Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Looking out for the Girl Scouts in frigid Fargo March 15, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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SHOULD WALMART ALLOW Girl Scouts inside their stores to sell cookies?

A West Fargo, N.D., man thinks the retail giant should show a little compassion and do exactly that, according to an article published Thursday in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

The sign posted in front of the West Fargo Walmart on Sunday morning.

The entry to the West Fargo Walmart, photographed on a Sunday morning in November 2012.

John Kraft raised his concerns in a newspaper ad after observing local Girl Scouts selling cookies outside of Walmart in temps that dipped near double-digits below zero with an equally brutal windchill.

A view of the 300 block on North Broadway, including signage for the Fargo Theatre, built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre. The theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a venue for independent and foreign films, concerts, plays and more.

Downtown Fargo. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Believe me, the wind whips across the flat terrain of Fargo. In all seasons.

Last February I received this text from my 19-year-old son, a then student at North Dakota State University: This cheap Walmart hat stands zero chance against the Fargo wind. He proceeded to order a surplus Russian military cap online. His observation seems especially fitting in the current context of the Girl Scouts-Walmart controversy.

Randy snapped this photo of me upon our return home from ringing bells. One donor suggested we receive "hazard pay" for ringing on such a bitterly cold day. There's no pay; this is a volunteer opportunity.

Me, dressed to ring bells for the Salvation Army.

Several months ago, I stood outside the Faribault Walmart, ringing bells for two hours for the Salvation Army in zero degree temps. Layered in a flannel shirt, jeans, insulated coveralls and a sweatshirt with my feet tucked inside wool socks in insulated boots and my hands shoved inside fleece-lined mittens, I still shivered. So I understand the Girl Scouts’ situation. They reportedly sold cookies for six hours in the frigid cold, four hours longer than my volunteer stint.

I managed the cold by staying in constant motion and occasionally stepping inside Walmart to warm my hands under the bathroom hand dryer.

Like John Kraft in West Fargo, I wondered why my husband and I and the other volunteers ringing bells on that cold cold Minnesota day could not at least stand inside the Walmart vestibule. Company policy, we were advised. Company policy.

It seems to me that sometimes common sense should prevail over policy.


Girls and their moms peddled Girl Scout cookies in Courtland.

In March 2011, I photographed these Girl Scouts selling cookies from a truck along U.S. Highway 14 in Courtland, Minnesota. Temps hovered around 30 degrees that afternoon. Girl Scouts seem determined to sell cookies, no matter the weather.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


What I’ve learned about shoplifters November 29, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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VanillaI’VE HAD SOME EXPERIENCE with shoplifting. Not that I ever shoplifted. But some 30 years ago, when I worked at a local grocery store, a customer stole a bottle of vanilla as she passed through my check out lane.

The manager directed me and the suspect to the office to wait for the police. There I had to pat down the woman, a duty which to this day did not seem mine to perform. Today I would refuse to do so.

That initial encounter, though, erased any preconceived stereotype of shoplifters. This was an ordinary looking young woman, not someone who appeared down and out and in desperate need of stuffing vanilla, of all things, under her shirt. She could have been your sister.

Not long after, another customer tried to steal groceries via distraction. She engaged me in friendly conversation while I punched the prices of food, pulled from her cart, into the cash register. (This was in the days before bar codes.) “Pulled from her cart” are the key words here. She purposely failed to place the merchandise stashed under her cart onto the conveyor belt. The store manager, or maybe it was the security guy, noticed. Busted.

I learned two more key lessons about shoplifters. Always check under the grocery cart. And don’t be fooled by a friendly customer.

Fast forward three decades. My husband and I are shopping at Walmart in Faribault for, among other items, charcoal filters. When Randy finally locates the right number to match our room air purifier, he opens the box to assure the proper fit.

But there is no four-pack of filters inside. Rather, Randy finds two hard plastic shells in the shape of pliers. Except the pliers are missing. And so are the filters.

Who does this anyway?

And how did the thief manage to open that hard-as-steel clear plastic packaging right there in the aisle of Walmart without getting caught? Wedging open those molded casings is no easy feat, even in the comfort of your home.

I felt it my duty to report the theft to an associate in the hardware and paint department. He expressed no surprise at the method of stealing. “Happens all the time,” he said.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Have you had any experience with shoplifters or shoplifted merchandise?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


If she only had a Rolex November 5, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:32 AM
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DID YOU HEAR about the St. Paul car dealership owner who was robbed this week of $5,000 in cash and a $20,000 Rolex watch?

Two men posing as would-be customers attacked the owner of Brothers Auto Sales after he accompanied them off-grounds to view a trade-in. The whole thing was a set-up. The duo punched, kicked, tackled and maced the auto dealer while stealing his wallet and watch.

Sadly, reports like this really don’t surprise me any more.

But what surprises me about this crime is the value of the watch. A $20,000 watch? You’ve got to be kidding, right? I had no idea, none, nada, that a Rolex costs that much.

Who has that kind of money to spend on a watch?

Of course, these comments are coming from someone who buys her watch at Walmart. Even if I could afford a Rolex, which I clearly can’t, why would I need a time-piece that costs thousands and thousands of dollars when I can get a working watch for under $20? Both keep time, although I’m certain my discount store watch is not nearly as fashionable as a Rolex.



My Walmart watch photographs just like a Rolex in this unedited image.


My comments are not meant, in any way, to diminish the crime or the harm inflicted upon the victim.

But this whole $20,000 watch thing really bothers me, especially since just hours earlier my 22-year-old daughter and I were discussing repayment of her college loans, all $20,000.

Gee, if only she had a Rolex to pawn.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


My not-so-royal shopping experience June 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:11 AM
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DID YOU REALIZE that Walmart has a wedding department? I didn’t…until last night.

While my husband shops for weed killer, I am several aisles away browsing the mish mash of merchandise in the bargain aisle. I am prowling for items that will make suitable game prizes for a family reunion. (Bear with me here; I’m getting to that matrimonial merchandise.) Think humorous here, not necessarily wonderful, prizes.

I finger placemats, examine drinking glasses, grab a small bag of plastic compasses. “Do you think these really work?” I ask my husband, who by this time has found the weed killer, walked half way across the store for an ink cartridge and returned to the discount section.

“Well, if there weren’t so many, I could probably tell,” he says, flipping the compass package in his palm. He tosses the bag back onto the shelf.

I can see he’s getting a bit impatient with me, although I explain that my shopping was stalled by my visit with friends Michelle and Eric, who are also scanning this section.

Half-way down the aisle, I spot a jeweled tiara. I pick up the crown which, except for a tiny, missing center “diamond,” will make the perfect pretty prize for the woman who brings the most beautiful bridesmaid’s dress to the reunion.

We’re going with a wedding theme at the family gathering. Long story on that, but suffice to say that we are celebrating the 20th wedding anniversary of my cousin Jeff and his fictional northwoods bride, Janet. Jeff’s “marriage,” primarily the announcement of said event on April Fool’s Day 1990, is the stuff of family legends. But I digress.

This hefty tiara, which is no cheaply-made, plastic version for some princess’ birthday party, seems quite appropriate for the planned theme. But, as delighted as I am with this find, I encounter one problem. The tiara is unmarked—no bar code, no discount price sticker, no nothing—and there are no other crowns on the shelves.

This spells Cinderella-type trouble. I know that upon reaching the cash register, I will have to wait and wait and wait until someone does a price check. If I’m lucky, that someone will not possess the personality of a wicked step sister.

I am not lucky.

“Did you get this in the wedding department?” asks the clipboard-carrying supervisor who has taken her sweet old time responding to the cashier’s call for assistance.

“Uh, no, I got it in the bargain aisle. I didn’t know you have a wedding section,” I reply.

“Did you know it’s missing a jewel?” she asks, seeming hopeful that I will vanish.

“Yeah, but I don’t care,” I say. “I want it.”

“Were there any others back there like this?” she questions.

I want to say, but don’t, “How stupid do you think I am?” Rather I simply reply, “No.”

Behind me, the line of customers grows. “You might want to go to another check-out lane,” I tell the woman behind me. “This could take awhile.”

“That’s OK. I’m waiting for my husband,” she smiles.

Beside me, my husband fidgets. “Let’s just go,” he states, his voice edged with impatience. He’s not smiling.

“No, I really want this. Don’t be so crabby,” I say, foregoing an explanation of why I need this tiara. He’s tired and not in the mood for an explanation.

My fear now is that the treasured crown, since it originated in the wedding department, will cost more than I am willing to pay.

“Can’t I just have it for a dollar?” I ask the clipboard-carrying supervisor.

“I can’t do that,” she glares.

OK then, sorry I asked, I think to myself.

Eventually, she gives me a price of $3.50. It’s more than I want to pay. But since I’ve made my husband and all those Walmart customers wait, I buy the tiara.

Just for good measure, when we arrive home, I place the crown upon my head and wave a slow, lazy princess wave, first with my right arm and then with my left, turning from side to side as if greeting my subjects.

“I’m Miss Vesta,” I say, referring to my hometown, site of the upcoming family reunion.

“You don’t live in Vesta any more,” my husband notes.

He’s right. But for one night, this night, I deserve this moment. I have, after all, overcome so many obstacles to acquire this crown.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling