Situated in the rolling green fields of rural Missouri, amid massive expanses of farmland, my hometown has more cows than people. I moved away after graduation and haven’t been back there in nearly a decade, but I can guarantee that if I showed up today, I’d be heartily greeted (by my first and middle names, naturally) by many of the same familiar faces from my childhood. They’d all know what I’d been up to, of course, because small towns have a way of keeping tabs on their own – even without the benefit of social media.
That’s just how small towns work: You can move thousands of miles away and they could still tell you when you pooped last.
No matter which dot-on-the-map you’re from, there are a few universal truths that only people from tiny towns understand. Like …
1. Everybody knew your grandparents, your parents, your full name, and your business.
2. Everybody knew all the ill shit your siblings did, and judged you for it.
3. You’d get stuck behind a tractor or a combine on your way to school.
4. You’d see a tractor parked at school.
5. All the buildings are old, especially on the main street (which is usually called “Main Street”).
6. You could count the number of traffic lights on one hand … if there were any at all.
7. Someone could literally address an envelope with your name and your hometown and it would still reach you with no problem because the mail carrier knew exactly where you lived. And even if it accidentally got pitched into the wrong mailbox, well, the recipient knew where you lived too.
8. You saw your teachers everywhere outside of school – at the store, at church, everywhere.
9. You also knew where they lived, which made it easier to toilet paper their houses after an especially-unfair pop quiz. Not that I was ever involved in that sort of thing. Ahem.
10. There was only one store so you either had to deal with whatever subpar selection they had to offer, or make an inconvenient trek “into town” to get any variety.
11. At least half of the boys you knew had their first job hauling hay, and at least half of those actually got pulled out of school to help during hay season.
12. High school parties were held in a field. Sometimes there were bonfires fueled by cow poop.
13. Chances are you’d get one of your older siblings’ used textbooks in school … or maybe even one of your parents’.
14. You’d accidentally dial a wrong number and get stuck talking to your grandma’s friend Mildred about her recent hip replacement, because she recognized your voice.
15. Food delivery wasn’t a thing.
16. You could take your parents’ blank check or debit card into any business and have no problem paying for whatever – or even charging something – because the store owners knew “they were good for it.”
17. Commercials on TV (if you were able to get cable, that is) were always a huge tease because they were advertising places you’d have to drive a hundred miles to get to.
18. Shopping at the mall was an event because it took forever to get there and seemed like the height of sophistication. Ditto the rare trip to “fancy” chain restaurants, which you totally dressed up in your finest for.
19. There was at least one yearly festival where the town practically shut down, everyone attended a parade, and there were events like cake walks and Queen contests and cow-chip bingo.
20. When people asked where you were from, it was no use saying the name of your tiny hometown because no one ever knew where it was, so you’d just say you lived fifty miles east of [insert closest big town here].
21. Your house and car were always unlocked, and you could throw your bike down in the yard with little to no risk of it being stolen.
22. You could ride said bike all over town – like, to the complete opposite side of town – without your parents worrying about where you were.
23. Probably because if you got up to no good, your parents would know it before you made it back home. Thanks, local busybodies.
24. You knew every single person in your class – in your entire school, actually – and are still flabbergasted to this day when you meet someone who graduated with hundreds of other people.
25. The dating pool in high school was always so shallow that it was hard to avoid dating your friend’s ex, or your ex’s friend. Going to prom with someone not from your school was #goals.
26. High school sports were the bizness, and the entire town rallied around them for big games. Even if you weren’t really into sports, chances are you still hung out at more than a few games because that’s where everybody else was.
27. The authority figures multitasked. Our town police chief was also the fire chief and a school bus driver.
28. You didn’t really get exposed to much exotic cuisine or cultural diversity until you grew up and moved somewhere bigger.
29. The one restaurant in town was always packed on Sundays after church.
30. If your car broke down on the side of the road at night, or if you needed to hitch a ride somewhere, someone would always offer to help – and it was always safe, because you knew exactly who they were, and vice-versa. Or at the very least, you could just walk wherever you were heading.
31. Your school offered one foreign language class (Spanish), zero cool electives like culinary arts or drama, and hardly any extracurricular activities except for Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Future Homemakers of America (FHA). If you were lucky, your town had something else to do like Scouts or 4-H.
32. If you were nominated for your school’s student council or Homecoming court or prom royalty, you’d likely end up running against one of your friends.
33. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was open past 6 or 7 p.m. (Not that there were many businesses anyway, but still.)
34. When you finally get old enough to move away, you realize just how insulated from the “real world” you’ve been, and you have to try your hardest not to look like a total hick.
35. People from bigger cities look at you in complete disbelief when you tell them any of these things.
There were good things and bad things about growing up in a small community, but as I get older, I tend to see more of the good. As a teenager I couldn’t wait to escape it, and although I’m glad I was able to move away and explore, there’s just something nostalgic about the way nothing ever really changes much.
Like the way my little town has my back, no matter how long it’s been. And if the big world ever kicked my ass, I could always go home.