“So, where are you from?” Someone asks me at a party, a work function or another social occasion where people are mingling and playing 20 Questions.
"I'm from Climax, Minnesota. It’s this really teeny town near Grand Forks …”
I am generally interrupted by laughter before I can finish my sentence.
“Wait, is it really called that?” they ask. And I’ll nod, waiting for their next line.
At this point, I can practically see the jokes forming in their brains. “So, have you ever … you know … in Climax?”
I’ve heard them all. There is no joke to be made about the name of my hometown that hasn't been said a thousand times before. You might reference the “Fertile woman dies in Climax” bit, supposedly from Jay Leno’s Headlines. As far as I know, the headline never appeared. I even looked it up on Snopes.com.
Yes, I’m aware that my hometown shares its name with a sexual release. If you’d like to know, it was named for a brand of chewing tobacco back in 1896.
True confession: I didn’t actually grow up in Climax. I grew up right across the Red River on a farm in North Dakota.
But I went to school in the Minnesota town from the first day of kindergarten to my last day of high school.
Climax is home to the smallest public school in Minnesota. When I was a senior, there were about 180 kids attending. I have no idea what it’s like to transfer to an entirely new school for junior high or high school. Because my school was K-12, separated only by the cafeteria.
I had the same classmates my entire childhood. Even today I can list them off in alphabetical order with middle names included.
Tell me you grew up in a small town of 15,000 and I will laugh in your face. I sat in lectures at the University of Minnesota with more students than the entire Climax-Shelly School District.
When I say my town is small, I mean it. I often tell the story of how I pulled over to pee on a gravel road one day, thinking I was totally alone amid acres of fields. The next day my mom asked why I’d pulled over and whether anything was wrong. Turns out, someone on a tractor saw my maroon Cadillac and asked her about it in town.
Climax was basically like “Cheers.” Everyone knew your name and your business, which was great when you were a little kid wandering around town and not so great when you were a teenager trying to find a place to make out with your boyfriend in his Ford pickup.
The world beyond Climax
I was 9 years old when my dad invented the town slogan.
It was 1996 and Climax was preparing to celebrate its centennial anniversary. We were sitting in church when my dad scribbled a note and passed it to my mom, who tried to stifle her laughter.
I was very confused. “Climax. More than just a feeling.” didn’t seem particularly funny to me. Nonetheless, Dad submitted his idea to the town slogan contest and won in a landslide.
His prize? A bundle of pink lawn flamingos we never received. I’m still waiting for those, guys.
The slogan became a line of T-shirts we sold at the Corner Bar and the C-store (that’s small-town slang for Cenex). We hoped the T-shirts would prevent tourists from stealing the town sign, but they kept stealing it anyway.
We wore the T-shirts to school for years until one fateful day someone complained and the shirts were suddenly banned. As teenagers do, we rebelled and wore them in protest the very next day. When one student refused to turn hers inside out, she was suspended and the story spread like wildfire.
It was on CNN! People were e-mailing from as far as Ireland trying to get their hands on the shirts. My family mailed them out from the tiny post office on Main Street.
You might have read about this on the Climax Wikipedia page, but it appears that the “Controversy” section has been deleted. The creator of the T-shirts is upset about this recent turn of events, but would like you to know that they’re still available for purchase if you know the right people.
I spent my high-school years yearning for the day I would receive my diploma and get the hell out of Climax. When people ask about my childhood, I always say it was a great place to grow up, but not a great place to stay. Small towns are tough for dreamers.
Climax is a lot of things to me. It’s the place where I ran wild with my best friends in our matching crop tops, riding our bikes all over town and crossing the river on a rickety bridge. It’s the library where I devoured book after book, dreaming about all the places I would visit someday. It’s the shiny gym floor where I can still hear the echoes of our cheer shoes bouncing. It’s the bar where every patron swings on their stool to stare when you open the door and where I sang a karaoke duet with the mayor on my 21st birthday. It was where I figured out who I was, and who I wanted to be.
Like me, Climax has changed. It isn’t the picturesque little place where I grew up, though my Norman Rockwell image is probably just a pretty made-up memory. People die, people move out, new people move in. The sweet little houses got shabby over the years. The bars filled with strangers.
Climax will always be part of me, but it’s not mine anymore. And that’s OK. I’ve been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.
Kara Nesvig is a twenty-something writer in Minneapolis who likes to bleach her hair, redecorate her Uptown apartment and buy way more books than her bookshelves can hold. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @myfakeyelashes.
ABOUT 10,000 Takes: 10,000 Takes is a new digital section featuring first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota.