Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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.


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

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An April Fool’s legend from the Minnesota northwoods April 1, 2015

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THIS MORNING MY SISTER EMAILED, advising me to get outside ASAP because the cows were out.

I typed a hurried response: “But the bus is coming. And your toast is burning!”

Neither Lanae or I live on farms any more. So what was going on?

Lanae, unlike me, remembered today is April Fool’s Day. And those three falsehoods were the lame jokes we tried to pull on our siblings every April 1 while growing up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm.

With the help of enthusiastic preteens, we decorated the park shelter and a screened tent with bells and crepe paper in honor of Jeff and Janet's 20th wedding anniversary.

In July 2010, the annual Kletscher family reunion was themed to celebrate Jeff and Janet’s 20th wedding anniversary. We decorated for the anniversary, ate anniversary cake, showered Jeff (and the absent Janet) with gifts and held a bridesmaid dress judging contest. Some of the dresses were modeled by attendees. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

Those pranks are mere child’s play compared to the joke my cousin Jeff, who celebrates his 25th wedding anniversary today, pulled off on his unsuspecting parents in 1990. He mailed an announcement of his marriage to Janet at the St. Louis County Courthouse. It was a private affair with only Janet’s daughters, Heidi and Amber, attending.

As the story goes, my Uncle Harold paled upon reading the news. And Aunt Marilyn, in shock, picked up the phone and dialed her daughter, who knew nothing of Janet. Marilyn, already formulating a wedding reception in her mind, called the northern Minnesota school where Jeff taught math. Jeff was summoned to the principal’s office.

When he was finally able to calm down his stunned mother, he advised her to look at the back of the card. There he had typed: rehcstelk ffej morf gniteerg sloof lirpa na.

Backwards, the words revealed: an april fools greeting from jeff kletscher.

There was no northwoods bride, no marriage, not even a girlfriend.

He had just created the stuff of family lore and legend.

My cousin Dawn, with the help of daughter Megan, made two beautiful anniversary cakes for her brother. My Uncle Wally and Aunt Janice made and decorated the less attractive cake with the beanie baby bears.

Cakes served at Jeff and Janet’s 20th wedding anniversary celebration in 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

After receiving my sister’s email this morning, I emailed my bachelor cousin to wish him and Janet a happy anniversary and inquired as to how many years they had been married.

“Twenty-five wonderful years!!!,” Jeff enthused. “I believe we made silver.”

The cake topper from Jeanne and Arnie's wedding with golden anniversary wishes 50 years later.

This wedding cake topper was displayed at a recent golden wedding anniversary. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

No, Jeff, I believe you made gold.


FYI: Click here to read my blog post about the 2010 Kletscher family reunion where we celebrated Jeff and Janet’s 20th anniversary.

Can you top this April Fool’s prank?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Love’s memory May 17, 2014

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Bouquet 1

CERTAINLY HE DIDN’T RECOGNIZE the significance of his choice—yellow and orange sweetheart roses in a vase tied with a yellow gingham ribbon.

Even I didn’t realize until the day after how the color choice and the ribbon transcended time. Men don’t often notice these details. And I nearly missed them in the bouquet he gave me.

On May 15, 1982, yellow sweetheart roses and babies breath ringed my short-cropped hair on our wedding day.

Bouquet, roses close-up

On Thursday, our 32nd wedding anniversary, my husband gave me a bouquet of yellow and orange sweetheart roses accented with babies breath.

Yellow roses were my bridal day flower of choice, along with daisies.

Bouquet, yellow gingham ribbon

I also stitched yellow and white checked aprons for my cousins who waited on tables at our wedding reception.

Bouquet, orange roses

It took me an entire day to connect the past to the present. And when I did, I leaned in and breathed even more deeply the fragrance of love’s memory.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thirty years together May 15, 2012

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Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982. We were so young then, only 25 1/2.

THUMBING THROUGH THE PAGES of our wedding album, I can barely believe that 30 years have passed since my husband and I exchanged vows on May 15, 1982.

Where did the past three decades go?

And who are those kids in over-sized glasses with more hair (him) and shorter hair (me) and both pounds lighter?

Could that possibly be us, newlyweds on the cusp of married life, grinning with the exuberance of young love?

That is, indeed, us.

Together then.

Together now.

Friends asked me Saturday night for tips to a lasting marriage. The question caught me by surprise and I simply told them they didn’t need my advice because they are doing well on their own.

Later, though, I considered how we’ve kept our marriage going strong for 30 years. For Randy and me, the fact that we were just friends before we even began dating set the tone for our relationship.

Friendship and trust. Shared values and a shared faith in God. All have been integral in our marriage.

Many times I think, too, that the similarities in our childhoods—both from farm families with little money—have curbed disagreements over finances. We live a simple, basic life and are content with what we have.

Yet, the differences between us have also benefited our marriage. Randy possesses a quirky sense of humor. He makes me laugh, lightens the moment, causes me to smile when I’d rather not. Without him, life would simply be less fun.

I am the serious one. I can organize and focus and keep everyone on task.

But I can’t handle medical situations. Our three kids have always known that they should go to Dad, not Mom, with any health issues. Need a sliver pulled? Take the tweezers to Dad. Wonder if that cut needs stitches? Consult Dad.

And when I faced health issues—a severe, three-month case of whooping cough in 2005, surgery four years ago to replace my arthritic right hip and most recently the sudden loss of hearing in my right ear—my husband was right there. I could not have managed without him. He took seriously those vows, “in sickness and in health.”

He’s also good with numbers and excels as an automotive machinist. (Get in line if you want him to work on your car or truck or van or tractor or…) This man of mine is a hard worker and has always kept his family sheltered, clothed and fed. For that I am grateful.

I’m also grateful for his strong support of my writing and photography.

For 30 years we’ve had this balance, this give and take, this relying on each other (and God) and tapping into our strengths to make our marriage work.

And, yes, most assuredly that love quotient remains, as strong, if not stronger, than 30 years ago.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling