Nash Park, People

“I’m gonna die in this house”

Jeneane Roberts smiles and greets a young boy who eyes a carousel horse statue twice his height. The statue, standing in her front yard, is for sale, along with a few decorative tables, knick-knacks and women’s clothing propped up with hangers on the limbs of a small tree.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 18,” Roberts says.

“Milwaukee is very nice. Beautiful,” Jeneane says. “We used to be able to go to the Uptown Theater, walk down Lisbon Avenue. Never had to worry about anything.”

But over the last 10 years, she says she has noticed a change.

“It’s a shame now that the kids can’t do that. You know, you can’t even go out at night and go for a walk unless you have some man with you or at least two or three girls.”

Growing up, Roberts’ biggest dream was to have her own antique or thrift store. That dream has become a reality through her occasional rummage sales. She’s met many people, mostly kind customers. However, a city employee photographed a recent sale disapprovingly.

She adds, “They are warning me that I cannot have more than three rummage sales a year.”

The consequence, Roberts’ daughter Kim says, is a $500 fine.

“It’s already paid for in taxes and everything,” Jeneane groans. “Why should I have to go and get a permit to do this as long as I clean up my mess?”

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Roberts’ first encounter with death was when she was very young, losing her brother to a fatal automobile accident.

Most of her life in Milwaukee has been spent on the city’s far west side but there’s an especially strong bond between Roberts and her current residence, where she has lived for the past 30 years. It was here, back in 2009, where she took care of her mother in her final days.

“She died in my hands,” Jeneane laments. “So did my grandparents. Every one of them. I wouldn’t put them in a home.”

Roberts worked most her life running the tobacco counter at James Pharmacy in Butler, Wisconsin, until she got sick and had to retire. Now, at 74, she says she’s “really sick.”

Her daughters live with her now. She holds a lot of pride in them, the house and the yard they’ve helped decorate and maintain.

Her posture is ramrod straight and her smile fully engaged as she faces the white, two-story house. The front porch is adorned with pots of flowering plants and two chained-down, stone lion statues.

She boasts about her backyard, opening the small wooden fence. Roberts walks past a drained hot tub in slight disrepair, emerging into a spacious yard garnished with gardens, patio furniture and art, most of which was handcrafted by Bridgit, her other daughter.

“I am proud of it,” Roberts beams. “We all got our fingers into it. That’s why I want to stay here.”⬩

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