Fortunately, my daughter’s kindergarten class had just discussed policemen and their role and function, so she knew what to do when she saw someone wearing a Chicago Cubs hat at a Milwaukee Brewers home game a couple of summers ago.
She squirmed out of my hand, ran to the nearest officer, and insisted he arrest the Cubs fan.
“Why?” the policeman asked her.
“Because he’s wearing a Cubs hat,” she said gravely, “and this is Milwaukee.”
This is. And this is a great improvement over four years ago, when we’d just arrived here from Washington, D.C. We were practicing our new street address – street number, name and so on – but when I said, “Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” this same daughter, then 3, stopped me short. “Wait,” she said. “We live in Milwaukee?”
We do. And as parents who grew up all over the place – my wife was a Navy brat, I had a bicoastal childhood that started in D.C. and finished in L.A. – we marvel at our three daughters, who, unlike us, will never hesitate when asked their hometown. Even if we move tomorrow (and girls, if you’re reading this, we’re not), it’s clear the relatively short life we’ve lived here has convinced them that Wisconsin is where they are irrevocably from.
It’s not just because my daughters loathe the Cubs (though we do favor a local T-shirt that says, in large letters, “GO CUBS GO!” and then, in smaller type, “And take your fans with you!”). Or because they pronounce “bag” as “beg,” or count as their favorite time of year not Christmas, but Lent, six weeks when every restaurant, bar and Catholic church basement hosts a no-holds (or trans fats)–barred Friday fish fry.
It’s because this is a state people are proud to claim. Certainly, we have our problems. California out-produces us in cheese, we’re still looking for where all those manufacturing jobs went and our waterways are under attack from a variety of sources.
But for the people who live here, Wisconsin is fundamentally, inarguably home. D.C. and L.A. aren’t like that. In part it’s because the populations of those cities are always on the move; everyone seems to be from somewhere else. In Wisconsin, and Milwaukee in particular, though, people are from here. Their parents live up the block, and their grandparents live across town. Kids go to the school their parents went to. And by God, they all root for the same football team. (We’ve heard about those people in far western Wisconsin who root for the Vikings, but – really?)
A couple of years after we moved here, we found a local college student we so loved and trusted as a babysitter that we felt emboldened to leave our children with her while we parents absconded for a weekend getaway. Everything went fine until a Packers playoff game began. “How are things?” we texted (because we’ve learned this is how you communicate with babysitters in the 21st century). No reply. We tried, “All okay?” (We spell out “okay” and use upper- and lowercase while texting, which means we haven’t learned much.) Finally, an answer: “OMG! THEY’RE LOSING!!!” It took a few more rounds of back-and-forth about the poor Packers, and an e-mailed picture of our three girls watching TV, each carefully dressed in Packer green-and-gold, for us to confirm everything was indeed OK.
Or not OK, the sitter reminded us. The Packers lost.
I root for the home teams, too, but I can see it’s different for my daughters. They don’t just live here, Wisconsin lives in them, woven into their DNA in a way out-of-towners, like our friends back East, will never get. We visited our D.C. friends not long ago, and trying to spread some Dairyland cheer, sent an e-mail ahead of time offering a stadium staple: bratwurst. “Should we bring the brats?” my wife wrote.
A cautious, concerned reply appeared in our in-box soon after: “Sure … is everything all right? Your kids are always welcome here.”
Everything’s great. And while we’re glad they’re welcome there, we’re even gladder they are from here, Wisconsin.
Liam Callanan’s favorite brats come from Germano, his local butcher at Sendik’s on Downer in Milwaukee, followed closely by the ones from Nolechek’s in Thorp. This article appeared in the September/October 2010 issue of Wisconsin Trails.
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