Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Picnicking in the park on a perfect May evening in Minnesota May 19, 2020

From our riverside picnic table in North Alexander Park, a view of the Cannon River last Friday evening.

 

WHAT A GIFT, THIS BEAUTIFUL Friday evening in May in southern Minnesota. The entire day, our 38th wedding anniversary, proved one of the best anniversary celebrations ever. Even in COVID-19.

 

Kayaking in the Cannon River, Faribault.

 

Randy and I took the day off work and spent it together. Outdoors. In the sunshine. In the warmth. In nature. I needed this. The quiet. The surrounding myself with nature. No news. Thoughts focused on the joy of May 15.

 

Another couple brought pizza to the park for a picnic.

 

We ended our anniversary celebration with smoked bbq pork dinners picked up curbside from The Depot Bar and Grill, a favorite Faribault restaurant. Ribs for Randy, pulled pork for me. Sides of mixed baked beans, coleslaw and a bun. And extra orders of fries and onion rings. Too much food, but absolutely delicious.

 

A mallard swims the Cannon in the golden hour before sunset.

 

We enjoyed our meals along the banks of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park, the evening sun glowing golden upon the water, across the landscape.

 

Part of a kayaking trio.

 

Others picnicked, too, fished, kayaked. All delighting in the outdoors and the calm that brings especially during a global pandemic.

 

Pausing to watch a family of ducks pass by on the Cannon River.

 

Ducklings trailed their mama across the river while the kayakers paused to appreciate the family. As did we.

 

Orange fences surrounding playground equipment and park shelters are gone, opening both up to public use.

 

Across the park, youngsters played on the re-opened playground.

 

I’ve noticed more hammocks in public places.

 

And a person and dog relaxed in a hammock suspended between trees.

 

Lilacs are beginning to open.

 

After dinner, we walked for a bit, stopping to breathe in the scent of lilacs perfuming the air. Randy clipped a few sprigs for me and carried them back to the van. Days later, those lilacs droop in a vase. But I hesitate to toss them, a sensory reminder of a lovely day in May when we celebrated 38 years of marriage.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections after 38 years of marriage May 15, 2020

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My husband, Randy, and I exit St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta following our May 15, 1982, wedding. Photo by William’s Studio, Redwood Falls.

 

TODAY RANDY AND I CELEBRATE our 38th wedding anniversary. He is taking the day off from his job as an automotive machinist. It’s a much-needed break in this, his especially busy season. COVID-19 or not, vehicles, tractors, recreational toys and more still need repair. And rare are the specialists like Randy who do this type of work anymore. It’s labor intensive, demanding and requires knowledge that comes from decades of experience.

But I digress. Today is our anniversary, a day to reflect on our marriage and each other, not on a global pandemic and work.

 

MAY 15, 1982

Thirty-eight years ago, I married Randy in my small southwestern Minnesota home church, surrounded by family and friends. The ceremony included singing of my favorite hymn, “Beautiful Savior,” by the congregation and a solo of “O, Perfect Love” by a friend. The selected scripture reading was Genesis 2:22-24. There are no recordings of our wedding service, only still photos and a worship service bulletin. And memories.

 

The Vesta Hall, a community gathering place in my hometown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

After the ceremony at St. John’s Lutheran, we gathered at the Vesta Community Hall a few blocks away for a meal catered by HyVee, followed by socializing and then a dance, with a live band. There was nothing fancy about any of this. Strips of twisted crepe paper and vases of single carnations decorated long tables. My cousins waited on guests, green and yellow gingham cotton aprons, stitched by me, protecting their dresses. Diners sat on metal folding chairs pulled up to uncovered tables.

Randy and I toasted with green punch my mom prepared. Randy still reminds me of the putrid hue. Hey, our colors were green and yellow. Not John Deere shades, though. We posed for photos with our three-layered wedding cake with my husband insisting we not smash cake into each other’s faces. I’m thankful for that request. Smart guy.

Afterward, we danced across the worn wooden floor, twirling and linking arms and enjoying the evening with family and friends. I kicked off the ballet style shoes that pinched my toes. Around midnight we left for the short drive to nearby Marshall and a hotel room that reeked of cigar smoke. Funny how you remember details like that.

 

MAY 15, 2020

Fast forward to today. It seems unfathomable that 38 years have passed since our May 15, 1982, wedding. Three kids and two grandkids later, here we are, much older, much more seasoned in life. When I think on all that’s transpired in nearly four decades, I feel especially thankful for Randy. He remains the calm and steady man I married, a good balance for me.

 

Me, next to my poem, River Stories, posted along the River Walk in Mankato as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Photo by Randy Helbling, November 2019.

 

Together we have grieved the loss of parents and other loved ones, dealt with family crisis, faced health issues, raised a family, found joy in the simple things in life, been there for one another. When he married me 38 years ago, I doubt Randy ever envisioned attending poetry readings. But he has, many times, supporting me in my writing. That says a lot for a guy who likely never cracked open a poetry book before marrying a writer. I appreciate, too, that Randy supports my photography, sometimes even pointing out photo ops I miss.

We both enjoy country drives, small towns, craft breweries, summer concerts in the park, church dinners, time with our grown children and now, especially, our sweet grandchildren. I’ve learned to like car shows, but not for the same reasons as Randy. While he’s looking under hoods, I’m looking at hood ornaments, appreciating the artistic aspect of vintage vehicles. He enjoys reading historical non-fiction. I prefer fiction. He does Sudoku. I tried once, but failed miserably. Our interests are similar, yet separate.

 

Randy grills nearly every weekend year-round. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I appreciate Randy’s many talents, from his grilling skills (and, yes, he even grills veggies like Brussels sprouts and broccoli for me) to his ability to fix almost any mechanical issue with our vehicles to his compassion in “leading” Sunday morning video church services at a local nursing home (pre-COVID).

My love for Randy remains as strong as 38 years ago. Changed, yes. But not at its core. We have done life together. Celebrated good times and, together, managed many difficult times. He has been there for me and I for him. For 38 years. And for that I am grateful.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Heartbroken on May 14 May 14, 2020

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Aunt Sue and Uncle John

SHE IS STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL, the young woman in the long-sleeved simple white dress with eight decorative buttons and a corsage accenting the bodice. Her thick black hair is pulled back in a pony tail held in place by a white ribbon and a sprig of flowers. Next to her stands a tall, lean man dressed in suit and tie, a single carnation pinned to his lapel.

On May 14, 1968, this couple—my Aunt Sue and Uncle John—married. Today would have been their 52nd wedding anniversary. Except Sue died last week of pancreatic cancer. Although we all understood that Sue’s cancer, diagnosed some six months ago, was terminal, her death is still difficult to accept. Her husband of nearly 52 years is heartbroken.

That heartbreak has been compounded by COVID-19. For the week Sue was hospitalized prior to her May 8 death, John could not visit her. Until the end—the day prior and the day of. And now he and his grown children and their families are left to grieve alone. The usual ways in which we comfort and support one another have vanished. You know that if you’ve lost a loved one during this global pandemic.

I wish I could be there for my uncle and cousins, to hold them close and tell them how deeply sorry I am for the loss of their wife and mother, my aunt. Instead phone calls, texts, emails, cards and flowers must suffice…until we can gather at some time to honor Aunt Sue.

She was such an incredibly beautiful woman. And also outgoing and engaging. When John and Sue would drive from Minneapolis to rural southwestern Minnesota with their two kids for family gatherings, Sue was right in the thick of conversation and always eager to play board games. During those games, we threatened to use a timer because she often took too long taking her turn. At Christmas one year, I nearly convinced her that I sharpened a candy cane with a pencil sharpener. Laughter filled the farmhouse and Sue laughed right along.

Sue loved her kids and grandkids, cats and good Italian food and life. And she loved my uncle.

Today I will call Uncle John, to offer my support, but mostly to listen. Maybe he will tell me about the beautiful young woman with the thick dark bangs and her hair pulled back. The lovely bride in the above-the-knee simple white wedding dress and his wife of not-quite 52 years.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

To have and to hold, 36 years later May 15, 2018

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Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982

 

I FLIP THROUGH THE PAGES of the photo album looking at the faces. Young. Smiling. Happy.

Thirty-six years have passed since those formal portraits were taken on my wedding day. It seems so long ago, 1982. We were just 25 then, Randy and I. But as anyone who’s now in their sixties knows, time has a way of flying. It’s not just a saying. It’s the truth.

 

A selfie of Randy and me taken in September 2017 at the walleye statue along Mille Lacs Lake in Garrison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Tomorrow soon becomes yesterday and all of a sudden you aren’t that newlywed on the cusp of life but rather that married nearly four decades couple entering the golden years of life.

I would be lying if I said married life is fairy tale perfect. Maybe in the fantasy world of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. But not in real life. We’ve faced many challenges from health to personal and family issues to injuries and accidents and deaths of loved ones. We’ve managed tight budgets and long hours of hard work and even survived many home improvement projects. And we’ve come through on the other side stronger, more appreciative of each other and maybe even better people for having endured difficulties.

Recently, Randy informed me he’s a legend. I laughed, said I would need to treat him with a higher respect. He’d been dubbed a “legend” by a customer referred to my automotive machinist husband as an expert in his field. He is. Randy is really really smart about all things automotive. And with something like 40 years of experience, he rates as a legend. I don’t know what his customers will do when he retires in a few years. I don’t care, frankly.

A favorite photo of my husband holding our then 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

Life isn’t all about work. It’s about finding time for each other and those you love. And those we love has now expanded to include our two-year-old granddaughter. I love watching my husband in his relatively new role as Grandpa to Isabelle. There’s such sweetness and tenderness in the moments they share whether reading a book or crawling around on the floor pulling Brio trains.

Thirty-six years ago I didn’t see beyond the front of the church and the face of my groom on our wedding day. I saw only the man I loved. And still love, all these decades later.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on 35 years of marriage May 15, 2017

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This photo is from my files, taken at a 50th wedding anniversary celebration several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

HOW DO YOU DEFINE 35 years of marriage?

 

My husband, Randy, and I exit St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta following our May 15, 1982, wedding.

 

Today Randy and I mark that numeric anniversary. Maybe we’ll go out for dinner. Either this evening or another evening. I prefer not to cook on special occasions.

Mostly, we’ll be content just to be with one another, finding comfort in simply being in the same space. The fireworks of early love have settled into a loving relationship that has endured and grown stronger through shared experiences. Some joyful, others difficult. Life can be challenging, but it’s easier when faced with a loving and supportive partner.

 

Son-in-law Marc, left, daughters Amber and Miranda, and son, Caleb, taken several summers ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

We’ve mourned the loss of parents, rejoiced in the births of children and now a granddaughter. Together.

 

Grandfather and granddaughter. This is my favorite picture of Randy with Isabelle, taken shortly after her birth in April 2016.  When it comes to Izzy, Randy is an open book of emotions in his love for her. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Randy matches my often emotional reaction to situations with a balanced calm. And I sometimes push him to examine and express his emotions. When I am too serious, he makes me laugh. I’ve mostly always appreciated his humor.

 

My husband at work in the automotive machine shop where he is employed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I appreciate, too, his strong work ethic. But I’m thankful he’s finally stopped working six days a week. We both realize time is fleeting and long work days are not worth missing out on life. Looking back on our years of early home ownership and parenting, I wish we’d been less focused on getting projects done around the house. So, yes, there are regrets.

But we’ve learned. We’ve learned that the work can wait. If the lawn needs mowing but we’d rather take a Sunday afternoon drive into the country or to some small Minnesota town, we’ll go. We share a passion for discovering the nuances of places during day trips.

 

My son and I pose atop the Tisch Library at Tufts University with the Boston skyline as a backdrop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

Last spring we drove from Minnesota to Boston and back for our son’s college graduation. And survived. Only once, while lost in a seedy part of Buffalo, New York, did I demand to return home. Randy calmed me, assured me that he would find our way out of the mess. He did. We joke about my inability to read a road map and to hold a sense of direction in any place but the familiarity of the gridded prairie.

I am especially grateful to Randy for his continuing support of my creative work. He’s been to more poetry readings than he ever imagined. And he never complains. That’s something for a hardworking blue collar man with permanent grease rimming his fingernails and stamping the creases of his hands. He’s learned that poetry is more than roses are red, violets are blue. Poetry is what his wife writes (even about him; click here).

 

Lilacs, up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Occasionally Randy brings me flowers for no reason other than he realizes I need them. Each spring he gathers a bouquet of lilacs for me. I love that about him, that unexpected gesture of love.

 

My husband grilling in our snowless and warm backyard on Christmas Day. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And I love how nearly every single weekend—yes, even in winter—he fires up the Weber to grill tasty meals.

 

Randy prepares brunch nearly every Sunday after we attend worship services together.

 

He also prepares an incredible Sunday brunch of made-to-order omelets and hash browns with fresh fruit on the side. On Friday evenings he slices the homemade pizza I make and pours our mugs of craft beers. He knows I like IPAs.

 

Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982

 

He also knows my preference for a house that’s comfortably cool. If we disagree about one thing, it’s room temperature. I’m dialing back the heat while he’s notching up the temp. That ongoing dispute seems trivial and laughable now that I’m writing it here.

 

Audrey and Randy in 2015. Rare are the photos of us. That needs to change. This was photographed outside Vang Lutheran Church by a woman at the church following an impromptu stop there. We love touring country churches.

 

When Randy falls asleep in his recliner on a weekend afternoon with NASCAR races droning in the background, I let him be. I immerse myself in a book, ignore the roar of race cars and consider how blessed I am to love, and to be loved, by this man. For more than 35 years.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts after 34 years of marriage May 15, 2016

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Wedding guests toss rice at Randy and me as we exit St. John's Lutheran Church following our May 15, 1982, wedding.

Wedding guests toss rice at Randy and me as we exit St. John’s Lutheran Church following our May 15, 1982, wedding. That’s my mom in the pinkish dress standing next to my bachelor uncle Mike. My paternal grandma, in the red scarf and blue coat, is just behind me. That’s my sister Lanae, my maid of honor, in the long green dress. I love this photo. It captures a moment and portraits of loved ones, some no longer with us.

THIRTY-FOUR YEARS AGO TODAY, I married the man I love.

Our wedding day began with drizzle and clouds. But by the time of the reception and dance, skies cleared to a beautiful May evening in rural southwestern Minnesota. Family and friends celebrated with us in the Vesta Community Hall, where veterans’ uniforms hang in cases along walls. We polkaed and waltzed and bunny hopped and swung across the worn wood dance floor. I kicked off my toe-pinching ballet flats to dance barefoot.

There was nothing fancy about our wedding or the reception. Crepe paper strips running down tables and single carnations in vases. A meal catered by HyVee. Gingham aprons, stitched by me, for the waitresses. Green punch prepared by my mom. To this day, Randy remembers the not-so-appealing hue of that punch.

There are memories, too, of the trickster brother-in-law who let air out of our truck tires, necessitating a drive several blocks west to my Uncle Harold’s gas station.

While some of the memories have faded, others have not. Nor has our love. I love my husband as much today as the day I married him.

Admittedly, it’s a different kind of love, one shaped by years together, by a shared history, by the comfort that comes from being with someone for this long. Our experiences—good and bad—have made us stronger as a couple. Life isn’t always easy. But it’s easier with a loving partner beside you.

Randy isn’t the most demonstrative man. It’s just not in his nature or his genes. But he’s always been here for me and our three children, now grown.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the little things he does for me, which aren’t really little things. Every Sunday he prepares brunch. And nearly every weekend, even in the winter, he grills. I appreciate the break from cooking.

Occasionally, he buys me flowers for no reason other than he knows I need them. Each spring he brings me a bouquet of lilacs cut with a jackknife pulled from his pocket.

He works hard, sometimes too hard. I was grateful when he stopped working Saturdays a few years ago.

On Sunday mornings, he’ll sometimes slide his arm across the back of the church pew, his fingers lingering on my left shoulder. I feel so loved by that simple gesture, by having this man beside me as we worship.

Randy has also accompanied me to many poetry readings, supporting me in this writing venture. He’s a grease rimming his fingernails hard-working automotive machinist, certainly not the type you would envision ever listening to his wife read poetry. But he does, because he loves me.

I am blessed.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: My husband May 15, 2015

Portraits #21-23: Randy

Randy relaxes at a family gathering in 2012.

Randy relaxes at a family gathering in 2012.

Thirty-three years ago today, I married this man. Randy.

We have been through a lot together. Good times and challenging ones. Laughter and sorrow. Days that have tested our strength and days we want to remember always for their joyfulness. This is life.

I am immeasurably blessed to journey through my days with Randy beside me. He makes me laugh, even when I don’t feel like laughing. Occasionally he’ll clip a fitting cartoon and post it on the refrigerator. And when I notice it, I smile, because he thought of me.

Each spring he pulls a jackknife from his pocket and snips an armful of lilacs to set on our dining room table. That bouquet holds more meaning than a dozen roses.

Modeling a vintage straw cowboy hat, like those we wore as children, in a North Mankato antique shop several years ago.

Modeling a vintage straw cowboy hat, like those we wore as children, in a North Mankato antique shop several years ago.

He is light-hearted to my serious nature, calm to my storm, even-keeled to my sometimes emotional reactions. A balance. Not always perfect, because we are human, but a difference in personalities that works for us.

He works hard. Grease rims his fingernails from his job as an automotive machinist. His work is always in demand. He is good at what he does. Really good. I tell him he works too hard. Last summer he cut back on the overtime and no longer works Saturdays. I am thankful. He deserves more than one day a week off from work.

Randy obliges my request to pose with a sculpture in a Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, park we toured while vacationing.

Randy obliges my request to pose with a sculpture in a Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, park we toured while vacationing.

Because of him, I’ve learned to appreciate vintage cars and, because of me, he’s learned to appreciate poetry. He is my greatest cheerleader, encouraging me in my writing and photography and even recently telling me he had an idea for a poem. “Roadkill,” he said. And then we laughed.

To laugh with this man, to worship and pray with this man, to remember all the Sunday afternoons Randy sprawled on the living room floor reading comics to our children or playing Monopoly with them reminds me all over again of why I love him.

He is quiet and caring and strong and loyal. A man of faith. And I love him. Always.

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This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling