Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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

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“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.

 

christmas-trees-8-three-trees-close-up

 

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.

 

christmas-trees-5-sign

 

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.

 

christmas-trees-1-pinecone

 

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.

 

christmas-trees-4-putting-tree-in-van

 

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.

 

christmas-trees-10-ken-randy

 

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.

 

christmas-trees-audrey-by-tree

 

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.)

 

christmas-trees-11-talking-with-customer

 

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:

 

christmas-trees-23-message-on-back-of-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

 

Faribault’s Memorial Day parade, a photo essay May 30, 2016

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Parade, 11 Color Guard

 

IT’S A TIME-HONORED tradition in Faribault—the 10 a.m. Memorial Day parade.

 

Parade, 6 big dogs

 

First, parade watchers come bearing lawn chairs and blankets to claim curbside spots along Central Avenue.

 

Parade, 12 flag bearer

 

To the south, down by the library/community center, parade participants are lining up, law enforcement vehicles at the head followed by the Color Guard and then the honored veterans. Marching bands slot in next.

 

Parade, 34 little boy with flag

 

It’s all so predictable. Every year. The same line-up, although occasionally the faces of politicians change.

 

Parade, 28 Scout carrying flag

 

Parade, 32 Scout handing out flags

 

Parade, 29 Scout close-up

 

Parade, 38 Girl Scouts

 

Parade, 39 Girl Scouts with flags close-up

 

But I love it. The Scouts, girls and boys, handing out flags.

 

Parade, 45 old blue pick-up truck

 

Kids scrambling for tossed Tootsie Rolls. Kids dressed in patriotic attire. Kids here with grandparents, making this a multi-generational tradition.

 

Parade, 41 old green car

 

Old cars and trucks.

 

Parade, 51 horses

 

And finally, at the end, the horses.

 

Parade, 56 patriotic horses

 

In 15 minutes, the parade is complete. Short. Sweet. Americana lovely in the sort of way that makes me appreciate Faribault, this place I call home in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

FYI: Check back for more photos from Memorial Day in Faribault and at the Cannon City Cemetery.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling