The Odessa Record -

Survival in small town U.S.A. How do you do it?


November 9, 2017

This past summer I found myself sitting in the middle of a dirt road/driveway leading to a friend’s farmhouse listening. Listening to nothing, but then again listening to everything. The wind in the grass, the lowing of cattle and the sound of horses hoofs as they run from one location to another. There was no noise of passing cars, cell phones, stereos, televisions or that low electrical hum that you never notice until the power goes out. I was listening to nothing. Nothing but the sound of nature, and it was so incredibly peaceful I thought to myself, “Why would anyone want to live anywhere else?”

In another life, if I had seen me sitting there in the middle of a dirt road/driveway I probably would have thought something was wrong or that I’d lost my marbles. I’ve discovered, though, since coming here, that sitting in the middle of that dirt road listening to nothing is just as normal to me now as driving 45 minutes (one way), to the nearest Wally World and not seeing a single car for 28 minutes of the trip, or crossing a state highway kitty corner, at 9 o’clock on a Monday morning. It’s all part of a much simpler, less chaotic life.

I’ve decided that anyone who lives in a small town is a survivor. I’m not talking Moses Lake small, or even Ephrata small for that matter. Soap Lake is small by numbers but its in such close proximity to Ephrata that it’s not remote enough for me to consider it small. I’m talking Odessa small, Lamona small and Harrington small. The kind of towns that are small enough they really should be considered villages. Not only are they small in population but they are also located in such remote locations. There is no “quick trip” to the store for certain things. Take coconut oil for example. What if you were to happen to have a coconut oil emergency? There is no running to Odessa Foods to pick it up. You either order it online or you drive to the nearest store that sells coconut oil, which is a minimum 45 minute drive no matter what.

So while I was sitting on that dirt road taking in nothing and enjoying every peaceful minute of it, I wondered if everyone had something that was key to their survival in a small town and what they might be. So via Facebook I asked this, “Send me one thing that is key to survival in a small town, especially if you are an import/transplant.”

My first comment was from Joyce M. She suggested “Try going to church. We made friends at Christ Lutheran” when she and her husband moved here. She then went on to say, “A small business owner in Olympia told me someone had told them Odessa wasn't a friendly town, so they didn't buy. We moved here anyway and made friends right away. I guess if you are friendly, you will make friends.” I think people naturally give small towns a bad rap when being considered unfriendly. Personally, I have found that if you put yourself out there you will get a better response from others. I don’t think people from small towns are unfriendly, I think it is more a matter of someone new moving to a small town and not wanting to step on toes or feel stupid, so they don’t say anything to the locals. The locals are more than likely thinking the person new to town didn’t say hello, so therefore they must be snobby and think they are too good for our town. It’s more about non, or miscommunication than anything.

Joyce is right, if you’re friendly, you will make friends. If not, life can be a lonely existence in a small town.

Miranda T. has a similar thought as a lot of the townsfolk with her answer, “Amazon Prime, Jet, Boxed and All are your best friends!!!” I think everyone I know in town shops online in some way, shape, or form.

“Get a hobby!” says Lacey B. “Whether it be working on cars, tractors or your home, whatever. It helps to pass the slow times.”

Tammy T. advises, “Be kind to your neighbors. You never know when you may need their help or expertise. I love mine and so does my mom.” The only thing I can say to that is, “Of course you do, Tammy, your neighbors are awesome!”

“Respect your neighbors because in a town this small, everyone is your neighbor, everyone is connected and they probably aren't going anywhere. LOL.” Similar advice is given by Amberlyn J. Amanda F. offers,”Be nice. Keep the drama to a minimum.” VERY TRUE!

Karen C. says (and I agree with her whole-heartedly),“Respect the elderly people. They are the ones who made the small town you live in great.”

“Keep your yards mowed and spray your weeds so that they don't re-seed on your neighbor’s yard,’ says Lisa S. “Take a little pride in how your yard looks.”

Valerie F. offers sage advice with, “Keep your nose where it belongs, on your face.”

My great friend I’ve had since age six, Junior A. and Lyndsay R. offer the best advice I’ve read yet, Juniors being, “Tequila and wine and a great BBQ,” while Lyndsay wrote, “Remember that nearly everyone is related somehow!” This is SO true. Its just smart thinking not to talk BS about anyone, or it will usually come back and bite you in the butt.

Kristin D. uses humor to survive and writes, “Wine and a whole lotta Jesus.”

“Wave to everyone you pass on the road and greet people,” is the amusing but true advice from Katy O. “I remember doing this when I was at college in Tacoma. People used to look at me so weird. Guess it wasn't as normal as I thought it was.”

Amberlyn J. has similar thoughts, “Wave to everyone! It was one of my first favorite things about moving here, everyone waving! I want my children and their children to experience that same heart-warming feeling in the future. So please keep this habit up.”

“If you're a transplant from the city, just remember,” says Mike R. “we don't care how you did it in Chicago and don't try to change us INTO Chicago.”

“Talk to the older people. The stories and tales they can tell you are incredible.” Says Tammy T. “I have heard some good "history" by talking to some of my dad's old friends. Sadly they are passing away and when they do, so do the stories.”

Kristen K. says her key to survival is, “A car.”

Jim C. said, “In the BIG City, you don't appreciate the quiet life, until it's gone. Saying Hi is a big one.”

Gina S. said, “A trustworthy friend, they are very hard to come by living in a tiny town.” While Darrell S. says, “For me. Don't trust anyone.

Karen C. says, “For me it's when someone is in need of help. Like simply opening a car door so the lady can put her groceries in or taking someone out-of-town shopping when they don't have transportation and don't charge them money. That's what brings the community together.”

“Looking beyond all the negativity can be tough sometimes, but then you see good where you know you wouldn't see it anywhere else. For example: Working harvest here at the scales I knew there was going to be at least one farmer that normally brings his wheat in here that was going to have a tough time this year and then low and behold his wheat starts coming in! It's not him driving, it's not him harvesting, but instead, a group of farmers had gotten together and each took up his fields! That to me is beautiful!” Adds Miranda T. “Being a single mom, there have been a few times where I find it difficult to get my daughter to doctors or dental appointments because I’m working. I can think of a few occasions where a few certain people have been willing to take her for me and that has been a life saver! Again, this wouldn’t happen in a big town, nor would you really know anyone enough to trust them to do it either.”

“Find “your people.” That group of people who are always there for you and who you trust and get together with them often,” says Laura C. “Small town living can be lonely. That was the hardest part for me.”

“Be kind and smile,” Raye S. shares. “I read a quote the other day that I told myself I would implement in my life. “Don’t gossip about her, pray for her.” So true for small town living; it’s too easy to get caught up in the he said, she said.”

Here is one that was added by Elisabeth S. which I completely agree with. “Being able to walk everywhere.” But to that I will add, “Being able to walk anywhere in Odessa in 15 minutes or less.

Alyssa W. simply says her survival depended on “Moving.” Charlotte J. states, “It’s as simple as having friends.”

“Smile and nod knowingly,” says Lynnae S. “Even though you do not give a _ _ _ _!” A similar addition is “Compliment people,” is what Claudia G. submitted and Lisa S. adds, “Just remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.”

“By getting involved, then by getting a little superficial,” offers Brittney W. “Internet is a huge key to survival in a small town because a small town doesn’t offer everything you may need or want, that a big city can offer.” She adds, “By getting involved I mean get involved with everything! Go to high school sports games, help the community get ready for Fest, support and buy locally when you can, go to the park, enjoy the pool, sign up for events, go golfing, etc.... Just get out there to meet people and be a part of what makes a small town, a small town.”

“What I’ve learned from Odessa is that it’s OK to just say “Hi” to someone you may not know yet, but rest assured you will,” states Jim C. “When I first moved here I couldn’t believe that people would just say hi without an agenda. This is an amazing thing. This place is an island of calm and rest in a huge storm of turmoil. I know it may not seem like a big thing, but it is to someone who’s seen both sides, and this is a life worth keeping.”

In the end I believe the bottom line to surviving in a small town is, “Be polite, be friendly and don’t be nosy. Put yourself out there and get to know the locals from your community. If you do this, I am pretty sure it will be reciprocated by most people you encounter.

I disagree with the general consensus that small towns are not friendly. You get back, what you put out into the world and I truly believe that if you are walking down the street with a smile on your face you are going to get more smiles and hellos back from the people you encounter along the way.

There is a sense of community in a small town that you could never get living in a city. Here,you can leave the keys in your car, or run to the store without locking up your house because you have to worry about someone stealing from you.

I’m not saying that there is no crime here, or that no one is going to steal from you, because that isn’t true at all. There is just a lot less crime here than in any larger city. My theory is that since we live in a community of less than 1,000 people, everybody knows everybody else. Therefore, we tend to hold each other accountable more often for our mistakes.

So take a walk, say hi and get to know the faces in your neighborhood. Do a random act of kindness by helping someone with their groceries or shoveling their sidewalk in winter. There are so many things we can do to continue to make this small town great.”


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