Small town living: A reflection on childhood and culture

Downtown Lawton, IA
Don’t you dare go running down
My little town where I grew up
And I won’t cuss your city lights
If you ain’t ever took a ride around
And cruised right through the heart of my town
Anything you say would be a lie

So begins Montgomery Gentry’s song “Where I Come From,” a song about small town life and the differences between it and living in the city.

I didn’t hear the song until college. In fact, I didn’t even start listening to country music until I came to college.

I grew up in a brick house on Maple Street in the little Iowan town of Lawton, population 908. I attended preschool at the small Presbyterian church on Birch Street (small towns love naming streets after trees) and learned to ride my bike on the same street. When I was old enough I rode the bus every day to the neighboring town of Bronson, where the elementary school was located. After Kindergarten my family moved away for a bit, but eventually came back to the town a few years later, moving into a new house one block away from the one where we lived before.

From 6th grade to senior year I went to the high school of about 300 kids, from both Lawton and the town of Bronson, and graduated with a class of about 43. During high school I couldn’t wait to leave my town. “It’s a black hole” I would tell my friends. People who didn’t leave would get stuck there, get married and never see the rest of the world. I was determined to experience life outside of my homogeneous town.

Memories…(Left: Graduating high school, Middle: First day of 6th grade, Right: First day of Kindergarten)

After I graduated and moved to Vermillion, SD for college I came to realize I actually sometimes miss my small town, despite Vermillion “only” having a population of about 10,000. There were people I met at colllege from big cities across the U.S. and the world who seemed almost foreign to me with the way they talked and the way they thought.

“Where’s that at?” they would ask about Lawton. “It’s right smack dab in the middle of some corn fields,” I would joke. In truth what I said wasn’t too far from the truth. Two corn fields, a bean field and a two lane highway bordered the town. To help everyone out I learned to say the “Sioux City area” every time someone would ask.

Small towns are slightly weird. You spend a good portion of your life living there and you know everything there is to know about it. You know everyone by name, you know their relatives and siblings and you even know the cops. If something newsworthy happens the entire town knows about it by supper. You grow up learning to drive on the backroads and spend your friday nights watching the football game and roasting marshmallows around a fire in the countryside.

When you’re taken away from all of that and put in an entirely new place with new people, there’s a bit of a culture shock. Suddenly you’re just a number — a nameless face lost in the crowd.

In the past few years I’ve travelled across the Midwest and have visited, worked and lived in large cities. The differences between my hometown and these cities have been glaring.

People in cities tend to always be in a hurry — something I actually admire. Everyone has a place to be, like some giant cog in a machine. Cities also never sleep and the sounds of buses, planes and sirens are the norm. Your alarm clock is a busy residential street. For lunch you can walk anywhere you want. Convenience is the law of the concrete jungle and Starbucks coffee is what fuels it. Cities are great and I can definitely see myself working and living in one after graduation.

Every once in a blue moon though I return to Lawton to visit my family and friends and I remember everything small towns have to offer that cities can’t —the small wave and smile people give each other when they pass each other on the road, the sound of the laughter of neighbors around a fire in a driveway on a Friday night and the clear, pollution free view of the stars above.

Sometimes I think spending life in a small town and living in a small house with a little white picket fence wouldn’t be so bad.

Wherever I end up after college — wherever I am in the world — my small town will always hold a special place in my heart.

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