Crookston qualifies as a small city that's close to the perfect size.
Some cities, like Minneapolis and Chicago, are obviously huge and, thus, are always thrown into the category of large cities. Others are more ambiguous. Crookston is one of those others. While it is safe to assume the town has never been referred to as a large city, expect maybe by someone from a hamlet with a population of 18, it has, depending on the source, been described as a small city, big or little town, large village and any of these nouns without the adjective.
So what do I call my hometown? Good question. After pondering for a time, I realized I usually refer to it as simply "Crookston." But I guess given the choice, small city sounds the most flattering yet accurate. Although "small" is not always a pleasing adjective, except when describing a woman who just lost 100 pounds and similar situations, in this case it is because just being classified as a city is an accomplishment. Get any smaller than a small city and you're a town, village or hamlet – much less desirable.
Not that there's anything wrong with these, if the population fits. I don't profess to know anything about official classifications or anything like that, but I consider a municipality with a population of around 200 to 1,000 a village and 1,500 to 6,000 a town. Anything below is a hamlet and above, up to around 12,000, a small city. After that, my system goes to just plain cities, then to large cities, then to metropolises.
Although my big-city dreams right out of high school told me otherwise, in later years I've come to realize that Crookston's size, population and land wise, is about right. It's small enough so that most of us are at least familiar with each other but large enough so that everyone doesn't necessarily know everything that's going on with everyone else (although Facebook has changed this significantly). I'm able to immediately refer callers who ask for Robin, Jim or Kelly to the family whose phone number has the same digits as our but with two transposed, and those wanting the music studio to call a similar number one digit off. Crookston is also not so big that you spend over an hour looking for a place after making a wrong turn.
The school district is a nice, comfortable size, too. Unlike the big-city schools my cousins attended, with graduating classes of 1,000-plus students, a good chunk of the kids attending Crookston schools know each other well enough to say "hey" in passing. We're not, however, so small that all the students within a few grades are buds just because there's no one else to hang out with. Plus, we're able to offer some things the smaller schools can't, like orchestra and construction trades classes.
I can't say I've had a whole lot of recent interaction with small-town schools, other than going to my daughters' activities in Ada, Warren and the like. At least when we go to these things, there's always a few Crookston families to talk to so you don't feel alone. And when we attend their events in Crookston, well, we're kept plenty busy saying hi and acknowledging all the other parents we know.
I must admit it felt a little weird being in Maddock, N.D. (population 382) last month, where my daughter's friend lives, to attend her dessert theatre event at the school. Kent and I knew Delores and her parents, and of course our daughter, but that was it. Otherwise, the diminutive gym and miniature auditorium were both filled with more than 150 people we had never, ever set eyes on before, but who seemed to all know each other famously, including the family we were visiting who, incidentally, are former Crookstonites. That's a small town for you.
Their junior and senior high bands and choir put on wonderful shows with great music. First the junior high high performed as we feasted on scrumptious desserts in the gym, and then it was on to the cramped auditorium to be entertained by the senior high. Their musical performances were focused on the theme "I've Been Everywhere," with skits, acting and dancing sprinkled in. Some were so hilarious the audience was almost rolling on the floor laughing. Since pretty much the whole school is involved in music – what else is there to do, some of the kids say – all the students were part of the production.
While watching these amazing performances, I thought, our school should do something like this. Then it hit me – this just wouldn't work for us. We're a lot larger (their graduating class has fewer than 20 kids) and have just too many students to do such an undertaking justice. Maddock students put a lot of time into this event and work all year choosing their songs, writing the script and creating the set. But they don't do as many other fairly large productions as us. Better to let the smaller schools glorify in what they do best and the larger ones concentrate on more challenging things.
Both the Maddock community and school seem tightly entwined. In a typical small town, the school bulletin also doubles as the community calendar, announcing what's happening with local churches and clubs as well as school activities. Everyone knows when it's your birthday because of this bulletin.
Small towns are OK, but I'm happy to be living here, where people can still maintain an element of anonymity and still feel a sense of community.