I’ve known my friend, Cheryl forever. A while back, she sent me this list of things universal to growing up in a small town. I read it with a smile. Seems that the ways and means of life in a small town are fairly universal.
It didn’t get much smaller than my hometown, Karnes City, Texas. The population when I was a resident back in the early to mid 70’s was about 3000, give or take a few large Catholic families moving in or out.
Growing up in Karnes City has had such an impact on my life. It’s vast limitations forced me to think outside the box. It made me hungry to learn more and to definitely seek what was beyond its five mile circumfrance. I left at age 18, two days after graduating from High School and for the most part, never went back. I’ve returned infrequently for funerals and the occasional family or class reunion, but other than that, I’ve stayed away. But because of some family business, I went back a few weekends ago. I looked around me and realized that I was a stranger in a strange land. Everything was familiar, but it wasn’t. Still, I suppose because of memories, a chunk of me will always remain That’s why I’m still amazed when people tell me they’re surprised when I reveal that I’m a product of small town life, culture, education…everything.
Could I have identified with the list you’re about to read, had I been born and raised in Dallas? Atlanta? L.A. or Chicago? I’m not sure, but growing up in Karnes City has allowed me to completely relate to its contents. It would be just as recognizable to anyone else who had the same experiences. It’s universal. Here in the States…in Canada. Maybe even in the U.K., Australia.
Maybe even California, too.
I added a few nuances of my own, based on my experiences, but if you’ve ever lived or spent much time at all in a small town, you’ll know exactly what this list is talking about.
All 33 items on this list are sublimely recognizable.
1. You can name everyone you graduated with.Some of these kids you went to school with for 12 consecutive years…13 if that includes Mrs. Porter’s Kindergarten for Young White Children of Upwardly Mobile White Parents.
2. You know what 4-H means though I’m not sure I do, actually. It has something to do with horses…THAT, I know. And you also know all about the FFA (Future Farmers of America or the Ag Boys). Members were easy to spot in a crowd, especially if they wore those dark blue and gold jackets.
3. You went to beer parties in a pasture, barn, someone’s abandoned farm house, a gravel pit or under the power lines or in the middle of a dirt road. On Monday, you could always tell who was at the party because of the scratches on their legs from running through the woods when the party was busted. (See #6.)
4. You used to ride around incessantly in someone’s car and you’d drive by your friend’s houses and honk.If you were a guy and pissed or holding a grudge, you’d peal out or burn rubber in front of the person’s house.You’d get in trouble when you got home because invariably, the parents of the source of your anger called your parents and told on you. You got grounded.
5. You whispered the ‘F’ word six miles away from your home with the nearest person standing 10 feet away and somehow, your parents knew about it within the hour. You got grounded.
6. Your class was usually so small…as was your high school–that you couldn’t help but date a friend’s ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. Skewed incestuousness.
7. You could never buy cigarettes because all the store clerks knew how old you were (and if you were old enough, they’d tell your parents anyhow. Besides, where would you get the money? If you were a Kendrick girl growing up in Karnes City, you just charged it and the clerks either didn’t care or just assumed they were for our smoke belching, lignite plant mother)
8. When you did find somebody old enough and brave enough to buy cigarettes, you still had to go out into the country and drive on back roads to smoke them. If an adult saw you, they’d call your parents and you’d get grounded
9. You knew which section of the ditch you would find the beer your buyer dropped off. The same applies to a bag of pot which back then, we called “lids”.
10. It was cool to date somebody from the neighboring town. You had to. Hell, by Junior High and 7th grade, you’d already “gone with” every boy or girl in your class.
11. The whole school went to the same party after graduation.
12. You didn’t give directions by street names but rather by references. Turn by Nelson’s house, go two blocks to Anderson’s, and it’s four houses left of the lot where Old Man Wilson’s cow had that two headed calf.
13. The golf course at the country club, providing your community even had one, had only 9 holes. Serious golfers had to play them twice to get 18 holes in.
14. You scheduled parties around the schedules of different police officers, because you knew which ones would bust you and which ones wouldn’t. When someone’s parents went out of town, that automatically meant party. When they got home andf found out about it, you guessed it—you got grounded.
15. Your car stayed filthy because of the dirt roads, and you will never own a dark vehicle for this reason.
16 The town next to you was more than likely your chief sports rival and your school hated them and they hated your town; your school.You probably even considered the whole community ‘trashy’ or certainly beneath you, but in truth, it was a town no different than your own.
17. You referred to anyone with a house newer then 1960 as ‘rich’ people.
18. The people in the ‘big city’ dressed funny and were snooty. Then ,you picked up the trend yourself four years later when you moved to the big city after college and got all snooty and dressed funny.
19. Anyone you wanted could be found hanging out at the local gas station or the dairybar. And these “dairybars’ were all locally owned, usually Mom and Pop operations. Glorified hamburger shops with a juke box on premises or at the very least–if progressive enough, rock music piped in from the cool radio station based in the closest biggest town. These places had names like The Diary Whip, KenKreme, The Snack Shack, Bob’s Truck Stop and The Green Diamond. And of course, for kids in Karnes County, there was Tino’s.
20. Our parents hung out at private clubs because chances are your county was dry when it came to liquor by the drink.For Daddy to get his Scotch neat, he’d have to go to the K Club or the Karnes County Country Club.
21. You saw at least one friend a week driving a big tractor through town or one of your friends driving a grain truck to school occasionally. You never thought a thing about it.
22. The gym teacher suggested that guys haul hay for the summer to get stronger. Plus, you know what Coastal Bermuda is and have one more than one occasion, simply called it “Coastal”.
23. Directions were given using THEE stop light as a reference.And that was only if your town was cosmopolitan enough to actually have a stop light.
24. No matter what the actual street was named, the one that went through the center of town was ALWAYS referred to as “Main Street”. And when you heard your mom and grandmother reference “going to town”, that meant they were going shopping on Main Street. Plus kids who grew up in small town back in the 60’s actually knew what a sundry shop was.
25. Your teachers called you by your older siblings’ names.
26. Your teachers remembered when they taught your parents.
27. You could charge at any local store by just saying “charge it”–no need for metal “charge a plate”. Additionally, one could write checks without any ID. Half the time, you didn’t need a checkbook.Most stores allowed you to write generic checks and all you needed was a signature…no account number was even needed. A book of generic checks lived by almost every cash register in town. It made sense; there was just one bank in town and your parents were social with the owner/president.
Hi ya, Hugh Bennett!!!
28. There was no McDonald’s. In fact, up until the early 70’s, no national chains existed in small town America. Diary Queen came to KC in late 1972.
29. The closest mall was over an hour away. The nearest airport was a little farther.
30. It was normal to see an old man riding through town on a riding lawn mower. Or in Rat Jefferson’s case, a mule drawn gut wagon.
31 .You’ve lived in a small town if you’ve peed in a corn or cotton field…more than once.
All your needs were right there. And what you couldn’t get, we got in San Anonio, sopme 50 miles away. But we were self contained, for the most part.
There was one pharmacy.
One dry cleaner.
One sundries shop.
One grocery store.
One butcher shop.
Maybe a Ben Franklin’s Five and Dime store
One barber shop
A beauty salon or two for the ladies
Weller’s…a beer joint.
Reggie’s,too for the more discrimminating beer drinker.
And only a hand full of cafes or restaurtants with limited menus and strict hours of opertation. And when you decided to walk somewhere for grins or exercise, at least five people would pull over and ask if you wanted a ride.
32. My father drove a regulation Texas pick-up. Almost all of his friends did too. In each one was the Easy Rider Rifle Rack with at least three fully loaded bolt action hunting rifles suspended by hooks. It was also nothing at all to hear gunshots go off at various part of town. That meant someone was shooting at birds, a woodpecker chomping on part of his house or a rattlesnake that had the misfortune of crossing the road in front of any one of about 1700 sanguine necks that lived in my hometown.
33. You left your keys in your car both at home and when shopping in town. And not only that, you never locked the doors of your house because crime was unheard of..there was the occasional bike theft…kids would toilet paper a house or when the football team played their rivals there was the mandatory YOUR TEAM SUCKS grafitti sprayed on overpasses but other than that, crime wasn’t an issue……unless of course, two brilliant High School boys decided to place a homemade bomb in a locker.
That’s what you do when you’re intelligent, well read, curious about the ramifications of felonious behavior as a juvenile, bored and stuck living in the limited confines of a small town and mad at some guy in your history class.
That sounds like reason enough to blow up his damn locker.
Wow. I just realized that Karnes City had Jihadi, before Jihadi was a part of our daily lexicon.