creative lens. That means, even at a farm-themed event like the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show, I notice the artsy side.

Dancing in the music shed to the band Steam Machine Friday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I attended the show in rural Dundas on Friday. While most attendees focus on the field of tractors, the multiple ag-related demonstrations, the flea market and more, I also focus on creative details within the all of it. Like hand-lettered signage, handcrafted items, music, and, yes, even the couple dancing to bluegrass tunes performed by Steam Machine.

Flea market attendees try out a vendor’s yard chairs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The arts, whether literary, visual or performing, enhance our lives, bringing joy, comfort, diversion, entertainment, introspection and much more.

Cute crocheted animals by Kay Dudley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I value the talents of those who create. I create with words and with my camera. Put a paintbrush or crochet hook in my hand and I would be hard-pressed to make anything worthy of notice. But, gosh, do I admire creatives like Kay Dudley of Faribault who brought her crocheted animals to the flea market. Likewise, I admire the skill of the woodworker who built the sturdy yard chairs for sale.

Hand-embroidered linens. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

On the other end of the show grounds, I found more to appreciate in the 1912 farmhouse. Embroidered linens displayed in the kitchen caught my eye. I know how to embroider, although decades have passed since I picked up a needle, embroidery floss and a hoop to stitch a design into cloth. I really ought to resume that craft.

A vintage doll nestles in a quilt. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In another room of the farmhouse, a doll laid upon a quilt, reminding me of my paternal grandmother who stitched endless quilts for her family, me included. I was quite the seamstress as a teen, sewing many of my clothes and dresses for Grandma, too. She could quilt, but she couldn’t make her own clothes. I always found that interesting. I haven’t touched my sewing machine in years.

An original painting of a country schoolhouse. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I was especially interested in the original painting of a rural schoolhouse scene propped on a table in the farmhouse. The vintage art, scored at a Goodwill store for $5, is exactly the type of art I collect.

David Terry hand-carved a 1920 threshing scene displayed inside a large case in the music building. This is just a portion of his work. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In my collection is a North Dakota threshing scene painted by my father-in-law and among my most treasured pieces of original art. So when I saw a hand-carved threshing scene displayed in the music building at the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show, I was reminded of Tom’s painting. I display it this time of year atop the entertainment center in my living room.

A handmade sign identifies the owner of a vintage John Deere tractor. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Original paintings and other original art, including signs, always draw my appreciation. There’s just something about a handcrafted sign that makes me pause, take notice, remember. From signage on tractors to signage on buildings to signage among the food vendors, I noticed the creativity.

Loved this hand-drawn art posted by the food service window of El Tacazo Mexican Delights. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Every piece of art I spotted added to my enjoyment of this southern Minnesota farm-themed show. Certainly I value the ag and history aspects of this event. But I value, too, the creativity.

An anvil-shaped sign fittingly marks the Blacksmith Shop where attendees can watch blacksmiths at work. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

FYI: Click here to read my first general overall post on the 2022 Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show. And click here to read my second post highlighting tractors.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rural Dundas show prompts tractor memories September 4, 2022

John Deere tractors parked near the log cabin at the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

GROWING UP ON A CROP and dairy farm in southwestern Minnesota, tractors are part of my history. I am familiar with the putt-putt-putt of an aged John Deere, the maneuverable size of a B Farmall, the necessity of a dependable tractor.

Rumely Oil Pull tractors were sold between 1910-1930. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The tractor is the workhorse of the farm. That remains as true today as it did 50 years ago when I still lived in rural Redwood County.

The Massey-Harris is the featured tractor at this year’s show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

So when I attended the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas on Friday, I began reminiscing. I expect many others did the same while meandering among the rows of vintage tractors or watching the daily high noon parade. This event is heavy on the tractors, threshing machines and farm equipment in general. And that holds appeal for those of us rooted in farms.

Guiding a vintage Allis Chalmers along the parade route on Friday. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I am old enough to remember tractors without cabs, air conditioning, GPS or other technology. Instead, my dad’s tractors were shaded from the hot summer sun by an umbrella, protected from the winter cold by canvas and guided solely by the skill of hands on the steering wheel.

John Deere tractors like the one I rode in winter to catch the bus to school. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

My most memorable tractor story is that of Dad driving my brother Doug and me the mile into Vesta on the open cab John Deere in the dead of winter so we could get to school. We were both in junior high then, attending school in the county seat some 20 miles to the east. It was a particularly snowy and brutal winter, so awful that buses couldn’t venture onto rural roads to pick up students. If we could get into town, we could catch the bus at the local cafe. From there, the bus took a state highway to the school in Redwood Falls.

Not a B Farmall, but an IH tractor none-the-less. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Dad wasn’t partial to any tractor brand. He owned John Deere, International Harvester and Ford tractors. The B Farmall remains my favorite as I drove that small scale IH tractor in the farmyard, pulling the flatbed trailer up to the feed bunk to unload hay for the cows.

I found this toy John Deere tractor for sale from vendor Shippy’s Toys. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

John Deere likewise will always hold a special spot in my heart. I remember once a year attending John Deere Days at the farm implement dealership in Redwood Falls. That included a free meal followed by a John Deere promotional movie at the local theater. To eat ice cream from a plastic cup with a little wooden “spoon” and to see a movie on a screen were treats, not to mention the door prizes. Like silver dollars. And bags of seed corn.

Aged threshing machines, well before my time, on exhibit. There are threshing demonstrations during the show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Aging has a way of making us view the past through a nostalgic lens. Yet the reality of life on the farm in the 1960s and 1970s is one of hard work and challenges. Uncontrollable factors—weather, prices and more—have always made farming a gamble. Yet, for those of us who grew up on the land, there’s an undeniable sense of hardiness within us, even decades removed from the farm.

Allis Chalmers tractors are among those displayed in the field of tractors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

When I attend an event like the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show, I reconnect to my past. Remembering. Appreciating. Thankful for the land and hard work that shaped me personally and professionally. I expect that’s true for many who walk the show grounds at this rural-rooted annual event in southern Minnesota.

A 1921 Titan International. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

FYI: The Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show continues today (Sunday, September 4) with gates opening at 7 am and closing at 5:30 pm on the grounds south of Dundas along Minnesota State Highway 3. For more information, visit the club website and/or read my first post on this year’s event. This show is about much more than tractors and other farm equipment.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Preserving yesterday at rural-themed show, rural Dundas September 2, 2022

Photo cut-outs just inside the entrance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

BARELY INSIDE THE GATES of the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show mid Friday morning, I boarded a train. It was an unexpected ride, this double loop around the tracks while straddling a slightly swaying model train car. I thought these free train rides were only for kids. Not so, the crew assured me.

The model train carries all ages. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

On a train car, a mini Massey-Harris the featured tractor. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Riding the rails. Kids must be accompanied by an adult. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

When I disembarked, a preschooler sandwiched between two adults for his turn on the rails.

Photographed on a tractor, show stickers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

What a fun way to begin my four hours at the show, which continues through Sunday at the event grounds south of Dundas, which is south of Northfield. This 47th annual gathering is about “Preserving a Bit of Yesterday for Tomorrow.” And that’s exactly what you will find here. Old. Aged. Vintage. Snapshots into the past. Farming as it was done back in the day. Agriculture/farming/rural life center the show.

Massey-Harris tractors all in a row. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Conversation while leaning on a John Deere. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A tractor made by Cockshutt and marketed by Gambles. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Vintage tractors are the focus with a field of tractors on display. This year’s featured brand is Massey-Harris. But brands ranging from the well-known John Deere, Allis Chalmers, International Harvester…to the rare Gambles line the grassy grounds.

The threshing crew. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Other farm machinery is also on-site, including a threshing machine, typically threshing oats, but under repair during my visit.

The blacksmith at work. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

There’s simply so much to see here, so much equipment to take in, so many demonstrations to watch. I observed blacksmithing and sorghum pressing. There’s also syrup making, corn shelling, flour milling, lumber sawing… Not all were up and running yet Friday morning.

The 1912 farmhouse. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Sorghum towers in a field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Delicious cookies made with sorghum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

While demonstrations are a major draw, so are the aged farm buildings moved onto the grounds. Inside the 1912 Drentlaw farmhouse, my friend Ruth served cookies made with sorghum.

Pressing sorghum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Across the way, two men fed sorghum stalks into a press, liquid streaming into a bucket.

A massive stove defines the farmhouse kitchen. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As I walked upon the wood floors of the farmhouse, I felt immersed in the past. A wood-burning stove anchors the small kitchen where a water dipper rests in an enamelware bowl in the sink. Embroidered dish towels drape a drying rack.

The dining room table set for guests. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In the dining room, with fine china set upon a lace-covered table, the morning breeze billowed lace curtains.

Rounding the corn crib… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Outside the main house sits a summer kitchen with a corn crib and granary nearby. Replicating a farm site of yesteryear seems a goal. As a farm girl, I appreciate these efforts to preserve a bit of yesterday. Our Minnesota agrarian history needs to be shared at events like this which connect all ages to a way of life that is quickly vanishing.

My oddest find at this year’s flea market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Even the flea market connects attendees to the past where old stuff mixes with crafts and an assortment of other merchandise. Every time here, I challenge myself to find oddities, weird whatever that makes me do a double take. This year’s vendors did not disappoint me.

A burger basket from the Northfield Knights of Columbus. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Nor did the food. Vendors offer an assortment of tasty food and beverages ranging from burgers and fries to Mexican food, milkshakes, lemonade, kettle corn, mini donuts and more. It’s all about food and conversation and watching the daily tractor parade at noon while seated at a picnic table in the Food Pavilion.

One of three musicians in the band Steam Machine performs Friday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Over in the poleshed style music building, I listened to the bluegrass band Steam Machine. A couple danced across the cement floor, nearby hay racks piled with oats bundles. I photographed, then attempted to cool down after too much time in the heat and humidity.

A gigantic ear of corn made of milk jugs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Another music appreciator stepped off her golf cart to show me a photo on her phone—an image of an over-sized ear of corn crafted from 1,000 gallon milk jugs by her cousin in Wisconsin and gifted to her. He’s made six. The corn art will be displayed at the 22nd Annual Corn Shredding Autumn Harvest Days on September 24 and 25 in rural Lake City.

A poster promotes the 2023 Credit River show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I love how so many people care about our agricultural history. That includes the guys from the Credit River Antique Tractor Club who were selling raffle tickets for a 1952 Ford 8N tractor. Their annual show is set for July 14-16, 2023, in rural New Prague.

Teaching the younger generation about tractors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The Rice County folks will be back, too, in 2023, “Preserving a Bit of Yesterday for Tomorrow.” There will be a tractor parade, a Kids Pedal Pull, demonstrations, tractors galore and, oh, so much more at the Labor Day weekend show. Even train rides…

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FYI: Visit the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines website for more information. The show continues Saturday and Sunday from 7 am – 5:30 pm. Admission cost for the entire weekend is $10 with 12 and under admitted for free.

The club also hosts a Swap Meet and Flea Market on Memorial Day weekend and Minnesota Military Days in June.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

New Minnesota State Fair food features duck eggs from Graise Farm August 26, 2022

All Quacked Up! open-faced sandwich. (Photo source: The Hideaway Speakeasy Facebook page/Minnesota State Fair)

WHEN MY FAIR-THEMED FOOD POST published yesterday, I had no idea that duck eggs from a rural Faribault farm are the focus of a new Minnesota State Fair food.

But then a newsletter from Graise Farm landed in my email Thursday morning and I knew immediately I needed to share this fair food update. Duck eggs from the farm owned by Tiffany Tripp and Andy Olson are featured in All Quacked Up!, a new open-faced sandwich created by The Hideaway Speakeasy. This is kind of a big deal for co-owners of this farm north of Cannon City, which is northeast of Faribault.

Graise Farm eggs, photographed at the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2021)

On Tuesday, Andy delivered 2,600 duck eggs to the Hideway fair location in the upper grandstand veranda area. Graise Farm has committed to providing 5,000 eggs.

Besides my excitement for Tiffany and Andy, who truly are deserving of this sale and the resulting exposure this will give their business, I love the name. All Quacked Up! is memorable and just plain fun. And even if I’m not a fried egg foodie, the sandwich sounds tasty. Here’s its description:

Fried, farm-fresh duck egg from Graise Farm in Faribault atop shaved smoked ham, aged cheddar cheese, tomato and spinach, served open-face on toasted sourdough bread with paprika aioli.

When I consider a fried egg sandwich, I think of my dairy and crop farmer father who often ate fried eggs for breakfast. Chicken, not duck, eggs. Plain, not fancy. Fried in lard, seasoned with salt and pepper. I can picture him now in his striped bib overalls, forking mouthfuls of egg, the yolk running across his dinner plate. And then, when the egg was mostly gone, he sopped up the remaining yolk with a slice of toasted homemade bread.

I expect many other farm kids share that fried egg memory. Perhaps even Tiffany, who left the family farm after earning degrees in agricultural economics and Spanish to work and travel the world, then returned to the family farmstead in 2012. Andy isn’t a farm kid. But, together he and Tiffany embrace rural life, sharing their passions of “raising animals humanely and eating healthy, delicious food grown locally.” Their animals are pasture-raised and/or organic-fed, including those free-range ducks.

You’ll find Graise Farm eggs at this food co-op in Northfield, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The pair raises ducks, chickens, pigs and goats. They sell eggs, pork, and stew chickens and ducks. For more information, visit the Graise Farm website, which lists locations to buy those typically jumbo-sized duck eggs. And, yes, that includes in the Twin Cities metro.

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FYI: Tiffany was instrumental in establishing the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market with food and products from small-scale farmers and producers in the Cannon River Valley. In the warm weather months, that market is open from 4 – 7pm Thursdays at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. Cold weather moves the market indoors to the Faribo West Mall.

Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Plainview: Jon Hassler’s “the village in the corn” June 15, 2022

A portion of the Plainview mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

LAND. PEOPLE. ARTS. COMMUNITY. Those words theme a public mural stretching across the Plainview Area Community and Youth Center in the heart of this southeastern Minnesota small town.

The mural graces a wall of the community center, across the street from the former Jon Hassler Theater. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I remember the mural from my last visit here in 2013. I appreciate this public art now as much as I did then, for art can reveal much about a place.

In the heart of the community, the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center, now closed. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2013)

While Plainview has lost some of its “arts” character with closure of the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center, it will always claim title (along with Staples) as the boyhood home (s) of noted Minnesota writer Jon Hassler. He moved to Plainview with his parents at the age of 10, remaining there until shortly after his 1951 high school graduation.

Hassler’s Grand Opening is based on Plainview.

Hassler, one of Minnesota’s most-beloved authors, focused his fiction on small town life. That includes Grand Opening, a novel based on Plainview. As in real life, the main character’s parents buy a run-down grocery store in rural Minnesota.

Source: Afton Press

While I have not yet read Grand Opening, I just finished Days Like Smoke, A Minnesota Boyhood. This is Hassler’s memoir, a manuscript published by Afton Press in 2021, many years after the author’s 2008 death. Edited by friend Will Weaver, another well-known Minnesota writer, this slim volume offers insights into Plainview, into Hassler’s experiences there and how that shaped his writing. He credits his parents’ Red Owl Grocery Store as the training grounds for his writing, the place where he acquired the latent qualities necessary to the novelist. In that grocery store, Hassler stocked shelves, ground coffee, interacted with and observed customers, and more.

The land (farming) is integral to the economy of Plainview, which is surrounded by corn and soybean fields. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This sentence in Hassler’s memoir is so telling of the influence Plainview had on his writing: I see the villagers passing along the checkout counter like the cast of characters they eventually turned out to be in my novel about this village in the corn. I love that phrase, “village in the corn,” for it fits agriculturally-based Plainview. The community is home to food processors, Plainview Milk Products Cooperative and Lakeside Foods, and celebrates Corn on the Cob Days each summer. Farming centers the local economy.

Two of the people featured on the mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

It’s the people, though, including the characters, who truly define community. And Hassler shares plenty from Plainview, where he lived across from the stockyards for awhile, tried to derail a train, played high school football for the Gophers, watched endless movies at the Gem Theater, bloodied the nose of a third grader, sat at the bedside of his dying 11-year-old friend, biked to the bluffs along the Whitewater River to camp and fish, served as an altar boy…

The mural includes a faith-based dedication to Pauline Redmond. She co-owned the North Country Anvil Magazine/Anvil Press with her husband, Jack Miller. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In his memoir, Hassler remembers St. Joachim’s Catholic Church and Immanuel Lutheran Church standing as sentinels of the soul at opposite ends of Main Street. That’s such an insightful visual. Hassler valued his Catholic upbringing and faith throughout his life. But he also admits in his memoir to the strong current of religious animosity running under the surface of daily life in the village of my youth between Catholics and Lutherans. This comes as no surprise to me, growing up in rural Minnesota with the same denominational tension.

People also define place as noted on the mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

It was that undercurrent—specifically the defeat of Hassler’s father in a school board election—which ultimately caused Hassler’s parents to leave Plainview and return to Staples. He writes: I, newly graduated from high school, loved Plainview too dearly to follow them.

The interior entrance to the Jon Hassler Theater, photographed during a 2013 visit to Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2013)

Hassler’s love for Plainview endured, long after he left to attend college, then to teach, then to write and then to retire in 1997 after 17 years as writer-in-residence at Saint John’s University. Visit Plainview today and you get a strong sense of the place that shaped this writer. While businesses and people have come and gone, at its core, this remains “the village in the corn.”

TELL ME: Have you read any of Jon Hassler’s 12 novels or his nonfiction? I’d love to hear your take on his writing and what books you recommend.

Please check back for more posts from Plainview next week. Be sure to read my previous posts on Plainview published this week.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring planting in Minnesota & why I care May 25, 2022

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Seed source, rural Elgin, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

THE 2022 PLANTING SEASON has proven exceedingly challenging for Minnesota farmers. A late spring with unseasonably cold temps, coupled with too much rain, has delayed seeding of corn and soybeans.

A picturesque farm site in southern Minnesota, field in the foreground. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Some areas of our state have experienced widespread flooding, creating muddy conditions and lakes. Not exactly what farmers need in May. To add to that, destructive storms damaged or destroyed farm buildings and equipment, especially in the western region of Minnesota.

Soil type and topography (here on a hillside) affect tilling and planting, along with the biggest factor, weather. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Corn planting data from the United States Department of Agriculture (updated every Monday) shows below average planting progress throughout the Midwest, West and in some states east of Illinois. In Minnesota, only 60 percent of the corn was planted as of May 23. That compares to 98 percent last year and a 5-year average of 86 percent. That puts into perspective the 2022 planting delays.

Equipment, outside a farm outbuilding, ready for spring field work. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Yet, if you farm, you realize a stretch of good weather can quickly change everything for the good. Time will tell how this all plays out.

Following farm equipment on Minnesota State Highway 60. This is a common sight in spring which requires patience and caution by motorists. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I find it interesting that, nearly 50 years removed from the farm, I still pay attention to spring planting, and, later, harvest. I have friends who farm. But, more than that, farming is part of my history, part of who I am, even as an adult decades distanced from living on the land. I am proud of my rural heritage. It shaped me. It grew me. I see that rural influence in my writing, my photography, in the places I value and, I suppose, even in the way I live my life.

A well-kept barn in southern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I am, and always shall be, honored to call myself a farm girl.

Another common sight on Minnesota roadways in the spring–a farmer hauling liquid manure to spread on fields. Not really anything you want to follow and I was thankful when the tractor turned. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

HOW ABOUT YOU? Did place shape you? I’d like to hear.

NOTE: I took these photos on May 14 in Goodhue, Olmsted, Rice and Wabasha counties in southeastern Minnesota. All images were taken through the passenger side windshield or side window while traveling on the roadway.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on North Morristown’s July 4 celebration July 7, 2021

Pork and roast beef sandwiches were sold at this stand along with beverages. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

NORTH MORRISTOWN on the Fourth of July suits me and my rural roots. Not that I’m rooted to this place in the middle of farm country in southwestern Rice County. But the down-to-earth basics of this nearly 130-year-old Independence Day celebration appeal to the raised-on-a-Redwood-County-farm girl in me.

A look toward the fest grounds from the parking area early Sunday evening. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I appreciate how this event, held annually on festival grounds in a rural Minnesota landscape, remains basically unchanged. Just like North Morristown, which is not a town, but rather farm sites, fields, a Lutheran church and school, and the grassy, shaded celebration site.

A grain truck drives through the festival grounds, I believe to pick up garbage. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

The rural character of July Fourth here prevails. In tractors and grain trucks. In barns, machine sheds and farmhouses. But it stretches beyond that to the people, to families rooted in North Morristown for generations. In many ways, Independence Day here is as much a celebration of our nation’s birthday as it is one big family reunion. With guests, like me, welcomed.

The next generation sells tees in the novelty shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

The event feels friendly and comfortably homey. I recognize that doesn’t come without a lot of planning, time, effort and hard work on the part of volunteers. I’ve coordinated and led events much smaller than this and fully realize the work and commitment.

There’s nothing high tech about the vintage rides. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

So to those who spearheaded this year’s Fourth of July in North Morristown, thank you. And to those who have led in the past, thank you also. You are bringing joy to a lot of people. You are preserving the past. You are bringing people of all ages together from all over, this year from as far away as the Philippines. You are strengthening families and building memories. You are offering an alternative to high tech everything.

One of the many vintage kiddie rides. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

In a fast-paced world, we need a place and event like North Morristown on the Fourth to remind us to slow down, to sit for a spell. To listen to the music. To savor a slice of homemade pie or a pork sandwich. To visit with friends and family and strangers. To watch babies toddle in bare feet and kids climb onto vintage horses. To play BINGO or hunt for a hidden medallion. To feel grateful for faith and family and health and country.

The kiddie games are simple, like the duck pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

At its core, North Morristown on the Fourth represents so many things I hold dear. I expect others feel the same.

The countryside near North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

TELL ME: Did you attend the North Morristown July 4 celebration or one similar? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on my mom’s birthday May 24, 2021

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My sweet mom, featured on the Parkview Facebook page in May 2020.

THIS POST CELEBRATES my mom, who turns 80-something today. She likely will never read this. She can’t see well enough to read nor would she likely fully comprehend. But, none-the-less, I feel compelled to honor her with my words.

She’s proven such an inspiration to me. In my writing. In the way I live my life. In who I am. Her name, Arlene, is even part of my identity as her first-born daughter.

I recognize that, as time passes, our memories often skew and we see loved ones through rose-colored glasses. But my view of my mom remains consistent, unchanged. She is the definition of kindness. Of the mindset, “if you don’t have anything good to say about someone, then don’t say it.” Those weren’t just empty words. She followed them and advised us, her six children, to do the same.

The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my brother, Doug.

Mom, as busy as she was with raising three sons and three daughters on the farm, always found time to serve. In church. In the American Legion Auxiliary. At Red Cross blood drives. Wherever she was needed. Her selflessness is admirable.

I sometimes wonder what dreams she gave up. She attended business college in Mankato and worked for awhile before marrying and then settling into her role as farm wife and mother. I know the six of us occasionally tested her patience. I know she worked hard—washing clothes in a Maytag wringer washer, tending a large garden, preserving food, endless cooking and baking…

The old farmhouse to the left, with the “new house” in the background. That’s my sister Lanae standing on the front steps.

And I also know of one particular dream which became reality for my mom in 1967. For years I watched as she paged through house-building plans printed in booklets procured from the local lumberyard. She dreamed of more space for her growing family. Space expanding beyond the 1 ½-story wood-frame farmhouse with three small bedrooms, an oil-burning stove in the middle of the living room, a dirt cellar and no bathroom. Eventually, my parents built a new house and I can only imagine my mom’s relief and gratitude.

It’s not that Mom really cared all that much about material possessions. But having more room and something like an indoor bathroom made life easier. More comfortable.

The birthday cake booklet from which we chose animal cake designs. This copy was gifted to me by a friend.

We didn’t have much growing up. But, because of Mom, we didn’t realize that. On our birthdays, she would craft an animal-shaped cake design chosen from General Foods’ BAKER’S COCONUT ANIMAL CUT-UP CAKE booklet. There were no gifts. Not until I grew older did I understand our poverty. But we didn’t experience poverty in love. Even though this was an era when parents didn’t openly express love in hugs, kisses or words, I felt loved. Cherished. Cared for.

Today, as I reflect on my childhood, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for my mother and how she raised me to value faith and family. To respect others. To speak kindly. To serve.

Arlene’s 1951 Wabasso High School graduation portrait.

I feel grateful to still have her in this world, even as aging and health have changed her. Many times, beginning with a viral infection of the heart nearly 40 years ago, followed by open heart surgery, we wondered if she would make it. Too many times we, her family, were called to her bedside when she was not expected to survive. During uncontrollable bleeding, pneumonia, a fall that broke her neck and landed her in a trauma unit. I recall her comment after one hospital stay. “I guess God wasn’t ready for this stubborn old lady yet.” She was right. There’s a reason Mom is still here, even while wheelchair bound, tethered to oxygen, fading before our eyes.

She is still here to love. To cherish. And, on this her birthday, to honor with words of gratitude.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Lyon County exhibit receives state history award April 30, 2021

My poem with accompanying photos in the Lyon County exhibit. Photo courtesy of the LCHS.

ONLY A FEW DAYS AGO, I wrote about the inclusion of my poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” in the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit at a county museum in Marshall.

Now the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums (MALHM) has named the Lyon County Historical Society (LCHS) a recipient of a 2021 Minnesota History Award for that exhibit. That honor is a credit to LCHS Executive Director Jennifer Andries, staff, board, volunteers and, yes, also locals who contributed stories, artifacts and more in the crafting of this exhibit.

A portion of the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit focuses on 4-H and more. Photo courtesy of the LCHS.

Museology Museum Services of Minneapolis also deserves recognition as lead contractor for the project. I was first contacted by Museology in January 2020 about inclusion of my rural-themed poem in this exhibit focusing on Lyon County and also reflective of the surrounding area in southwestern Minnesota. I feel incredibly honored to be part of an award-winning exhibit that connects people to the history of this rural region.

MALHM awards were also given to historical societies in Anoka, Carver and St. Louis counties and to the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery. Susan Garwood, director of the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault (RCHS), earned the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award for 30-plus years of service to organizations across Minnesota, including the RCHS, Northfield Historical Society and the MALHM. The award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions and demonstrated leadership to Minnesota’s history community on a broad scale.

The state-wide Alliance serves some 500-plus local history groups throughout Minnesota with a basic mission “of connecting people to nearby history.” It also provides peer-to-peer support and aims “to raise the quality of work in the local history field in Minnesota.”

Mrs. Morris takes a break from making applesauce during A Night at the Museum at the Rice County Historical Society. This is an example of local living history. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2015.

A time existed when I didn’t appreciate history or history centers like I do now. My shift in appreciating history came when museum exhibits changed. When they became more personal and interactive. When an artifact was not just something encased in glass, but an object with meaning, purpose, depth. When living history became a standard. When stories became part of the story.

I photographed this abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta (my hometown) on the southwestern Minnesota prairie in 2012. The house is no longer there. But it looks similar to the one in which I lived during the first 10-plus years of my life. This is the landscape of my upbringing and the place which shaped me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

That brings me back to my “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother.” After I posted on Tuesday about the poem’s inclusion in the Lyon County exhibit, my cousin Diane emailed a 1958 photo of my parents. And while I’m not sharing that image here, I will tell you that I was overjoyed to see a different side of my parents other than as, well, simply parents. They were young and clearly blissfully, joyfully in love. Diane also shared that her parents and mine would often attend dances together, leaving the kids with Grandma. As one of the oldest, Diane helped look after the babies, including me. I’d never heard that story or seen that black-and-white snapshot. To receive both now—with my dad long gone and my mom in failing health—was a gift. Such a gift.

I hope my poem, inspired by my mom, yet representative of all the hardworking farm women of the 1950s and 1960s, is also a gift to those who read it. I hope those who read my words, who view the accompanying photos, will reflect and feel gratitude for these strong rural women.

I shall forever feel grateful to my mom and to the rural region which shaped me and continues to inspire me today in my writing and photography.

FYI: If you didn’t see my back story on “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” please click here to read that initial post. The post includes my poem and more info about the new Lyon County exhibit.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling