For ND towns, size does matter

SAFE: Tiny origins, big hearts and big dreams.

North Dakota is, at its core, a vast, flat prairie speckled with tiny towns surrounded by country outskirts and farms run by hard-working folks bearing a typical Germans-from-Russia accent.

It’s a beautiful place, and it’s a rural place. Those who hail from this subsection of the arctic are expected to carry with them that small town charm that people anticipate. North Dakota and city life is about as incohesive as Hitler attending a party at a gay Gypsy bar.

Admittedly, there are no “real” cities here. Nothing to rival that of Chicago, New York City or even Minneapolis. What there is are fledgling cities, struggling weekend after weekend to provide an adequate nightlife for the 20-something crowd. It’s an awkward balance my hometown of Bismarck, N.D., failed in a spectacular fashion to pull off.

I went through my high school career not quite a city person, yet nowhere near a farmer. I grew up with little hometown pride, little chance of being a competitor on a national level and little understanding of who I am or where I came from. My North Dakota roots must resemble the spindly growths of a tree with ADD that forgot to take its meds, which is why I wish for the life of me I had grown up in a small town.

Sophomore Madi Sloan — and, admittedly two-year roommate of the writer — has grown up with the quintessential North Dakota upbringing. Frankly, her stories from her hometown of Lakota, N.D., give me the same pangs of longing I get when I walk by any kind of pastry.

Sloan tells me that the town of Lakota is home to about 800 people. The high school she attended had 90 people grades seven through 12. Her graduating class, the largest in the school at the time, had 20 kids. Both of her parents were also graduates of Lakota High School.

The town has four bars and five churches. The Dairy Queen on U.S. Highway 2 is a luxury and serves as the local high school hangout spot; a meeting place after school or practice where kids can eat and chill with one another. Although it’s only open April through October, the recently installed drive through makes the venue, and the town, all the more palatable.

“I would like to live there more than I’d like to live anywhere else,” Sloan said. “You don’t have to be scared of anything … it’s just a safe town, and you know everyone.”

The weekend sporting event is the social event to be at, Sloan said. Standing in stark contrast to the generally poorly attended class A events that dotted my high school career, even the away games would draw a crowd of loyal students and vans of girls who would hit the road to support the team.

The event of the year is the Turkey Barbeque and all-class reunion — which serves as a net, gathering those individuals who have moved away and pulling them home to north-eastern N.D. — that takes place at the beginning of every summer. Members of the community set up a large roaster made out of cement bricks; they cook around 100 turkeys whole over hot coals. Then there is time for fellowship, eating hot turkey and sharing in the community atmosphere lasts long after individuals have moved away.

“When you go home on Friday nights, people know you and run up and are excited to see you,” Sloan said, reminiscing on her own trips home during the school year. “Even though you’re not family, you kind of are.”

That strong community identity and pride is the true difference between North Dakota’s “cities” and the plentiful small towns that make up the bulk of the state’s majesty. Sure, there are some small town pitfalls — gossip spreads like glitter at a craft show, big concerts often require big treks and you aren’t likely to find a school club that focuses on the voodoo practices of that one tribe in southern Africa — but I’d take that over my psuedo-city any day.

“I like how everyone knows each other and anyone would help anyone if you needed it,” Sloan told me. “You can be involved with everything; you can be a leader in the things you want to be a leader in.”

And isn’t that beautiful?

Carrie Sandstrom is the editor-in-chief of  The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].