Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Holy Smoke, what talented musicians & what great food July 18, 2017

 

TWO TURKEY VULTURES rode the wind high above the church on the hill. Dipping, circling, gliding.

 

Sweet Potato Jackson performs.

 

Far below in the grassy side yard of Christ Lutheran Church, Sweet Potato Jackson and the Todd Thompson Band entertained with foot-tapping bluegrass, pop, country, gospel and other tunes. Adults settled into lawn chairs and listened. Kids ran—to the playground and back. A wee girl swayed to the rhythm of the banjo, the guitar, the mandolin and other string instruments.

 

The Todd Thompson Band gets up close to the audience.

 

I sang the lion sleeps tonight, only 10 feet from the quartet performing the catchy tune I remember from decades ago. My husband and I were front row with the Todd Thompson Band, four guys standing on the lawn and performing music with an unbridled passion. I could see their love for song in the rapid movement of their fingers across strings, hear it in their enthusiastic voices.

 

 

They exuded joy during this event billed as Holy Smokes! by the host Lutheran congregation. One Wednesday evening a month during the summer, this church on Faribault’s east side offers a free concert as a community outreach. The music is served up along with savory homemade pizza and smoked pork and brisket sandwiches and sides available for purchase. Proceeds from the meal benefit people in need in the community.

 

The hilltop location offers a wide view of Faribault and beyond.

 

The descriptive words holy smoke fit both the food and the featured musicians. And the setting. This is a tranquil location overlooking this southeastern Minnesota city and beyond. Wind blowing a cool breeze through trees after a hot and humid day. Shifting white clouds in a blue sky. Lovely. Kids and music and the occasional adult conversation blending in a soothing harmony.

 

 

I delighted in the carefree feel of this event, of watching children run and play like kids should on a summer evening as perfect as they get in Minnesota. I was reminded of bygone years when my extended family gathered to visit and we cousins played without adult direction, without any planned activity.

For a few hours I forgot about the problems of the world, about the challenges in life. I simply was—enveloped in Holy Smokes!

 

FYI: The next Holy Smokes! concert is set for 6 – 9 p.m. Wednesday, August 9, at Christ Lutheran, 1200 NE First Street (along Minnesota State Highway 60), Faribault. Bring lawn chairs or blankets and an appetite for great food and equally great music by Sweet Potato Jackson and Sarah Crissinger.

Note: I’ll rephotograph Holy Smokes! (including the food) once I’m healed from my shoulder fracture and able to shoot with my Canon DSLR camera.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Minnesota Faces: Camp counselors July 24, 2015

Portrait #32: Counselors at Camp Omega, rural Waterville, Minnesota

Camp Omega counselors at July Fourth North Morristown celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013

Camp Omega counselors at July Fourth North Morristown celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013

They are the faces of enthusiasm, of adventure, of leadership, energy and a passion for the outdoors. They are summer camp counselors in Minnesota. Friends, surrogate moms/dads, teachers—they are all of these and none of these. They are young people. Who care.

I never had the opportunity to attend summer camp while growing up—there was no money for such extras. But my younger siblings did. When I had children of my own, I determined they would go to summer bible camp no matter the financial sacrifice.

My girls, from kindergarten age on, every summer, went to Camp Omega near Waterville. The first time I sent my eldest away for a weekend, I wondered how I would make it through camp. Me. Not her. I survived her absence and she thrived in the serene setting of woods and water in the care of faith-focused counselors.

Amber loved Camp Omega so much that she eventually volunteered there during high school and then worked two summers as a counselor. The friendships she forged and the confidence and faith-growth she experienced were immeasurable.

Some things cannot be taught by parents at home. Some must be learned in a canoe, in a raucous competition, on a climbing wall, around a campfire roasting marshmallows, in a circle of new friends with a counselor strumming a guitar, in the top bunk of a lumpy bed with whispers in the dark and the brush of branches against roof.

Mosquito bites and sunburn. Raccoon eyes and bounce of a flashlight. Rousting out of bed and falling asleep exhausted from a day of running and screaming and breathing in all that fresh air.

Camp. Counselors. Summertime in Minnesota.

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Minnesota Faces is a series featured nearly every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Summer shadows July 29, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:02 PM
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MY HOMETOWN IS SO SMALL…

…that on a Sunday evening, as the sun slides toward the prairie, I can stand in the middle of the street by my mom’s house and photograph her shadow and that of my husband and myself.

The shadows of my 81-year-old mom, left, my husband in the middle and me on the right.

The shadows of my 81-year-old mom, left, my husband in the middle and me on the right, on a residential street in Vesta, Minnesota.

We plant our feet on the asphalt and laugh at our 25-foot tall, long-legged selves.

As we pose and wave and I struggle to hold my camera still for the laughter, I imprint this moment upon my memory: Prairie light and prairie sky and prairie town. And two people I cherish and love beside me, laughing in the moment at our silly shadows on a splendid summer evening.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A summer evening in my Minnesota backyard June 23, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:05 PM
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The setting in my southeastern Minnesota backyard Friday evening.

GIVE ME A PERFECT summer evening in my Minnesota backyard.

I set my margarita on a vintage TV tray and settled into a lawn chair next to the fire.

Mix it with a margarita or a bloody Mary.

Add a dash of fire flaming from the fire pit and from tiki torches.

I purchased this garden art at a dollar store many years ago. Tea light candles can be placed below each flower head. It’s one of my favorite pieces of garden art.

Toss in the soft glow of candlelight flickering on a whisper of wind.

My husband relaxes with the local daily newspaper as we enjoy the evening in our backyard.

Give me a magazine or a book and the man I love relaxing next to me, the two of us, side-by-side in our lawn chairs. Quiet conversation and the rustle of papers.

Fireflies court, flitting across the yard on an uncharted course to find love.

Fireflies glow in the sculpture I just purchased in memory of my nephew Justin.

We observe them. I wish aloud to photograph their magical light and my husband rises to capture a firefly, to clasp it between his hands. I try, without success, to photograph a bug I cannot see. “This is impossible,” I say, and settle back into my lawn chair near the fire.

I resume reading, thumbing through recipes for cheesecake until pinpoints of intermittent rain splatter upon my magazine.

It is time to put away the reading materials, to grab the ingredients for smores and roast marshmallows. Just as I extend the marshmallows over the fire, the rain begins falling at a rapid rate, soaking my bent back.

My husband picks up lawn chairs and tiki torches and tends the fire.

I hurry along the toasting and then rush inside to assemble the smores.

Even with the rain, it’s been a perfect summer evening in my Minnesota backyard.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Summer showers in the sweltering heat July 19, 2011

A hose was for more than watering the garden or cattle when I was growing up on the farm. Read on.

WITH THE CURRENT HEAT WAVE we’re experiencing in Minnesota, I’ve been thinking a lot about the weather of yesteryear. And here’s what I’ve concluded. Unless the weather impacted some major event in my life or ranked as exceptional, I really can’t specifically remember one summer to the next or one winter to the next. Fall and spring sort of get lost in the mix of seasons.

That is the reality of my long-term memory.

For me, the summers of my youth on a southwestern Minnesota crop and dairy farm were defined, not by the weather, but by playing “cowboys and Indians” (yes, I realize that is not politically correct today, but it was the reality of the 1960s), by after-chores softball games on the gravel farmyard and by evening showers with a garden hose.

Let me explain that last one. I lived for the first dozen years of my life in a cramped 1 ½-story wood-frame farmhouse with my farmer-father, my housewife-mother and four siblings. The third brother was born later, after we moved into the new house.

The old house didn’t have a bathroom. That meant we took a bath once a week, on Saturday night, in an oblong tin bath tub that my dad lugged into the kitchen. Yes, we shared bath water. And now that I consider it, given we labored in the barn daily, we must have really stunk by Saturday night.

Sometimes in the summer, when the weather was especially hot and humid, we showered. After my dad finished milking cows, he would thread the green garden hose through an open porch window outside to the east side of the house. Then, with one of us “standing guard” where the driveway forked, within a stone’s throw of the tar road, we began the process of showering.

One-by-one we took our turn standing naked on the grass, soap bar in one hand, garden hose in the other, scrubbing away the sweat and animal stench, the bits of ground feed and hay and silage, the dirt that clung between our toes.

And all the while we showered, we worried that a relative or a neighbor might turn into the farmyard or an airplane might fly overhead, as if a pilot could see us from high in the prairie sky.

So during a hot stretch like we’re experiencing right now in Minnesota, I remember those primitive summer showers on the farm. I recall, too, the single turquoise box fan we owned—the one reserved for my hardworking farmer-father who endured heat and flies as he bent to wash another udder, to attach another milking machine, all to earn money to feed his growing family.

And I think, as I sit here at my computer in my air-conditioned office just around the corner from the bathroom with the combination bathtub and shower that I have it good, darned good.

Growing up on the farm, we had one box fan similar to this one.

DO YOU HAVE summer memories like mine, or another weather-related story? Submit a comment and share.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hot as “you know what” in Minnesota July 18, 2011

Air conditioners will be working overtime in Minnesota this week.

SO, MINNESOTANS, here’s the weather question of the day: “How hot is it outside?”

Although I’m of German heritage, I’d unequivocally state, “hotter than a Finish sauna.”

With a predicted dewpoint in the 70s (Sunday it reached an almost unheard of 81) and temperatures in the 90s today, the National Weather Service in Chanhassen has continued an extensive heat warning for central and southern Minnesota and west central Wisconsin through 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Heat indexes of more than 105 degrees (some media outlets are saying 110 – 117 degrees) are expected for several-hour stretches during the afternoon, creating “a dangerous situation in which heat illnesses are likely.” Ya think?

That means, folks, that we need to keep ourselves cool (preferably in an air conditioned building), drink plenty of fluids (and we’re not talking alcohol here) and stay out of the sun.

Don't increase your fluid intake via alcohol.

Honestly, when I stepped outside Sunday evening, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. You can guess how long I stayed outdoors. Long enough to turn around and walk back inside the house. I had been out earlier photographing the air conditioner you see above. I had a little trouble with the camera lens fogging over as soon as I stepped outdoors. The windows on our house also fogged, a phenomenon I have not previously seen except when I cook pasta. Weird stuff this weather.

All joking aside, this heat and humidity can be downright dangerous, especially for anyone working outdoors.

I know of some teens supposedly heading to the corn fields early this morning to detassel corn in the Stanton/Northfield area. Here’s my advice: Gulp water, by golly, then gulp some more. Slather on the sun screen, wear a cap and, if you’re at all feeling out of sorts, immediately tell your supervisor. Today would not be the day to tough it out. And, yes, I do know of what I write. As a teen I detasseled corn on days so hot it seemed as if the heavy air would suffocate me in the corn rows.

If you, or your teen, is starting a job this week as a corn detasseler, take extra precautions to avoid heat-related health issues. Also, don't quit. Every week in the cornfield won't be like this one and you' likely work only til noon.

Now, with those dire warnings out of the way, let’s talk about the words and phrases we Minnesotans use to describe this stretch of humid, hot weather. Let me pull out my Minnesota Thesaurus and thumb through the pages.

Here are some select synonyms for our current weather: steamy, muggy, scorching hot, sweltering, a real barn burner, so hot you could fry an egg on the pavement, like a sauna, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”…

Whichever words you choose from that non-inclusive list, you might want to add, “It could be worse.” We Minnesotans like to tack that little phrase onto our statements lest, by not adding that qualifier, we leave ourselves open to worse circumstances/situations/weather. We do not want to tempt fate.

After all, come December, we could get socked with a raging blizzard that dumps two feet of snow on us followed by a week of temperatures plummeting to 20-below, and that’s without the windchill. We wouldn’t want to invite a Siberian winter by forgetting, this week, to say, “It could be worse.”

A snow pile divides traffic lanes along Fourth Street/Minnesota Highway 60 a block from Central Avenue in Faribault following a December 2010 snowstorm.

In summary, it’s best, really, not to overly-complain about the hellish, hot, scorching, stifling, steamy, sticky, sweltering, miserable, muggy, unbearable, oppressive heat and humidity. OK, then?

And, please, don’t be thinking, “Whatever, Audrey.”

IT’S YOUR TURN to speak up. How would you describe this weather we’re experiencing in Minnesota? How are you coping? Add your ending to this prhase: “It’s so hot in Minnesota that…”  Submit a comment and tell me whatever.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, blessed summer eve on a Minnesota farm June 30, 2011

If you look closely, you will see the farm dog in front of the 1915 farmhouse to which a machine shed was added.

WIDE SWATHS OF SHADOWS sliced across the farmyard as the sun edged toward the horizon on a whisper of a summer night.

The old farm dog, tethered to a chain next to the 1915 farmhouse-turned-granary-turned storage shed, rose from his resting place on a paw-worn patch of grass. Water and food bowls rested on the single cement step nearby, within his reach.

The dog didn’t bark, didn’t lunge, just let me be as I moved into his territory. He stood, paced and then eased onto his haunches, acknowledging my non-threatening presence as I dropped to one knee to view the world from his perspective.

I wanted only to photograph this guardian of the farm on a summer evening as absolutely picture-perfect as any day you’ll get in Minnesota. Still. Serene. Colors sharp like new crayons. Sunlight, eye-blinding bright to the west, on the other side of the barn, outside the dogs’ reach.

This June evening, for these few hours, this watchdog could not roam the farmyard. He could only eye the visitors seated across the gravel drive at a picnic table. Friends gathered for pizza and lemonade sweetened with fresh strawberries and then more berries atop angel food cake and ice cream topped off with whipped cream.

Laughter punctuated conversation. Then bibles flipped open to words written upon pages thin as butterfly wings. The shrill call of a cardinal pierced the silence between ideas shared and scripture read.

Then, as the farm dog watched, the friends bowed their heads in a prayer of thanksgiving—gratitude to God for protecting the owners of this farm from serious injury in a motor vehicle accident the previous day. A rear-end collision. Truck spinning, tipping onto its side along a Minnesota highway. Glass in teeth and waistbands and hair.

None of this the guard dog knew on this most blessed of summer evenings on a Minnesota farm.

TODAY, JUNE 30, has been designated as “Maroon Day” in Minnesota, historically the deadliest day on our state’s roadways. Since 2000, more fatal crashes have occurred on this final day of June, leading into the July Fourth holiday, than on any other day of the year. Statistics show 30 fatal crashes resulting in 35 deaths.

All of Minnesota’s nearly 600 state troopers, in their signature maroon vehicles, will be patrolling today.

Buckle up. Drive carefully and be safe.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling