Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A photo moment: Two ladies buying squash November 29, 2016

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AS A PHOTOGRAPHER, I strive to document, to tell a story, to record moments and emotions, to photograph people and places and events. Succinctly stated, I desire to present life. As it is.

Nothing gives me greater satisfaction in photography than capturing candid memorable moments. Yes, I take posed photos. But I prefer not to. So if I’m cruising with my camera and someone alerts others to my presence, I typically stop photographing. I want to be unseen. Just there. Blending in. Not always easy to do with a bulky Canon DSLR camera slung around my neck. But I try.

Recently I was rewarded with one of those prize shots while photographing at Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store, in Jordan. A moment of everyday life right there, outside the signature yellow building along US Highway 169.

Two elderly women were shopping for squash as if it was the most important thing in the world on a weekday afternoon in October. And to them, it was important.

I had one chance to photograph them. I love the results—the joy and concentration on their faces as they peruse the squash. I notice the clothing. I can’t recall the last time I saw a woman wearing a kerchief. There are details, too, of oversized purse (not bag) and cane in hand.

I note also the care the merchandiser takes in marketing the squash with historical information, flavor notations and graphics.

The subject of this image is not extraordinary, newsworthy or remarkable. It’s simply ordinary. Everyday. Two ladies buying squash. And therein lies its value to me as a Minnesota photographer.

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Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store is now closed for the season and reopens in time for Memorial Day weekend.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Hayfield, Part III: Free squash at The Legion November 17, 2016

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ONE OF MY PHOTOGRAPHIC passions involves small towns. I love to day-trip to Minnesota communities with my husband and then explore. By explore, I mean park our vehicle along Main Street and then walk around downtown before also perusing city streets. I always find something quirky, something interesting, something truly small townish.

A snippet of downtown Hayfield looking from The Flying Monkey Saloon toward the post office and grain elevator.

A snippet of downtown Hayfield looking from Flying Monkey Saloon toward the post office and grain elevator.

 

Take a recent Saturday morning stop in Hayfield. Here’s how this community promotes itself online:

Welcome to Hayfield, MN, a sprawling community of 1,300 residents nestled on the corner of Highway 30 and 56 and is almost equal distances from Austin and Rochester in south-east Minnesota.

Hayfield is “close enough to Rochester, but just far enough away” and prides itself with a booming local economy with over 40 local businesses.

 

 

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Well-crafted words can make any place sound inviting. Only a visit can distinguish between polished PR and reality. I’m happy to report that Hayfield truly is small town neighborly as evidenced at Rothie American Legion Post 330. There, on the back patio, I spotted a sign, Squash Free For the takeing (sic).

 

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As I photographed the sign, a Legion member pulled up in his van; he’d just finished erecting a flagpole. He invited me to help myself to the hybrid squash grown by Charlie Williams of Brownsdale.

 

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And so I grabbed one of the smallest orbs—not just squash, but a symbol of rural Minnesota and the generosity of those who live there.

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This concludes my series of stories, and earlier posts (click here and then click here and, finally, click here), from Hayfield.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honesty goes a long ways at roadside market October 19, 2010

 

 

Mounds of squash for sale at George Denn's roadside market.

 

BY GEORGE, that George is a mighty trusting fellow.

But, hey, the system must work for George W. Denn, purveyor of pumpkins, gourds, squash, hay and straw bales, corn shocks, apples, honey, popcorn, wheat, pumpkin seeds and books—I think that’s it—along Blue Earth County Road 2 on the Blue Earth/Le Sueur county line.

When you pull up to George’s roadside spread northeast of Mankato by Wita Lake next to his farm, he’s nowhere to be seen. That’s where the word “trust” factors into his Hey by George! business.

The Christian pumpkin farmer-writer relies on his customers’ honesty to simply deposit their payments in a secure metal box attached to the side of an old truck. Signage directs shoppers to “PAY ON OTHER SIDE” or to “PAY HERE.”

Apparently the system works. Or, if it doesn’t always work, perhaps George figures his business can survive a few stolen pumpkins, gourds or squash among the thousands he’s displayed.

If anyone happens to take one of George’s $14.99 inspirational books or some of his produce without paying, he/she may want to turn to page 35 in Hey By George!.

George reveals that he’s not only mighty trusting, but he’s also mighty forgiving.

 

You pay on the honor system, depositing your money into a box attached to the side of this old truck.

 

 

The money goes here, in this secured box, as directed.

 

 

If you can't find the perfect pumpkin here, then you probably won't find one anywhere.

 

 

A kitschy sign lists the price for corn shocks.

 

 

Piles of squash for purchase.

 

 

A close-up of the bumpy squash at Hey by George!

 

 

Heaps of squash at Hey by George!

 

 

Wispy wheat makes an artful display beside the wheel of the old truck.

 

 

Colorful squash next to the old truck are for sale.

 

 

Jars of wheat are among the offerings at George's roadside market.

 

 

George Denn's two books, Hey By George! and Hey By George II, are tucked into plastic boxes and are also sold on the honor system.

 

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling