Monday, October 01, 2007

Small town proud

When I say "small town," what comes to mind? Norman Rockwell? Mayberry? The Hatfields and McCoys? Comments on my last post made me realize that not everyone has the same perception of what small town is here in the Midwest.

I suppose on the east or west coasts, small towns are what we consider "city" around here.

Small towns on the coasts, and near the bigger Midwest cities, have Target and coffee shops and Wi-fi. And Starbuck's.

Small towns in the Midwest have post offices, a Co-op, John Deere dealerships, a couple of churches, a cemetary and hole-in-the wall bars who proudly display jars of pickled pigs feet on the bar and often have an old dog wandering around the joint. Some of those small towns might even have a McDonald's or a gussied-up gas station with a really fancy coffee bar. Starbuck's is for big cities, not small towns. We drink Folger's at home or pick up some .75-cent gas station coffee. It's not uncommon to get stuck behind farm equipment in the middle of town or see pre-teens driving gigantic diesel dually pickups hauling wobbly farm trailers loaded with hay, hogs or corn. Many of the locally owned antique shops, diners or small hair salons close or cut their hours during spring planting and fall harvest because everyone is needed to work the land.

We live between two small, midwestern towns, one has a population that isn't even close to 1,000, the other has a population of just over 2,000. I love both of them and wouldn't move anywhere else for anything. So what if we are half an hour away from the nearest Wal-Mart, an hour away from the closest Target and generally have to pay .25 cents more for a gallon of gas than those folks in the "big city?" Dinner at a nice restaurant isn't typically a last minute decision. You have to plan it because it's at least an hour, one way, to get there.

The cable companies haven't run cable out our way yet, so, if you want more than four channels, you'd better buy a satellite dish. Same for the Internet. No cable means no cable Internet access. You're either limping through dial-up on copper phone wires or putting up the bucks for satellite internet or a wireless antenna. If you can see the wireless tower from your house, that is.

Where else does the local high school have a drive-your-tractor-or-lawnmower-to-school day? Where else is the membership in the local Future Farmers of America club at the high school larger than the membership of the local VFW and EVERYONE goes to the homecoming football game? Where else can you take your kids trick-or-treating on Halloween and not have to worry about wandering around neighborhoods after dark or finding razor blades in the apples?

Small town is where the high school kids TP the police chief's house and everyone knows who did it, but no one cares. I could ride my horse through town and no one would say a thing.

Our biggest crime is underage drinking because there really isn't anything else for the kids to do. Unless they want to bowl or throw darts, they are out drinking. We have one movie theater. It has two screens, no digitally-enhanced sound and is closed Monday through Thursday. Tickets are $4.25. On the weekends teenagers typically pile into someone's pickup and head to the Bottoms where they listen to music, light a bonfire and drink booze they had to buy from their buddy at the corner gas station before midnight on Saturday. Because after midnight on Saturday and before noon on Sunday, no liquor sales are allowed in our county. Makes for Sunday morning mimosas a bit of a challenge unless you remembered to buy the champagne on Saturday.

Because we are "small town," we don't have light pollution. The skies over my house at night are amazing. Not only can I see the big constellations, I see the lesser-know ones. I can clearly see the Milky Way and planets and so many stars it makes my head spin with the wonderment of it all.

I am small town. I love being small town and raising my kids small town. There isn't enough money in the world to make me want to live anywhere else.


slackermommy said...

Wow, I thought girl scouts only sold cookies. I'm a girl scout leader dropout so I wouldn't know what they sell anymore.

Funny post. Thanks for the chuckle.

Bananas said...

Having just spent some time in some MAJOR small towns... I can see your point. There's a feeling that you just don't find in the city or even the suburbs. People KNOW each other! And here I am on a street where I don't even know my neighbors. It's depressing, until I remember the Starbucks a block away! ;) Great post.

goat roper said...

What comes to mind? small town post office clerk asking after family by name; teenage girls meeting on horseback and heading off into the hills for a winter 'camp-out'; sitting on the front porch and watching lightening miles away with no buildings to block the show; knowing most of the entrants in the local parades.... thanks for the memories!

lov grma said...

I love living outside my little Village. Sounds like my Village is smaller then your town.
No way would I move back into that crazy big town or city or even into our Village. I like my space.
But,I would move to some place by the Ocean and forest, NO neighbors around. I do love the Ocean best.

MP said...

I am so torn..I am a city girl. Born, raised and still reside in the city..but weekends growing up were spent in Souther Ill. Trailor, tractor, soybeans, orchards, ponds, outhouses.. When hubby and I took the little guy to a soccer game in a small town..I got the itch.. Just as you decribed..fancy gas station..tavern, new subdivision going up... 2 lane roads, everyone knows everyone.. clean air..smell of burning leaves. Hmmm...Hopefully we have a long live and will have a chance to live in a town for a while...hubby has issues though: football, baseball, plays, concerts..what would we do if we couldn't get there in 8 minutes?

nell said...

I'm jealous. I'm an east coast girl, so small towns for me are a little different, but still. Steve and I bought a house last summer in the city here (which is a small city) because the tourist trade has driven home prices way too high. I miss the sky. I hate street lamps. I don't know anyone. I don't even like Starbucks. I do like my internets though...

Small town living is part of my dream. I'm hoping I can make it work in tandem with the grad school part of the dream. We'll see.

amy said...

Envy. Raw, ugly green envy.
My day will come. I will finish college, nab a low paying job in a tiny farm town, live in the country, see the stars, know that everyone knows my business and not care that they do, and I will rejoice!

Jenny said...

I am convinced we lived in the same town.

You described it so perfectly I felt like I was home.

Marriage-101 said...

I'd like to live in a small town when I'm ready to have kids, but the whole "job" thing had me perplexed. I'm a computer-in-an-office kind of girl/worker. What would I do?

Jenn said...

Bananas...thank you! Honestly? You don't miss Starbucks when you don't have it.

Goat're welcome! There is so much more I wanted to include, but didn't want to write a forever long post. How about everybody waves when you pass on the 1.5 lane road, whether you know them or not? Love that!

Luv grma...yup, our little town IS smaller than your village, believe it or not!

MP..Small town living does take some getting used to, especially if you grew up in the city. Things are A LOT slower and you get stuck behind tractors and combines frequently! I can see the advantage of having everything within 8 minutes of where you live, but you do get used to the half hour drive minimum to get anywhere in no time at all.

Nell...I figured small towns on the coasts were a bit different than in the Midwest. Out here there is SO MUCH space between everything. Hours sometimes. In some places you can drive and drive and drive and not see more than cattle and the occasional barn.'re on your way! And really, it's no big deal that everyone knows your of the advantages to that is they ALSO know your teen's business and aren't afraid to tell you all about it. hehehe!

Jenny...there is nothing like a small town, is there? I wouldn't trade it for all the Starbuck's and Targets in the world.

Marriage 101...I work in an office, too. I just have a longer commute than most. My drive to work is 1 hour, 15 minutes, but it's well worth the advantages that come with small town living.

Beth said...

I'd love to know what town you actually live in because mine is almost exactly the same. One stop light, one tavern, the post office, school, and actually 3 churches. But you could roll up the streets at night because no one is really driving on them much. It's the best of both worlds: we have less than 1000 people in our town but we can be in St. Louis in 30-40 minutes. You just gotta love raising kids in this place and I would not have it any other way.

Jenn said...

Beth, I'm pretty sure I drive through your town every day. Send me an email and I'll tell you where we are.


Diesel said...

I live in a small town, and I like it. But I also like being able to drive 10 minutes to get to Target.

Ninja Of The Mundane said...

I have a different perspective, in that I was raised in a small town on an island, at a physical remove from the big city (Seattle) ... just six miles as the crow flies but about three hours as the crow drives, or 45 minutes as the crow rides the ferry.

And I have a different perspective because the small town in which I grew up is now a bigger town in which only rich people can afford to live ... so life there is ghastly parody of small-town values on the surface while beneath it, pitched battles are fought over parking, zoning, affordable housing, chain stores, view properties and open-space preservation. It's about the least serene place imaginable unless you're on anti-depression medication. Which I think everyone there is.

All of which makes me sad for the middle-class kid-friendly neighborhood in which I grew up, and the late-night games of Kick The Can we played, and the forts we made from fallen tree branches in the nearby woods, and the fact that I could bike into the village a mile away and recognize most faces, and that there seemed to be a lot fewer fences, and that there was a bowling alley and a burger stand called Crazy Eric's and a handful of white-trash bars, and kids could have paper routes, and there was no such things as neighborhood associations hell-bent on enforcing what color your house could be or how many cars you could park in the driveway or how often you had to mow your lawn.

That's all gone now. And John Mellencamp will never write a song about it.

It makes me wish I have now what Jenn has.

Nancy @ World Wide Rolves said...

...or 45 minutes as the crow rides the ferry.

HA! That's awesome.

Just last night, I was on the phone with a friend and she was telling me about a meeting in the next town over. Most of the towns in my area are smallish and settled by German Catholics, and still only have one church (Catholic) each. The town she was speaking of, however, is on the edge of another county - a county of bigger towns - and that town has several churches. Since the meeting wasn't at the Catholic church in that town, I actually had to give some thought as to WHICH church she meant.

Grumble, grumble, stinkin' big towns making me think.

Marriage-101 said...

I thought of you and this post last night on my way home from work when I heard Miranda Lambert's song "Everybody Dies Famous in a Small Town."