International Writers Magazine:
A Beginners Guide to the Idylic Life in Small Towns of the
you dream of living in a small town because you are tired of the
stresses of big city life? You want peace and quiet, blue skies,
fresh air and sunshine? Flowers, bunny rabbits and birds? Cows and
horses? Kindly neighbors who smile and bring hot soup when you are
sick? Someone always ready to lend a helping hand? A place of peace
and calm, safety for your children, and convivial, intelligent coffee
shop conversations? Dream on, dream on.
These writings are
for those precious, naive souls who seek Utopia in the Heartland of
America, especially in the vast prairies of South Central Kansas and
northern Oklahoma. It is written by the worlds foremost authority
on small town crap.
Born on a Kansas farm in 1936 to Mennonite parents--a critical, intolerant,
hard working, prescription drug addicted mother and an open-minded,
God fearing, hard working, tolerant father--Rosalea Hostetler began
life with the worst and the best. Blinded by the Mennonites doctrine
of love and "the whole world will align perfectly and adore your
quaintness," it took many years of searching assisted by professional
help, to cope with what was being handed to her by the very folks who
promised her a beautiful life if shed only do the right things,
give generously of herself, and save the world with her prayers and
Underlying the surface of the peace and beauty of the prairies, however,
is a seething hell awaiting those who transgress and take the wrong
step. One wrong step, no matter how youthfully innocent or unintended,
and there is no going back. This guide is to enlighten anyone who is
considering moving to a small town.
It is also an important guide for any traveler who must traverse the
prairies, especially those who are living "outside the box"
such a gays and lesbians, females alone, or those of a different skin
color, wear creative fashions, or speak with an accent.
FROM THE AUTHOR
As a child, my mother clearly saw the early decline of our hometown,
Harper, in South Central Kansas. I would often hear her say, "We
need young people to save our town." It was inevitable that her
wish would eventually became my dream: I would work to bring new inhabitants
to the prairies, making it mutual interchange between those who were
born into the rewards of peaceful prairie life, next to nature, and
those who yearned for it, just as I did when I left the big city to
return home. I knew that it takes people to keep a town alive and vital.
If a town declines due to attrition, there is no hope for renewal unless
new people arrive to rebuild it. My mothers message rang loud
and clear. This odyssey will be intertwined with my early memories of
the way "life is supposed to be" and the harsh realties and
awakenings of modern times.
HOW TO PREPARE TO MAKE THE MOVE
Every small town has it own personality, attitudes and "aura."
Before moving into a small town, for the best possible transition, it
is imperative to spend DAYS patronizing local businesses--especially
the coffee shop and farm coop--listening and getting to know the local
Except for towns inundated with local fear where you will be eyed suspiciously
the moment you walk though the door, most business people will be guardedly
friendly. Rarely will you find a small town where they will instantly
greet you warmly and cordially.
It has been my experience that the further west I travel, the friendlier
folks are. This may be due to their isolation when the next town of
any size is 70 miles away. People have social natures in a community
that is isolated; you are likely to be warmly greeted.
But theres far more to it than the first greeting. It is important
to learn the language of nuances, "aside" remarks, body posture,
eye contact, subject matter. Just because someone talks to you for three
hours at the coffee shop, does not mean they are going to remember you
when you move to town. Generally, those cheerful souls will rudely shut
you out of their clique the day you settle in. You will never be invited
to join their table at the club or coffee shop, although you may quietly
take a seat to the side, and listen. If you have anything to say, dont.
All fresh ideas are taboo, even downright threatening.
If you cant speak the language of agriculture and ranching, you
will have no place in small towns. Months before moving, subscribe to
every farm and ranch magazine that covers the region in which you will
be living. Watch agriculture news on television. Bring up related subjects
on the Internet. Educate yourself in every possible way as to the mind
set of the area. If possible spend time on a "guest" farm
or ranch, too.
Never ask a local what their town is like. It will be colored strongly,
one way or another, or if the town is apathy-based, you wont learn
a thing. It is better to get an honest assessment of the attitudes and
tone of a community by visiting all other small towns in a 50 mile radius.
Because they live further way, what they tell you will have no bearing
on their life, so you are likely to get an honest answer although many
things tend to be colored by gossip and hearsay, so that also has to
be taken into consideration. By doing some preliminary research on your
own, you can combine what you learn and come to your own conclusion.
A visit to the town library will also reveal much. Observe the largest
and smallest sections of reading material and you will quickly see the
mindset of the community.
When all else fails, talk to teenagers. They may still be immature in
their thinking, or involved in secret drug use, but they tend to tell
truthful answers that can be used to weigh information provided by the
I used to think that a new resident should go directly to the city council
and share your business plan, even though there are no laws that say
you have to do this. But I have learned that if you tell them what you
plan to bring to their community, your background is far more complex
than theirs because they never travel, and you are perceived as a smart
alec and a "know it all. They will use your information against
you, in an attempt to "bring you down." No matter what they
mouth, they really dont want you in their town.
On the other hand, if you dont tell them anything, insecure leadership
becomes paranoid and hostile because you are invading "their"
territory. And God forbid, if you open a business similar to another
one in town. They simply cannot grasp the concept that the more you
have alike, the more you will attract outside business. Everyone will
profit, but they dont get it and feel immensely threatened by
an outsider opening a similar business.
From my many years and many miles of traveling the prairies, I have
observed that all small towns have some common threads. Once you learn
"the rules," it will be infinitely easier to assess what is
BULLIES who rule either through intimidation or wealth. Not all of course,
but many small town leaders are bullies, all school and social chums
of one another. Research show that bullies often have a mental illness,
and thus vacillate from charm to vitriol, depending how they are using
CLIQUES - if you arent part of their clique (as an outsider you
probably never will be unless you are a doctor, or are married to a
doctor, CEO--someone with money/status), you wont stand a chance
of accomplishing anything outside their norm.
GOSSIP - Gossip serves a function in society to keep people from killing
each other, so some social scientists believe. But with all the damage
malicious gossip can wrack, it might be better to die.
WOMEN HAVE FEW RIGHTS - Women are to be seen, not heard - It is still
the dark ages as far as womens rights go in small towns. Women
do not travel alone except to the grocery store or to pay the bills,
or shop at Wal-Mart. For social occasions, they tend to travel in pairs
TIGHT WADS Almost without exception, people in small prairie communities
are extremely stingy, and grip over the slightest increase in a price.
They have been known to stampede out of a business, never to return,
if a cup of coffee was raised ten cents, and it ignited the crowd the
APATHY is rampant in many small towns. If they have active sports programs,
attended by many screaming, devoted locals, you can almost be assured
that overall, the citizens will be apathetic about any other activity
or endeavor, especially in the arts and humanities.
published in the Prairie Connection.
© Rosalea Hostetler 2007
Town Crap - Part Two
Getting Established for Acceptance
You are willing to take the risk of
being rejected, and dont mind if you are shunned and isolated.
Or you are confident you can play by the rules well enough to fit in
and be accepted
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