Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Just another reason to appreciate Northfield, Minnesota August 6, 2019

On a corner along Division Street in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

 

WE ARRIVED IN NORTHFIELD to find the city abuzz. Or rather abuzz and resounding with the sound of music.

Randy swung the van into the first open parking spot, surprisingly just off Division Street and a short walk from Bridge Square, headquarters for the Vintage Band Festival. On this lovely August early evening, we headed toward the sound of music, rounded the corner by the post office and observed an audience packing the square and spilling onto the closed street. At that moment I wished for lawn chairs. These obvious seasoned fest attendees brought theirs. Without chairs, we settled onto the curb just a door down from the former First National Bank (now the Northfield Historical Society), site of the famous Jesse James-Cole Younger Gang bank raid. We listened to a few songs before deciding we couldn’t sit like this any longer. Maybe if we were younger…

 

Territorial Brass performs in Armory Square’s green space.

 

From there we aimed toward our destination, Reunion, a new restaurant in town. But first, we decided to check out another concert, this one in the Armory Square green space. Here, Arizona’s official historical brass band performed territorial period music. Territorial Brass band members, dressed in period attire, replicate the music of vintage brass bands in Arizona and New Mexico. And bonus, a vocal soloist, “Violet,” sang along with the instrumentalists. What a delight to hear the band, among some 40 performing during 100 concerts over the four-day Vintage Band Festival.

 

Soloist and band spokesperson, “Violet,” walked through the crowd while singing.

 

After listening for awhile, we left to dine at the new eatery. But, once inside Reunion, we learned the wait would be 45 minutes. I was disappointed, too hungry to wait. Had we known this, we would have reserved a dining spot earlier and awaited the text that our table was ready. Live and learn.

 

Among those listening to Territorial Brass.

 

Anyway, no matter, we appreciated the vintage music that added another reason to stop in Northfield on a beautiful Minnesota summer evening.

TELL ME: Have you ever attended Northfield’s Vintage Band Festival or a similar vintage band festival?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At a rural Minnesota flea market, a photo essay June 3, 2019

Flea markets often theme to location. At the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Swap Meet & Flea Market, you’ll find a lot of agricultural merchandise.

 

LONG BEFORE RECYCLING, upcycling and repurposing emerged in popularity, hand-me-downs existed. Clothing, furniture and more passed down from person to person. Especially among farm families. Ask my sister and she will tell you about my horrible fashion sense and how she had to wear the bad choices I made in clothing. She followed me in birth order.

 

 

Fast forward to today and I still appreciate previously-used items. I don’t need the latest fashion off the rack because I still don’t much care about fashion. Give me jeans and a t-shirt.

 

 

 

 

I prefer sturdy, well-crafted furniture to new. I like vintage drinking glasses, bowls, tablecloths, art… I prefer vintage stuff to new. I appreciate the craftsmanship, the novelty, the memories, the uniqueness.

 

 

For those reasons, I delight in flea markets, garage and yard sales, and thrift stores. I don’t shop them as often as I once did because I really don’t need more stuff. Even so, it’s fun to poke around.

 

 

 

 

To filter through the odd and practical merchandise. The memories.

 

Crafted by J & J Glass Art (Jeff & Jane Peterson) of Austin.

 

 

 

To appreciate the work of artisans.

 

 

 

 

 

To chat with the vendors.

 

 

Here in Minnesota, pop-up second-hand shops—the term seems fitting for all those garage and yard sales and flea markets—have launched for the season.

 

 

If you’ve never embraced second-hand, I’d suggest you reconsider. Maybe you’ll develop an affinity for this alternative shopping option. Or maybe you’ll decide you want nothing to do with the current trend.

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever your perspective, enjoy my photo essay of the spring Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Flea Market held in rural Dundas on Memorial Day weekend. Let this inspire you to think beyond new, to consider the value in previously-owned.

 

 

TELL ME: Do you shop second-hand? If yes, why and what treasures have you discovered?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Father’s Day love in memories & greeting cards June 15, 2018

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A greeting card from my sister and me to our dad, circa early 1960s.

 

AFTER MY DAD DIED 15 years ago, Father’s Day lost significant meaning to me personally. I had no dad to give a card to or to call.

 

The message inside the duck card, signed by our mom for her daughters.

 

I love giving and receiving greeting cards. But I’ve observed that fewer people send cards these days, choosing instead to text, email, call or simply ignore important personal days of loved ones. I noticed that with my birthday last fall. Birthday cards, especially from family, once stuffed my mailbox. No more.

 

The verse inside this card reads: “For being all that a Father could be/ Loving, gentle and good;/ For your patience and generosity/ In caring for your brood;/ For the happy glow of family love/ That other folks can see–/ Darling, for all of these and more/…A million thanks from me!” My mom signed the card, “Love, Arlene.”

 

Greeting cards, past and present, still hold a place of importance for me. I especially treasure the cards my mom saved through the decades. I have some of those, among them a handful of Father’s Day cards given to my dad.

 

Three of the four of us were old enough to sign this Father’s Day card to our dad. Two more siblings would be born after this.

 

I selected a few to share here because they hold a certain sweetness in messages, graphics and signatures. They are all vintage early 1960s.

 

Dad farmed, in the early years with a John Deere and Farmall and IH tractors and later with a Ford. (Photo by Lanae Kletscher Feser)

A photo of my dad, Elvern Kletscher, taken in 1980.

 

While I don’t have my dad anymore, I still have those greeting cards. And I hold memories of my farmer father who loved me and my five siblings deeply and taught us the value of faith, family and hard work. He wasn’t perfect—no one is. But he was a good man, an honest man, a man of the earth. And if I could, I’d send him a card today telling him how much I appreciated him and loved him.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

‘Tis prime secondhand shopping season in Minnesota May 25, 2018

Necklaces for sale at the May 19 Rice County Historical Society Flea Market, Faribault, Minnesota. I took all of the images in this post at the RCHS market.

 

MANY WOMEN LOVE to shop. I’m not one of them. Filtering through racks of clothing and then trying clothes on is far from my idea of fun. I shop out of necessity. Not for therapy or just because I want something new or for whatever other reason. I suppose if I had unlimited cash flow, I might feel differently. But probably not.

 

 

That said, I enjoy shopping at thrift stores, flea markets, and garage and yard sales. I appreciate vintage and unique and keeping rather than tossing.

 

 

 

 

Most of my original and print art—and I have a lot—comes from these second-hand sources. I’ve also sourced vintage glassware, dishes, tablecloths and more from other people’s junk. I use the word junk in a positive, not trashy, way.

 

 

 

May marks the beginning of secondhand sale season in Minnesota. I took in my first flea market last weekend at the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault. While I didn’t buy anything, I poked around and chatted it up with vendors, including one from Minneapolis. I invited him to visit our historic downtown, suggesting specific places to check out. “You should work for the tourism office,” he said. I told him I do through occasional freelance writing and photography.

 

 

 

 

I am often amazed at how little people still know about Faribault despite strong tourism promotion efforts. With downtown Minneapolis only an hour away to the north along Interstate 35, my community is ideally situated for a day trip into rural Minnesota. Any time I can encourage others to visit Faribault, I will.

 

 

 

 

This weekend presents another opportunity to check out this section of southeastern Minnesota at the 19th annual Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Swap Meet & Flea Market. That event runs from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the showgrounds along Minnesota State Highway 3 south of Dundas (which is south of Northfield, north of Faribault). There’s also a consignment auction at 9 a.m. Saturday and a tractor pull at 9 a.m. Sunday. I always find the flea market interesting, photo-worthy and simply a nice way to spend a few hours in a rural setting. Sometimes I find a treasure, sometimes not.

TELL ME: Do you shop flea markets, thrift stores and/or garage/yard sales? If yes, are you looking for something specific? Tell me about a treasure you bought at one of these secondhand sources.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An unexpected package from Santa December 6, 2017

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WHEN A SMALL PACKAGE arrived in my mailbox on Tuesday with a Merry Christmas! From: Santa Faribault, MN 55021 return address, I had no clue what I would find therein.

But, oh, the sweetness of this surprise moved me to tears at the thoughtfulness of the mysterious Santa who clearly read my recent post, “Passing a love of books onto the next generation.” In that post I reference a favorite childhood storybook, Three Billy Goats Gruff, and my regret at not purchasing a copy spotted at a Pequot Lakes antique shop.

 

 

That reader took my post to heart and sent me a vintage copy of Three Billy Goats Gruff. See why I’m thrilled with this unexpected gift. This individual gifted me with a book that I hold dear.

 

 

Now, rereading this story as an adult, I like it even more:

I’m not afraid,” said Little Billy. And up onto the bridge he ran—trip-trippety-trip!

 

 

This fairy tale of three billy goats attempting to cross a bridge under which a mean troll lives inspires bravery. The trio outwits the troll and gets safely to the other side and a hillside of lush grass. The empowering message of strength and courage proves as applicable for children as for adults.

 

 

As to the identity of Santa, I have only a few clues—the name NANCY ANN OLSON stamped inside and that Faribault postmark and return address. I don’t know any Nancy Olsons. The giver could be someone other than an Olson. Or it could be Nancy. I have no idea.

But to you, dear anonymous Santa reader, please know that your gift of Three Billy Goats Gruff touched me deeply. I am grateful for your kindness, which truly exemplifies the spirit of giving. Thank you. And Merry Christmas!

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The things you learn about Minnesota prisons while on the road October 25, 2017

 

ONCE UPON A TIME, beginning in the late 1870s, inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility, Stillwater, built agricultural equipment. Through the years they crafted threshing machines, hay rakes, barge wagons, manure spreaders and more.

 

 

This proved news to me. But Randy noted that as we followed a tractor pulling a gravity box along LeSueur County Road 13 on Sunday afternoon. He pegged the wagon as 1970s vintage prisoner made.

 

 

Online research confirmed Randy’s claim in articles published in Farm Collector magazine. According to those stories, prisoners built ag equipment until 2006.

 

 

Today inmates within Minnesota’s correctional system—including right here in my community of Faribault—produce products through the prison system’s MINNCOR Industries. Those range from residential and office furniture to clothing to printed materials to cabinetry and more.

 

Prisoner made furniture at Buckham Memorial Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2017.

 

When I visit my local library, I can sit on inmate built easy chairs or loveseats, some upholstered in knock-knock joke fabric with this favorite prisoner joke:

How do prisoners make phone calls?

With cell phones.

 

 

Much has changed since the days of building manure spreaders…and gravity boxes

 

 

as time passes in the rearview mirror of prison life.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet as Strawberry Shortcake October 23, 2017

I love this image of my granddaughter looking out the front door of my home. I love the light, the mood, the sweetness, the perspective.

 

FOR PROBABLY A DOZEN YEARS or more, the homemade child’s dress hung in an upstairs bedroom closet. I’d purchased it at a garage sale with intentions of some day giving the Strawberry Shortcake print dress to my eldest niece. The dress would be the perfect nostalgic gift for Tara, born a year after the popular doll line debuted. She loved all things Strawberry Shortcake. I imagined how she would delight in receiving the dress for her newborn daughter.

 

Grandma needed a portrait of Isabelle in her vintage Strawberry Shortcake dress.

 

But as life goes, Tara birthed a boy just over a year ago. So, by default, the long-held dress went to my granddaughter, Isabelle. On an early September visit, Izzy showed up in her Strawberry Shortcake dress, much to my joy.

 

 

 

That dress, stitched so lovingly with rick rack trim and accented with mini heart buttons nearly 40 years ago by an unknown seamstress, fit the then 17-month-old perfectly.

 

 

She looked adorable.

 

 

I’m not sure her mom shared the same enthusiasm for the garment as I did. But my eldest made me a happy grandma by slipping this sweet dress onto her daughter for an afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

I captured the exact moment Izzy discovered that the recliner rocked. She threw her head and arms back in exuberance.

 

Izzy paged through books, played with blocks, blew bubbles, splashed in water, rocked in the recliner and more, moving at the speed only toddlers can move. And she managed all in that vintage dress, the unintended dress now perfectly hers.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling