By MATT WIXON
Welcome to Florence: Population 61.
"Hey, the number has gone up!" my dad said, pointing at the sign for the southern Minnesota town where he grew up.
Up to 61. I think there were more than 61 kids in my high school gym class, and I know I've waited in a line of more than 61 at Krispy Kreme. The Krispy Kreme line did seem to have a ton of people, but certainly not a town of people.
My guess is that Florencians would embrace a Krispy Kreme wait. After all, Florence has no fast food of any kind, other than someone opening a microwave and popping in a frozen dinner. And the frozen dinner would have to be purchased outside of town, because Florence doesn't have a grocery store.
It doesn't have a general store, either. Or a gas station. Or a post office. Or roads.
Well, at least paved roads.
A few years ago, my wife and I, along with my mom and dad, "toured" Florence. It took us all of 15 minutes, including a photo stop and wrong turn. But 15 minutes was enough time to finally give me images to illustrate my dad's stories of youth.
We weaved through town on a dirt road, and my dad pointed out what Florence once was. He pointed out the building that was once a town hall, the building that was once a bar and lots of houses that were once inhabited.
"So Florence was once a lot bigger?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "When I was growing up, it was probably about 150 people."
Wow. Imagine the traffic.
And imagine the traffic in Tyler, the "big" town a few miles from Florence. Tyler, where my dad was bused for school, has all the earmarks of big-city life: several paved roads, a gas station, carbon-based lifeforms and a Dairy Queen.
It also has a weekly newspaper, which during my visit featured stories on a Lions Club meeting, a bike rodeo and, my favorite, a family moving to town.
"Welcome, Petersens!" the story said, including all the names of the family members. I suppose this is commonplace in cities with populations that barely exceed the number of people orbiting Earth at a given moment.
Not that Florence and Tyler aren't nice towns. Crime is low, the air is clean and it's easy to make the high school baseball team. I believe the team's motto is "Have glove, will play."
Seeing the high school was the highlight of my trip to Minnesota. The school is not a great sight, but it did provide a stunning devaluation of the story my dad has long trumpeted: that he was ranked No. 1 among the boys in his class.
I was told this every time I came home with a report card for my dad to sign. And the story sounded impressive when I was growing up. "Number one among all the boys!" my dad would say. "Yessiree, my boy, I was the NUMBER ONE boy!"
Just how big his class was, however, my dad never did say. He still hasn't. But after seeing the school, my guess is that had my dad slipped a couple of spots in the rankings, he might've been in the lower half of the class.
But I didn't need to know the size of my dad's former school to know that it isn't a pillar of academia. All I needed to see were the large, wooden Christmas stockings mounted on each side of the school's front doors.
It was July. They had Christmas stockings up in July.
"They light the stockings up at Christmas time," one of my relatives in Tyler said.
But why don't they take them down? I know it snows in Minnesota a lot, but the winter wonderland doesn't last all year. The stockings shouldn't, either.
At least my dad agreed.
"I think I'm going to write a letter to the editor," he said, "and tell them to take those stockings down."
That kind of leadership should be expected from the No. 1 boy.
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