When people say they grew up in a small town, I always cock an eyebrow and ask, “Exactly how small?” Because my hometown of Climax, Minnesota had a whopping population of 363 people when I was a child. It has since dwindled to about 250. I had 13 people in my graduating class in the smallest public school in Minnesota. I pretty much always win the small town game. You know how you know you’re from a really, really small town? Here’s how:
1. You remember the birthdays of at least 75% of your graduating class even almost ten years after high school because you all completed kindergarten through senior year together.
2. You also know their middle names and all of their siblings.
3. Nobody ID’ed you at the bar when you turned 21 because everyone knew you and how old you were.
4. You could charge things “to my dad” and nobody had to ask his name.
5. Your college applications looked really good because you participated in everything from FFA to knowledge bowl to drama to track. It wasn’t because you wanted to. It’s because you had to.
6. Everyone knows which car you drive. To illustrate how small my town was, I often tell the story of a summer afternoon when I pulled my maroon Cadillac over on the gravel road to pee really quickly. Nobody was around, save a tractor about a mile away. I peed, drove home, no big deal. Until the next day when my mom asked why I had pulled over–turns out the guy driving the tractor had seen my car and expressed concern to my mom in the gas station the next morning! True story.
7. It’s an event when an unknown car drives through town. Who could it be?
8. You have to drive 45 minutes away to visit your boyfriend, because nobody can date the classmates they’ve known since age five!
9. There are no cops. Ever. Occasionally the neighboring city will send one down on the weekends, but he just sits in his car on the corner.
10. This means you have free rein to get wasted out in the country.
11. It’s so quiet at night that you can lay down in the middle of the street like “The Notebook” and you’re totally safe.
12. Biking around all day as a kid is safe because you know everyone in town and they’re all keeping an eye on you.
13. You fight over the family who pays most for babysitting since your town only has about four of them.
14. Summer jobs are hard to come by. You probably have to drive to a neighboring town.
15. Your teachers know everything about your personal life.
16. There’s one stoplight. It doesn’t work.
17. Some of your teachers also taught your parents.
18. Gossip spreads faster than you can ever imagine.
19. When you move away but keep an account at the local credit union, the teller will ask your mom if you’re doing OK financially when you overdraft a few times.
20. Several generations of your family appear at the all-school reunion.
21. Wanna go to Target/a movie/the doctor? That’s a 20 minute drive.
22. You have to use landmarks or other larger, more recognizable cities to describe where exactly you’re from when people ask you.
23. People either leave ASAP or stay for good.
24. You had to learn WHY streets have names. (I grew up on a “Rural Route 1.” It has recently changed.)
25. When you go to college, you sit in lectures twice the size of your town.
26. A rite of passage: driving on the railroad tracks. If a train came and you had to shift into reverse, more points for you!
27. Everyone climbed the water tower.
28. “You can’t date your friend’s ex” does not apply here. Otherwise you’re gonna have to date your relatives.
29. You can have an entire conversation in the middle of the main drag and you’re rarely holding anyone up.
30. Every small town has a bar and a church. That’s just common knowledge.