Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The Minnesota experience: Going Up North to the cabin August 29, 2022

Homemade roadside signs identify lakeshore property owners along Horseshoe Lake. These signs are posted all over lake cabin country. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

FOR MANY MINNESOTANS, summer means going Up North. That escape to lake and cabin country has been, for me, elusive, not part of my personal history, until recently. Now, thanks to the generosity of a sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who own lake shore property in the central Minnesota lakes region, going Up North is part of my summertime, and sometimes autumn, experience.

Randy and our granddaughter, Isabelle, 6, head onto the dock in Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Now I understand what I’ve missed—the peacefulness of simply getting away from it all, the beauty of immersing one’s self in nature, the quieting of the spirit beside the water, in the woods, on the beach.

A northwoods style cabin across the lake from where we stay. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

In this land of 10,000-plus lakes, I’ve discovered the draw of lake life. I grew up on a crop and dairy farm in southwestern Minnesota, where lakes are few. I can count on three fingers the number of vacations during my youth—one to Duluth at age four, one to the Black Hills of South Dakota as a pre-teen and then camping once with an aunt and uncle at Potato River Falls in Wisconsin. That’s it. Cows have a way of keeping farm families home. My kids will tell you that our family vacations were mostly to visit grandparents with a few camping trips and other close by trips tossed in. No going Up North to a cabin.

I love the kitschy roadside signs pointing to lake properties. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

But now, oh, now, several summers into going Up North to the lake cabin, I fully embrace what so many Minnesotans hold in their family histories.

Sailing on Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Waterskiing is part of the lake experience for some. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)
Sunset on Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The appeal of a lake comes for me not in boats or jet skis or sailboats or kayaks or paddleboards, but rather in the natural aspect. The sun rising over the lake, painting pink across the sky. The sun lowering, bathing the far shore treeline in dusk’s light. The moon rising.

Loons glide across Horseshoe Lake near the dock. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

And then in the water, the watching of loons as they glide, duck, emerge, their haunting voices breaking the silence of early morning. I never tire of seeing them, of hearing their call, of observing babies swim near their protective parents.

A loon family seemingly unbothered by a nearby pontoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

For a few summers, eagles lived in a nest on the family lake property. To see those massive birds on-site, flying into the treetop nest, perched there, proved fascinating. They’ve moved on to another location and eagle sightings are infrequent.

A bluegill caught from the dock. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The clarity of Horseshoe Lake continues to impress me. I can see fish swimming in schools and some singularly. That’s vastly different from southern Minnesota lakes, most murky and green. Unappealing. But here fish bite by the dock, exciting the grandchildren and Grandma, too.

Typically the adults make a brewery stop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Our eldest daughter and her family are part of this Up North experience and it is perhaps that which most pleases me. To have this time together—eating meals lakeside, swimming, fishing, taking nature walks, sitting around a campfire and making s’mores, going into Crosslake for ice cream or craft beer—all of these moments I treasure. We are connecting, making memories, delighting in one another in a beautiful and peaceful setting. If only our other daughter and her husband and our son could join us, then my joy would be complete. But given the distance they live from Minnesota and their job and school obligations, I don’t expect a full house at the cabin.

Randy fishes with both the grandchildren, here Isaac, age three. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

So I celebrate the Up North time we have, whether just Randy and me at the cabin or six of us. I love walking the long drive buffeted by towering pines. I love the stillness of the lake in the early morning. I love the crackle of burning wood and the taste of gooey s’mores. I love the lack of obligations and schedule and plenty of time to read a book or lounge on the beach, the sun warming the sand and my skin. I love every minute with those I love. I love that going Up North is now part of my life story, even if it took well into my sixties to write that chapter.

TELL ME: If you’re from Minnesota, do you go Up North? If you’re from elsewhere, do you have a similar escape? Please share. I’d love to hear your stories.

Please check back for more posts about going Up North.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An American treasure: North Morristown on the Fourth of July July 5, 2021

The Pie Stand at North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

WHEN RANDY AND I ARRIVED at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration late Sunday afternoon, we headed directly to the Pie Stand. I hoped the homemade pies wouldn’t be sold out. They weren’t.

Tasty homemade strawberry pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Although the selection was limited by this time in the day-long event, we still found tasty pies. I chose fresh strawberry while Randy opted for rhubarb, both parceled in generous portions.

The crowd had thinned by Monroe Crossing’s 4 pm concert. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

While we forked our pies, the ever-popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed to an appreciative audience on the nearby Main Stage. The crowd settled onto bleachers, folding chairs inside the gazebo and onto plank benches, and also spilled onto the grassy area in lawn chairs and on blankets.

Inside the shed housing games and vintage kiddie rides. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Several musical groups performed throughout a day packed with family-friendly events: A parade, patriotic program, BINGO, kiddie rides and games, and so much more.

Proceeds go to this small Christian school in the country. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Once we finished our pie, we roamed the festival grounds, a grassy space shaded by towering trees (including aged oaks) and next to farm sites and fields. Across the street sits Trinity Lutheran Church and School, the school benefiting from funds raised at this long-running July Fourth celebration.

This shed houses the games and rides, which are unchanged. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I love everything about this event. The timeless quality. The step back in time. The connecting with friends (and for many, with family). The music. The food.

Old Glory flies in the middle of the festival grounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

To be in North Morristown on the Fourth of July is to experience a sense of community, to feel comforted by the sameness of this celebration, to understand that this is about more than Independence Day. This is about rural America and how family and community and tradition are valued and cherished here.

The homemade kiddie train crafted from barrels. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
I loved watching the kids ride the barrel train. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

As I watched the engineer of the barrel train steer his lawn tractor, I thought, what wonderful memories these kids will have of riding that homemade train. The same goes for the other kiddie rides and carnival games which remain unchanged. I need to bring my grandchildren here to experience this.

The next generation vends tees. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Try to hit a vintage “doll” in this game. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
The fish pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Generations of families run the rides and booths, stitching stories into their family histories. The kids will always remember going to North Morristown on the Fourth—to pluck a yellow rubber duck from a pond, to throw a ball toward a hoop or toward spinning “dolls,” to drop a line into the fish pond…all for some prize that is more treasure than trinket on July 4.

Food is served from vintage stands. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

North Morristown on the Fourth truly rates as an American treasure.

Will Bauermeister performs as a hot and humid day eases toward evening. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Although Randy and I did not grow up here, we have lived in neighboring Faribault for 40 years and know a lot of people. So we saw many there—Mel, Carl, Leroy, Shirley, Virgil, Jane, Jen, Mike…and a college friend, Annette, whom I haven’t seen in decades. We made new friends, too, Kevin and Brenda from Elysian and another couple from Monticello. That’s the thing about this celebration. Sit at a picnic table and you’ll find yourself engaging in conversation with strangers.

The burger stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

After we completed our tour of the festival grounds and enjoyed the music by Monroe Crossing, Randy and I ordered sandwiches. I got barbecued pork. He chose a burger. The food, served from vintage stands, is always, always delicious. And, yes, we ate our dessert before our main meal because we weren’t willing to risk the pie running out.

We passed by this picturesque farm building on the drive home. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Several hours after arriving in the less-busy, less-crowded late afternoon, we left, taking the scenic route home along gravel roads winding past farm sites. I felt so appreciative of this rural setting, of North Morristown on the Fourth of July and of the people who make this event happen. What an exceptional example of a holiday celebration which, at its core, remains unchanged and rooted in community and family.

FYI: Please check back for a second post with more photos from North Morristown on July Fourth.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Gingersnaps for Mom December 23, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

CINNAMON, GINGER AND CLOVES scent my kitchen on the first afternoon of winter as sun streams bright through the southern window.

Christmas music plays on KTIS.

And I stand at the peninsula, rounding dough into walnut-sized balls before rolling the orbs in granulated sugar.

Each holiday season I bake gingersnaps. For my mom. They are a favorite of hers. But this year, although I am still baking the cookies, Mom won’t enjoy them.

She lives 120 miles away in a southwestern Minnesota nursing home, where she is in hospice. Her appetite is minimal. Even last year when I dropped off homemade gingersnaps around Christmas time, she didn’t eat them. Upon a return visit, I took the stale cookies back home with me and tossed them. Mom never was one to throw away food.

Now, as I shape and bake dough and pull crinkled gingersnaps from the oven, thoughts of Mom distract me. Earlier I’d forgotten to add molasses to the mix as my mind wandered away from the kitchen.

I wasn’t baking these cookies for Mom. Yet I was. I baked them to honor her, to celebrate her, to remind myself how blessed I’ve been to have such a caring, loving and kind mother. I told her that recently, thanking her in a loving goodbye letter. Phoning her is not an option. Nor is visiting due to COVID-19 visitor restrictions. I’m sort of OK with that, recognizing from an intellectual perspective the need to keep care center residents as safe as possible.

This has proven a difficult year for our seniors living in long-term care centers with too many dying from COVID. And the separation from loved ones has taken a toll. I miss Mom. But this is not about me. This is about her. That’s what I try to remember when my focus shifts, when the scent of old-fashioned gingersnaps fills the house and tears edge my eyes.


If you are feeling alone this Christmas, experiencing the recent loss of a loved one, enduring separation from those you love or struggling, you are not alone. I hope you can reach a place of peace, perhaps in the cinnamon and ginger scent of cookies or a tradition or memory that links you to the one (s) you love and miss.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


I’m a princess, but not of the Milky Way August 15, 2020

Past Rice County Dairy Princess Kaylee Wegner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


“I LOVE YOU, my Little Princess.”

Oh, how sweet those loving words from my Aunt Dorothy, who has always called me her “Little Princess.” And still does. In every phone conversation between Minnesota and New Jersey, she ends our call with those endearing words.

It’s not that I’m much of a princess. Far from it. At least not in the sense of how most of us visualize royalty. I’m a tee and jeans woman. No glitz, no glam, no nail polish. And, in recent years, I’ve allowed my hair to go naturally and beautifully grey. Because, you know, I’m tired of putting chemicals on my head and I earned every grey strand…so I’m owning it.


The early 1950s barn on the Redwood County dairy farm where I grew up. I spent a lot of hours through my childhood working in this barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


But there was a time, back in my teen years, when I wanted to be a real princess. As in the Redwood County dairy princess. So I competed for that title, recognizing from the minute I stepped into the room of competitors, that I had no chance. I may have been a hands-on, working-in-the-barn daughter of a dairy farmer, but I didn’t possess the confidence, poise or other skills to represent Minnesota’s dairy industry.


The Princess Kay of the Milky Way competition is a part of Minnesota culture. A past exhibit at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna featured photos of previous royalty, including 1978 princess Kari Schroht, left, and 1976 princess Kathy Zeman, right. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


The judges chose a competent young woman, whose name I don’t recall, to rein as the Redwood County dairy ambassador along with other county princesses from throughout the state. Dairy princesses have been a Minnesota tradition for 67 years, highlighted in crowning of Princess Kay of the Milky Way around the time of our State Fair. Wednesday evening, Olmsted County Dairy Princess Brenna Connelly of Byron was crowned in a private ceremony among 10 masked and social distancing candidates.


A Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter carving in the Minnesota History Center’s MN150 exhibit and photographed several years ago at the Steele County History Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Post coronation in a typical year, the new state princess and nine other candidates sit in a special refrigerated and rotating cooler in the dairy building at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds to get their heads carved in blocks of butter while fair visitors crowd around and watch. But this year, because of COVID-19, there is no fair. But the butter sculpting tradition continues, with notable changes.

Each county princess, starting with the new 67th Princess Kay of the Milky Way, will sit alone in the 40-degree butter sculpting booth with Litchfield artist Gerry Kulzer as he sculpts their likenesses from 90-pound blocks of Dinner Bell Creamery butter. They will be masked and social distancing. And when it comes to getting the princesses’ noses and mouths just right, each young woman will move outside the cooler and onto a ladder and remove her mask.


I’ve only attended the Minnesota State Fair a few times in my life, the last time decades ago. Many people love the fair. But I don’t because of the crowds. This mug came from my father-in-law’s collection of mugs.


Crowds won’t watch from inside the dairy building. Rather, updates are posted thrice daily on the Princess Kay Facebook page, starting at 10:30 am and continuing through August 22. The sculpting, which takes from six to eight hours, begins at 8:30 am and ends at 5 pm with several breaks. You can only imagine the challenges of sitting in 40 degrees for a prolonged period of time. We may be hardy Minnesotans to whom that temp feels balmy come mid-winter. But in August, not so much.

Once the butter sculpting is done, the princesses take their blocks of butters back to their respective homes and then do what they wish with them. The new princess is sharing hers with family and friends first and then with a food shelf. In past years, I’ve read stories about princess butter heads buttering corn at community sweetcorn feeds. But this year I don’t expect that to happen. Or at least it shouldn’t.


Inside the Ron and Diane Wegner dairy barn during a dairy day several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


That I was never chosen as a county dairy princess nearly 50 years ago was the right decision. I feel no disappointment because, I’ve always been a princess…in the eyes of my beloved Aunt Dorothy.


© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Oh, the joy when you still believe in Santa December 24, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , ,


“SANTA!” he shouted, the single word expressing the joy of a child who still believes.



To hear that excitement made me smile wide as I turned toward the basement patio doors. There I saw a flash of red and then Santa peering through the window before he knocked on the glass.



Six-year-old Hank couldn’t race there fast enough to slide open the door allowing Santa entry to our annual extended family Christmas gathering in southwestern Minnesota on Saturday.



Santa shows up every year to greet young and old alike, to hand out candy and hugs and merry wishes. It is a tradition that never grows old, that always brings smiles and laughter and joy. For a moment or ten, we all see Santa through the eyes of a child. And we believe.


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Honoring the war dead in Cannon City May 30, 2017

Folks begin arriving for the 2 p.m. Memorial Day program at the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


VEHICLES LINED the narrow gravel driveway, angled into the grassy ditch on one side and edging the roadway on the other.

Randy pulled our lawn chairs from the van and I tucked a fleece throw under my left arm, umbrella in hand as we headed toward the crowd gathering at the Cannon City Cemetery gate. Clouds the color of bruises threatened rain on this 60-some-degree Memorial Day afternoon in rural southeastern Minnesota.


An art appropriate cannon marks a Civil War Veteran’s tombstone in the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


But weather would not keep us from this annual commemoration honoring the war dead—a tradition begun some 100 years prior in this wind-swept rural cemetery bordered by fields and pasture. On this Monday, those here would also mark the sesquicentennial of this burial place where a year ago cows moved to the fenceline to watch my friend Lois bury her husband next to his parents and grandparents.


The program opens with singing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Steve Bonde is on the bugle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Randy and I have no family connection to this cemetery. But we have come here each Memorial Day for about the past five because we appreciate the grassroots simplicity of this event. Clustered under spruce and cedar among gravestones, attendees circle their lawn chairs to sing and to listen to patriotic and other readings and to the mournful playing of taps.


A bronze star marks a veteran’s grave. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


As I sat there, snugged under fleece and wishing I’d worn a stocking cap, I considered that my temporary discomfort was nothing compared to war. I remembered the stories my Korean War veteran father, an infantryman on the frontlines, shared of bone-chilling cold. Yes, my ears hurt. But in a short time, I would be back inside my warm home.

I am an observer. To my right, I watched a teenage boy grip a military star, American flag and white carnation with his left hand, bugle in his other hand, as the fierce wind threatened to yank all three away. Earlier, some attendees distributed flowers, provided by the Cemetery Association, to soldiers’ graves. That flower-laying tradition began 100 years ago with students from the nearby Cannon City School marching with floral wreaths to the cemetery.


Song sheets are distributed to those in attendance. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


This memorial service is so much about tradition—from recitation of The Pledge of Allegiance to singing of The Battle Hymn of the Republic to reading names of the 52 veterans buried here to recitation of In Flanders Fields.


Poppies have long been associated with honoring and remembering veterans. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


As Jean Pederson recited the haunting poem of poppies blowing between crosses in a field in Belgium, long-time Cannon City resident Bob Lewis slipped a pot of poppies onto the grass next to Jean’s motorized scooter. He’d dug them from a patch in his yard. That symbolic gesture by this veteran nearly moved me to tears as I watched 10 orange poppies wend in the wind to words of war.

Near Jean, I noticed the word LOVE sparkling along the pant leg of a teenage girl. Love and war. War and love. We love our freedom enough to fight for it.


A message on a retro tray I own. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Yet, we always strive for peace, a message conveyed in a reading by two women: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with you.” Their words rose and fell with the wind, carried away—to the fields, the countryside, beyond, under a bruised sky.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
I apologize for the lack of current photos accompanying this story. I fell and broke my right shoulder recently so am unable to use my camera. I hope my words provide the visuals for you to see snippets of what I observed in Cannon City on Memorial Day.


Rural Faribault church continues 55-year tradition with The Last Supper Drama April 7, 2017

St. John’s members portray the disciples in this undated vintage photo, the first record of a photograph from The Last Supper Drama. Actors, from left to right, are Luverne Hafemeyere, Earl Meese, Vicgtor Luedke, Howard Meese, Virgil Bosshart, Arnold Keller, P.L. Golden, Alvin bosshart, Paul Bauer, Elmer Covert Sr. and Arnold Bauer. Photo courtesy of St. John’s.


AS A WOMAN OF FAITH, I appreciate the opportunity to begin Holy Week in a visually memorable and contemplative way by attending “The Last Supper Drama” at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township. The drama begins at 8 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 9, as darkness falls.

For 55 years now, parishioners past and present, playing the roles of Jesus’ disciples, have presented this interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting. Each disciple actor stands and speaks of his personal relationship with Christ. It is moving, powerful and emotional to hear these monologues in the darkness of an aged limestone country church.


St. John’s 50th presentation of The Last Supper Drama in the sanctuary. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.


While the actors alternate from year to year, the script and music remain unchanged from the original of 1963. There is comfort in that, in tradition, in the unchanging story, in the reverent respect and in the focused spotlight on Christ.

It’s an inspirational way to start Holy Week, in a mindset of contemplation.


The parking lot at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation’s annual performance of The Last Supper Drama. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


FYI: Click here to see photos and stories from past performances of this drama.

St. John’s UCC is located east of Faribault at 19086 Jacobs Avenue, a county road off Minnesota State Highway 60.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


No limit on Minnesota fish fries March 3, 2017

This recent roadside photo I snapped of Mac's Fish & Chips, on the corner of Hamline and Larpenteur in St. Paul, prompted this blog post. Mac serves deep-fried halibut, walleye, cod, shrimp, clams and, yes, chicken, along with a few sides in this former Clark Gas Station building. You can also buy Mac's battered walleye at Target Field in Minneapolis.

This recent roadside photo I snapped of Mac’s Fish & Chips, on the corner of Hamline and Larpenteur in St. Paul, prompted this blog post. Mac’s serves deep-fried halibut, walleye, cod, shrimp, clams and, yes, chicken, along with a few sides in this former Clark Gas Station building. You can also buy Mac’s battered walleye at Target Field in Minneapolis.

IT’S THE SEASON of the Friday Night Fish Fry in Minnesota.

As a life-long Lutheran, I’ve never been part of the Catholic-based tradition of eating fish on Fridays during Lent. But I respect that deep-rooted practice of shunning meat, although I will admit I’ve always considered fish to be meat. Catholics have a different opinion.

A snippet of two side-by-side ads that published on Thursday in the Faribault Daily News.

A snippet of two side-by-side ads for a Friday Fish Fry and for a Friday Lenten Soup Luncheon that published in the Faribault Daily News.

That aside, the beginning of Lent this week kicks off church and community fish fries, not to mention Friday fish specials at restaurants and Knights of Columbus halls. The Twin Cities-based The Catholic Spirit contacted all of the parishes in the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese for a list of fish fries and Lenten meals. Ninety-one responded. From Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine to St. Bridget of Sweden in Lindstrom to St. Albert the Great in Minneapolis, congregations will be serving fish aplenty and accompanying side dishes.

Fish Fry details from the St. Bridget of Sweden website.

Fish Fry details from the St. Bridget of Sweden website.

I’ve dined at enough church dinners—Catholic, Lutheran and otherwise—to know that food prepared by the faithful is often some of the best and tastiest. Perhaps it’s time I tried a fish fry.

TELL ME: Have you dined at a church-hosted fish fry? Where? Here’s your opportunity to recommend a fish fry.

FYI: Click here for the list of fish fries and Lenten meals compiled by The Catholic Spirit.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Finding the perfect little Christmas tree in Faribault December 19, 2016

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That's me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings.

The Kletscher family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That’s me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings.

FEW PHOTOS EXIST OF ME as a child. So I treasure each one, especially a rare color print of me and four siblings clustered around the kitchen table on Christmas Eve 1964. We are dressed in our Sunday best, back home from worship services at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta. I’m surprised we were willing to pose given the pile of presents.




But it is not the gifts or the setting or even the impatient look on my middle brother’s face that remain imprinted upon my memory so many decades removed from the farm. It is the Christmas tree. I never realized how small that table-topped tree until I grew into adulthood. But it’s short, maybe three feet. I recall going to the local grocer and sorting through trees leaning in the snow against the side of the grocery store. Such memories.




A few years ago, with my three children grown and gone, I decided to down-size our Christmas tree from average to small. I longed for a tree like the ones of my childhood. Imperfect and short with short needles. And I found that tree at Kuntze Christmas Tree Lot along Second Avenue Northwest in Faribault.




This no-frills lot run since 1988 by Ken Mueller (and in business since 1939) features fresh-cut, untrimmed trees from a dairy farm near Duluth. They’re as natural as a tree can be. Shaped by nature. Pinecones and leaves still clinging to branches. Pliable, fresh needles. Exactly what I wanted.




This season, Ken’s had a run on trees. Donahue’s Greenhouse, a major supplier of Christmas trees to locals, is no longer open during the holiday season. So on the date I shopped, December 10, I found a limited selection of trees in Ken’s lot. He’s not planning to restock. After sorting through about a half-dozen trees, my husband and I chose our Charlie Brown tree and Ken placed it in the back of our van. Yes, the tree is that small.




Randy handed him $20, told him to keep the $4 change and they chatted for a bit because this tree salesman is a talker. Plus I wanted to snap a few photos.




Now the tree stands in my living room, nestled between a window and a chest of drawers my dad once shared with his oldest brother. I snapped a selfie of myself with the tree after stringing the lights. I’m not good at selfies. (Or maybe I am since I meant for the tree to be the focus.)




I’m much better at choosing a tree that reminds me of happy childhood Christmases on the family farm. For me, it’s all about the memories.

BONUS PHOTO: The message on the back of Ken’s business card:




TELL ME: If you have a Christmas tree in your house, is it real or fake? Why?

This year the Christmas Tree Promotion Board has launched a campaign of “It’s Christmas. Keep it real.”  The board markets the tradition, scent and natural beauty of real trees.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In Cannon City: A grassroots Americana commemoration of Memorial Day May 31, 2016

The entrance to the Cannon City Cemetery is decorated for Memorial Day.

The entrance to the Cannon City Cemetery is decorated for Memorial Day.

THERE’S A CERTAIN SENSE of comfort in tradition. For nearly 100 years, folks have gathered each Memorial Day at the Cannon City Cemetery to honor our veterans.

This shows a portion of those gathered for Monday's semi-formal program.

This shows a portion of those gathered for Monday’s semi-formal program.

In the shade of spruce and cedar trees and surrounded by gravestones, I listened to natives read The Gettysburg Address, Freedom, What Heroes Gave and more; recite In Flanders Fields; and recall the history of this celebration. A Civil War veteran initially asked students from the village school to put on a Memorial Day program. In those early years, pupils marched from the school to the cemetery bearing floral wreaths. Today the cemetery board organizes this annual observance.

Mel Sanborn, left, emceed the program.

Mel Sanborn, left, emceed the program.

Song sheets were distributed to those in attendance and then collected to save for next year.

Song sheets were distributed to those in attendance and then collected to save for next year.

Don, on the guitar, and Judy Chester lead the singing.

Don, on the guitar, and Judy Chester lead the singing.

We sang patriotic songs like The Star Spangled Banner, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and America the Beautiful, some accompanied by a guitar, some not. Voices rose 40-plus strong above the shrill of a cardinal and the distant muffle of gunfire. Sun shone. Breeze rippled.

A bronze star marks a veteran's grave.

A bronze star marks a veteran’s grave.

The Cannon City Cemetery offers an ideal setting for a grassroots remembrance of those who have served our country. Therein lies its appeal to me.

Giving the history of and then reciting In Flanders Fields.

Giving the history of and then reciting In Flanders Fields.

I have no connection to this place where nearly 50 veterans are buried. But this ceremony reminds me of the Memorial Day programs of my youth. As an aging senior recited In Flanders Fields, I mouthed the words I recited so many years ago on the stage of the Vesta Community Hall.

Fields surround the cemetery.

Fields surround the cemetery where American flags marked veterans’ graves on Memorial Day.

In its peaceful location among farm fields, this cemetery reminds me of home. Of tradition.

Sam Wilson ends the program by playing taps.

Sam Wilson ends the program by playing taps.

And when taps sounded, I was reminded, too, of just how much some sacrificed so that I could stand here, in this cemetery, on Memorial Day, hand across heart reciting The Pledge of Allegiance.

Cannon City native Bob Lewis is a fixture at the annual Memorial Day program. Locals are already tapping his historical knowledge in preparation for the 150th anniversary celebration.

Cannon City native Bob Lewis is a fixture at the annual Memorial Day program. Locals are already tapping his historical knowledge in preparation for the 150th anniversary celebration in 2017.

FYI: Next year the Cannon City Cemetery turns 150 years old. Plans are already underway for a special celebration to mark the occasion. If you want to experience grassroots Americana on Memorial Day, this is the place to be.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling