Life in the Burg: “Kids in the Burg” Vol. 3 Art. 3

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I’m the product of rural Nebraska. I grew up playing in the dirt. Building forts in our shelterbelt. Getting lost in cornfields. I spent more time riding in the bed of a pick up than up front in the cab. Looking back I realize my childhood was equal parts adventure, hard work and freedom.

This summer, we’ve been blessed with having family—our nieces and nephew—spend a fair amount of time in Petersburg. They’re a mix of city kids and farm girls. And although all of them have spent time here before, this was the first time I was struck by how different their childhood experiences are. Needless to say, it has been an eye-opening experience.

I know I’ve mentioned this before but one of my favorite “gifts” to our children comes with two wheels. Like most Petersburg kids, they spend countless hours cruising town on their bikes. When their cousins were here, most of them got a taste of this freedom. It didn’t matter if they were from the city or the farm; we heard over and over again how cool it is to ride your bike beyond the constraints of your driveway. Even though I restricted them to a few blocks, they were experiencing a sense of freedom some kids will never know.

If you’ve ever spent time on a farm, I’m sure you didn’t always wear a seatbelt…or limit the number of passengers to the legal limits of the vehicle. This was another new experience to our guests. When chore time came, we all climbed into a vehicle and the oldest cousin started panicking about seatbelts and where everyone was going to sit. When I explained that we weren’t going far and there wouldn’t be any other cars around us, the reaction I received was wide eyes and uncertainty. It’s a good thing. She should believe in safety. But riding in the back of a pick-up and packing a few extra people in the cab is strangely liberating. I’m not sure she enjoyed the ride but I like to think a small part of her did.

The highlight of our adventures could have been checking chickens. While the city kids approached with caution, and were very careful around our birds, the farm kids had the exact opposite reaction. As our usual routine, my kids are in charge of spreading scraps in the outside portion of the chicken coop while I fill the feeder inside. I ducked inside and within 60 seconds, screaming and squawking filled the air on the other side of the door. I quickly realized the head rooster had met my son at the door and bullied his way out.

Imagine four children under the age of 10 running in circles, arms flailing, screaming for someone to save them. Meanwhile the rooster, just two feet outside the coop, stood watching them. No doubt confused by the commotion. I stepped between the hysterical kids and the rooster. It took a while but I convinced the kids to make their way over to the car so I could herd the rooster back into the coop. He was locked back up before the screaming stopped. I fully realize that my kids, who have been with these chickens from the beginning, weren’t any calmer than their cousins. But it was an adventure none of them will soon forget.

In the last few weeks, these kids have built indoor and outdoor forts and chased kittens from one side of the farm to the other. They’ve used an old cattle gate as a carnival ride and experienced the midway at the Boone County Fair. They’ve cruised Main on foot, on bikes and in a rusty old pick-up. They fully experienced Life in the Burg this summer, and with any luck they’ll hold onto the freedom and adventure that this little town has to offer well into adulthood.