I don’t know who planted the tulips that sprout each spring outside Bach Elementary School’s front entrance, but those green thumbs changed the course of my life.
It was too early on a Saturday morning in April of 2013 and I was wearily pushing my son in a stroller down Jefferson. My wife, Adrienne, and I had been working around the clock, packing boxes and furniture into storage so we could make our house look less cluttered for a real estate photographer who was scheduled for the coming week.
Our charming 1880 farmhouse seemed to be leaning into its age. The exterior paint was peeling and the shower pressure was terrible. Adrienne was pregnant with our second child, magnifying our need for space, and we had learned that the Historic District Commision’s rules regarding additions on corner lots were particularly restrictive. We’d purchased our house during the down market of 2009, and with housing prices skyrocketing, we decided to cash in and buy a house farther from the city, big enough for our family to grow into.
And then I saw the tulips.
Hundreds of tulips bursting with color along Bach School’s brick facade. I looked at the blooms and then to the school and finally back to my house. How had I never realized our home was a block from Bach? Didn’t people say the school was a gem? And how many years, exactly, would our son and our expected daughter benefit from this one-block walk? I called Adrienne and said, “I think we’re making a mistake. We need to stay.”
Looking back at that moment I blush to think what we would have lost if we’d moved. Raising a family in the Old West Side has been embarrassingly easy and increasingly fruitful. Our son was on the front wave of a neighborhood baby boom. Every weekday morning, our kids (we now have three) walk out our front door and join droves of families on their way to Bach. We almost never set up playdates–our kids just join the neighborhood mob year-round. My wife and I often take turns supervising bedtime so we can alternately join neighborhood book clubs and beer clubs at Bill’s Beer Garden.
The Washtenaw Dairy sets the standard for neighborhood convenience, a gathering spot for old-timers chatting over 6 a.m. coffee that later in the day sates the kid-splosion’s demand for doughnuts and ice cream. In 2014, the Argus Farm Stop, a seven-
day-a-week farmers market, popped up, quickly followed by the Blank Slate artisan ice cream shop, and a rebranded Jefferson Market, which now ranks among our top brunch venues.
And we have ice cream keeping everything in balance. Blank Slate shines as a trendy after-dinner dessert locale, serving locally sourced ice cream in hot-off-the-presses waffle cones and amassing impossibly long lines every summer night. But walk three blocks south and you’ll see lines just as long at the Dairy, steadfastly serving impossibly stacked cones of commercial ice cream for improbably low prices in a cinder block corner store with wood-paneled walls seemingly unchanged since the 1950s.
Like the tulips in front of Bach, those walls helped us make the peeling paint, leaky basement, and tight quarters work. The Old West Side has been a paradise for a lot longer than any new family can remember.