What’s a Small Town?


3he3qcI grew up in an unincorporated area adjacent to a pretty typical Midwestern city on northern Ohio.

The lifestyle, while suburban, was more “small town” than “big city”.

It was small enough that my Mom would send me to “Johnny’s Food Basket” with a $5 bill and a note that I gave to the clerk, reading, “Please sell Johnny two packs of Camels . Signed, Sigh Foster”

And they would.

At the elementary school “lawn fete”, the big prize was to take home a goldfish in a bowl after tossing a ping pong ball in it.

The school gym doubled as the cafeteria and the little theater where the Christmas play was held.

We thought it was a big deal when we got bus #8…it was one of those flat-nosed models.

We had “Jonesy”, the Isaly Dairy guy who delivered milk to our house and one day gave us a piece of dry ice that he put in a bucket and we “oohed and aahed” over it until it melted away.

Eastview Allotment played Freedom Heights in a sandlot football game and somebody even put lines on the field at the corner of Eastview Drive and Ashland Road.

And people came to watch.

When we got our own McDonald’s, it became the place to hang out after Friday night football games.

Before that, it was Porky’s.

The housing development we moved to was so new that one year the school busses wouldn’t/couldn’t navigate the mucky dirt and gravel roadways so we had to walk to Ashland Road to catch a ride to school.

In high school, we’d all drive to “Manners” on “The Miracle Mile” to get a “Big Boy” and drive around the parking lot.

The “cool guys” would back their cars into the parking lot.

Now, my wife, on the other hand, grew up in a  truly small community.

It was called “Big Prairie”.

Normally, towns called “big” aren’t.

Such is the case with Big Prairie.

Current population estimates are about 1,500-2,000.

Never heard of it?

It’s not far from Shreve.

Lakeville is fairly close, too.

Suffice it to say, Big Prairie is a small town.

In 1985, John Mellencamp tipped his hat to hit roots on his “Scarecrow” album with

“Small Town”.

“No I cannot forget where it is that I came from.

I cannot forget the people who love me.

Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town

and people let me be just what I want to be.”

So, it raises the question.

What is a “small town”.

Well, you are/were from a small town if;

Main Street…one block long…dead ends on BOTH directions.

You thought the audio quality on those drive-in movie speakers was pretty good.

You once held a part-time job as a pin-setter at the 3-lane bowling alley.

School was cancelled for the start of hunting season.

No bicycle chains or locks.

Hitching posts downtown.

Baskin-Robbins only had chocolate or vanilla.

The city jail was called “amoeba” because it only had one cell.

The junkyard and car dealership shared the same property.

You had a park bench.

McDonald’s only had one golden arch.

The “Walk/Don’t Walk” sign simply flashed, “Whatever!”

The phone book came on a post card and you got a high-lighter to make your own Yellow page.

The high school marching band was a baton-twirling kazoo player.

Instead of a “7-11”, you had had a “3& 1/2-5&1/2.

(That one requites some math skills.)

It was only open 8A-5P weekdays, too.

No hospital. Just a first aid kit at the clinic.

The New Year’s baby was born in June.

No bank. Anytime someone got enough money…they left.

The ZIP code was a fraction.

The high school swimming pool doubled as a horse trough.

The city limit signs were on the same post.

At the local beauty pageant. there was no runner-up or “Miss Congeniality”.

Second Street was in the NEXT town.

There was no place to go that you shouldn’t.

The high school would have a six man football team if only the enrollment would increase.

A “night on the town” only takes 15 minutes.

The skating rink is either “BYOI” (Bring Your Own Ice) or the nearest farm pond.

Your zip code was a fraction.

The mayor had to annex property to legally consume a foot-long hot dog.

The golf course had only 9 holes or was a “pitch and putt” lay out.

All the mudflaps on trucks had Yosemite Sam yelling “Back Off!”

The flag on the town square still only has 49 stars.

The local vet has more patients than the doctor does.

The local newspaper owner/editor also delivers it and it’s a weekly.

Social events are cancelled when the gym floor gets refinished.

The high school year book is a paperback.

Everyone is a blood relative to the town’s namesake.

Businesses still close at noon on Wednesdays.

You have Burger Prince instead of Burger King.

There’s still somewhere you can get a fountain cherry Coke and French fries to die for.

Over the years, I’ve come to learn that “small town” is as much about attitude and lifestyle as it is about numbers of people.



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