Understanding the rural, small towner

I have often smiled back annoyed glances after being asked if we had television where I grew up. The sarcasm in me wants to say, "No, but all us country folk would grab our slide projectors and put an image up on that there barn door and watch a ...

I have often smiled back annoyed glances after being asked if we had television where I grew up.

The sarcasm in me wants to say, "No, but all us country folk would grab our slide projectors and put an image up on that there barn door and watch a soundless motion-picture show."

Oi, people, I was born in the early '80s, not 1800s.

Once, a photographer from Time came to my little town and took pictures of our one-room country school. When he got to town he asked if any of the local students had seen cable television before.

I wonder if he thought the giant satellite dishes were rain gauges or something.


But, here are a few well-known stereotypes about living in a small, rural town. Mine was less than 200 people -- 500 in the whole county (we moved when I was in high school, but I remember it all very well).

You might be from a small rural town if ...

All your casserole and pie dishes have your name written on the bottoms in permanent marker.

Come football season, the UPS man can make all his deliveries if he shows up at the Friday game.

Your mail carrier, UPS man and Schwan's man know your families personally, and at Christmas you make them cookies.

The teachers are all on their second or third generation of students -- and by now, are related to half of them.

Every able-bodied child must participate in sports or there is no team.

Six-man football was the only option -- and so much more fun to watch.


Schools can't consolidate because the closest one is an hour or more away.

The most popular kids in school can't date one another because they're related.

Classes are so small that prom is open to all four grades. Homecoming includes the junior high.

The entire town closes down for game night.

Brandings and weddings are the social events of the year.

Despite low participation, the county would never let go of its rodeo or 4-H fair.

The sheriff also owns the grocery store.

There are no stray cats or dogs -- they're just lost.


You can walk the perimeter of the town without getting tired.

Kids walk freely around and play in the park with no idea that there are parts of the world where this would be unsafe.

If you park your car three blocks from the school, you're no longer in city limits.

Every one gives the index-finger wave, and road rage doesn't exist.

There aren't enough people in town to qualify as a "town," so it's listed as a "village."

There are more cows than people in the county.

Cars are purchased based on their ability to withstand potholes.

If a high-schooler peels out at the local restaurant, his parents know about it before he gets home.

The local drunk is looked after by everyone from the bar tender to students, who take his keys and hide them until morning.

No one locks their homes or cars and no one would think to enter either without asking.

The traveling salesman is always fed a full meal before he's sent home.

The best restaurant in town is also the bar.

Directions are given based on landmarks and former land owners. "You drive past the Blatt trees and turn at Hazen's Corner."

If you see a group of trees, there once was a homestead there.

The golf course and airport landing strip are one and the same.

You ever went to school in a one-room school house.

You ever went to school with a handful of students -- half of whom you were related to.

You were the only one in your grade -- for six years.

Someone rode to school on a horse at least once.

You played Annie-Annie-Over, over the school house.

Your school yard was hayed in the summer.

People were elected to office based on age or last names.

There was only one church in town -- even though a quarter of the community was of different religions.

Every Halloween it took all night to get to the 10 rural ranches because they were so far in between, but you still came home with two full sacks of candy, apples and homemade cookies.

Dad always volunteered to take you trick-or-treating because Rose White made homemade goodies and apple cider.

The gas station still let you exchange glass pop bottles for a dime.

Gossip traveled faster than good news.

Boots still sit on fence poles, pointing toward the cemetery.

You got a tractor license before your learner's permit.

The local grocery store kept a tab for school children.

You never ate at a cafeteria until college.

Your school put out a cookbook to raise scholarship money and the student council ran the pop machines.

Every person in the county showed up for every musical, play and talent contest -- and clapped regardless of performance.

If there was an illness, natural disaster or financial crisis, a neighbor never handled it alone.

And the number one reason?

You can read this column and laugh at its familiarity without taking offense, because even though we rural people may be void of cable television and indoor plumbing -- few are without a sense of humor.

published May 3, 2007

What To Read Next
Up to 50% less nitrates leave fields when ‘controlled drainage’ is used with drain tile
Family says autopsy, investigation don’t bring closure
Members Only
"It’s a non-meandered stream with plats along the edge of the canal, and the bottom of the canal remains with the original owner,” Jim Taylor said, noting Chuck Mauszycki owns the canal land.
“Why would we create new major programs, when we can’t even fund the programs that we have?” a public education lobbyist said in opposition to Noem's three-year, $15 million proposal.