Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A letter to Dad on Veterans Day November 11, 2021

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea. (From my father’s photo collection)

DEAR DAD,

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to ask. And then to listen.

I’m sorry I didn’t recognize earlier that you were suffering.

I’m sorry I was too busy with my own life and family to realize that I could have, should have, tried to understand.

An in-ground marker honors my father, Elvern Kletscher, a Korean War veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart for wounds he suffered at Heartbreak Ridge in Korea while killing a sniper. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2011)

Nearly 19 years have passed now since your burial, since that brutally cold early April day when I wrapped my arm around Mom in the wind-swept hilltop Vesta Cemetery. I felt her body shivering, shaking with grief as she accepted a folded American flag.

Moments like that imprint upon me as I remember you—husband, father, grandfather, son, brother…and veteran.

You were buried with military honors. The firing of guns. The mournful playing of taps. An in-ground military marker notes your final rank as a sergeant in the US Army. Awarded the Purple Heart, albeit 47 years after you were wounded on Heartbreak Ridge in Korea.

My father, Elvern Kletscher, left, with two of his soldier buddies in Korea. (From my father’s photo collection)

Today, on Veterans Day, I think of you. Honor you. And consider how fighting as a boots-on-the-ground combat soldier in the mountains of Korea forever changed you.

I recall the few stories you shared through the decades. You watched as a mortar killed your friend Ray, who was scheduled to leave Korea the next day. He left behind a wife and infant daughter. Dad, your grief led me to search for that “baby” two years after your death. I found Teri living in Iowa and with only minimal knowledge of her birth father. I have yet to meet her, but want to some day.

Some day. Days and weeks and months and years pass and then some day is too late. Now I hold a shoebox brimming with curled black-and-white photos and other items from your time in the Army. Your Selective Service System registration certificate. A well-worn mini black book of prayers, hymns and devotions from the Ladies Aid in Vesta. Faith and prayer carried you through many a hellish day and night in Korea.

On the back of this photo, my dad simply penned “a letter from home.” I appreciate this photo of my dad taken by an unknown buddy in Korea. (From my father’s photo collection)

In a letter to your parents, a copy tucked into a folder labeled “Korea” in my office file cabinet, you termed the war-torn Asian country a “hell hole.” Likewise, an over-sized embroidered decal declares “RETURNED FROM HELL.”

I have no doubt that war was hell for you. “Shoot or be shot,” I remember you saying. You spoke, too, of bitter cold, of hunger, of orphans begging for food across barbed wire fences. Of horrible war-time atrocities that I can’t bear to write here.

My dad carried this memorial service bulletin home from Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe. (From my father’s collection)

And then when you arrived home—bringing with you a folded memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea, dated July 31, 1953, and including your buddy Ray’s name—the horror and grief you experienced remained. But few, if any, acknowledged your struggles back then. You were expected to resume life as usual, returning to rural Minnesota to farm the land, to milk cows, to marry and raise a family. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was not yet recognized.

I’m sorry, Dad. Sorry about the neighbor who laughed as you dove to the ground when a rifle fired during pheasant hunting.

I’m sorry, Dad, for the fear you felt when guns fired during a small town parade.

I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you like I should have been.

Near the end of your life, you found empathy and care in your veterans’ support group. That comforts me. Those men understood what you’d experienced. For that I am grateful. They provided the emotional support I failed to give you. I’m sorry, Dad. So sorry.

With love,

Audrey

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring the memory of my dad April 4, 2011

Elvern Kletscher's 1950s military photo

HIS OBITUARY READS IN PART: From 1952-1953, he served in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict. He served on the front lines, receiving the Purple Heart after being wounded…He enjoyed his weekly visits with his veterans support group. He enjoyed bird watching, making horseradish and tomato juice with his family.

Elvern Kletscher passed away Thursday, April 3, 2003, at the Sunwood Good Samaritan Center in Redwood Falls, Minnesota at the age of 72 years and 29 days.

Yesterday, on the eight-year anniversary of my father’s death, I failed to remember. How could I? How could I forget the day he died, the day I lost my dad? How could I?

It breaks my heart that I would forget. This failure to remember the date of his death seems like a dishonor to the father I loved. He was a man who worked hard tending the earth, who loved his family and God. He was a soldier who served his country and, because of his time on the killing fields of Korea, suffered from a lifetime of demons that at times robbed me of my father.

But in the end, in his last days, I came to terms with the issues that sometimes made life with him difficult and challenging. I saw only the goodness as I stood at his bedside in the Veterans Administration Hospital where he lay dying of cancer and congestive heart failure.

As I held his hand, stroked his thick white hair, held a straw to his lips, I tried to be brave, to cheer him, to comfort him.

But when I couldn’t keep my emotions in check any more, I fled his room, stood outside his hospital room and wept.

Once I pulled myself back together, I returned to his bedside, listened to him tell me he was going to a better place, that he wanted all of us to take care of Mom. And then I cried, right there, holding nothing back because I couldn’t no matter how hard I tried.

Two days later, after being transported back to his home county, into a nursing home, my dad died.

And on April 7 we buried him, deep in the soil, in the hillside cemetery that overlooks his beloved prairie, the place where, except for his time in the military, he lived his entire life.

On that gloomy April day of biting cold wind, I held my mom close, my arm wrapped around her shoulders as she shivered uncontrollably. Together with my siblings we huddled inside a tent, next to the coffin.

As the guns fired in a military salute, as taps sounded their mournful wail, as my mom accepted a carefully folded American flag, I wept.

Today I weep, too, as I remember the father I loved.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault nonagenarian’s art show opens on Friday January 11, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:09 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

RHODY YULE.

Even his name has an artistic, poetic ring to it.

He’s my friend.

He’s also an artist.

This Friday evening, 92-year-old Rhody, the man I met about a year ago when I stopped to photograph 10 celebrity portraits on his rural Faribault garage, has his first-ever gallery showing. His exhibit opens with a reception from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, in downtown Faribault.

I want you to be there.

I want you there to celebrate the art and the artist.

You will meet a humble, gentle man with a sense of humor and a positive attitude that will surely uplift you.

You will meet a widower who treasures the portrait of his beloved wife, Shirley.

You will meet a veteran who served his country during WW II and painted a military scene on old military tent canvas while stationed in Nome, Alaska, because he had no other canvas.

You will meet a father, a man of faith, who painted his version of “The Last Supper” in honor of his only child, Paul, who died at age 23 in a 1977 car accident.

 

A snippet of Rhody Yule's painting, "Reverent Prayer," which will be among religious paintings included in his exhibit. This is my personal favorite of all his paintings.

"The Betrayal," among several over-sized religious paintings done by Rhody.

Some 50 oil paintings and other art will be featured in the exhibit, “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection.”

I am honored and thrilled to have helped make this show happen for a man who has been quietly painting for enjoyment since age 16.

That his talent has remained out of the public view for this long still astounds me. Most folks in the Faribault area likely have seen some of Rhody’s work as he painted signs for 33 years. But they have not seen the portraits, religious paintings, landscapes and other art that he created in his free time.

 

Celebrity portraits on Rhody's garage, where I first discovered his work last fall.

MY DISCOVERY OF RHODY happened by accident, when I saw the 10 celebrity portraits on his garage in the fall of 2009, stopped to photograph them and then knocked on Rhody’s door. I never expected a frail nonagenarian to answer.

That was the beginning of our friendship and my efforts to secure an art gallery show for him. I applied for the show on Rhody’s behalf. And then, when the Paradise accepted his work for a solo exhibit in the Carlander Gallery, Team Rhody formed to make it happen. I’ve been working with Rhody’s family and friends, members of the Paradise Gallery Committee, my husband and even a California graphics designer to pull this all together.

From choosing paintings to hauling, cleaning and titling them; promoting the show; and now, this last week, finalizing details for the finger foods to be served at the reception, this has been a process. Those of us involved can’t wait for you to meet Rhody and view his art.

Team Rhody wants you to be there, to celebrate with those of us who care for and love this man, this artist.

Rhody's self-portrait, 1989

PLEASE JOIN US from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Friday, January 14, for a meet-the-artists opening night reception for Rhody and artist Adam Kuehnel, who creates watercolors and will exhibit in the Lois Vranesh Boardroom Gallery. Adam says his work “exists somewhere on the path between Hemingway’s Two Hearted River and Keillor’s Lake Wobegon.”

As for Rhody, I’ve only labeled his show with the “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection” title and not slotted him as an artist.

I think Rhody would simply prefer to be just Rhody.

A recent photo of 92-year-old Rhody.

I saw Rhody on Saturday, when my husband and I picked up the last of his paintings and delivered them to the art center. He was eating breakfast with his friends at the assisted living facility where he resides. As always, he was happy and talkative. He’s sporting a new haircut. He’s picked up a new shirt and corduroys to wear on Friday. A relative says Rhody looks mighty dapper.

He’s ready to meet you. I’m ready for you to meet him, my friend, the artist. Rhody Yule.

IF YOU LIVE in Canada or Finland or Arkansas or Washington D.C. or anywhere that is not within reasonable traveling distance to attend the art show, I understand why you won’t be there. I hope you’ve enjoyed this online introduction to Rhody and a sampling of his art.

However, if you live in Northfield or Owatonna or Waseca or the Twin Cities metro, please consider driving to Faribault for this opening night reception. We’re only a half-hour drive from Burnsville, 45 minutes from Minneapolis. The art center is in the heart of Faribault’s historic downtown. You can’t miss the marquee.

If the weather is bad, please check before coming.

Both exhibits will continue through February 26. So if you can’t make the January 14 opening night event, stop at the gallery from noon – 5 p.m. on Saturdays or from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Friday.

P.S. If you attend on opening night, you’ll be treated to free food and beverages with an open cash bar also.

You'll even see the Duke at Rhody's show. Sorry, no Elvis.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

More than a sewing cabinet August 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:22 AM
Tags: , , ,

My "new" sewing cabinet from The Caswell-Runyan Co., Huntington, Ind.

I REALLY, HONESTLY, did not need the sewing cabinet I purchased for $30 at a recent yard sale. Although I have a sewing machine and once stitched nearly everything I wore, I don’t sew much any more.

But the rows of old tables lined up on both sides of the cement driveway lured me to look.

Once I saw the shiny Perfect Sewing Cabinet up close, I couldn’t resist its quaint charm—a lid that opens to reveal thread compartments, a curving front, dove-tailed drawers and unique golden knobs accented with amber heads. I already had visually placed the table in a corner of my dining room. With two drawers, it would be so much more practical than the tiny open-shelved table currently occupying that spot.

The cabinet lid lifts to reveal a compartment for thread and notions.

Craftsmanship is detailed in the dovetail drawer construction.

The original drawer pulls simply gleam.

But for $37, should I buy it? Should I walk away? Pay. Walk. What about that promise to start down-sizing, de-cluttering? Hadn’t my husband and I just returned from the recycling center where we dropped off an old TV, a printer, and a computer monitor and tower?

“Will you take less for it?” I ask the old guy running the sale.

To my surprise, he’ll take $30.

Still, I ask him to “keep my name on it” as I walk further up the driveway, perusing the merchandise while struggling to justify my purchase.

Then I just do it. I open my purse and pull out a $20 bill and two fives and the table is mine.

But I don’t simply walk away. I need to know where this peddler of tables has gotten his goods.

He finds furniture at yard, garage and rummage sales and then refinishes the pieces, he explains. He does magnificent work. Every tabletop shines with a glossy, flawless finish.

Then I learn a bit more. This elderly man (whose name I never do ask), says he rummages all the way to the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Minneapolis, where he’s been doctoring for years.

“World War II?” I ask.

His military time, he says, came between WW II and the Korean Conflict. He was stationed in Alaska, where he injured his back. He’s had numerous surgeries and has a leaky heart valve. But they won’t replace the valve, he says, because during his last heart bypass surgery, doctors had trouble restarting his heart.

And then he tells me that his wife has cancer.

“I’m sorry,” I say, amazed at what people will share because I take the time to genuinely listen. He assures me that she is doing OK.

Then I thank him, wish him well. Randy loads the cabinet from The Caswell-Runyan Co. of Huntington, Indiana, into the back of our van. Then we are on our way with a table that is now more than a piece of furniture. It is also a story of a veteran and a craftsman and a husband whose wife is battling cancer.

A label from The Caswell-Runyan Co. is inside the sewing cabinet lid.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling