Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A tale from Buckman, not of Billygoats but of a ballpark August 24, 2022

Outside Bell Field in Faribault, two oversized baseballs flank the ballpark entry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

AH, SUMMER IN MINNESOTA. It is, unequivocally, a season packed with outdoor activities. Like baseball. I’m not a fan. But many are.

Beautiful and historic Bell Field in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A banner welcomes baseball fans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A section of the stands at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My community of Faribault, along with neighboring Dundas and Miesville, is currently hosting the Minnesota Baseball Association State Amateur Tournament in Classes B and C. That means lots of teams and fans are in town on the weekend to watch baseball at Faribault’s Bell Field.

Brackets posted at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My husband, Randy, was among the spectators Saturday evening when his hometown team, the Buckman Billygoats, faced the Cannon Falls Bears. In the end, the Billygoats defeated the Bears 7-1. They will be back at Bell Field at 4:30 p.m. Saturday to play the Luverne Redbirds.

Downtown Buckman, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020)

Even though 48 years have passed since Randy left the family farm southeast of Buckman, he remains forever rooted to this small town in Morrison County in central Minnesota. He is connected to the baseball field there, just south of St. Michael’s Catholic Church. Not because he played ball. No, not that. There’s a story, though…

The playing field at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the summer of 1972, Randy joined a team of teenagers in painting a new outfield fence. When I write fence, I mean 4 x 8-foot plywood panels pieced together. The six teens went through lots of barn red paint, purchased in 5-gallon buckets.

Businesses advertise at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Local businesses could pay to advertise. Randy and his co-workers, employed through a summer community action program for low income families, stenciled, then painted the business names onto the fence panels. Cindy and Marge traced the stencils, then they all (including Randy’s older sister Vivian) brushed the letters in with white paint.

Rules posted in a Bell Field dug-out. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But as Randy tells the story, the owner of the local grocery store deviated from the plan and decided to craft his own bold advertisement. He removed the two centerfield panels, painted them green and stenciled his business name thereon. And, remembers Randy, those fence sections stuck out like… Exactly as intended.

Bell Field has its own version of Bottle Cap Stadium in its BEER CAVE. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Randy holds other memories from that summer of working at the ballpark in Buckman. He remembers a homemade sign labeling the field as Bottle Cap Stadium. Somebody (he has his suspicions) picked up beer and bottle caps from the grounds, formed the identifying words from the caps and then nailed them onto plywood.

Bell Field is home to The Lakers, who just missed making this year’s tournament. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

He also recalls a sign tagging the ball field as “The Home of the Buckman Saints.” Whether the ball team was ever called the Saints is uncertain. But it makes sense given St. Michael’s Catholic Church and School just to the north.

On rainy days when the team of teens couldn’t work at the ballpark, they painted classrooms. Randy recalls the day he and the rest prepared to paint Mrs. Weber’s classroom. Rose Weber, mother of Minnesota author and forensic psychologist Frank Weber, was Randy’s fifth grade teacher and is likely related to current Billygoats player Aaron Weber. She chose pink and blue for her classroom. “Who picked these colors?” Reuben at the hardware store asked. Mrs. Weber was later called in to assess a section of newly-painted wall in her chosen color combo.

“She looked at it, didn’t like it and picked green and yellow, John Deere green and yellow,” Randy said. I can only imagine how those farm kids viewed the tractor colors chosen for the fifth grade classroom.

A baseball lodged in overhead netting at Bell Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Circling back to the beginning…, if not for Randy’s attendance at the Buckman Billygoats’ baseball game last Saturday evening in Faribault, I never would have heard these stories from the Summer of 1972. Nor would I have learned this about my husband of 40 years: “You wonder why I don’t like to paint,” he said. “I was sick of painting that summer.”

Point taken.

More stories will be written at the state tournaments. Here’s hoping the Buckman Billygoats win on Saturday. If anyone knows where Randy can get a Billygoats t-shirt, please comment. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But, my sister-in-law Vivian noted, “We sure had a lot of fun!” Some Buckman ballpark-related stories shall remain unwritten…

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Car stories July 22, 2022

I expect the driver of this 1956 Plymouth Plaza has stories to share about the vintage car he drove to the Faribault car show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

ATTENDING THE July 15 Downtown Faribault Car Cruise Night prompted the stories I am about to share. Experiences create stories, which help us to understand and connect with one another. What are your car memories?

Mine are of my bachelor Uncle Mike’s blue-green Nash Rambler, a small (for 1960) boxy car. He didn’t need a roomy car. I remember the Rambler for its size, its color and its name. And its novelty among all the Chevys and Fords.

And then there was Grandpa Bode’s salmon-hued car, make and model unknown to me then and now. The color imprints upon my mind as does the rapid blink-blink-blink of the blinker. If I heard the sound now, I would still recognize it. But to describe the distinct blink proves impossible. I remember also the clear plastic that covered the seats and how, on hot summer days, the bumpy plastic stuck to my legs.

Heading north on Central Avenue in Faribault near the end of the July 15 Downtown Car Cruise Night. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Grandma Kletscher drove a boat of a car. Large, white. Occasionally she threaded a garden hose into the exhaust pipe, started the car and gassed the moles tunneling through her yard. She was stubborn, determined, innovative. I recall, too, riding with her in that car to nearby Belview to shop for fabric at the general store. She would choose yardage for shapeless dresses I stitched for her. Simple. Zipper tracing down the back. Darts at the bustline. Short-sleeves. Basic dresses to cover her stout frame.

I recall, too, my dad’s 1959 black-and-white Chevy Impala, our family car until he sold it to a neighbor boy and later wished he hadn’t.

Dad liked spacious Impalas. I remember his second Impala, blue in color, and how our family of eight, plus Grandpa, piled inside for our once-a-year trip to visit relatives in The Cities. We packed like sardines, shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip with no wiggle room between kids. If not for the excitement of actually leaving the farm for some distant travel, I doubt we would have managed the miles. But the adventure kept us focused as we watched for the Flying Red Horse and Caterpillar landmarks, our GPS of sorts along with a paper road map pulled from the glove box.

All the vehicles along Central Avenue hold stories. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

And then there was my first car, a 1976 yellow Mercury Comet purchased right after my graduation from college. It soon garnered the nickname, Vomit. Two flat tires on the day I bought the former rental car from Florida should have sent me back to the Minnesota dealer. The car seemed to have endless mechanical and other problems. A door that wouldn’t close all the way in the depths of winter. A black interior that heated like a sauna in the summer. And too many other issues that fit the Vomit moniker.

Yet, my Vomit with the “press” sticker adhered to the windshield got me to where I needed to be during my early days as a newspaper reporter: chasing fire trucks, interviewing sources, attending endless local government and school board meetings, trying to source information about a murder in New Ulm, covering a homecoming celebration in Odin in 1981 for Bruce Laingen, an American diplomat held hostage in Iran for 444 days…

Those are my car stories. We all have them. What are yours?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts prompted by BORN 2 RIDE July 12, 2022

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Biking along Minnesota State Highway 21 in Faribault on July 2. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

WE EACH HOLD STORIES, some shared, some not. Our experiences, our connections, our individuality all combine to create our life stories.

Recently I wondered at the story of a biker pedaling away from a mini strip mall in Faribault, then turning onto Minnesota State Highway 21/Lyndale Avenue around 7:30 pm on July 2. We had just exited Interstate 35 onto this busy 4-lane when I noticed the bicyclist.

I grabbed my camera to document the scene through the windshield on the passenger side of our van. It wasn’t like we could stop so I could ask questions.

Thus I am left only with clues, including the BORN 2 RIDE mini novelty Minnesota “license plate.” I surmise this biker hails from Minnesota and is a serious cyclist.

The mounded pack and tote on the bike trailer appear to corral a tent and belongings. This seems more a distance journey, perhaps with a cause, rather than a recreational ride.

The weathered signage, if only I could see all of the letters, would help me determine what message the biker wants passersby to see.

A tattered American flag points to patriotism and someone who could be a veteran. Maybe. Maybe not.

There are clues, but not a full story. In general, unless we directly hear individual stories, we are left to guess, to speculate and to possibly even get it wrong. How quick we can be in life to assess, to judge, to think we understand people without intently listening to their stories. Sharing of stories comes only with trust, at least for me. Not everyone can be trusted to keep our stories, to hold our truths, to respond with love, compassion and care.

I am a big advocate of listening, of not interjecting one’s own experiences into conversations in a way that focuses back on us. Just be there. Listen. And react with kindness.

Yes, my thoughts have wandered from that biker I photographed along a busy Faribault highway on July 2. But, like a writing prompt, that scene allowed me to craft a message. A message that we all need to pause, to consider the untold stories, to hear those stories if shared and to listen, really listen.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A bit like the Dust Bowl inside my house June 1, 2022

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I’d encourage you to read this book about The Dust Bowl. It’s riveting and informative, filled with stories.

I AM A THROW the windows open, let fresh air flow into my house kind of person. I dislike stuffiness, feeling closed in by lack of air movement. Randy sometimes calls me “Ida.” He’s referencing my paternal grandmother, who slept with her bedroom window cracked, even in the winter. While I don’t do that, I’ve opened windows on cool-ish days. Hey, I gotta get some fresh air in the house.

Monday was one of those days when I should have kept the windows clamped shut. Why? Because of the wind. Fierce, strong, relentless winds blew all day, even blowing in destructive storms and tornadoes into parts of central Minnesota. And while we avoided that here in Faribault, our lawn is littered with maple leaves, small branches and twigs.

At one point Monday afternoon, Randy and I launched from our lawnchairs upon hearing a loud crack. We convened with our next door neighbor, attempting to determine what cracked and fell in the woods behind our homes. But we couldn’t determine the source in the denseness of greenery and felt thankful a tree or limb did not land on our houses and garages. The woods are littered with dead trees and broken branches from a 2018 tornado. That storm cut a destructive path through our neighborhood with trees falling on vehicles, roadways, houses, garages and, for us, the electrical wire and meter ripped off our house.

I digress. On Memorial Day, winds whipped all day. And our windows were open. Wide open. I should have known better. But, at the time, I was thinking only of keeping the house cool without switching on the air. I’m all about conserving energy and saving money because, you know, everything costs so darned much these days.

By evening meal prep, I realized just how dirty the house had gotten. Grit layered the kitchen counters, the table, the floors, the… I had no desire or energy to clean beyond swiping a rag across surfaces to reveal a line of dirt.

Heavy duty cleaning awaited me Tuesday morning. I spent hours washing surfaces and floors, spraying a layer of visible dirt from the bathtub, vacuuming. I could have prevented this, if only I’d kept the windows closed.

I should have, could have, learned from my Grandma Ida. Over the weekend, I was reading the Kletscher family history compiled by my Uncle Merlin. He included this story:

My family lived through the very dry years of the 30s commonly referred to as The Dust Bowl years. I recall my mother telling how she could wipe off the table in the morning after breakfast and by noon it would be covered with dirt and dust blown into the house by the dry winds. I always wondered why she had the habit of covering everything that was setting out on the table or counter with a dish towel. I also recall my father telling about gathering wind blown tumbleweed from the fence lines so they could have feed for the livestock. He felt sorry for the animals but that was all they could find for feed.

From my own childhood, I recall a Good Friday dust storm which layered our rural southwestern Minnesota farmhouse with dirt. Mom left the windows open a crack before we accompanied her on a shopping trip to nearby Marshall. A dust storm swept through while we were gone. We spent hours thereafter wiping, sweeping and vacuuming dirt from the house, just like I did on Tuesday.

I have not yet finished cleaning following the wild winds of Memorial Day 2022. I have the second level to vacuum and wipe down. But compared to those Minnesotans who lost homes, vehicles and more to tornadoes, a little (OK, a lot) of dirt seems like nothing.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look at the new year from The Land of Plenty January 7, 2022

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted edited file photo December 2017

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, people far and wide welcomed the new year. Some with optimism. Others with cautiousness. And yet others with ambivalence.

But at least one family celebrated as they began their third calendar year in power. No one had elected them to office, attempted a take-over or used nepotism to open doors. Rather, the family patriarch, The Great Invader, simply slipped into the country and began his campaign of destruction. Illness. Death. Discord. Division. He spared nothing to remain in power.

SUCCESS

His plan was working. Despite warnings from The Ministry of Health. Despite a life-saving potion. Despite Centers for Healing filling to capacity. He gloated in his success and that of his cousins, enlisted to help with the cause. His Office of Misinformation labored into the wee hours disseminating falsehoods, which quickly passed via word-of-mouth from village to village and then into the countryside.

The Office of Truthfulness likewise worked tirelessly, posting daily information and statistics on scrolls in the village square. Tallies of the sick. The dead. But often The Village Know-It-All ripped down the scrolls before anyone could read them. He despised the officials who released facts and supporting data. He considered them a threat.

And so life went. The Great Invader and his family roamed mostly unfettered, infecting more people than ever. They’d had enough time to adjust, to tweak their strategies. Even those protected by a life-saving potion were now falling ill, although their illnesses proved mostly minor. Those without the protection of a magic potion, however, proved especially vulnerable. Too often they fell gravely ill, filling cots at Centers for Healing to overflowing. Others, particularly the elderly and those who suffered from other maladies, died. The Great Invader watched streams of mourners gather in the village graveyard. He clearly saw just how effective his efforts on the unprotected, even if many villagers didn’t.

UNHEEDED WARNINGS

Health officials pleaded with villagers to accept the life-saving potion. They warned of a shortage of cots and healers, of overworked and stressed caregivers. They warned of death and severe illness. But none of it seemingly mattered. Even the deaths of loved ones did not convince the villagers to protect themselves, their families, friends and community.

NAME-CALLING AT THE PUB

In the village of Drofdem, locals crammed elbow to elbow over pints of ale at the pub. Rumors and untruths circulated, fueled by alcohol. When the proprietor, who had taken the life-saving potion and who wore a protective face mask, circulated among the revelers, they scoffed at him. Called him names. Laughed in his face. He remained stoic, showing no emotion while inwardly reeling from the insults. He wanted nothing more than to throw them out of his pub, bar the door and flee. But his family depended on him.

MORE ISSUES & CONCERNS, OR NOT

Several cobblestone streets away, students gathered inside the village school, in cramped windowless rooms with clay walls and dirt floors. Few of those children had received the magic potion to fend off The Great Invader. Their parents distrusted The Ministry of Health, believing instead the misinformation spewed by The Village Know-It-All and his core team. They refused to mask their children, although that was proven to help stop The Great Invader. No one, they claimed, should tell them what was best for their children.

However, in far away cities, teachers expressed concerns about the ever-spreading virus. Some refused to teach, noting the risk to their health and that of their students. Debates and division arose.

Other concerns existed in The Land of Plenty, too. Shortages of wagons and oxen meant delays in getting shoes from cobblers to far-away cities. Peasant farmers fell ill, creating a shortage of food in the marketplace. Travelers found themselves stranded, unable to secure transportation as cart drivers fell ill and dirt roads turned to muck in torrential rains. Threats of war remained as universal as time.

HOPE & LOVE

Yet, in a small stone house in the village, a waif of a girl and her mother remained hopeful. Of little means, especially since the death of their father and husband at the hands of The Great Invader (pre life-saving potion), they had enough. They had each other. They had taken the protective potion. Each evening they sat by the fireside, the mother singing softly to her beloved daughter. “You are my sunshine.” Even in the darkness, love prevailed. No one, not even The Great Invader and his cousins or The Village Know-It-All, could destroy their love or diminish their hope.

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NOTE: In every story exists truth, this one no exception. This story is part of an ongoing series about The Great Invader (COVID-19). Please choose vaccination to protect yourself, your loved ones and others. If you’ve already been vaccinated and boosted, thank you. Please also mask up in public and follow other CDC guidelines to help prevent spread of the virus.

I moderate all comments and will not publish anti-vaccine, anti-mask and other such views on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In The Land of Plenty as Christmas approaches December 10, 2021

Rag rugs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021)

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, the people busied themselves preparing for Christmas. Merchants stocked their shops with goods. Peasant farmers butchered plump geese. Artisans and craftsmen gathered in the marketplace, peddling rugs woven from rags, vessels shaped from clay, candles made of tallow.

A spirit of festiveness prevailed, from sprawling cities to remote villages to farms upon the plains. Crowds gathered. The mood was jovial.

LURKING, WATCHING, PLOTTING

But in the dark alleyways of cities, in dark corners of village marketplaces, in the darkness of distant farms, a dark figure watched. He smirked, not wanting to reveal his sickly yellow teeth and thus his identity as The Great Invader. He felt such power in his ability to be anywhere and everywhere simultaneously. He’d also recruited his cousins to join his cause of inflicting illness and death upon The Land of Plenty and beyond.

The lurking figure hunkered down, delighting in the scenes unfolding before him. Nothing pleased him more than crowds of people mingling, seemingly oblivious to his presence. He felt particularly emboldened by the prevalence of denial and by the misinformation spewed by The Village Know-It-All. This made his work much easier.

“NO THREAT,” BUT NUMBERS SHOW OTHERWISE

“Refuse the magic potion,” the self-appointed village expert commanded. “It’s dangerous and will only harm you. There’s no need for the potion. The Great Invader poses no threat.” This he belched while ripping down scrolls released by The Ministry of Health to The Office of Truthfulness. Those scrolls listed statistics which, if examined, countered his declarations.

Unbeknownst to both The Village Know-It-All and The Great Invader, a group of truth-seeking villagers snuck into the village square to review the scrolled documents upon posting. What they read startled them. Frightened them. Gave great cause for alarm. Reaffirmed their understanding of The Great Invader’s presence and power.

In the neighboring province of Cebanak, the positivity rate for infection stood at 24%. It was even higher in Acesaw province at 28%. And yet higher in Yelbis province at 30%. Those overwhelmingly high numbers struck fear into the hearts of those who read them. They were not so much frightened for themselves, for they’d taken several doses of the potion protecting them from serious illness and death. Rather, they felt concern for their friends, neighbors and family members who refused the potion. Too many lay in The Village Center for Healing (or on overflow cots outside). Others were already gone, buried in the cold black earth of the graveyard.

CARE & CONFLICT

They pleaded, especially with those in their close family circles, to take the protective potion. But nothing convinced the doubters. Nothing. Not even the healers who’d arrived from far away places to help care for the sick and dying at the Center for Healing, now filled to capacity.

As Christmas approached, conflict bubbled in The Land of Plenty. There were those who wanted to celebrate as usual. Gather with family. Shoulder into the local pub with holiday revelers for a hot toddy or pint of ale. Cram into the town square to hear performers sing of Christmas joy. Anger boiled, especially in the outlying villages. Most villagers distrusted The Ministry of Health and leaders from far away cities who warned of more illness and death.

GATHER SAFELY

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. Health officials suggested ways to gather safely. Accept the protective potion. Cover your face with a mask. Test for illness. Stay home if you feel unwell. But that only angered many and caused rifts within families and among friends and neighbors.

And so, weeks out from Christmas, The Great Invader found himself in the enviable position of still retaining his power and control. He never expected this, not with the creation of the potion nearly a year prior. But, oh, how he celebrated, albeit inwardly, as he watched from the dark corners in The Land of Plenty and beyond and plotted his next invasion.

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Note: In every story exists truth, this one no exception. As The Great Invader (COVID-19/variants) marches on, please take care. Get vaccinated. Mask up. Avoid indoor crowded spaces. Get tested if symptoms arise. Stay home if you’re sick. And, if you celebrate Christmas together, take precautions. I care about you and want you to be safe and well.

This is part of an ongoing series about The Great Invader. I moderate all comments and will not give voice to anti-vaccine, anti-mask, etc. views on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the village November 30, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2020.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, a waif of a girl and her mother huddled, seeking warmth inside their small stone house. They’d just returned from a tiring journey by foot to a neighboring village. There the daughter received a magical potion to protect her from The Great Invader, who had claimed her father’s life. They felt such gratitude for the protective potion now available to all but the youngest.

The pair felt no bitterness about the loss of their beloved husband and father, but rather a mournful acceptance of his fate. When he fell ill, Ministry of Health researchers had only begun to understand The Great Invader and ways to effectively deal with him. They were certain he could be stopped. But, alas, Ministry officials underestimated the resistance to their advice, to the life-saving potion, to measures that would keep most villagers, city-dwellers and peasants from serious illness or death.

Spikes define The Great Invader and his cousins. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2019)

A KNOCK ON THE DOOR

As mother and daughter edged near the hearth, fire heating a small kettle of thin porridge, a persistent pounding broke the silence. The weary woman hesitated, unsure whether to answer the urgent knock. But the kindness instilled in her by sage elders replaced her momentary hesitation. She rose, grabbed a swatch of cloth from a peg on the wall, covered her face and cracked the door.

There stood a stranger—teeth a sickly yellow, spiked hair framing his filthy face, gnarled hand raised in a threatening pose. Without even a second thought, the mother slammed the door, dislodged a worn plank, dropped and locked it in place. Her shoulders heaved. Her legs gave way. And she fell in a heap onto the dirt floor, overcome with emotion. She recognized the stranger as a cousin of The Great Invader from a sketch posted in the village square (before The Village Know-It-All removed the identifying scroll). She breathed gratitude for the potion that protected her and her cherished child.

Wheat. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2019)

STRUGGLES & EMPOWERMENT

The young mother and her daughter were, by nature, kind and loving. They often befriended the lowliest among them. The beggars. The downtrodden. Those who had fallen on hard times. They had little themselves, but shared what they had. Yet, even with the mindset of kindness, they struggled to understand how so many in their village seemed now to care only about themselves. Gone was the cohesiveness of community care. The Great Invader and his extended family gloated, empowered to press on with selfishness, untruths, misinformation and distrust fueling their cause. They never could have imagined the ease with which they could infiltrate The Land of Plenty and beyond.

Frustration mounted whenever mother and child ventured into the crowded village marketplace. Few covered their faces. Few believed The Ministry of Health or the Office of Truthfulness. The pair observed how villagers dismissed warnings about The Great Invader and scoffed at ways to protect themselves and others. So the two hastened to gather a handful of potatoes, a sheaf of grain and a clutch of carrots clumped with dirt. They parceled pennies into the palms of peasants, then fled the market.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

HOPE IN AN UNSETTLING SCENE

On their way home, mother and daughter passed by The Village Center for Healing, now overrun with the sick and dying infected by The Great Invader. Most had refused the magic potion. The pair’s hearts hurt for the exhausted village healers who continued to care for the failing, even in the face of disrespect and denial. They skirted past the ill and sidestepped rotten tomatoes lobbed by villagers refuting reality with anger.

The woman paused for a moment when she noticed strangers tending to the ill in overflow cots along the cobblestone streets. Fear prickled her spine. Could this be The Great Invader in yet another disguise? But she soon realized these strangers had come to ease the burden on village healers. She recalled a posting in the village square announcing the arrival of the group from a far away city. Gratitude rose within her, a smile curving her lips.

Hope swelled within her that maybe, just maybe, the influx of healers would convince the doubters to recognize the severity of the situation. To realize they could stop The Great Invader, first by believing those who had investigated him and then trusting the magic potion to keep them safe. It was within their grasp…

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NOTE: In every story exists truth, this one no exception. As The Great Invader (COVID-19) continues his march, now in mutant strains, we need to remain vigilant. Get vaccinated and boostered. (If you already are, thank you.) Mask up. (If you do, thank you.) Stay home when you’re sick. Follow other safety mitigation. Think beyond yourself. To the child next door. To the elderly. To the immune-compromised. To the family you love. This is about more than each of us individually. This is about all of us, our community of humanity.

This is part of an ongoing series about The Great Invader. I moderate all comments and will not give voice to anti-vaccine, anti-mask and other such opinions on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The journey November 12, 2021

Featured in a 2016-2017 “Minnesota Disasters” exhibit at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, a waif of a girl and her mother wound through the packed dirt and cobblestone streets of their remote village.

Sometimes they walked side-by-side. Other times the wee girl trailed her mother. But when they reached the village square, where a raucous crowd had gathered, they clasped hands and quickened their pace. The pair wanted to avoid the angry villagers crowded around The Village Know-It-All. He stood high above the throng, encouraging them to resist all attempts by The Ministry of Health and other officials in a far away city to stop The Great Invader.

His voice boomed authority across the square. “Stand strong,” he urged. “There is no need to defend yourselves against The Great Invader. He poses no threat. Stories of his strength are greatly exaggerated. There is no need to arm yourselves with protective gear or to hide or to avoid each other. There is no need for a potion to keep you safe. That’s nonsense. Lies. No one can tell us what to do! No one!”

Masks, precautions and isolation helped protect against the flu epidemic. To the left in this photo are names of Steele County residents who died from the flu in 1918. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

DEATH & DENIAL ALL AROUND

As mother and daughter fled, reaffirming cheers created a deafening din. The two wanted nothing more than to escape the ire and untruths that raged.

Soon the pair passed The Village Center for Healing where an overflow of the sick and dying lay in cots along the street. While the ill-informed words of The Village Know-It-All droned on, echoing through the streets, the ill struggled with fits of coughing, gasping for breath. Fevers wracked their bodies and some lay stone still, perhaps already dead.

The mother shuddered in fear, clenching her daughter’s hand, distancing them as best she could along the narrow pathway.

They pressed on, passing the marketplace where vendors and villagers crowded among wagons heaped with grain, potatoes and overripe tomatoes. The mother had heard stories of villagers stealing the rotting tomatoes to lob at healers. She couldn’t understand why the healers—those who toiled endless days and nights to care for the sick—were now targeted, viewed as traitors. She could only trace that hatred to The Village Know-It-All and his followers who continued to spew misinformation about The Great Invader.

Activities that brought people together, including here in southern Minnesota, were suspended during the flu outbreak. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

INSIDE THE VILLAGE SCHOOL

Soon they reached the village school where children scratched sticks across the dirt yard. Inside, other students crammed onto benches in cramped, windowless rooms made of clay walls and dirt floors. After her daughter shared of the crowded conditions, of sick classmates and no efforts to keep The Great Invader out of school, the concerned mother kept her daughter home. She could not fathom risking her daughter’s health or life. Already a long-time elder educator had succumbed to The Great Invader and another, much younger teacher, lay gravely ill.

THE DARKNESS OF GRIEF, THE LIGHT OF HOPE

Just beyond the school on the outskirts of town, the duo passed by the graveyard. To their right, a cluster of villagers circled as the local gravedigger lowered a pine box into a dark hole. The heartbreaking wails of mourners pierced the air. The mother recognized many of the grieving for theirs was a small village. Sadness clenched her thoughts. She knew this much-loved elder had succumbed to The Great Invader, although his family and friends denied the truth. The Office of Truthfulness posted a daily record in the village square and she had seen the man’s name on that list before The Village Know-It-All ripped down the official death document.

Witnessing such grief and observing the cemetery grounds marked by countless rectangles of black, mounded dirt, the mother hurried on. Past a simple marker with a familiar name. She hoped to reach a distant, much larger, village by nightfall. There she would accept the preventative potion to protect her beloved child. Just as she had sought out for herself many months earlier. She’d waited for this day, through the grief of losing her husband to The Great Invader only weeks before the magical potion was created and distributed, then subsequently destroyed by The Village Know-It-All. She focused on the journey at hand, through her weariness and grief, determined, filled with hope.

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NOTE: In every story exists truth, this one no exception. This story about The Great Invader (COVID-19) is part of an ongoing series on the topic. If you read my previous posts, you understand that I believe science and health. I support vaccines and other measures to keep us all safe.

Minnesota is currently in a precarious place with COVID-19 cases at a 2021 high, few ICU hospital beds available and deaths increasing.

I welcome comments, but will not give voice to anti-vaccine, anti-masking, etc. viewpoints and misinformation on this, my personal blog. I moderate all comments.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Once Upon a Time at the Cannon Falls Library November 3, 2021

The “Once Upon a Time” mural in the Cannon Falls Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2021)

TUCKED INTO A SIDE CORNER, behind a nondescript cushioned seat for two, a bold mural pops color into the Cannon Falls Library.

The mural is fun, playful, colorful, inspirational… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I discovered the art on a recent day trip to this small Goodhue County community along the Cannon River. A sign in a downtown storefront window promoting the library’s “Mailbox Mysteries” program led me to the library. Once inside, I registered for the mystery challenge and then browsed. Not books. But art.

This tastefully and artfully decorated library creates an inviting setting in a cozy space. I felt comfortably at home here, where a fireplace angles into a corner with cushy seating nearby.

So much to see and interpret. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

But it was that vivid mural which focused my attention. There’s so much to take in. Even now, as I scroll through my photos, I note details previously unnoticed. This mural requires study and an appreciation for nuances.

What a fitting theme for this library mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Titled “Once Upon a Time,” this artwork was created by local students under the direction of Cannon Falls native and New York artist Kelli Bickman. A similar, and much larger, Youth Mural Arts project graces the exterior of the local Chamber of Commerce building 1 ½ blocks away.

Among the many inspirational quotes incorporated into the library mural is this favorite. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

As a wordsmith, I especially appreciate the inspirational quotes incorporated into the painting: Today a reader, tomorrow a leader. The noblest art is that of making others happy.

Love this quote… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

And my favorite: Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light. How well that quote fits today as we deal with the darkness of a global pandemic. The artists could not have known that, just months after the dedication of this mural in June 2019, darkness would descend upon our world. Now, more than ever, those words of encouragement—of remembering to turn on the light—resonate.

Once Upon a Time can take you anywhere. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Art is always open to interpretation. So what I take away from this mural may differ from the artists’ vision or from others who view it. I see strength and grace. I see reaching for the stars and achieving goals. I see fiery passion and the fluidity of life. I see going places that may lead far from Cannon Falls, from Minnesota even. I see dreams taking wing. I see how books and music and art and nature influence us.

A stack of books painted into the mural fits the setting and the theme. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I see that Once Upon a Time is our story to write. We write the words and paint the scenes to create the personalized murals which depict our lives. And, in the darkest of times, we can choose to switch on the light, to see happiness.

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NOTE: Please check back for more from the Cannon Falls Library. Click here to read my earlier post on the newest downtown mural. Click here for a brief tour of downtown. And, finally, click here for a post about Hi Quality Bakery.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At the library, online & in bookstores: “This Was 2020” October 29, 2021

Duluth artist Carolyn Olson’s art graces the cover of This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

This Was 2020 Now Available” reads the header on a recent news release posted on the Ramsey County Library Reads website.

That’s exciting news for those of us published in this award-winning collection of prose and poetry. This Was 2020: Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year recently won the Minnesota Author Project Award in the Communities Create category. That honor recognizes the work of indie publications in the state. Ramsey County Library (led by librarian Paul Lai) coordinated the book project, calling for submissions and then, eventually, publishing the collection.

The beginning of my poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

My poem, “Funeral During a Pandemic,” was selected for inclusion in the anthology. I write about attending my father-in-law’s funeral at a Catholic church in a small central Minnesota town during the pandemic.

Now my local public library, Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, has copies of This Was 2020 available for check-out. While I always encourage purchase of books to support writers and booksellers (especially independent bookstores), I recognize the importance of accessibility to all through libraries. The Red Wing Public Library, in our Southeastern Libraries Cooperating regional library system, also has this anthology on the shelf.

The back cover lists the names of the Minnesotans included in This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

I encourage you to borrow or buy a print copy or read the e-version of this important book. It represents the hearts and souls of 51 Minnesotans, most of them published writers. They share their thoughts and experiences on two topics—social justice (connected to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020) and the COVID-19 pandemic.

I encourage you to read my previous review of This Was 2020 (by clicking here) to get a sense of the stories shared in prose and poetry.

My encouragement to read this collection is not motivated by self-promotion. Rather, I want you to read this anthology for the content, the insights, the documentation of history. The writing therein is personal. Deeply personal. These Minnesotans write with honesty, emotion and a rawness that almost hurts. The pain is real, the writing revealing. These poems and prose take readers well beyond the sound bites and headlines and video clips with powerful written words that are sometimes difficult to read.

In an historic time such as this, it’s especially important to gather and share stories in prose and poetry. Through stories we learn, connect, begin to understand, perhaps grow and change…for the better. I hope This Was 2020 prompts respectful discussions and introspection that creates healing. For now, more than ever, we need understanding, compassion and healing.

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NOTE: To all of you who have supported my writing and This Was 2020, thank you. I am grateful.

If you opt to buy This Was 2020, here’s the ISBN#: 978-1-0879-6762-2

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling