Remembering Buhr Park
A first date, fireworks, and a lifetime of memories
by Chris Hippler
From the June, 2018 issue
On July 4, 1978, fireworks lit up the night sky over Buhr Park. A crazy quilt of blankets covered the gently rolling hills as hundreds of people oohed and aahed with every burst of color. I recall the scene vividly because it was my first date with Kim.
That date lit the fuse to our lifelong love affair. And, as fate would have it, the thirty-nine-acre park off Packard would play a prominent role in our family's life in the coming years.
After the grand finale at Buhr Park, Kim and I had our own grand finale at the Blind Pig. We shared a bottle of wine and poured our hearts out to each other. I talked about my mother's recent death and how my parents' marriage made me wary of long-term commitments. Kim told me of her love of children and passion for teaching.
We were work friends; part of the inaugural staff at the Earle (then Ann Arbor's highly anticipated new jazz club, now a French and Italian cuisine restaurant).
Kim was twenty-one, and her youthful countenance--flawless skin, bright eyes, warm smile--belied the soul and wisdom of a woman much older. I was twenty-seven, trying to keep my jewelry business alive. Making jewelry during the day and waiting on tables at night seemed like a good idea at the time. In hindsight, the compass of my life was a bit out of whack. The seminomadic art-fair lifestyle I was caught up in wasn't right for me. I needed a home.
Our conversation at the Blind Pig was the perfect ending to a wonderful night, and the perfect beginning of a long relationship. After our second date, a canoe ride across Friends Lake in Chelsea, I knew I had found my True North.
In 1980, on the grounds of Wellers Carriage House in Saline, we read the marriage vows we had, and sang "Watching the River Run" by Loggins & Messina, and played croquet until dusk with friends and
family at the reception.
Our daughter, Amelia, was born in 1983, Caroline in 1986. Kim's maternal instincts, bolstered by her voracious appetite for books about motherhood, made her a wonderful mother and helped me be a better dad too.
A charming 1920s two-bedroom upper duplex on Brooklyn Ave. had been our love nest for five years, but our growing family needed a home. We found the perfect one: a modest three-bedroom ranch with a two-car garage, a finished basement, and a large backyard in a neighborhood just east of Buhr Park.
For the next fourteen years, the park and adjacent Allen Elementary School were our family's stomping grounds. The girls attended Allen, an easy walk from our home, and, as they graduated to Tappan Middle School, they simply walked a little further.
The park was our family's four-season playground. On warm summer mornings, with sleep in their eyes and towels under their arms, Amelia and Caroline would walk or bike over to Buhr Pool for swim team practice. Caroline played softball games on the ball fields, as did Kim and I in adult leagues.
In the winter, the girls would skate at the Buhr Ice Arena or sled on the same gently rolling hills where Kim and I watched the fireworks on our first date.
Eventually, we needed a bigger house (especially more bathrooms) and shorter commutes. Kim was driving to Northville to teach at Moraine Elementary School, and I was making the long haul to Troy to work at the BBDO ad agency.
In 2000, we moved into a spacious home (three-and-a-half baths) in the Fleming Creek subdivision. The neighborhood, across from the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, is on the eastern edge of the Ann Arbor school district, so the girls could continue attending Huron High School.
Their Ann Arbor upbringing served the girls well. Today, Amelia is a senior underwriter at a mortgage company in Troy; Caroline is a mental health counselor in Bloomington, Indiana, where she lives with her husband, Justin.
Then, in November 2012, everything changed. That's when surgeons removed a malignant tumor, a glioblastoma (GBM), from the occipital lobe of Kim's brain. (My Town, October 2016).
After months of chemotherapy and radiation, Kim returned to the job she loved, teaching second grade. By February 2016, the GBM had grown again, and another surgery was required. Warrior that she is, Kim resumed teaching.
Last April, an MRI revealed the tumor had grown yet again, and another surgery was necessary. Just before the 2017-18 school year began, Kim made the excruciating decision to retire from teaching, ending her remarkable twenty-one-year career at Moraine.
To comfort and relax her during the diagnostic MRIs she endures every few months (three dozen in the last five years), Kim is offered a selection of music to listen to, and always chooses Train.
In March this year, the band's lead singer, Pat Monahan, invited us to join 2,200 other fans on "Sail Across the Sun," a four-day cruise hosted by Train. Promoted as a celebration of music, life, and love, the cruise was exactly the antidote we needed. From the port of New Orleans, we cruised across the Gulf of Mexico to Cozumel and back. Kim was buoyant and giddy the whole trip.
To commemorate the cruise and emphatically state the reason she is fighting so hard, Kim got some new ink. She had lyrics from the song "Parachute" tattooed on her left forearm from wrist to elbow: "This life is too good to give up on."
July 4 will be the fortieth anniversary of our first date. Buhr Park no longer hosts fireworks, so for the last several years, we've watched them at Burns Park. How many more fireworks will we watch together? I don't know, but I will cherish every one. And Kim is, and will always be, my True North.
[Originally published in June, 2018.]
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