Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Honoring my husband as he marks 30 years with the same employer October 12, 2013

5:48 a.m.

The numbers on the clock radio glow red in the early dark of an October morning as he leans across the pillow to kiss my cheek, his beard brushing my skin.

Only minutes earlier, I awakened to the angular slant of light from the bathroom cutting across the carpet outside our bedroom, the rush of water from the faucet, the jingle of coins scooped from the dresser top into his work uniform pocket.

In minutes, after he’s laced his grimy Red Wing work shoes, I will hear the door shut, imagine him pulling the rag rug into place that protects the 1995 Chrysler upholstery from grease, picture him heading out of Faribault for the 22-minute commute to work.

For 30 years he’s followed this routine, although not always leaving the house before 6 a.m. But he is busy, crazy busy, in the NAPA automotive machine shop. This is nothing new; it’s been this way for three decades.

My husband at work in the automotive machine shop where he is employed.

My husband at work in the NAPA automotive machine shop where he has worked for 30 years. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

He, my husband Randy, possesses a strong work ethic that drives him to work well before the appointed 8 a.m. start and to leave well after the appointed 5 p.m. end of his work day and to labor most Saturdays. When he takes a rare week day off—from only 10 annual vacation days—he is stressed even more trying to meet customer demands.

Every time he takes a vacation day, and those are seldom and never more than five at a time unless combined with a holiday, he must labor doubly hard. Long days before he leaves. Long days afterward. Often it hardly seems worth the time away.

Just one example of all the work that awaits my husband in the NAPA automotive machine shop.

Just one example of all the work that awaits my husband in the NAPA automotive machine shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But Randy sometimes needs a break from pressing customers and the pile of work that never diminishes. His skills—the turning of brake rotors, the resurfacing of heads, the grinding of valves and flywheels and a multitude of other automotive machining tasks I don’t understand—is in high demand. Few do what he does and he’s good at it. Probably the best in southeastern Minnesota as evidenced by his wide regional customer base and the endless work load.

Everyone wants their car, their truck, their SUV, their van, their tractor, their combine, their snowblower, their lawnmower, their recreational vehicles, their whatever, repaired first.

In 2008, Randy was recognized by his employer for 25 years of service to Parts Department, Inc., Northfield. Randy received a plaque, dinner out and a drill.

In 2008, Randy was recognized by his employer for 25 years of service to Parts Department, Inc., Northfield. Randy received a plaque, dinner out and an air wrench. Photo by Dan Christopherson.

Did you catch that early on noted time frame of 30 years?

Randy grinds a flywheel.

Randy grinds a flywheel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

October marks 30 years since Randy started working as the automotive machinist for Parts Department, Inc. (NAPA), Northfield.

My husband's NAPA automotive machine shop toolbox.

My husband’s NAPA automotive machine shop toolbox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Thirty years at one business. Remarkable, isn’t it?

Even more remarkable, Randy’s labored in the automotive field for just shy of 40 years.  Only two years out of high school and with two years of trade school education, he packed his car in the spring of 1976 for Plentywood, Montana. He lasted there as a parts man for a month, returning from the middle of nowhere to settle in southeastern Minnesota.

My husband at work with a hammer, a tool he uses often as an automotive machinist.

Randy at work. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Randy was employed as a parts man in Rochester, eventually relocating to K & G Auto Parts in Faribault. There he worked as a parts man before moving into the machine shop and learning that skilled trade. He also worked in an Owatonna machine shop until the previous owner of the Northfield NAPA enticed Randy to join his business.

He genuinely loves his job, working solo in the machine shop, although Randy says he always dreamed of being a rural mail carrier. Had he chosen that career path, he would be retired by now, collecting a pension. Taking vacations. Sleeping in. Saturdays off.

Instead, dirt and grease outline his fingernails. Faded white scars mar his skin. Flecks of errant metal, from work projects, lie beneath the surface of his skin.  Sometimes, too often, his back aches. He rises early. Works long days. Sometimes falls asleep in the recliner as the evening fades. Takes well-deserved Sunday afternoon naps.

He’s worked hard to provide a steady income for our family, allowing me to stay home and raise our three children and work part-time from home and continue to pursue my passions in writing and photography. We are not wealthy in monetary terms. But the mortgage is paid on our modest house, food is always on the table, clothing on our backs, bills covered.

And it is because of my farm-raised, blue collar hardworking husband.

Please join me in congratulating Randy on his 30-year anniversary as the automotive machinist at Parts Department, Inc., Northfield. And also wish him a happy birthday, for today, October 12, is his birthday.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Following your heart, or not November 28, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:25 PM
Tags: , , ,

Me and my camera, a tool in the writing profession I love.

ARE YOU FOLLOWING your life’s passion in your chosen profession?

That topic came up for discussion at a weekend gathering with extended family.

I was surprised to learn that my uncle always wanted to be a college history professor dressed in a tweed jacket with elbow patches. I looked at him through fresh eyes, wondering why I never knew this about a man who recently retired after decades of driving a delivery truck.

He wasn’t discontent in his job, simply wished that he could have pursued his love of history as his life’s work.

It wasn’t all that long ago when I learned that my maternal grandfather, my uncle’s father, wanted to be a lawyer, not the farmer his father expected him, and pushed him, to become. Today his grandson, my youngest brother, is an attorney.

A sister who always wanted to teach initially chose another profession because a high school counselor told her she wouldn’t find a teaching job. She listened to his advice and attended technical college to become a travel agent. When that didn’t work out, she found herself working at a bank. Later she would enroll in a four-year college and today teaches special education. She still regrets those wasted years of failing to follow her heart.

Likewise, the father of a friend advised her to choose a practical career as a nurse rather than pursue her dream of a career in art. Today she’s still a nurse, pursuing her artistic interests on the side.

My father, upon returning to his southwestern Minnesota farm from a tour of duty as a foot soldier/infantryman during the Korean War, desired a job as a highway patrolman. With only an eighth grade education and likely because it was expected of him, he stayed on the farm to milk cows and work the fields.

I have to applaud my parents for never once pushing any of their six children into a career. Today my siblings are engaged in diverse occupations as a parts manager at a southwestern Minnesota implement dealership, a floral designer, the CEO/GM of an ethanol plant, a special education teacher and an attorney.

I’m the writer, following my passion for language and the written word. In all honesty, though, my husband’s job as an automotive machinist pays the bills and keeps the roof over our heads. My spouse enjoys his work, but he always wanted to be a rural mail carrier and even took a U.S. Postal Service exam some 20-plus years ago to try and break into the postal ranks. That never happened.

I cite all of the above examples because I suspect the majority of us are working at jobs that are not true to our passions in life.

Perhaps it’s circumstances or money or geographical location or a parent who pushed or a counselor who misguided—whatever the reasons, something has kept most of us from working at jobs in which we are truly content, that make our hearts sing.

TELL ME. Are you working at a job that follows your passion? If you aren’t, why not, and what job would allow you to follow your heart?

Let’s hear what you have to say.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


He smashed his thumb November 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:16 AM
Tags: , , ,

MY HUSBAND CALLED late yesterday afternoon. “I’m at the clinic.” Those are words a wife does not want to hear.

“What did you do?” The question popped automatically out of my mouth.

“Smashed my thumb with a hammer.”

This did not sound good, not good at all.

“They’re going to do an x-ray and I may need stitches.”

For my automotive machinist spouse, his hands are his tools, so these types of injuries always concern me.

My husband at work with a hammer, a tool he uses often as an automotive machinist.

I hung up, then worried and fretted and worried some more while waiting for a follow-up phone call. Forty-five minutes later he called from the Northfield clinic to say he was on his way home to Faribault.

“I got three stitches.”

The injured, and stitched, left thumb. My husband says I will gross you out with this image. To abate his concerns, I've down-sized the photo.

“What’s the prognosis?”

“It’s not broken, but they found bone fragments floating around. They think it might be from a previous injury, maybe not, and want me to come back in a week for another x-ray.”

He claims he didn’t injure the thumb prior to yesterday.

I doubt that statement. Throughout our 28 ½ years of marriage, he’s hit his thumbs more than once with a hammer at work, although certainly not this severely.

Here's proof of a previous injury. Note the semi-circle scar on the right thumb, the telltale mark of stitches from an earlier injury.

This time he delivered a glancing blow to his left thumb with a two-pound hammer while pounding universal joints out of a drive shaft. Ouch.

He’s off to work this morning, despite the doctor’s instructions that he stay home.

He told her he couldn’t. Too much work and he wasn’t going to let an injury like this keep him down. He possesses a strong work ethic and a degree of German stubbornness.

The physician conceded, told him to keep the thumb clean and dry. I’m uncertain how he will manage that given the nature of his job gets his hands dirty and greasy.

My husband at work in the automotive machine shop where he is employed.

This morning he struggled to button his shirt. How will he operate machinery, deal with heavy and grimy automotive parts? But, he’s determined. My concern, a few stitches, a clumsy splint, swelling and a little pain aren’t going to stop him from working.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling