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Lessons from Small Town, USA

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

Hanna City, Illinois, founded 1882, population 1200 (and maybe a few stray dogs & cats).

Recently, I visited my mom to work on a project at her house with my brother. We spent the weekend there and on Saturday morning I got up and went for a run around the town. It wasn’t my normal favorite place, the Heritage Trail in Dubuque, but it was like a walk down memory lane.

A state highway runs through the center of town & there are 6 main streets that cross the highway and make up the heart of town. To get my 4 mile run in I had to run down almost all of them. There was the little house I lived in before I was 10 years old, the grade school I walked to every day as a young boy, the dinky post office, the church we attended growing up, Gil’s Supper Club and The Hog Trof (I’ll explain what that is later).

It was a strange feeling running past the homes of childhood friends and the little baseball diamond at the Sportsmen’s Club where I played little league (I wasn’t very good at baseball).

It made me start thinking about the lessons you learn growing up in a small town…

Lesson 1: Everybody Knows Everybody

This is good and bad, depending on your point of view. Good if you’re a parent, bad if you’re a teenager. If you’re a parent, you know your neighbors are looking out for your kids. If you’re a teenager, you know people are watching and you’re gonna get busted if you step out of line.

Lesson 2: Work Hard, It’s Expected

In a rural town where many people are farmers or grew up on a farm, everybody knows about hard work. You grow up expecting to have chores as a kid, expected to work as a teenager and expected to make something of yourself in this world. Lazy people don’t get far.

Lesson 3: Neighbors Help Neighbors

If you’re in a jam, getting help is easy – everybody looks out for everybody and is always ready to pitch in. You got a basement that’s flooded, neighbors will help. Your car broke down, someone will stop and help you and give you a ride. Somebody is injured or sick, others will pitch in where needed.

There are plenty of quirky things about growing up in a small town, but there’s something about it that has some nostalgic appeal to me. Remember the Hog Trof – I told you I’d explain what that is. It’s a little diner where you can get the most heart-stopping, artery clogging breakfast in town. You can also get the latest news and inside scoop (some would call it gossip). I remember going to the Hog Trof as a boy after delivering newspapers on cold winter mornings. I’d get a hot chocolate and maybe a cinnamon roll, if I had some extra cash. It was a place with familiar faces and a place to get out of the cold, but it was also a place to connect and catch up with people. The familiarity was somehow comforting.

There are hundreds of small towns just like this one dotting the map across the Midwest. Some would call us the “flyover states”, but I’m proud to be a small town boy from the Midwest. Many of the lessons I’ve learned find their roots back in that small town. Small town life has its pros and cons for sure. I’m not sure I’d choose a small town now, but it sure was fun to reminisce recently as I ran through the streets where I grew up.

What’s your favorite thing about the town you grew up in?

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