Pleasant, Ind. — ''This here's a 'poke and plum' town. You poke your head around the corner, and you're plumb out of town.'' So speaks S. J. Morton.
And he's right.
Ask Curtis (Shorty) Morton, proprietor of the store where Mr. Morton is sitting at the moment, to figure the population of his hometown, and he does a mental head count, finally arriving at a rough total of 27 or so.
This place is small enough not to exist, but big enough to have a road sign proclaiming its name. ''How big is it?'' Mr. Morton asks rhetorically. ''Just what you see.''
What you see in the countryside here bears an astonishing resemblance to New England; but the four-corners heart of Pleasant is all Midwestern farm country. In the failing light of a purple sunset, you see the outlines of a gas station, a farmhouse, and the store.
The signs telling you you have just entered and that you have just left Pleasant, Ind., are so close together that a traveler feels he is meeting himself on a bend in the road. They tightly sandwich Shorty and Jean Morton's store, which sells a collection of life's basic necessities.
This store offers four or five reasonably comfortable straight-back chairs for ''hunters and fishers and golfers and other liars to sit in,'' as Mr. Morton puts it.
Right now, the signs of family and neighbors are strong. Pleasant is apparently big enough to include a good deal of family affection. In the midst of homespun jokes (''This town has the only pleasant cemetery I've heard of''), Jean Morton holds her 15-month-old grand-daughter, Keli, whose potty chair perches proudly on the counter.
The Mortons' son lives nearby on his own small farm. Their daughter, Karen, is up to visit from a neighboring town. And from the way Keli gets handled and catered to, it's obvious that family ties grow strong in this farming country.
Shorty went to the one-room school here that closed in the early '60s. His children mostly went to cooperative schools, and he didn't like the change one bit. ''I think kids learned more (in the one-room school) than they do now. We've got kids that can't make change.''
''If I were running a factory,'' one of his neighbors chimes in, ''I'd take my man out of the country for a worker. Kids out in the city are all stuck in one track. Kids here know how to do a lot of different things.''
The folks around this store seem a close-knit group, with the Morton family at the core. The conversation drifts around to a lawn mower that ''walked off in broad daylight the other day,'' an unusual occurrence in Pleasant, where people are used to leaving things unattended and finding them in the same place.
Not just material possessions, either. It's a matter of some comment among the Mortons and their friends that people who grow up in such places as this tend not to lose sight of one another. Shorty Morton was born and raised here. Most of his friends come from very close by.
''I don't know why,'' he says reflectively, ''but families seem to cling together around here. Got no alternative, I guess.''