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The International Writers Magazine:

Small Town Crap:
A Beginner’s Guide to the Idylic Life in Small Towns of the Prairies
Rosalea Hostetler

So 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.

Harper, Kansas
Baptist Church

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 world’s 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 Mennonite’s 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 she’d only do the right things, give generously of herself, and save the world with her prayers and sincerity.

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.

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 mother’s 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.


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 folks.

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 there’s 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, don’t. All fresh ideas are taboo, even downright threatening.

If you can’t 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 won’t 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 adults.

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 don’t want you in their town.

On the other hand, if you don’t 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 don’t 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 going on.

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 you.

CLIQUES - if you aren’t 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 won’t 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 women’s 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 and packs.

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 wrong way.

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.

Previously published in the Prairie Connection.
Harper. USA
© Rosalea Hostetler 2007

Small Town Crap - Part Two
Rosalea Hostetler
Getting Established for Acceptance
You are willing to take the risk of being rejected, and don’t 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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