Nostalgia, Pt. 1

Kim and I were introduced to each other by a mutual friend, Mary Dolans, as I was working, stocking the shelves at Andrews Drugs near the end of my college days. Mary was a cashier there, a cute little thing who reminded me of Elizabeth Montgomery. Mary had been telling me about this friend of hers who she thought I’d really like.

Our first meeting was a very brief “Hey, Pat! I want you to meet Kim!” while I was at work at Andrews Drugs. We said hello, maybe a few words (I don’t recall precisely), and then went on our own ways. A short time later, Mary approached me and asked if I would be interested in going out on a blind date with Kim, accompanied by Mary and her husband, Denny. Just dinner and some drinks at the Livonia Chi-Chi’s. I said “Sure! Why not?”

2 March 1988. Some of the details remain a bit foggy – I don’t recall if I met them at Kim’s house, or if we drove there together. I think we drove together because I have a vivid memory of Denny turning to me and saying “Well? Are you ready to meet the mother of your children?” and seem to remember this as him turning around in the front seat to do so – but that’s a very old memory. I do recall meeting Kim’s dad that night – a muscular construction worker – intimidating, to say the least. And prone to tease. My first impression of her home was of a fire in the fireplace, a wood-burning stove in the kitchen, and hunting trophies on the wall. It was a bit uncomfortable being the guy in that house coming to take his youngest daughter – Monster, he called her – out on a date! I remember her hair and the way it curled and feathered back at her ears. She really was beautiful.

We went to Chi-Chi’s and, while making small talk in the bar area while we awaited our table, I asked Kim “Why pharmacy?” and she immediately shot back “Why engineering?” Seems like that would not have been the best start to a relationship, but… Frankly, I don’t remember Mary and Denny being there at all at that point – I guess my attention was so keenly focused on this lovely girl that all memory of any conversation with them has faded away. I remember Kim’s drink being a frozen strawberry margarita; mine likely beer, though I don’t recall – I explicitly recall the strawberry margarita, though.

There was a lot going on in my senior year at Lawrence Tech – one of which was scrambling to sit for the PE-EIT exam the university had forgotten to notify several of us of, but the taking of which was required to graduate. All local seats for the test were filled by the time we realized it was time to register. My friend, Pete Lewellyn, and I found an opportunity to take it in Waukesha, Wisconsin – better to drive 400 miles for the test than have to wait another year to graduate. This was more than three weeks after Kim’s and my first date. And it was the night we arrived for the test that I finally decided to call Kim for a second date. She told me then, and several times afterward that she thought she would never hear from me again. Her friends all said that “If a guy doesn’t call within two weeks, he’s not interested.” Well, we proved that one wrong.

We dated steadily for many months. After her classes finished at Wayne State, she would sometimes pop into the robotics lab at LIT where I was proctor and we would run up the road to have lunch at Shield’s – a great Detroit pizzeria and our favorite at the time. I remember the dressing from the leftover antipasto salad dripping out of its container into the carpet of the car on the way back to the school. I don’t remember whether it was my car or hers, though. Probably mine. I recall that whichever it was smelled of vinaigrette for some time afterward.

She was my date at the LIT honors convocation and, after some prodding, nervously stood when the call came out for significant others to stand and be recognized for supporting their newly-minted engineers through the rigors of our education. Afterward, she told me “I really didn’t know you long enough for that!” – we’d only been dating a couple of months. But she was the prettiest one standing. 14 years later, she’d stand again for an honor I received with my second master’s degree, and the same was true.

We had matching Ford EXPs when we met – both silver, though mine was an ’85 and, if I recall correctly, hers was an ’82. We liked the same kind of movies, and had similar, if not exactly the same, taste in music (I couldn’t stand George Michael or Wham, though…). Our favorite date was to just jump in the car, hold hands and talk as we drove all over God’s creation. I ran that poor old EXP into the ground, putting miles on it as we drove around metro Detroit and beyond. I recall going to Hines Park one steamy summer evening and parking by the river to look at the fireflies. There were so many of them along the water’s edge that you’d swear they were Christmas decorations. Tap-tap-tap – a friendly police officer telling us to move it along: the park was closed at that hour…

She interned on the afternoon shift at Garden City Osteopathic Hospital. Whenever we could, we’d have her mom drop her at work, and I would pick her up afterward and drive her home. Our favorite thing to do was to stop at the Taco Bell on Lilley and Main in Plymouth – I’d get a couple of spicy bean burritos, and she was usually a Burrito Supreme or a Nachos Bell Grande. We’d have our snack and some conversation, and then I’d take her home. Sometimes we’d just go to her home and sit in front of the ever-present fire in their fireplace and hold each other and talk.

I recall one of the jobs I interviewed for in my senior year was with TI Missile Systems based in Texas. Boy! I wanted that job! Kim later told me that she was terrified that I would get that job and that I would fly off to Texas. I guess she realized she loved me before either of us admitted it to the other. I know I told her first. We had just returned from somewhere – a date, or a drive; I don’t recall. As we were getting ready to leave the car, parked in the street in front of her house, I just turned to her and, said in French “Je t’aime!” She asked me what that meant, and I told her. I only remember her smile. It became her favorite phrase.

We had little picnics in Hines Park and spent at least one weekend day each week in the summer at her parent’s lake lot enjoying the water whenever we could. Movies with her brother Nick and his wife, Chris; and her sister Rhonda and her husband, Geoff. Runs for frozen yogurt at a local shop.

One of my fondest memories was running to Frankenmuth in her mom & dad’s motorhome and stopping at Birch Run on the way back. It was Kim’s mom and dad, Nick and Chris, and, if I recall correctly, Chris’s daughter, Brianne. I remember parking the camper WAY in the back of the parking lot and walking quite a distance to the restaurant. Inside, seated for dinner, the plate of chicken would be passed around, and by the time it got to me, I was dismayed to see so little left! What was happening? The wait staff would come with more, and I DEFINITELY got my fill, but I wondered at how much chicken this family could eat! It wasn’t until afterward that they let me in on the secret of the Zip-Loc bags in their purses. It was that little kookiness (and the Cherry Fudge Incident) that burned that trip into my memory.

Ah, the cherry fudge. Nick has a sweet tooth as big as they come. At Birch Run, there were a couple of fudge shops – including a branch of the famous Mackinaw Fudge Company. Nick bought a pretty sizable piece of cherry fudge. It was awful – way too sweet, with a rather cloying, medicinal cherry flavor. Ugh! All the way home he kept offering a piece of cherry fudge to Kim and me, who, after that first taste, quickly declined. He would say “This is really awful…” and then eat some more. It was gone by the time we made it home. (I recall going a second time after we were married, where I was both better prepared for the mystery of the disappearing chicken, and I bought a wool-lined jeans jacket at the Levi outlet – a jacket my youngest son is wearing today. There was no cherry fudge this time, though…)

I remember a trip beginning after midnight, when Kim got off of work, with her brother, Nick, and his wife, Chris, to Hubbard Lake, where Kim’s mom and dad were with their camper…

If I sit here long enough, there is a flood of little memories that will surface and I could write here all day.

Sigh. Maybe a couple more memories. I’m not sure if this is cathartic or deepening my grief, but they come rolling out, one after another, once I start.

I remember the day I proposed to her. We had picked out rings for her months before and I had them on a payment plan. I was working overtime on a Saturday, and we were to go to one of Kim’s friend’s weddings that night. I had determined that I had enough free cash to pay for Kim’s ring, so, instead of rushing over to her house, I went to the LeRoy’s Jewelers at Twelve Oaks Mall and paid the ring off. When I finally got to Kim’s house, she was steaming mad that I was so late, worrying that something had happened to me. That all melted as I dropped to one knee and gave her my explanation. What a great memory! I wish I could remember the date. I recall having come across the receipt from paying it off recently; I just don’t remember where.

To be continued.