Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on 9/11 from Minnesota September 11, 2022

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My son drew this image of the attack on the Twin Towers for a class assignment some 20 years ago. To this day, this drawing illustrates how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted image)

TODAY I REMEMBER, honor, grieve.

I remember the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on our country, my heart heavy with the weight of loss. Nearly 3,000 individuals died on that day when terrorists hijacked four planes—two hitting the World Trade Center twin towers, another crashing into the Pentagon and the fourth slamming into a field in rural Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Twenty-one years later, I recall exactly where I was when I learned of the attack. I expect that is the same for most every American, that moment in time forever locked in to memory.

I was in my living room with my 7-year-old son, who was not feeling well and home from school, and his friend, whom I was caring for that day. My husband called from work to inform me of the events unfolding in New York City. I switched on the television and watched in horror as the second plane targeted the second tower.

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Perhaps I should have switched off the TV, not exposed two young boys to the horrific scenes. But I didn’t. Soon Caleb and Sam were building towers from wooden blocks and flying toy airplanes into the stacks, the blocks cascading into a pile.

That visual sticks with me and in many ways reflects how, even in Minnesota, far far away from the epicenter of death and destruction, the impact on ordinary life was experienced. Something as simple as two children playing on my living room represented reality.

On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors alumna Ann N. Nelson, who died on 9/11. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I recall, throughout that day and in the weeks thereafter, feeling unsettled, wondering if more attacks would follow. It was a time of uncertainty and certainly of fear in our country. But it was also a time of unity. We were united in our horror, our grief and in our determination to stand strong as a nation. At least that’s my observation.

Perhaps today, on the 21st anniversary of 9/11, we can temporarily reclaim that sense of unity which has seemingly vanished. We can, whether in Minnesota or New York City, pause to mourn those who died, to support those who grieve personal losses and to reflect on this memorable moment in American history.

TELL ME: Where were you when you heard about the 9/11 terrorist attacks? And how are you feeling today?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The President talks about his COVID frustrations, concerns & plans December 21, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:46 PM
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The Coronavirus. Photo source: CDC.

CONCERN. NOT PANIC.

Those words repeated in an address to the nation by President Joe Biden Tuesday afternoon as the highly transmissible omicron variant has now become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the US.

While Biden advised calm, he also issued a strong warning to the unvaccinated that they remain at high risk for severe illness and/or death. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before.

Yet, the warning comes with a new sense of urgency as hospital beds fill and healthcare workers continue to be overwhelmed. The actions of those choosing not to get vaccinated are affecting all of us, the President said. The unvaccinated, he noted, have an obligation to themselves, their families and their country to get vaccinated.

I agree. I would emphasize, though, the obligation to others. Family. Friends. Neighbors. Strangers. The common good.

Like the President, I’m feeling tired, worried and frustrated. Frustrated particularly because we have the tools to end this pandemic. Vaccination. Testing. Masking to stop the spread. We know so much more than we did when this pandemic started, a point the President emphasized in saying, “This is not March 2020.”

But here we are, hospitals filling or full. Not enough staff to treat patients. National Guard and federal military personnel now called to help over-burdened hospitals/healthcare workers. We should never have gotten to this point.

Biden termed the misinformation out there about vaccines and the virus “wrong” and “immoral.” Some of the misinformation I’ve heard from those who oppose vaccines is unbelievable, making me wonder how anyone can believe the untruths spewed.

At this point, it seems like people have made up their minds about vaccination. I know of cases when not even the death, or near death, of a family member would convince someone to get vaccinated.

So here we are with the federal government calling up 1,000 troops to assist in hospitals. They’re already in Minnesota. And newly-arrived in Wisconsin and Indiana and other states. More ambulances are being sent to states. Additional vaccination and testing sites are being set up. Soon we can order COVID tests online, delivered free to our homes. All of these actions are necessary.

But we must also do our parts individually. And that starts with the very basic premise of caring for one another. Caring enough to get vaccinated, and boostered. Wearing masks in public settings, regardless of vaccination status. Testing if we have symptoms or have been exposed. Caring that our actions affect others.

I feel gratitude for those 200 million plus Americans who are fully-vaccinated. They did the right thing. For themselves. For their families, friends, neighbors, community, strangers. For the common good. For their country. I can only hope the remaining however many million will choose to do the right thing and get vaccinated. I don’t want unvaccinated people to land in the hospital on a ventilator. Or worse. Die. Nor do I want vaccinated individuals who may experience a health crisis unable to get the care they need because our understaffed hospitals are filled with unvaccinated COVID patients.

NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-whatever, don’t bother to comment. I won’t publish those views, or misinformation, on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on 9/11 after 20 years September 10, 2021

A drawing by my then young son of “something to remember” for a grade school assignment: A plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

TWENTY YEARS. TWO DECADES. Two hundred and forty months.

Whatever words are attached to the time that has passed since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the reality of that day in our nation’s history remains forever imprinted upon our collective memories.

On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors an alumna who died on 9/11. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

That day changed us. It changed how we view each other and the world. The acts of those terrorists not only claimed lives, but our sense of security. Our sense of peace. And much more.

I remember well that September morning, how my then seven-year-old son and his friend Sam reacted to scenes unfolding on our television set. My husband had phoned me from work, alerting me to the attacks. I switched on the TV. And the boys saw it all, right alongside me. Perhaps I should have been a responsible mother/caregiver and turned off the television. But I didn’t.

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2001.

Soon Caleb and Sam were building twin towers with wooden blocks and flying toy airplanes into the skyscrapers. It was heart-breaking to watch. Both reality unfolding on the screen and then the re-enactment on my living room floor.

For a Minnesota mom geographically far-removed from the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, none of this seemed distant. I felt the collective fear. I felt the collective pain. I felt the collective grief.

A memorial at the Faribault Fire Department honoring those who died on 9/11. The department will host a commemoration this Saturday, September 11, beginning at 7:46 am. That includes a welcome by the fire chief, a flag presentation, ringing of the bell and a brief eulogy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

Today I remember, 20 years later, those who died. The families left without loved ones. The heroes. And those two little boys who saw, yet didn’t fully-understand, the events unfolding far from Minnesota. Yet too close.

Here’s a poem I wrote shortly after September 11, 2001:

September 11, 2001

You clutch your silver toy jetliners

then blast them into the twin towers,

blocks scattering across the floor.

Like that show on TV,

you tell me,

where the planes crashed

into those two tall buildings.

—————————————-

Somehow I must tell you

that this was no show on TV,

but real people

in real buildings.

Moms and Dads

with little boys just like you,

boys who build towers and fly toy airplanes.

—————————————————————

How do I begin to show you the truth

behind a scene so terrifying

that it keeps replaying in my mind?

Hollywood could have written the script,

the latest disaster film, grossing millions

for an industry embedded in itself.

You’re right; this could be a show on TV.

———————————————————-

Except this is very real,

so real that I want you to believe

those were just pretend buildings, pretend airplanes.

But you see the worry in my eyes,

hear the sadness in my voice.

You know the truth,

even before I tell you.

——————————-

My son, only seven years old,

too young to fully understand

the evil that has invaded the world,

the fear that grips the American heart, my heart,

the sense of security forever lost.

Like so many blocks scattered across the floor,

we must pick up the pieces and rebuild, peace by peace.

#

Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Post-election choices November 13, 2016

heart-carved-into-wood

 

IN A WEEK THAT’S BEEN particularly difficult for our country, let’s pause and reflect on the goodness we can each do. Individually.

We can choose to be kind. We can choose to listen. We can choose to be respectful. We can choose to act like adults and not like bullies on the playground.

We can smooth the rough surfaces we’ve etched with our words.

We can empathize and offer compassion and be gentle with one another.

We can choose love over hatred.

We have the choice. Which will you choose?

I direct you to Minnesota Public Radio’s story, “Na-na-na-na No-no: A guide to post-election etiquette,” and to Twin Cities Christian radio station KTIS and Jason Gray’s song, “With Every Act of Love.”

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Vote November 8, 2016

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vote

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped African Americans exercise their right to vote under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Stephen Somerstein photographed Bobby Simmons, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committe. Simmons was wearing zinc oxide to prevent sunburn and wrote VOTE onto his forehead. This photo shows a section of Somerstein’s portrait of Simmons showcased in an April 2015 exhibit, “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail,” at St. Olaf College in Northfield. I photographed the photo with permission. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

DO YOU REMEMBER a time when elections were focused primarily on the issues? Minimal or no name-calling? When candidates acted like anyone mattered outside of themselves. When candidates treated each other with decency.

Yeah, I know. It’s difficult to remember that in a year dominated by such campaign negativity. On all levels, not just national.

I’ve read signs and bumper stickers and words I can’t repeat. Likewise with TV ads I’ve heard.

No matter where you stand, what you think, how frustrated you are, remember this. You have a voice. Use your voice today. Vote.

There was a time when not everyone in this country could vote. On Election Day 1920 women voted for the first time after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, giving them that right. And now a woman is on the ballot for President of the United States.

No matter which candidates you support today, remember, you are free to vote. And that is something for which you can be especially thankful. You have that democratic right. Use it. Vote.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on 9/11 September 11, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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My then 8-year-old son drew this picture of a plane aimed for the twin towers a year after 9/11 for a school religion assignment. He was a third grader in a Christian school at the time and needed to think of a time when it was hard to trust God by drawing a photo illustrating that time. To this day, this drawing by my boy illustrates to me how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us

A year after the terrorist attacks, my then 8-year-old son drew this picture of a plane aimed for the twin towers. He was a third grader in a Christian school  and needed to think of a time when it was hard to trust God. To this day, this drawing by my boy illustrates to me how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post first published on September 11, 2012. Today I am republishing it (with updated numbers) in honor of those who died 15 years ago today in acts of terrorism against our county. Blessed be their memories.

#

IF I WAS IN MY HOMETOWN today I would visit the cemetery just outside of Vesta, to the north along the gravel road and atop the lone hill which rises ever so slightly in a sea of ripening corn and soybean fields.

I’d walk the rows until I found the gravestones of the Kletschers, mostly clumped together, close still even in death.

I’d pause at the tombstones of my paternal great grandparents and grandparents, my father and then, finally, my Uncle Mike, the bachelor uncle who was like a second father to me and my five siblings. He lived the next farm over, farmed with our father and joined us for everyday meals and holidays. His inherent curiosity is a trait I possess.

Uncle Mike died on September 5, 2001, and was buried just days before 9/11.

Today thousands will visit graves of those who lost their lives on that horrific day 15 years ago when our nation was attacked by terrorists.

My uncle had never, as far as I know, been to New York or Washington D.C. or Pennsylvania, never traveled much. He stuck close to the prairie, close to the farm, close to the land he cherished with the depth of love only a farmer can possess.

I miss him and grieve his death with a depth of grief that comes only from loving someone deeply.

Today, on this the 15th anniversary of 9/11, countless family and friends and co-workers and others will grieve with a depth that comes from loving deeply. They may grieve privately or at public ceremonies marking the date nearly 3,000 innocent individuals lost their lives.

Some will travel to that field in Stonycreek Township in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where the passengers of Flight 93 fought back against those who would terrorize this nation.

It is the one place I can most relate to in the whole horribleness of this American tragedy because my roots reach deep into the land. Flight 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, a rural community of 250 in the Laurel Mountains of western Pennsylvania with a population 100 less than my Minnesota hometown.

None of this diminishes the significant impact made upon me by the terrorist-directed planes slamming into the twin towers or the destruction wreaked upon the Pentagon in urban settings.

But big cities—even though I’ve been to New York once in my life many decades ago while in college—are unfamiliar terrain, skyscrapers as foreign to me as a silo to a city-dweller.

A lone plane crashing into a field, plowing into the earth, that I understand.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

American pride on Memorial Day weekend May 25, 2015

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Downtown Waseca, Minnesota, on Memorial Day weekend.

Downtown Waseca, Minnesota, on Memorial Day weekend.

MEMORIAL DAY BRINGS a focused gratefulness for freedom. And nothing is more visually representative of freedom in the U.S. than the American flag.

Another scene from downtown Waseca, on the other side of the street.

Another scene from downtown Waseca, on the other side of the street.

This weekend those flags are flying seemingly everywhere. On front porches, from flag poles and from lamp posts.

Driving eastbound on U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and Mankato.

Driving eastbound on U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and Mankato.

I feel my national pride swell at the sight of flags flying in communities like Elysian, Waseca and Morristown. On a Saturday trip from Faribault to Belview and back, I noticed the red-white-and-blue adorning homes, businesses, pick-up trucks and even silos. Just outside of Morristown, a couple grilled on their deck, an American flag waving in the wind just inches away.

A business in downtown Belview, Minnesota.

A business in downtown Belview, Minnesota.

I am thankful to live in this country. And grateful to those men and women who died for freedom. Because of them, I am free to express myself through writing and photography. Free.

The American flag on a bag of  Crystal Sugar.

The American flag on a bag of Crystal Sugar.

On Sunday, as I diced rhubarb in my kitchen, I pulled a bag of sugar from the cupboard. And there, at the top of the bag, was printed an American flag. I paused in that moment, remembering the words I’d sung hours earlier at Trinity Lutheran Church, where I am free to worship:

God bless America, Land that I love,
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above…

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
“God Bless America” by Irving Berlin

 

This is what it means to be free July 5, 2011

FOR THE PAST SEVERAL days, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for the perfect July Fourth image.

I thought that photo might come from my extended family’s annual July 4th weekend gathering or from the Roberds Lake Independence Day boat parade. Or perhaps I’d just see a patriotic display worthy of showcasing. Maybe a field of flags.

However, the photo I selected to best portray our nation’s birthday falls into none of these categories.

I chose this image, taken along Seventh Street in Faribault late Monday afternoon.

Let me explain.

This homeowner disagrees with a recent decision by the Faribault City Council to forgive a $72,000 water bill assessed to FWF Fund One, current owners of the Faribault Woolen Mills property. The woolen mill closed some time ago, leaving an original $120,000 unpaid water bill, which has since been paid down $48,000. Now new investors are working on purchasing the property and restarting the mill, thus prompting the request to forgive the remaining portion of the unpaid water bill. Read more about the issue by clicking onto this recent Faribault Daily News article.

Even though I happen to agree with the homeowner, I didn’t choose this as my favorite Independence Day photo for that reason.

This grassroots expression of an opinion represents to me the cornerstone of our nation: freedom.

As citizens of the United States, we are free to speak—to voice our ideas and opinions and concerns.

We needn’t be eloquent speakers or writers or members of city councils to express ourselves.

A simple handwritten sign posted on a tree along a busy street epitomizes freedom at its most basic, individual, level.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, Wisconsin, I do love thee April 27, 2011

I was expecting downtown Appleton to look like historic Faribault with a pedestrian-friendly two-lane central street. Instead I found big city bustle and a busy four-lane running through the heart of downtown.

My husband and I, along with our son, spent Easter weekend in Appleton, Wisconsin, with our second oldest daughter.

IF YOU READ my Monday blog post, you know about the “Guess that state” contest that offers no prize. The prize is knowing you could (maybe) figure out where I celebrated Easter.

That would be in Wisconsin.

Yes, my husband, son and I spent the Easter weekend just east of Minnesota, in the Dairyland state, the home of the Green Bay Packers.

Specifically, we were in Appleton, the birthplace of Harry Houdini and the current home of my second oldest daughter. It is a 5 – 5 ½- hour drive from Faribault depending on how fast you drive and how many bathroom breaks are taken.

It is interesting how, when you travel in another state, you feel kind of like a foreigner. My husband and I tend to notice the details that distinguish regions. Of course, in Wisconsin, cheese and Packers’ green and gold stand out above all else.

But we also noticed, in the central area of the state where we drove along Wisconsin Highway 21, all of the small-town taverns and unincorporated towns, the buggy tracks and horse poop along the shoulders of the highway, the deer stands, the areas for growing potatoes and cranberries, many “for sale” signs on wooded properties, and lots and lots and lots of deer carcasses in the ditches and along the roadway. Oh, and for one short section, the dead muskrat may have outnumbered the total dead deer count for 100 miles.

Aside from those observations, we saw some interesting signage. For example, in school zones, “when children are present,” the speed limit is 15 mph.

The Willow Creek Cheese Factory Outlet was shut, not closed, according to this sign.

One particular business was not “closed,” it was “shut.”

A parcel of rural real estate, what we would term a “hobby farm” in Minnesota, was dubbed a “Farmette for sale.”

Dead-end streets in Appleton were posted as “No outlet.” It took me awhile to figure out that meant dead-end.

Brat fries were the big weekend fundraiser at Appleton grocery stores. The term “brat fry” was new to us. It means grilling.

We were especially amused by this sign in a field: “Certified weed-free hay.” Now, I wonder what the farmer was smoking when he wrote that sign. Cheddar cheese?

Oh, Wisconsinites, I really do like your state so I hope you take this post in humor, as it’s meant. If you want to cross the border and poke some fun at us Minnesotans, feel free. You’re always welcome here. Just leave the green and gold attire at home.

If you’d like to bring some cheese, do. I love Wisconsin cheese.

A small sampling of the cheeses available at Simon's Specialty Cheese in Little Chute. I'll take you inside this can't miss store in a future post.

NOW FOR THOSE READERS who are wondering where I shot the images in my “Guess that state” post published on Monday, here are the answers:

1.  HELICOPTER:  On the outskirts of Tomah just off I-94

2.  SHIP ROCK:  Near Coloma in Adams County

3.  BRAU HOUSE:  Downtown Appleton

4.  WE SALUTE OUR DAIRY FARMERS:  Simon’s Specialty Cheese Retail Store, Little Chute

5.  NEON ORANGE BUILDING:  A Mexican restaurant (sorry, didn’t get the name) in Wautoma

6.  STONE BUILDING:  The History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton. Magician Harry Houdini claims Appleton as his birthplace.

7.  AMISH FARM:  Near Coloma

8.  BRAT FRY SIGN:  Along an Appleton street

9.  GOLD FIRE HYDRANT:  Appleton

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Guess that state April 25, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:17 AM
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I’M BACK, READERS.

After two days without posts, which rates as totally out of character for me, you may be wondering why I haven’t written. Well, simple. I’ve been in another state for the Easter holiday.

Where have I been?

I could just tell you. But I’d rather make you guess. So today we are going to play “Guess that state.”

Scroll through the photos and clues below and then submit your guess. If you guess correctly, you do not win a prize. Rather you can take pride in the knowledge that you have learned more about one of our 50 states.

So…, let’s get started.

This helicopter on a trailer offers minimal info as to the identity of the mystery state. But it was the only photo I took as we drove here Friday afternoon, through rain, for more than three hours. On Saturday, some areas of this state were under a flash flood warning. Sirens wailed in the town where we were staying.

This natural rock formation known as the Ship Rock is located near the middle of the state.

Beer and bars. No additional words needed.

Residents of this state appreciate their dairy farmers.

Ah, nothing like the tropics to brighten my mood after a long winter. OK, you got me. This is actually a Mexican restaurant in a resort town in the central part of our mystery state.

At this museum, you will see an exhibit featuring magician Harry Houdini, who claims this state as his birthplace. If you know the name of the town, you score bonus points for your smartness. Do not cheat by googling.

Pockets of Amish, or maybe it's Mennonite, or both, reside in areas of this state. I was fortunate to capture this image Sunday afternoon while driving past this farm place.

This photo offers three clues: snow, brats and Piggly Wiggly. Along this stretch of highway on Saturday afternoon, we could have stopped at three brat fries at three grocery stores. (The husband did purchase a brat at The Festival Foods brat fry fundraiser for the Boy Scouts.)

This photo clue should be the clincher. Fire hydrants in the town where my family stayed are painted gold and sometimes green and gold.

PLEASE SUBMIT your guesses along with any comments you wish to make regarding these images or these clues or this state.

Good luck!

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling