Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Council vacancy generates 17 candidates in Faribault, now time to choose one February 2, 2023

Serving on the Faribault City Council is about more than attending meetings and making decisions. It’s also about being involved in the community. Here council member Peter van Sluis, left to right, Mayor Kevin Voracek and councilman Royal Ross serve chili and engage during the Faribault Main Street Chili Cook-off in October. The WTF on Vorack’s tee stands for “Welcome To Faribault.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2022)

JUST MONTHS OUT from the general election, 17 individuals applied for an open seat on the Faribault City Council. The current council is tasked with choosing the individual who will fill the spot vacated by Jonathon Wood with two years remaining in his term. The council invited interested individuals to apply, resulting in the unprecedented 17 applicants.

It’s interesting to note that in the November election, three candidates ran unopposed for three council seats. Two incumbents were re-elected with the third winner a newcomer and our first person of color elected to the council.

Without talking to each of the 17 applicants, I can only speculate on their reasons for wanting to join the council. Some come with a history of government and community involvement, whether locally or elsewhere. Some are life-long Faribault residents, others newcomers. Some are young, others more advanced in age. Whatever their reasons for wanting to serve, I hope they approached this with open minds (and not with personal agendas), with a strong desire to do what’s right and best for Faribault, all of Faribault.

I know some of the people on this candidate list personally. I can easily envision them sitting on the council, doing their homework, carefully researching and considering issues, listening, voicing their thoughts. I can see them investing the time, energy and effort needed to make informed decisions that affect not only how this city operates, but also Faribault residents and businesses.

From my perspective, the ability to listen, really listen, is vital. That means listening to all voices—heard and unheard, loud and quiet.

I don’t envy the current council’s task of filling this council vacancy. They met, narrowed the choices down, and are sending follow-up questions to the five remaining contenders. Those individuals will be asked to give short presentations at a council workshop session next week.

I’m grateful that so many individuals applied to serve on the Faribault City Council. Seventeen. That’s an incredibly high number of people willing to devote their time and energy to issues that affect my community. Whomever the council ultimately appoints, that individual will help shape the future of this city, shaped, too, by its rich history.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on rabbits in “The Year of the Rabbit” January 22, 2023

A children’s picture book features zodiac animals in this story focused on the Chinese New Year.

THE FIRST TIME I NOTICED a grouping of rabbit-themed books displayed on a table at my local library, I passed right by. That’s odd, I thought to myself. The second time I glimpsed those books, I walked over and looked. Turns out 2023 is The Year of the Rabbit and this book collection is a way to celebrate.

Today, Sunday, January 22, marks the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year, the year when the rabbit takes zodiac animal center stage. The rabbit symbolizes luck (no surprise there; think a good luck rabbit foot), diplomacy, peace, compassion, kindness, all words I can get behind. We’re overdue for a year of people and nations treating each other with respect, kindness and decency.

This road-side white rabbit sculpture welcomes travelers to Wabasso. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

While I’m not into the zodiac, I respect the Asian culture. And I like rabbits…because I am a Rabbit. Clarification, I was a Rabbit, as in a Wabasso Rabbit. I graduated from Wabasso High School, a southwestern Minnesota school with a white rabbit as its mascot. I can almost hear the laughing. A rabbit as a mascot? Yes, I admit to hearing a fair share of put-downs about being a lowly Rabbit. But don’t underestimate a rabbit/Rabbit.

A broad view of Wabasso’s Main Street. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2012)

There’s a reason behind the chosen mascot. The town name, Wabasso, is a Dakota word meaning “white rabbit.” So it makes total sense that the public school would choose a rabbit mascot. This prairie region of Minnesota is rich in Dakota history.

The WHS gym in 2009. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2009)

For me, rabbits are part of my personal history. I hold many memories of overall Rabbit pride. Pep fests, football and basketball games, theater, writing for the high school newspaper, The Rabbit Tracks… Attending a small rural Minnesota high school with mostly farm kids from the communities of Wabasso, Wanda, Lucan, Seaforth and Vesta (my hometown) was a good fit for me. I am forever proud of being a Rabbit.

The sign marking the current building came from the old building. And apparently back in the day, a “u” looked like a “v.” The school looks different than when I attended WHS. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 20029)

Next year, 2024, marks The Year of the Rabbit for me. In that calendar year, my WHS graduating class celebrates its 50th class reunion. Unbelievable. I once considered people who’ve been out of high school for 50 years to be really old. I don’t think that way any more, although I do admit my advancing age.

As we reunite, we’ll pull out our yearbooks and reminisce. We’ll pull out our smartphones to share family photos. We’ll celebrate the years we were Rabbits. And we’ll celebrate, too, the lives we’ve lived since, lives I hope have been filled with peace, kindness and love.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Time with the grandkids on a winter weekend in Minnesota January 19, 2023

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A year ago, the grandkids were into “PJ Masks.” This is Owlette. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

KEEPING UP WITH THE GRANDKIDS’ evolving interests can prove challenging. I’m not up on the newest kids’ shows and trends. And just when I think I’ve learned all the latest from first grader Isabelle, especially, and 4-year-old Isaac, they are on to something new. But right now they are focused on dinosaurs and the solar system, both timeless topics.

The pair stayed overnight with us recently as much for Grandma and Grandpa solo time as for their parents having time together without kids. It’s a win-win all around.

At least I know something about space. Here the moon rises. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

The sleep-over was a last-minute decision, meaning we mostly winged it for the weekend. I did, however, stop at the library for a pile of dinosaur and solar system books and a few videos for those moments when the exhausted grandparents needed to rest.

Grandpa and Isaac inside their backyard snow fort. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

When the kids asked to play outside in the snow, we obliged. I forgot, though, how much work it is to get a 4-year-old into winter gear for outdoor play. Grandma and Grandpa bundled up, too, for the backyard adventure. When Randy pulled the scoop shovel and two 5-gallon buckets from the garage and started building a snow fort, I was surprised. Hadn’t he already scooped enough snow this winter? What grandpas won’t do for their grandchildren.

Occasionally we helpers helped the master mason by locating chunks of frozen snow to layer onto the fort walls. It was a process, impeded once by Isaac who scrambled over the wall, partially deconstructing it in the process.

At one point, Isabelle decided we should play snow tag. That would be regular tag played in the snow, doncha know, Grandma? Ah, of course. Easy for the little ones who don’t break through the snow. Not so easy for the heavier elders whose boots plunge through the snow surface.

Grandpa and grandkids climb the hill in our backyard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Thankfully I managed to avoid the mountain-climbing aspect of our time in the backyard. But Grandpa, Isabelle and Isaac headed up the hill behind our house with Izzy intending to hike all the way to the park at the very top. Grandpa put a halt to that, recognizing that thorns, branches and assorted dangers threatened as the wooded hill steepened. We did not want to risk an emergency room visit.

Fortunately, distraction still works with our grandkids. Oversized rabbits loping across the snowy hillside proved entertaining. A hole in the snow near the fort invited guesses as to what animal dug into the snow. A squirrel was suspect and I noted the following day that was a correct assumption upon watching a squirrel dive head first into the snow and emerge a bit later with a walnut. When I shared my observation in a text to my eldest daughter, Izzy expressed her concern that the bushy tail rodent might destroy the fort. “Grandpa worked hard on that!” she told her mom. She’s right. He did.

Time with my grandkids invigorates me. I view the world from their perspective. They are inquisitive, adventuresome, approaching life with wonderment. They teach me to pause, to be in the moment. When Isaac drew a spaceship on his sort of modern day version of the Etch-a-Sketch (except with a “pen” and button to erase his art), I learned that the two of us were blasting off into space. His sister? Nope. She was staying behind because she is a paleontologist. Ah, yes, that’s right. Across the room Isabelle played with a herd of dinosaurs, or whatever a mixed group of dinosaurs is termed.

Isaac chose oranges over ice cream. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2011)

I don’t pretend to know everything. I didn’t know Isabelle attends first grade in a building built for 600 students, not the 900 it houses. I didn’t know Isaac would choose an orange over ice cream for a bedtime snack and then three days later ask to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for ice cream. But I do know these things: I love these two little people beyond measure. I love any time with them. Simply put, I love being a grandma.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An obituary that needs to be shared January 18, 2023

This is a partial photo of Mark DeWitte’s obit published in The Gaylord Hub. I intentionally focused on the information in column two, middle paragraph. (Minnesota Prairie Roots edited photo January 2023)

HE LIVED THE BEST LIFE POSSIBLE.

That statement in the obituary of a 52-year-old Gaylord man may not seem extraordinary. He died on December 21, 2022, of cancer. But nowhere in Mark DeWitte’s obit does it state that he died after a courageous battle with cancer as is commonly seen in death notices. The only references are to a recent diagnosis and a move home to be with his family while in hospice.

Rather, the health diagnosis which led to that living the best life possible assessment is schizophrenia. Mark was diagnosed at the age of 16, which means he lived with this awful, debilitating brain disorder for 36 years.

DISPELLING THE MYTHS

That Mark’s loving family chose to publicly reveal his schizophrenia in print speaks to the depth of their love, their support and their courage. The misunderstandings attached to this disease all too often create fear and stigma, adding to the challenges of what is already an overwhelming health condition. Visions of violence, split personalities and other negative behaviors too often color schizophrenia with untruths. The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines schizophrenia as “a serious mental illness that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. It is a complex and long-term medical illness.” (I encourage you to read more details about schizophrenia on the NAMI website by clicking here.)

It should be noted that schizophrenia manifests differently in individuals and, although incurable, can often be managed with medication, therapy and more. Managed. Not cured. It’s not easy, but it’s possible to live the best life possible. Mark clearly did that within the confines of his symptoms. But he didn’t do it alone. He had a family who loved him, a community that cared and professionals who supported him. For the past eight years, Mark lived at Aveyron Homes.

Mark’s obituary offers glimpses of what brought him joy: Music. Going out with his brother Mike for beer twice a week. But, most of all, his family brought him joy.

RIPPLING INTO THE FAMILY

Schizophrenia, like any other long-term health issue, affects the entire family. The DeWitte family acknowledges that, not in any specific statement but rather in their willingness to write about their loved one’s life-long disease. Too often, we fail to recognize or even acknowledge the challenges of a serious mental illness and how it affects those dealing with and touched by it. Generally, there are no meals delivered during a mental health crisis. No “how are you doing?” questions or offers of help. Minimal, if any, compassion. Rather, the reaction is often one of silence, as if not speaking about “it” negates the need to show care or attempt to understand. There are exceptions, of course, and we as a society are slowly shifting towards understanding and acknowledgment and reducing stigmas about mental illness. Still, mental illness remains mostly hidden.

BREAKING THE SILENCE

Mark’s family is breaking the silence via their openness about his schizophrenia. It’s clear from a follow-up public thank you published in their weekly newspaper, The Gaylord Hub, that the community supported them. Linda DeWitte (Mark’s mom) and Michael DeWitte thanked the community for food, cards, flowers, memorials and even for snow removal. I can only assume the community also supported them when Mark was alive.

That Mark lived the best life possible while living with a horrible horrible disease comforts me. His family may not have stated that he died after a courageous battle with schizophrenia. But in my eyes he did.

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FYI: I encourage you to visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website (click here) to learn more about mental health issues like schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder and more. NAMI offers information, support and help, including online and in-person support groups. Check your state’s NAMI organization for specifics. NAMI is a valuable resource that can grow knowledge, compassion and understanding.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on a Faribault first on this, MLK Day January 16, 2023

I took this photo of a St. Olaf College student watching a video in an exhibit, “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail,” in 2015. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is shown in this frame. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2015)

TODAY, THE DAY WE HONOR Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr with celebrations and a federal holiday, seems fitting to share my excitement over the election of Adama Youhn Doumbouya to the Faribault City Council. Elected in November and just recently taking office, the Liberian-born immigrant becomes the first person of color to serve on the Council in a city chartered on April 9, 1872.

I expect Dr. King, who advocated tirelessly for equality and human rights, would be proud. I feel not only pride, but also gratitude in knowing that Doumbouya will bring a new young voice (he was born in 1987) and perspective to my ever-changing city.

This is my all-time favorite award-winning photo showing diversity in Faribault. I shot this image at the 2012 International Festival in Central Park where kids gathered to break a piñata. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

Today’s Faribault is vastly different from the Faribault of the past, even of recent decades. It is decidedly more diverse in skin tones, religion, culture, customs, dress, language and more. Admittedly, those who have moved here from places like Somalia, Sudan and Mexico have not always been welcomed. Racism exists. Sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant. I wish that wasn’t true, but it is.

Faribault is a city rich in immigrant history. This banner hangs in the downtown historic district. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

In the context of this evolving, diverse Faribault, it’s important to remember that nearly all of us (with the exception of indigenous peoples) are descendants of immigrants. Too often we forget that. Our forefathers landed in America, then Minnesota, with dreams. Faribault’s newly-elected councilman, who witnessed civil war in his home country along the west coast of Africa, landed in New York City in 2013 with dreams.

Visitors could photograph themselves at the 2015 “Selma” exhibit at St. Olaf College and express their thoughts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

Although I’m not privy to Doumbouya’s personal dreams, I’ve read his backstory published in a Faribault Daily News feature. After moving to Minnesota, he worked at a meat-packing plant in Austin, south of Faribault near the Iowa border. He served on the Austin Planning Commission. Eventually, he pursued a college degree, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in urban and regional studies. He moved to Faribault in 2020, owns a home here.

That’s a nutshell summary of the background Doumbouya brings to city government. Responses to a Q & A published pre-election revealed a candidate eager to serve his community. Eager to advocate for affordable housing, transportation and inclusive workforce development. Eager, too, to improve city infrastructure and technology for residents and businesses. Eager to focus also on economic development. I’m confident he will work hard on those goals of improving life and expanding opportunities in Faribault.

This image from a 2015 Downtown Faribault Car Cruise Night shows the diversity in my city. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

It took a long time—going on 151 years—for my city to get here, to the point of a person of color serving on the City Council. It took time, too, for social justice activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to make progress towards equality and human rights for all. As we approach the 55th anniversary of King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, much work remains to be done.

A promo for the MLK Breakfast in Faribault. (Credit: Faribault Diversity Coalition)

The same can be said in Faribault. But I see progress. I see progress in the election of Doumbouya to the City Council. I see progress via the efforts of the Faribault Diversity Coalition, which today hosts its ninth annual MLK Breakfast and has also started a recent Speaker Series. I see progress in personal connections and communication and caring attitudes. Faribault’s future is as limitless as our dreams.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note: Adama Youhn Doumbouya’s photo is not included on the City Council website page, leaving me without an image to share here.

 

Missing mom… January 13, 2023

The cover of an altered book my friend Kathleen created for me following the death of my mom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

THE CALL CAME SHORTLY after 6 pm on a Thursday evening one year ago. In that moment, when my youngest brother’s name flashed on my cellphone screen, I knew. Mom died. Not passed. Not was gone. She was dead.

The news was not unexpected. Yet it was. As much as we think we are prepared for a parent’s death in the light of long-time failing health, we are not. I was not.

One of my treasured last photos of my mom and me, taken on January 11, 2020. Because of COVID restrictions, I was unable to see Mom much during the final years of her life. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling)

A year after that January 13 call, I still have not fully-grieved. Part of that I attribute to the timing of Mom’s death during the height of omicron. For me, there was nothing normal about Mom’s big public funeral (which I did not support) during COVID. No standing in a receiving line beside my siblings. No hand shaking. No hugging. No crying beneath my N95 mask. Just tears locked inside. Feelings held inside. Emotions of feeling disappointed and disrespected in a church packed with unmasked mourners checked.

It is a struggle to let go of such hurt, such pain. But I’m trying. Mom would want me to focus not on her death, funeral and burial, but rather on her earthly life and now her glorious new life in heaven. She taught me well, leaving a strong legacy of faith.

A portion of a family-themed photo board I created for my mom’s January 22, 2022 funeral. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

That legacy is not one simply of beliefs and words, but also one of attitudes and action. My mom was one of the kindest, humblest, gentlest souls I’ve ever known. My five siblings and I would occasionally test her spirit, her patience, her fortitude. But seldom did she express her exasperation. Sometimes I think Mom just had too much to do in the day-to-day running of a household and mothering of six kids to get upset. Wash clothes with the Maytag wringer washer. Can a crate of peaches. Weed the garden. Bake bread. Make supper. Scrub the floor. Iron clothes. On and on and on the list of endless chores went inside and outside our rural southwestern Minnesota farmhouse. She never complained, simply pressed on in her own quiet, mothering way.

Another page of the altered book features a photo of my mom holding me. I love the quote. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Even with all that family-centered work, Mom found time for outside activities. She was active in St. John’s Lutheran Church, the Legion Auxiliary, Extension Club, Craft Club, Senior Citizens and helped at Red Cross blood drives. Some of this came many years into motherhood, when her responsibilities lessened. I was already gone from home. I once asked Mom if she missed me when I left for college in the fall of 1974. No, she replied. She was, she said, too busy with the other four kids still at home. While I didn’t necessarily appreciate her answer, I understood, and I knew she loved me. Mom was undeniably honest, a trait I hold dear also.

I am forever grateful for the loving sympathy cards, memorials and other gifts I received. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

Honesty. Integrity. Service to others. All were part of Mom’s life story. She lived her faith. These words from the hymn “Beautiful Savior,” sung at her funeral service, fit Arlene Anna Alma Kletscher: Truly I’d love thee, Truly I’d serve thee, Light of my soul, my joy, my crown. The hymn has always been my favorite for its message and its beautiful, poetic imagery.

On the Sunday before the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death, “Beautiful Savior” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” were sung during the worship service at my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, some 120 miles from St. John’s in Vesta. The congregation also sang “Precious Lord” at Mom’s funeral. Because of illness, I missed Trinity’s worship service last Sunday. But I listened on the radio, thankful in many ways that I was not in the church pews. Trying to sing the hymns from Mom’s funeral may have proven a breaking point for me, unleashing a year’s worth of grief. Oh, how I miss my mom.

I miss her smile. I miss hugging her. I miss talking to her and remembering with her. I miss calling her every Sunday evening at the same time. I miss sharing photos of my grown children and her great grandchildren. I. Miss. Her. In the hard moments of life—and I’ve had plenty in recent years—I’ve turned to Randy and said, “I just want to be the kid again, to have my mom take care of me.” It is an impossible wish, a longing, a yearning, yet a verbal acknowledgment of my mother’s love.

I printed this message inside a handmade Mother’s Day card back in elementary school. Mom saved the card and I am grateful. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Now, in my year-old grief, I still feel Mom’s love. I see her love, too, in the memory of her lips curving into a slight smile when I saw her for the last time, when I said goodbye and I love you and exited her room at Parkview. That smile proved her final, loving gift to me, her oldest daughter. I’ve locked that moment in my heart to unlock when grief sneaks in, when the pain of missing my mom rises within my spirit.

I unlock, too, the comforting lyrics of “Beautiful Savior”: He makes our sorr’wing spirit sing.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If you’re in the market for a moose head… January 12, 2023

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Not a moose head, but an antelope head photographed at a flea market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2010)

THE THREE-FOURTHS INCH by three and three-quarters inch boxed display ad topping a For Sale column in the December 19, 2022, edition of The Galaxy grabbed my attention:

Awesome Alaskan Moose Head Mount

Asking $4,500

Call BJ or Troy at 507-248-xxxx* for details

My jaw dropped as my mind flashed back 40-plus years ago to a gathering I attended in The Galaxy readership area of south central Minnesota. I was young and single then and joined other young people at a house party hosted by roommates who were not named BJ or Troy. But the housemates did have a moose head mount, which I discovered upon a trip to the bathroom. It loomed large and menacing in a cramped room that barely fit a sink, toilet and old-fashioned bath tub. Towels hung from the moose’s antlers. I hurried to exit the bathroom and the watchful moose that was freaking me out.

Whether the house party moose hailed from the wilds of Alaska, I don’t know. Maybe. Probably. Where can you legally shoot a moose? And is a moose head mount really worth $4,500? Surely that must be a misprint. I wouldn’t pay $4.50 for it.

Animal mounts, including this deer head, are displayed in a Pequot Lakes hardware store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2018)

I’ve never liked seeing the heads of dead animals displayed anywhere. Not in a bathroom or a rec room. Not in a cabin or a restaurant, especially not in a restaurant. Not in a hardware store or grocery store or at a flea market. Not in a bank either. In the lobby of my banking institution, mounts ring the room. Once while waiting in line, I counted them (20-plus) and then told the teller how much I dislike dead deer heads.

A deer head mount on a garage, next to an antique shop, in Poy Sippi, Wisconsin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2013)

I realize this is a personal grievance, that there are hunters among you and readers who view taxidermy as art perhaps or as trophy evidence of a successful hunt. I am simply not one of those people. And that’s OK. We all have different tastes, interests, preferences.

A deer head mount was among the merchandise vended at a rural Medford barn sale in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2015)

I won’t be calling BJ or Troy about that Alaskan moose head mount, which, in my opinion, will never fit the overused and meaningless word awesome. But perhaps someone will see the small display ad and think, “That’s exactly the statement towel rack I need for my bathroom. And it’s only $4,500.”

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

*Note that I intentionally omitted the last four digits of the contact phone number.

 

When another winter storm blasts Minnesota January 5, 2023

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Clearing snow from a parked car along Willow Street near my home Wednesday morning. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

HERE IT IS, only a few days into 2023 and Minnesota has already experienced its first major multi-day winter weather event of the new year. Snow. Ice. Freezing rain. Sleet. Drizzle. Everything.

With four months of winter remaining, I am already weary of snow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

This storm comes on the heels of a major pre-Christmas snowstorm that essentially shut down travel in the southern half of our state. The fall-out is much the same. Snow-packed, icy roads. Crashes and spin-outs. Schools closed. Flights delayed and cancelled. A Delta jet from Mexico slid off an icy taxiway early Tuesday evening at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. No one was injured.

Snow layers on everything from trees to power and telephone lines. There were power outages in some parts of Minnesota, but not in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Tuesday and Wednesday were a weather mess here. Randy’s commutes, typically a 35-minute drive, took nearly an hour. He drove on several miles of a snow-covered state highway untouched by a snowplow blade and on snow-compacted, icy roads the remainder of the way.

The name on this plow blade indicates this plow truck driver means business when it comes to quick and easy snow removal. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

And then we had to deal with removing snow from our sidewalk and driveway. We are fortunate to own a snowblower. But it is ancient, bulky, subject to break-downs. Sheered pins. A metal ground plate so rusty that Randy finally removed it.

A City of Faribault snowplow truck passes through my neighborhood Wednesday morning. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Heavy, wet snow like this is difficult to blow. The chute clogs, requiring frequent stops to clear the snow with something other than a hand. Chunks of snow bladed from the street into the ends of the driveway and sidewalk can’t be blown. That requires back-breaking shoveling. I felt like I was lifting rocks as I bent, scooped, heaved the heavy, moisture-laden snow atop the ever-growing mounds banking the drive and sidewalk ends. I paced myself, cognizant of my age and this heavy snow being “heart attack” or “widow maker” type snow.

Snowplow trucks have been out in full force for two days clearing snow from residential and business properties. I photographed this truck on Willow Street Wednesday morning. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Just as I’d nearly finished clearing the driveway end, the guy removing snow from my neighbor’s property with a utility vehicle pushed the remaining snow away from our driveway. I felt such gratitude for this act of kindness. I leaned on the scoop shovel handle with a thankful heart.

As I type this late Wednesday morning, snow continues to fall, as it did overnight. The snow removal of yesterday will repeat today. The ends of the driveway and sidewalk are once again blocked by snow chunks plowed from the street.

Snow layers a neighbors’ yard, tree and fence as snow falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

But when I look beyond that to the woods behind my house, to my neighbors’ trees and bushes and rooftops, I glimpse a winter wonderland. This landscape layered in snow is lovely. Almost like paint-by-number artwork. That is the scene I need to remember when I’m out shoveling later and muttering words best left unwritten about winter storms in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on the life of Barbara Walters, from a Minnesota journalist’s perspective January 4, 2023

The cover of Walters’ book, published in 1970. (Photo credit: Amazon)

WHEN NEWS BROKE that broadcast journalist Barbara Walters died on Friday at the age of 93, I reacted with disbelief. I didn’t think she was 93, older than my mom would have been if she was still living.

Once I got over that surprise, I began to reflect on Walters’ career as a journalist. As an experienced journalist myself, albeit in print journalism, I connect on a professional level.

BLAZING THE WAY FOR WOMEN

I have always admired Walters, called “a trailblazer” in her field. The description fits. She blazed the way for women in a profession dominated by men. This was true for many women of her time, not just those in journalism. Even I, nearly 30 years her junior, experienced challenges as a female newspaper reporter in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I often felt the sense that men, especially those in positions of power, did not like me. They ignored me, tried to intimidate me, pressured me not to report what had been said at a public meeting. I never caved.

I felt fortunate to have a publisher/editor who backed me up every time, who supported, encouraged and mentored me in my first job at a rural Minnesota weekly. I hope, expect, Walters had the same behind-the-scenes support because some male co-workers didn’t hide their disdain for her. When I watched a clip of her co-anchor dismissively addressing her on the ABC Evening News, I cringed. That Walters maintained her composure is admirable.

SHE DID HER HOMEWORK

There are many reasons to admire Walters. She had a way with interviewees that prompted them to open up to her. Part of that came from being well-prepared. She did her homework—researched backgrounds and prepared questions (written on index cards) well in advance. I followed that same preparatory process for interviews. It works. I relied on my advanced list of questions, my listening skills, my copious note-taking (no recording an interview ever) and my observations to get a story.

Walters never backed down. She asked the tough questions. She perfected the art of the interview. To watch her interviews, especially those from her “The Barbara Walters Special(s)”, is to observe a gifted journalist. She ended each interview with an open-ended opportunity to add what may have been missed in her questioning. I did the same. We were thorough, an indication of the perfectionist trait we share.

THE LESSER-KNOWN FACTS ABOUT WALTERS

In recent days I learned other facts about Walters that reveal her personal side. She learned patience and empathy from her older sister Jackie, who had “a mental disability” (I’m uncertain what that means), Walters once said. She named her daughter Jackie (whom she adopted, following multiple miscarriages) in honor of her sister.

And one final thing. Walters sent handwritten thank you notes and other cards. I do, too. She understood, and I do also, the value in taking time to express gratitude, in the power of the word, whether written or spoken.

Walters leaves a legacy that stretches beyond her trailblazing the way for female journalists. She leaves a legacy, too, of kindness.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on July-December 2022 December 31, 2022

AS I CONTINUE MY REVIEW of 2022 with a focus on messages found and photographed while out and about in the second half of the year, I hope you will feel moved to reflection and thoughtfulness. Words can hurt or heal. Words can diminish or build up. Words can defeat or encourage. Words are powerful and we need to remember that. Always. In 2023, I wish for more kindness and understanding, more compassion and love, more goodness in the words we speak and write.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

JULY

Inspirational messages on benches in public spaces always draw my attention and my camera lens. Whether at a nature center, city park, garden or elsewhere, I will pause and read such uplifting quotes. I loved this message on a bench at the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens in Faribault. Touching the lives of others in a compassionate and meaningful way is among the greatest legacies one can leave.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2022)

AUGUST

Some time after the Rice County Fair ended, I meandered through the fairgrounds. During that look-around, I found a 4-H food stand sign leaning against a building. Painted with the 4-H theme of hearts, hands, head and health, it offered qualities we should all strive to follow: a heart to greater loyalty, hands to larger service, a head to clear thinking and health to better living. How much better this world would be if we followed the 4-H motto, and supported 4-Hers by dining at “1 great food stand.”

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

SEPTEMBER

September took me back to my native southwestern Minnesota to view an exhibit, “Making Lyon County Home,” at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall. Two of my poems, “Hope of a Farmer” and “Ode to my Farm Wife Mother,” are included in that exhibit. To see my writing displayed there along with the work of other noted southwestern Minnesota writers was truly an honor.

A posted quote from poet and essayist Bill Holm speaks to the influence of the land on writers. He notes the difference between the woods eye and the prairie eye. As prairie natives, Holm (now deceased) and I see with prairie eyes. He summarizes well the influence of the prairie on creativity. I’ve always felt the prairie influence in my writing and photography.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2022)

OCTOBER

In a world that today feels more divisive than ever, I am encouraged by messages like the “EVERYONE WELCOME” sign posted in the window of a downtown Faribault business. I like how each colored line layers atop the previous one until the words emerge in a bold black, EVERYONE WELCOME.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

NOVEMBER

I laughed when I read the poster in the window of my local library: Because not everything on the internet is true. Duh? Yet, it’s a message that needs to be posted because too much inaccurate and blatantly false information circulates online and people believe it. That’s the scary part. And then the falsehoods are repeated and they grow into something awful and horrible and detrimental.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2022)

DECEMBER

My chosen words for December come from the Adopt-a-Tree program in Faribault. Businesses, individuals, non-profits and more purchase and decorate trees to give to families in need of a Christmas tree. But before those trees go into homes, they are displayed at Central Park.

One donor focused on suicide crisis intervention and prevention and support for those who have lost loved ones to suicide. Anything that opens the conversation about mental health gets my backing. We need to continue talking about mental health. We need to reduce the stigma.

But beyond conversation, we need to “do.” We need to show care and compassion for those living with mental health struggles. We need to support and encourage them, and those who love them. We desperately need more mental healthcare professionals so people in crisis can access care immediately. Wait times of six weeks or more are unacceptable. Try waiting six weeks if you’re having a heart attack. That’s my comparison.

As we move into 2023, I am hopeful. Hopeful that we can grow more compassionate and kind. Hopeful that I will continue to discover positive messages posted throughout southern Minnesota.

Happy New Year, everyone!

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling