I was listening to Pandora yesterday and randomly–so, so randomly–Garth Brooks’ song “Friends In Low Places” came on. From the first few notes, I was instantly transported back to my rural high school gym, line dancing in a PE uniform and hating my life. But you know what? In that moment I also felt a pang of nostalgia for my tiny Oregon high school (my graduating class had a whopping 75 people in it), and I thought about all the other strange and awful and wonderful experiences I had there. So in honor of Garth Brooks and muddy trucks and parties in the woods, here are 10 ridiculous things that happen at rural, small town high schools…
1. You graduate with the exact same people you met on the first day of kindergarten. Small towns tend to be insular places, which means–at the risk of sounding dramatic–few new people come in, and no one ever leaves. Your class roster doesn’t change much in 12 years (which is why the arrival of a “new kid” is such a momentous event), and it’s not uncommon to go to prom with the kid who barfed on you in second grade.
2. Half the people in your class have the same last name. And at least three-quarters of the class are cousins. In fact, the yearbook might be more accurately titled “the family tree.”
3. The FFA wields an impressive amount of power and popularity. Whether or not your family actually lived anywhere near a farm, it was a smart move to join the Future Farmers of America. Those pig-breeding powerhouses could make or break you.
4. Eighth grade promotion is as lavish as many college graduations. I will never forget the time my friend Laila and I were discussing the details of our 8th grade promotion dresses and hairstyles in front of our friend Lydia, who went to a big school in the city. “What is 8th grade promotion?” she asked, and we were both stunned. “It’s when you graduate from middle school and you buy an expensive gown and get your hair done and walk down the aisle and get a diploma,” we explained. Lydia was totally perplexed. “Who cares about 8th grade?” she asked. People in small towns, that’s who. I got rid of my college graduation gown, but you damn well betcha my promotion dress is still hanging in my closet.
5. “The woods” is a perfectly normal location for a party. Want to get drunk and shoot guns and make out? So does everyone else! Meet us in the forest half a mile off the highway–take a left at the big rock.
6. Line dancing is part of the Physical Education curriculum. Forget yoga and archery, when it’s time for PE, you put on your crusty uniform and line up in the gym to do the grapevine to the “Watermelon Crawl.” And trust me: when you’re 26 and go on a road trip and find yourself in a rural dive bar with a juke box, these skills will come in handy.
7. Getting stuck behind a tractor is a perfectly good excuse for being tardy. Driving a tractor to school is an even better excuse (“I tried to get here in time for the test, but my combine tops out at 26 MPH.”)
8. The football coach is also your history teacher and the librarian is also the lunch lady. Teachers at small schools have to wear many hats. Some of those hats are not necessarily supposed to be worn simultaneously, but whatever.
9. If you have older siblings, your reputations begins wherever theirs left off. Here’s how it works: on the first day of class, the teacher is doing roll call and they get to your last name and pause. They look up and say, “Any relation to (older sibling’s name)?,” you say yes, and then the teacher will either inform you that your sibling is a perfect human specimen you can never live up to, or sigh dramatically and mutter, “Oh good, another one.” Upperclassmen will also make sure you inherit any of your sibling’s nicknames. In my friend Rachel’s case, this meant from the first day of high school on, she was known as “Little Chode.”
10. Senior pranks often involve farm animals and/or manure. Both are so plentiful, it just makes good sense to utilize them, you know?