I grew up in a small town in Montana. A very small town. 141 people lived there the year that I graduated from high school. There were 9 students in my senior class. Nine. Actually, I didn’t even live in town. I lived 8 ½ miles outside of town, surrounded by cow pastures and wheat fields.
Even though I moved away from that small town and don’t have any plans to return there, I have a soft spot in my heart for rural living and am thankful for the lessons I learned while growing up there.
I learned to plan ahead. We lived 30 miles away from a grocery store. You had to have some idea of what was for dinner. Forget your homework? No one’s driving to town to bring it to you.
I learned to entertain myself. I realize that my age may be showing, but in the days before satellite dishes, we got three television channels via antennae. None of them played kids programming except on Saturday mornings. So we played outside. As high school students we couldn’t go to movies or the mall on a whim so we spent a lot of time hanging out at each other’s houses.
I learned to play sports. We couldn’t field a football or a volleyball team, but there was always basketball. Everyone made the team. Which means I got to play a bit and practice a lot. My skills were mediocre but I learned about competition and training and teamwork. I loved every minute of it and played until I graduated high school. Anywhere else, I would have been weeded out by 8th grade.
I learned to rely on people. In small town, there are not doggy daycares or professional house sitters. If you leave on vacation, you ask your neighbors to keep an eye on things.
I learned the concept of community. People in small towns watch out for you — for better or worse. Speed down a town street? Naturally, your parents will find out about it. But if your car has a flat tire, 5 people will stop to help you change it and then follow you to the service station just in case. At the service station, it will be fixed immediately because they know that you leave on vacation the next day and you can charge your account if you forgot your wallet.
Honestly, I like the convenience of living in a larger area. I like that I can grocery shop in a half-hour, counting drive time. I like to pick up a pizza for dinner or drive thru for coffee. I like that I can run out and buy my daughter a pair of snow boots when the temperature drops.
Yet none of these things require patience. Or relationship. In fact, they do nothing toward building character at all. Sometimes I worry that my kids are going to be wimps for growing up where we live.
However, I worry more that they won’t take the time to know people. To trust others, to ask for help.
Because you can make it pretty far in this world without ever planning a dinner menu.
But you can’t make it very far without friends.