by Kathy Grykowski
As both a cop’s kid and the wife of a cop I welcomed the opportunity to read Cop’s Kid: A Milwaukee Memoir by Milwaukee native Mel Miskimen.
Curious about what parallels I might find to my own experience, some were rather uncanny. Beyond the fact that our dads had been Milwaukee cops, we both had attended the late, great, all-girls Catholic high school, Saint Mary’s Academy on the south side. Before I even started reading Mel’s book, my first thought was whether or not Mel’s dad’s type of cop would measure up to my dad’s type of cop. If this cop’s family portrait came off as a bit tarnished, then might it not reflect poorly on other cop’s families? Ours was not the only cop-family on the block and the other cop was one who, at times, looked to benefit through ill use of his “power.” Nothing too serious, mind you, but as a kid I saw the injustice of him using his position to intimidate and discourage neighbors from parking in front of his house. Once into the book, Mel’s style, charm, and truly funny wit abated my apprehension and I quickly went on to really enjoy her collection of charming stories of times, people, and events that I’d long forgotten. Interest in the slim, quick-reading book is hardly going to be limited to cop’s families, neighbors, and friends. Anyone who grew up in Milwaukee during the ’50s and ’60s and became adults in the early ’70s will find this book filled with memory snapshots that are sure to trigger a slew of your own. Remember playing with Barbie? Playing outside? Our generation was not tricked out of the real fun of childhood, because TV programming was rather limited and there were no video games in our early childhood, or any computers for that matter. We actually got to go out and live life. Well, back to Barbie…between Mel, her sister and their friends the Wysocki twins (that south side name sounded familiar to me too), there was quite a collection of Barbie and Ken dolls and all their paraphernalia. Mel developed elaborate play scenarios for Barbie and Ken involving solving murders or amazing heroic rescues. As a child, Mel loved to investigate and solve or resolve playtime injustices — whether real or imaginary. Mel was more of a kid cop than just a cop’s kid — someone whose upbringing had given her a clear understanding of right and wrong and who chose to fight on the side of right, even versus might. Early in the book we see Mel was struck with Beatlemania. Her parents wouldn’t allow her and her sister to attend the big concert at the Milwaukee Arena. Nor did my dad. They knew the MPD was gearing up to deal with a throng of frantic, frenzied fans. All days off were canceled. There went her dad’s fishing trip. But, when the concert was done and her dad’s assignment was over, the girls awoke to find a couple of slightly used hotel bars of soap with “Coach House Inn” still legible, along with a book of matches (minus four) and a note from dad that read, “From their room.” What a lucky girl. Both of us, really. We had dads who set strict guidelines for boyfriends, high expectations for their kids, and big hearts for the public they served. Sometimes cops unexpectedly serve right in their own backyards. Mel’s dad solved a mystery in their neighborhood, which resulted in a neighbor family abruptly moving out overnight. Something about discovering perverse use of rather intimate ladies apparel items which had mysteriously been disappearing off neighbor ladies’ laundry lines over a period of time. My own neighbors have benefited from my husband cuffing a thief in our backyards as the guy tried to make off with a neighbor’s goods. Yes, it can come in handy having a cop for a neighbor. In a somewhat irreverent way Mel refers to her elder extended family — you know, the usual stories you’d hear of sacrifices made (though some unique to police families). You might enjoy and relive some of those awkward dating scenes she rolls out across the pages. And many bits and snippets of local period nostalgia can be appreciated. Thanks, Mel, for the great memories from our hometown! You can listen to an online WUWM interview with Mel about her book.