Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Watching the 2018 Winter Olympics from the perspective of a Minnesota soldier’s daughter February 13, 2018

My dad, Elvern Kletscher, at Camp McNair in Korea, photo dated February 14 (1953).

 

WATCHING THE WINTER OLYMPICS the past several days, I’ve felt a closeness to my deceased father. He walked this soil, this mountainous land so different from the flat, open farm land of his southwestern Minnesota home.

 

This photo from my dad’s collection is tagged as “Kim, Rowe, Allen & me, May 1953 Machine Gun Crew.” That’s my father on the right.

 

He landed here in 1952 with a ship full of other U.S. Army soldiers, gun in hand. A young man sent here by his government to fight on foreign land in a region that still is without solid peace. He fought on the front lines. Kill or be killed. Buddies dying. Explosions and hungry Korean orphans begging for food across barbed wire and him eating bark from trees and cold that felt even colder than the coldest of Minnesota winters.

 

This photo, pulled from the shoebox which holds my dad’s military photos, is simply labeled “front line.” That would be “front line” as in Korea, where my soldier father fought.

 

When I see the blowing snow and rugged mountain ranges during Olympics coverage, I think of my foot solider infantryman father, ranging through and over those Korean mountains. Scared. Yet doing what he must to survive. Kill or be killed.

 

My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

 

I think of him on Heartbreak Ridge, picking off a sniper who had taken many of his buddies. And I think of the fiery shrapnel piercing his skin and the Purple Heart he would claim decades later, when he was an old man. Because a fire had destroyed his military records. Because he had tucked most of his war memories away. Because no one cared about what happened on a Korean mountaintop in 1953.

 

On the back of this photo, my dad simply wrote “a letter from home.” I appreciate this photo of my dad taken by an unknown buddy in Korea.

 

I regret that I didn’t understand him and the inner turmoil he carried with him from Korea back home to Minnesota. I regret that I didn’t ask more about his war experiences, that I didn’t recognize the trauma he suffered as a result. I regret that healing never fully came, although he found understanding and solace in the company of other veterans with similar shared experiences late in life.

All of this I consider when I view the Olympic athletes in their designer clothing, medals around their necks, applause of crowds, praise of many.

All of this I consider when I see the sister of the North Korean dictator seated behind our Vice President.

All of this I consider when I view those Korean mountains flashing across my TV screen.

 

Dad penciled on the back of this 1953 photo from Korea: “Sgt Smith & me from the States to Korea.”

 

I think of my dad as I retrieve a shoebox full of his black-and-white Korean War era photos. I sit on the sofa filing through those curled images while Olympic athletes ski and skate and propel themselves down an icy tunnel. On the back of one photo, I read my dad’s cursive notation: me in Korea May, 53.

Sixty-five years have passed since he left Korea. I wish I could sit with him now, ask him about his time in Korea, about the stories behind those photos. Perhaps he would talk, perhaps not.

 

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea.

 

I wonder, would he turn off the television or would he watch the Olympians perform? Could he handle seeing the backdrop of those rugged mountains where too many of his buddies died? Would he flash back to the horrors of war?

 

My dad carried home a July 31, 1953, memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe.

 

The reality is that I can’t ask him. He died in 2003. But I can write. I can use my words to tell his story, to apologize for my lack of understanding, to honor him. And this I do as Olympians cross country ski, stop, sprawl stomach down, then fire their rifles in this land, this Korea. This land where my soldier father from Minnesota shot his weapon, too. Kill or be killed.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Post Super Bowl thoughts from southern Minnesota February 5, 2018

I started my Super Bowl Sunday (after attending worship services) by dining at the Faribault Lions Club Super Sunday Pancake & Sausage Feed with my husband, Randy, and his brother. Neil was on his way home to Missouri after visiting family in Minnesota for the weekend. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

FOR ME TO STAY UP past 11 p.m. rates as rare. But I did last night. Until nearly 12:30 a.m. Monday. I wanted to watch The Tonight Show from Minneapolis, ending way too much time for me in front of the TV on Super Bowl Sunday. But, you know, when the championship game plays out in your home state, you get caught up in the excitement—even if you don’t much care about sports, which I don’t. I finally have it down that a touchdown earns a team six points.

 

Not a ref from the Super Bowl…image used here for illustration only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

During past Super Bowls, I’ve focused primarily on the commercials and the half-time show. I still did this year. But, for the first time ever, I watched most of the game. Except for the 33 minutes and 35 seconds I missed when my Wisconsin daughter called during the third and fourth quarters. Family trumps football any day, even on Super Bowl Sunday.

 

Icy cold beer served up in a Minnesota Vikings mug chilled in the snow. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

It was an exciting game. I found myself rooting for the underdog Philadelphia Eagles, even if they kept the Vikings from the biggest game in football and even though I can’t stand those creepy dog masks worn by some Eagles fans. I did, though, feel, for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has a strong Minnesota connection via his mom, born and raised here. Up until a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of Brady. That just shows how much of a football fan I am not.

As for that half-time show…I’m not raving like most are about Justin Timberlake’s performance. But then I’m not a Timberlake, nor a Prince (gasp), fan. Unfamiliar with the songs performed, I couldn’t understand the lyrics. And when Minneapolis lit up in purple during half-time, I didn’t even notice the Prince symbol displayed.

 

Two weeks ago a major storm dumped 16 inches of snow on Faribault and other parts of Minnesota. Snow also fell on Super Bowl weekend. But it is the cold, below zero temps and minus double digit windchills that marked the weather. I was delighted with the weather, which played perfectly off Minnesota’s Super Bowl tag as the “Bold North.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2018.

 

I saw many, but not all, of the commercials. My favorites focused on the theme of bringing our country together in an especially divisive year. Strength. Unity. Togetherness. Diversity. I especially liked T-Mobile’s “Little Ones” spot featuring babies of multiple ethnicities paired with empowering words. Most, but not all, of these social cause ads worked for me. In the didn’t like/work would be the Dodge Ram Truck ad using the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I didn’t appreciate his inspiring words used for a commercial purpose.

TurboTax nailed the humor, at least for me, with ads themed on convincing viewers they have nothing to fear in doing their taxes. A monster creeping from under a bed, a ghost in an attic—both were memory relatable. I just hope no little kids got scared.

The Mucinex spot that zoned in on post Super Bowl Monday as a sick day also tickled my funnybone and, in a round-about way, connected to that daughter who called me during the game. Thirty years ago she also used boogers to illicit laughter. “How do you make a Kleenex dance?” she asked kids and parents during a family skate time at a (now closed) Faribault rollerskating rink. “You put a little boogie in it,” she delivered in her sweet preschool voice.

 

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in Wild Rice Hotdish, another popular Minnesota dish. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A year from now I likely will have forgotten who played in Super Bowl LII. I will have forgotten the record low game time kick-off temp of one degree above zero. (An effort is underway to collect cold weather gear for Minnesota homeless from Super Bowl attendees returning to warm weather destinations via “Pass Your Parkas.”)  I will have forgotten the Mucinex and other commercials. I will have forgotten who performed at half-time. I will have forgotten how Jimmy Fallon gushed about Minneapolis and the Tater Tot Hotdish (not casserole) served to him by a Champlin family. But that memory of my sweet preschooler—now a grown woman—telling that joke about boogers, that I still, and will always, remember.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Lions Club serves Faribault community at 52nd annual Super Bowl breakfast February 2, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS AND ST. PAUL are getting lots of media attention these days as host cities of Super Bowl LII and related events. That’s to be expected. I’m grateful for that exposure, as long as Minnesotans aren’t portrayed as characters right off the set of Fargo. (Ahem, Minneapolis-based Surly Brewing.) Sure we draw out the vowel “o,” but we don’t talk with exaggerated accents. Not even in Greater Minnesota.

I digress.

I pulled this breakfast promo from the Faribault Lions club Facebook page.

 

Super Bowl LII in Minnesota reaches beyond the Twin Cities metro. There’s Browerville in central Minnesota, home to extended family of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. And then there’s Faribault, about an hour south of U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis and home to a 52-year Super Bowl tradition—the annual Lions Club Super Sunday Pancake & Sausage Feed. Yes, you read that right. Fifty-two years.

 

The featured foods, pancakes and sausage. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Sunday from 7:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., the Lions will serve this all-you-can-eat Super Bowl Day breakfast to hundreds at the local Eagles Club in my community. I’ve attended once or twice. I’m not a fan of pancakes. But I am a fan of this Lions Club endeavor to raise monies for local causes such as the Basic Blessings Backpack Program, scholarships, dictionaries for local third graders and more.

 

Posted in the dining area at the 2015 breakfast. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

With a club motto of “We Serve,” the Lions are also collecting used prescription eyeglasses and hearing aids to redistribute to those in need. And, for the first time, they are offering a free vision screening to children ages six months to six years through Lions Kidsight USA, a community eye screening endorsed by Lions Club International. The focus on vision and hearing is especially fitting for Faribault, home to the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and for the Blind.

 

Making pancakes at the 2015 breakfast. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Serving up pancakes and sausage. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Lions Club member Otto serves sausages. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

I love how Faribault Lions members and others, year after year after year, for 52 consecutive years, have sold tickets, flipped pancakes, fried sausages and more on Super Bowl Sunday. That’s dedication. That’s commitment. They showcase the best of Minnesota as a place of kind, caring and compassionate people, from rural to metro.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the strange, but true: Coyotes for a cause January 26, 2018

Thousands gather each summer in Faribault for the Straight River Stroll to raise funds for cancer research and to remember, celebrate and pray for those touched by cancer. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

WHEN IT COMES TO RAISING money for cancer research and cancer support groups, I typically think of a cancer walk, silent auction or such. Not a hunt.

 

A hunter in a Minnesota field, used here for illustration purposes only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But a group in Blooming Prairie—just south of Owatonna—has organized the 1st Annual Coyotes “Fur” Cancer Fundraiser for this Saturday, January 27. A coyote hunt (yes, you read that right) coupled with a chili and soup feed, and a raffle will raise monies to help locals dealing with cancer.

On its Facebook page, event host The Cue Company restaurant promotes the fundraiser:

Enjoy the day by hunting coyotes with your comrades in your personal favorite spots. At dark bring all your coyotes to the back parking lot of The Blooming Prairie Cue Company for a group hunting picture. All coyotes will be collected and sold to a fur buyer with the profits being donated to The Blooming Prairie Cancer Group.

 

I photographed these bras dangling from Hotel Donaldson in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. “Bras on Broadway” raises funds for those fighting breast cancer and for the American Cancer Society. I like this creative idea to raise funds and awareness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Alright then. That’s certainly a creative idea, but not one which appeals to me personally. I do, though, appreciate the efforts of organizers and the end goal.

 

At the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show, this John Deere tractor helped raise cancer awareness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

Coyotes, by the way, are not a protected animal in Minnesota. They are, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, our state’s most abundant large predator. About 4,000 are shot or trapped here annually for their fur, described by the DNR as soft, warm and luxurious.

 

I’m uncertain whether White Fox Fur & Feather Company in Pemberton buys coyote pelts. But when I photographed the business in 2010, the company was looking for deer hides. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

I realize the threat coyotes pose to livestock and other animals. I’m struggling, though, with hunting coyotes as a fundraiser. It’s certainly a novel, attention-getting idea, but…

THOUGHTS?

UPDATE, 1:30 pm Wednesday, January 31, 2018: The Coyotes “Fur” Cancer Fundraiser raised $17,000 and counting, according to an article published in The Owatonna People’s Press. That far surpassed the goal of $2,000 – $5,000. Six hunting parties killed 24 coyotes. The animals’ fur will be sold with proceeds directed to The Blooming Prairie Cancer Group. Additional monies raised at the event came from a raffle, silent auction and chili and soup feed.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Of Vikings, a blizzard & Minnesota Nice January 22, 2018

The Vikings’ loss and fan reaction headlined news late this morning on a Twin Cities TV station.

 

NOT WANTING TO SOUND like a poor loser the day after the Minnesota Vikings’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game, I pondered what to post here. Watching the second half of the game, which ended with a 38 – 7 win for the Eagles, proved difficult. I mostly read a book, diverting my attention from the disaster unfolding on the TV screen.

But rather than wallow in the disappointment of the Vikings not advancing to the Super Bowl in their hometown, I choose to remember the seven days in which Minnesotans united in exuberance over the Minneapolis Miracle. It felt good, really good, to be part of such a positive experience, the pride in our state strong.

As the Vikings-Eagles game ended Sunday evening, I turned to my husband and asked, “Now who are you going to cheer for in the Super Bowl?” His answer was swift. “The Eagles,” he said, explaining that he often roots for the underdog. Me, too. Typically. But our son lives in greater Boston and the New England Patriots hail from Massachusetts…

And then I read a post by Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins, whom I respect as a news blogger. He wrote this morning about the way some Eagles fans treated some Vikings fans yesterday in Philadelphia. It wasn’t pretty with taunting, foul language and even beer cans tossed. Is this normal behavior? I hope not. Collins points out that in just two weeks, Eagles fans will arrive in Minnesota from the City of Brotherly Love. Will we show them our signature Minnesota Nice? I am confident we will.

 

Minnesota kids need warm hats and mittens during these cold and snowy Minnesota winters.

 

An email which arrived in my in-box this morning from Thrivent Financial, a Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Partner, confirms my premise that we Minnesotans are good at heart and we’ll show the world that during Super Bowl LII. Thrivent is partnering with Hats and Mittens for a Super Hats & Mittens event the day before the game to make (or collect) 52,000 hats and mittens for those in need. Attendees will craft hats and mittens from fleece during the gathering which also features food, an author, music and more. If this event wasn’t located just blocks from US Bank Stadium, I’d consider attending. But I don’t want to be anywhere near the stadium around Super Bowl time.

 

The view from my home office window this morning as a blizzard rages outside.

 

And this would be my kitchen window which is totally covered by wind-driven snow.

 

Early this morning I took this shot from an upstairs window of the van parked in my driveway near the garage.

 

All of this aside, we here in southern Minnesota have another, much more important, distraction today. The weather. My county of Rice and several other Minnesota counties are in a blizzard warning until midnight. Fierce winds are driving snow nearly horizontally across the landscape. It’s not pretty out there.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Minnesota: When a football team brings a state together January 21, 2018

 

I photographed this billboard along the northbound lane of Interstate 35 near Lakeville. Kwik Trip is headquartered in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, with many convenience stores in southern Minnesota.

 

EIGHT DAYS AGO, I couldn’t have identified a single Minnesota Vikings player. But this morning, only hours from the NFC championship game and one week after the Vikes’ stunning win over the New Orleans Saints, I know the names Stefon Diggs and Case Keenum.

 

The “true Minnesota” reference refers to Old Dutch, started in St. Paul in 1934 and still based in Minnesota, in Roseville. Photographed at Fareway Foods, Faribault.

 

And I know something else. This state has come together in a way I haven’t seen in a long long time. We needed the Minneapolis Miracle. We needed a reason to celebrate that stretches far beyond simply winning a football game. We needed this win to bring us all together during an incredibly divisive time in our country.

 

At Fareway Foods in Faribault, the push is on to sell snacks for the play-off game today and then for the Super Bowl.

 

The level of excitement and enthusiasm and pride in Minnesota right now has created a strong sense of community here. We are Bold North proud. We are hardy Minnesotans united in our desire to see the Vikings, our team, in the Super Bowl that we are hosting in just a few weeks. We. Us. Good, typically stoic folks who are now chanting Skol! Skol! Skol! from small town school gymnasiums to the Mall of America.

You’ll see Vikings pride on interstate billboards and in grocery stores. Everywhere.

On this morning before the NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, this feels like our year. To win. Big.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Vikings fan for a day plus January 15, 2018

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Chilling beer Minnesota style in the snow. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I CAN’T RECALL the last time I watched a professional football game on TV.

But there I was Sunday afternoon, hunkered down on the couch watching the Minnesota Vikings take on the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium. Yes, I suppose you might term me a fair weather fan, if that. Until yesterday, I didn’t know any of the players’ names. And until several days ago, I knew nothing of SKOL, the Vikings’ fan chant.

 

Vikings pride displayed atop a home in Waterville. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

After a smashing first half, the home team seemed poised to easily win the play-off game. So Randy and I broke for supper, only to return to a stalled game and then an upset lead by the Saints. About that time I could barely bear to watch, diverting my attention instead to a John Sandford mystery.

 

The car of a Vikings fan photographed in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Randy, though, insisted the Vikes could still win. I didn’t believe him. Then it happened, in the last play of the game. Quarterback Case Keenum fired the ball to Stefon Diggs who nearly slipped, then regained his footing and ran in for the winning touchdown. And, yes, I saw the game winning play.

 

US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, in downtown Minneapolis and site of Super Bowl 2018. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

 

With a Vikings win of 29-24, the team is now one game from competing in the Super Bowl right here in Minnesota.

 

My snow boots. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

After a bit of whooping and hollering, I launched myself from my reclining spot, grabbed by winter coat, scarf, hat and gloves, laced my boots, and stepped outside. To shovel snow.

TELL ME: Did you watch the game? Do you think the Vikings will make it into the Super Bowl?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling