The Goodbye is an occasional series about women leaving a place behind. Are you moving and feeling nostalgic? Fill out this form, and you could be part of the series.
My mother brought me to Milwaukee in 1986, when I was 4 years old. More than three decades later, I’m leaving the city after spending my entire life here.
Throughout my adult life, I’ve been working toward eventually leaving Milwaukee. I’d long wanted to live somewhere warmer — winters in Milwaukee can be bitterly cold as well as snowy, neither of which I enjoy. But as I’ve gotten older, that desire has evolved into wanting to live where the taxes I pay benefit a greater good, like health care and schools, and where there is less gun violence. I have chosen to emigrate my family to Vancouver, Canada.
The decision to leave my hometown and home country did not come easily, but many times through the years I’ve encountered affirmations of that decision, both personally and nationally. My family has nearly had to file bankruptcy due to medical debt. I’ve realized time and again that our political and governmental system is fundamentally flawed, from the rampant gerrymandering in Wisconsin to the election of Donald Trump. And more than once on my way home from working as a nurse at a hospital, I have traveled past the crime scene of the shooting victim I’d treated. My 6-year-old son found a loaded gun in our backyard; the Milwaukee area has suffered from mass shootings.
My husband and I settled on Vancouver in 2011 and set a move goal of 2020. As the years passed, we were able to amend our move date to 2019 and will be leaving Milwaukee in August. My husband, our youngest child and I will embark on the greatest adventure of our life to date: international immigration. Our two older children have chosen to remain in Milwaukee, so we will be returning regularly to visit. Ultimately, our hope is that they will join us.
I recognize that I am incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to leave in the way I am. I’ve worked hard in my career in nursing, and that has afforded me opportunities not available to everyone. My career skills are valuable worldwide, and I’ve chosen to take advantage of that; I am very grateful.
All that said, Milwaukee is a fantastic city, and I’m going to miss it very much, especially in the summer. Milwaukee summers are dynamic and romantic and free. The city buzzes 24/7 when the weather turns warm. Nearly every day is jam-packed with outdoor activities; having to spend time indoors becomes a burden. The lakefront and county parks are rife with activities, from pop-up beer gardens to kids’ summer sport leagues, ethnic festivals to marathons.
Having spent my whole life here, I am leaving a plethora of friends, experiences and memories behind. During the holidays when I was young, my mother would take me to look at the twinkling lights decorating the mansions near the lake. My best friend and I used to roam the same neighborhood as teens, adventuring down to the river trails and watching the boys play soccer in the park. Years later, I would spend countless hours in those same parks and on those same streets with my children, taking them to camps at the Urban Ecology Center, walking them to school or sledding with them.
The excitement and mystery of the future is coupled with the melancholy of leaving behind the familiar. I love Milwaukee, but it is time to move on. As I prepare to leave, I’m reflecting on the seven places I’ll miss most.
The Mitchell Park Domes offer a respite from Wisconsin winters in the form of a glimpse at the desert or tropics. Flourishing plants, live birds and rushing water fill the domes; at times, you cannot tell that you’re in the city at all.
A small family-run Italian deli in my Riverwest neighborhood, Scardina Specialities offers a variety of handmade sausages, sandwiches, take-and-bake pizzas and other fare. Their Cubano sandwich is amazing. The pizza delicious. And their Wisconsin cheddar brats are my favorite for summer grilling. Plus, they know my family and treat us well every time.
The lake is Milwaukee in my mind. The lake affects our weather; it changes day by day, hour by hour, its moods shifting, almost human. I’ll miss the sense of calm that comes from staring out over the endless water.
This is one of my favorite places in the city. I’ve spent countless hours here as a child and with my own children. The museum is cozy and familiar, and yet I always learn new things. I love traveling the world through the dioramas or going back in time with the displays of prehistoric Wisconsin. The planetarium has a daily “Wisconsin Stargazing” show that we often watch before leaving the city to camp for the weekend. I’ve witnessed the museum change over the years as science has advanced — it’s as if it has grown up right alongside me.
Milwaukee is famous for cheese curds for good reason: They’re like nothing else in this world. The freshest kind squeak when you bite them. If you’ve never eaten squeaky cheese, you’ve barely eaten cheese at all. Clock Shadow Creamery calls itself “Milwaukee’s original cheese factory” and offers a tour (with samples).
Friday night fish fries occur every. Friday. Night. Not just during Lent. This is unique to Milwaukee, I’ve been told. We go out for a fish fry nearly once a month. With dozens of restaurants to choose from and a variety of fishes, it’s all delicious and familiar. A few of my favorites are Lakefront Brewery with their live polka music, Klinger’s East and, if you don’t require a potato pancake with your fish fry, Victor’s on Van Buren.
Visiting Milwaukee? See Melanie’s recommendations mapped out here.