Friday, September 24, 2010

Michigan trip

If Steve were here, he would tell the story of this year's Labor Day weekend trip to Michigan in a long, winding, entertaining way.

Steve's storytelling was one of the millions of things I love about him. Whereas I am usually linear and concise, he would weave together anecdotes, details and memories in a circuitous, always enjoyable way.

With Steve in mind, I'll try my best to explain how Cooper, Katie and I ended up at Michigan Stadium for the season opening game.


Steve's dad, grandfather and great-uncle attended the University of Michigan. Steve's older brother, Jim, attended Texas A&M.

So, as Steve told it, he went to Michigan. (He was wait-listed at Rice University, his first choice.)

He started in the Honors College as a pre-med major. He eventually graduated with an English literature degree, chosen because when he had to make a final declaration, he had more credits in English than any other subject.

And he played trumpet in the Michigan Marching Band.

The 2010 Michigan Marching Band


In the middle of Steve's cancer journey, we heard from Laura Ambrook Redmond.

Laura was also in the Michigan Marching Band. I can't even recall now how she learned about Steve's illness. I'm sure it has something to do with Facebook or e-mails.

She is a registered nurse and would send us the most encouraging notes about Steve's care. (We are fortunate to have so many friends in the caregiving field.)

When Steve died, she wrote me to offer the children and me tickets to a Michigan football game.

Laura, her husband and cutie-pie son live in South Carolina, which means they're unable to attend all of the Michigan home games, even though they have season tickets.

I loved the idea of taking Cooper and Katie to Ann Arbor, especially to a football game. Steve attended dozens of games, often marching on the field at halftime and representing the school at bowl games. I met Steve after he graduated; together we watched many games on television. Steve would be the first to tell you that he got really riled up watching his Wolverines.

Steve and I attended one Ann Arbor game together (Michigan vs. Colorado in 1997) and that season's Rose Bowl (Michigan vs. Washington State on New Year's Day 1998).


Because Steve died on Labor Day 2009 and because the hours leading to his death were so traumatic (beautiful in many ways, but still traumatic), I decided early on that we wouldn't be home Labor Day weekend this year -- or perhaps any future year.

I was happy to accept Laura's gift and requested tickets for the first game of the season. Laura and her family planned to be in South Carolina that weekend, and she graciously granted my request.


We're fortunate to have dear friends who live in Canton, just a few miles from Ann Arbor. The Healys offered to host us in their home, which gave us plenty of room to get comfortable and plenty of time to visit. (Though certainly not enough time, if you ask any of our combined five children. They get along as if they've spent their whole lives together.)

While with the Healy family, we enjoyed a music concert in Plymouth, a few hours at the swimming pool, a trip to an apple orchard and quality time at home.

Ryan, Cooper, Katie, Kelsey and Brendan

Katie the caterpillar

Cooper, Brendan, Ryan and Ken

We also enjoyed fall-like temperatures, having escaped 100-degree Dallas.


The moment that our rental car crossed into Ann Arbor, I started to cry.

Steve and I had always planned to return to the town together, with our two children. He, of course, would drive and I would navigate because that was our travel agreement many years ago.

He would show us his favorite hangouts and tell us fun Steve stories, censored when necessary.

Instead, I was driving with navigation help from the little computer in the car. I had a list of Steve places courtesy of Liz, one of Steve's best college friends and our mutual friend a few years later. I tried to recall all the Steve stories I could, wishing I had written every single one he told over the years.


Laura took great care of us from South Carolina. She made sure that I connected with Paul, another marching band alum who tailgates at all the home games. Paul and his family welcomed us into their group, fed us throughout the day and offered great advice on where to go.

She also connected us with Nick, another band alum who works at Michigan Stadium during games. He was able to walk us onto the field a few hours before kickoff. We walked through the same tunnel that players walk through before halves and sat on the storied field.

Her seats were amazing.

I haven't yet mentioned that the game we attended was the very first in the newly renovated Michigan Stadium. The renovations include the addition of a swanky club level. Our club-level seats were cushy; the view was amazing; the bathrooms were spotless.

The three of us were among 113,090 who watched the game in the stadium -- a national record for attendance.

Michigan won, 30-10. And as of today, the team is 3-0.
Cooper, Tyra and Katie in the Big House


Cooper and Katie outside South Quad

We left the tailgate party for a couple of hours to tour the campus.

We stood outside South Quad, Steve's freshman year dorm. We walked through the Law Quad, one of the most beautiful spots on campus.

We stood outside the coffee shop that was once the Baskin-Robbins where Steve worked. We admired the beautiful Union. I answered a lot of questions about all the students attending parties at various rental house and Greek houses along our route.

Cooper declared his intention to attend the University of Michigan "if the science program is good enough."

He asked if he should live in a dorm or one of those rental houses. (You can guess my answer, I'm sure.)

I said a silent prayer of thanks that I still have years before I send our babies to college.


haley. said...

What an amazing trip and opportunity! Reading this made me smile, especially Cooper's comment about the quality of the science program. I miss his witty little phrases! It looks like you guys had a fabulous time and I'm so happy that I could read about it.

Laura said...

We were so thrilled to have you, my dear friend. Many more visits in our future, I hope!

Triathpete said...

Hi. My name is Pete, and I came across your blog while searching for Michigan marching band photos and I found the one you posted on your blog. When I saw your blog, I had to read it. I'm very sorry to hear about your husband. It sounds like you had a great time at UM. I was in the band and by coincidence I knew Laura Ambrook. Thanks for sharing your story.