Preface: This post works best if you play Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Simple Kind of Man” while you’re reading it.
There’s been a lot of talk during the silly-season of this election about “small town values,” but no one really ever stops to define what the hell those values are (probably because the folks who are extolling those values only ever stop in “small towns” to take a piss or give a stump speech). They simply use the term in nebulous, general terms in such a way that confuses me. Fortunately for you, my good reader, I think I might be able to help out.
First, let me list my credentials for discussing “small town values.” I was born and raised in Gholson, Texas, population 922 (as of the 2000 census). Gholson encompasses an area 11.7 square miles northwest of Waco, and ten percent of that area is occupied by my family’s farm. 11% percent of the population is well below the poverty line, but in reality, I’m guessing that figure is probably much higher because a lot of the really poor people don’t file tax returns and would most likely shoot the census man. I lived there until I was 26, so I think I’m pretty qualified to discuss “small town values.”
So what’s it like in a town like Gholson?
Well, I learned to drive while I was still in grammar school. I could double-clutch and speed-shift a standard transmission before city kids even dreamed of enrolling in driver’s ed. Every once in a while you’ll see someone riding a horse on the road…more often you’ll see some jackass kid on a four-wheeler running sixty miles an hour on a one lane road. It’s also a pretty common sight to see a tractor creeping along a road with a convoy of cars waiting to pass.
There is no police department. If you have a problem, you basically have two options: a) Call the Sheriff and wait an hour for a deputy to show up; b) Take care of the problem your damn self. The same pretty much goes for ambulances, although EMS will usually show up in under an hour. We do have an extremely competent volunteer fire department, but a word of warning: Don’t let your house catch on fire after eight PM on Friday or Saturday night. Oh, the guys will show up and put out the fire, but I won’t guarantee that all of them will be sober. In fact, you’ll probably have a few guys who sit around after the fire is out to finish their party that you so rudely interrupted with your emergency.
The scarcity of the police is one of the reasons that people in Gholson will always be pro-gun, and truthfully, I can’t say I blame them. Another reason for the pro-gun stance are the animals–skunks, armadillos, bobcats, feral dogs, snakes, grackles–there is no animal control to take care of these things. If any of these animals becomes a pest your best recourse is a 12-gauge shotgun (Before anyone sends me hatemail about shooting any of these animals, try imagining a skunk that has burrowed under the porch of your house. A day or two of that, and I double-guarantee you’ll be standing outside in your underwear at midnight, blindly blasting under the porch just praying for a direct hit).
The other reason guns are popular? A skewed view of violence in our society. Most of these folks get their news from the local affiliate newscast at ten, and as study after study has shown, those type of people are far more likely to overestimate the level of violence in our society. And despite the size of the place, there is actually less of a feeling of community in Gholson than there is in the city. Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Here’s why: Neighbors in Gholson are usually separated by a good deal of land, and as such, people in small towns are not used to dealing with other people in close proximity. Consequently, they don’t have the same skill-set of negotiation and compromise that city-folk must have as a survival technique. “What do you mean the Carpenter’s boy drove his pickup on our land? I see him do it again and I’m shooting the tires right off his truck!”
Currently, Gholson has a very good school. The superintendent, Pat McFerrin, deserves major credit for turning Gholson ISD around. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the school during my tenure. Also, Ghoslon only goes up to grade eight. After that, a student either goes to West ISD or Aquilla ISD. While Gholson ISD is an exemplary elementary school, Aquilla ISD is almost like its evil doppelganger. The quality of education at Aquilla is awful.
According to the 2000 census, only 74% of the population of Gholson has a high school diploma, and sadly, only 8.8 percent of the population has a bachelor’s or higher. 74% sounds, well horrible, but at least most people have a high school diploma, right? Well, maybe. Of course, some of them could have gotten that diploma from Aquilla, which might actually be slightly worse than not having one at all.
Now, as any decently intelligent person will concede, formal education does not directly correlate into intelligence, and here’s why I think “small town value” voters are antagonistic towards education. The people there aren’t dumb, and the one thing they certainly don’t like is pity. The second thing they most certainly do not like is condescension. If you sat a “small town values” voter down and showed them why they are voting against their economic interests, I think most of them would get it. But they don’t like politicians or pundits acting like they’re dumb or pretending to take care of them, and I have a feeling that many of them vote against their interests out of pure spite.
Second, and this one is purely speculative on my part, I think they also resent people who genuinely are more intelligent than they are. Since they’ve never really been intellectually challenged and pushed by an obvious intellectual superior, an experience which normally only occurs in an academic setting at the collegiate level, they mistakenly think that all intellectual superiors are making fun of them.
Racism. I can’t even describe how bad it is. This one depresses me so much that I’m not even going to expound upon it; suffice to say that in Aquilla, there is still a proud chapter of the KKK.
This one may surprise a lot of people, but one of the “small town values” that few people rarely ever mention is the value placed on drugs. Jesus, there are a lot of drugs in Gholson. And I’m not really even counting pot. Meth. Coke. Crack. Lots of huffers. I can’t stress this one enough: There are a shit-ton of drugs in small towns.
And people in small towns drink a helluva lot. In fact, for high school kids, drinking and driving isn’t that big of a deal (sorry mom). It’s not that big of a deal for the older folks either. Pretty much everyone I know will drive around the “backroads” and drink. And why not? On many of the roads you’ll never pass a car, and if you get into a wreck the only potential casualty will be a barbed wire fence or an oak tree. Both of which will do more damage to the drunk driver than the other way around. Matter of fact, I’d say that most “small town values” voters drink and drive far more often than any other demographic. During the weekend in Gholson, Texas, drinking and driving is considered a viable form of entertainment.
Small town religion–I’m going to tread lightly here because I have such a raw, unadulterated hatred for bible-thumping hypocrites that every other word in this section will simply be “rotten motherfuckers” if I’m not careful. Religion in small towns equals the King James version of the bible. I’d also say they practice “Christianity” less than they practice “Paulianity.” They also have no sense of historicity of the Bible, and they simply don’t understand how Christianity has been influenced by other religions and vice versa. Also, the folks the drunkest on Saturday night will most likely be the ones screaming about the sins of drinking and fornicating on Sunday morning. That’s all I’ll say about that.
But speaking of fornicating, there’s a lot of incestuous screwing going on in small towns, and the “small town values” folks start screwing at a young age. Look, aside from drinking and screwing there just isn’t a lot to do. Well, okay, fist fighting. So there’s three things to do.
The one thing I learned about living in Ghoslon is that “small town values” people are just like people anywhere: a few winners, a whole lot of losers. So when you hear a politician say something about “small town values,” I hope that instead of a fucking Norman Rockwell painting you think of a meth-head high school dropout, who has on more than one occasion punched someone in the face while in a gas station simply because he was bored. Because statistically, you’re more likely to encounter the latter instead of the former when searching for “small town values.”
That, my friend, was the best description of living in a small town I have ever read. It could have used a little less rancor, but the facts are absolutely straight. I would like to add one small thing. I grew up in a small town. When I was eighteen I moved to the city. Today, I can say with a great deal of certainty that I feel far safer living in a suburb than I ever did living in rural Texas.
“I have such a raw, unadulterated hatred for bible-thumping hypocrites that every other word in this section will simply be “rotten motherfuckers” if I’m not careful.”