Growing up in a one-horse town


I grew up in a small town. How small was it, you might ask? Well, the official population was 715 people, it had one traffic light and four gas stations that mainly provided fuel to the pickup trucks and tractors for the farms that surrounded us. It was so small everyone knew just about everyone else. If you spit out your back door your neighbor’s dog got splashed.

Nothing in my home town was farther than two miles from anything else. When I was growing up, half the town didn’t have electricity or running water. We had a fire truck, but no salaried firemen. Whenever there was a fire, people just showed up and helped put it out. The fire truck driver was the mayor’s cousin, and the only person trusted with the key to the ignition. We had a town constable who never wore a uniform and whenever there was a disturbance more serious than someone stealing a chicken, he called in the county sheriff from the county seat, ten miles away.

I call it a one-horse town, but that’s just a euphemism, because we had almost as many horses as people and a lot more cows, pigs, and dogs than people because just about everyone in town was either a farmer, or supported the agriculture industry.

My family had a small farm of about five-acres. We raised pigs and grew what were called ‘truck’ crops, which was a term for small quantities of fruits and vegetables that were sold from the back of a pickup after harvest. We also raised chickens and rabbits, but they were mostly for personal consumption. The pigs were our money maker.

We weren’t the only hog farm in the area either. I remember about four others. Slaughter time was like the county fair. There would be squealing so loud you could hear it a mile away, and the smell of blood hung heavily in the air for days. Big frames would be erected in back yards where the slaughtered pigs would be gutted, skinned, and cut up for market.

I have your attention, don’t I?

You were probably thinking, such a small place, it must be idyllic. My friend, it was anything but.

As I look back over the years, I’ve concluded that the main difference between living in a small town and in a big city is that in a city the turmoil is often so far away you’re unaware of it, but in a small town, you have a front-row seat to every tragedy. And, small towns have as much tragedy per capita as any large city. The only thing we never had to worry about was traffic jams.

I smile when I hear people talk about the ills of the modern age. I grew up in the 40s and 50s—I graduated from high school and left the country in 1962—and as I look back, the only difference I see between then and now is that communications technology has made it possible for more people to know more about what goes on.

I remember when I was five, sitting in my front yard playing, I saw two men at a roadhouse down the hill from my house get into an argument over a board game and one of them pulled out a gun and shot the other. When I was fifteen, some friends and I went to a dance at another roadhouse (called honky tonks back then, and open to people my age because alcohol sales were illegal) I saw a woman get into an argument with her dance partner. She took a knife from her purse and sliced his chest right there on the dance floor. Fortunately, neither victim died in these two incidents. In other incidents I either witnessed or was aware of, people were not so lucky. You see, it seems that everyone in that little town, and all the other little towns around us, owned a gun and too many disputes were settled with either a gun or a knife.

Sound familiar?

The only thing new now is that the weapon of choice seems to be an AR-15 and more people are attacking total strangers.

Maybe the problem is that we’re living in a one-horse world but now, instead of party line telephones we have smart phones and our circle of awareness is greatly widened. – NWI