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February 9th, 2008

Glimpses of 1999

(Thanks for okieload for a year suggestion: 1999.)

Daniel and I had just been married a few months. I had turned 21 a few weeks after marriage in Oct 98, which was a pagan-style handfasting at "home" - the house we bought from his parents.

I take you, my beloved and my best friend, my chosen one,
through all of our lives together.
I give you this ring, which is bound to my heart.
Wear it always, as a symbol of my love.

I promise to stay by your side as your [husband/wife],
in sickness and in health,
in joy and in sorrow,
in good times and in bad.

I promise to love you without reservation,
honor and respect you,
comfort you in times of distress,
encourage you to achieve all of your goals,
laugh with you and cry with you,
grow with you in mind and spirit,
always be open and honest with you,
and stay with you for as long as we both shall live.

October 3 1998

I got my first camera a few weeks after the wedding; an Olympus film point-and-shoot with a great lens. I was beginning to fall in love with photography, and had an excellent photo of Hope as a fuzzy little kitten: Welcome Home.

Dancer was a new addition to our family in early 99. When we got him, Dancer had come from a breeder, and expected all kittens to be His Friend. The little guy was sorely disappointed when Hope tried to run him off, all hisses and teeth. It took about 6 weeks to get them settled down, and then they became best friends.

Daniel and I had purchased the house he grew up in, from his parents, who'd been trying to sell it for a couple years by then. I felt a bit out of place. For all the years he'd been there, he knew where everything was "supposed" to be. Dishes in this cabinet, silverware in that drawer, no the glasses must be here, no no the plates stack in the other order. Invisible rules in a mostly-empty house. I could redecorate with curtains if I wanted to, but why? His mother had done a better job than I ever would, and curtains are expensive.

I waved goodbye to my family, my childhood, my maiden name, and my school self, and struggled to create a new identity despite feeling like an outsider. It was strange, to lose my identity so completely. I struggled, sacrificed, and adapted. Not so unusual; in the first couple years of marriage, many people struggle with each others' expectations for home; it is normal adjustment. Being in his mother's house just made it a little harder. It would be the fourth year there that I felt like that place was my real home, not just his. We kept the house for six years before we moved to St. Louis, and I did settle in and love the place, especially as we discovered work to be done on it and I got to add my personal touches to the mix. I miss that home sometimes. The house was beautiful and spacious, and the yard delighted me.

Lilacs. Grapes. Cherries. Violets in the grass. Blackberries and raspberries. Flowering bushes. Spring burst open dramatically with flowers and buds everywhere. Summer brought my very favorite - soft ripe fruit directly off the vine, wildlife running around chittering and chattering, baby bunnies and birds to watch. My heart melts for wild and garden fruit, and there was no shortage of it there. I tried to grow peas that spring, but the ants ate the sprouts, and I had no idea how to handle sand as a garden, having grown up in clay and river mud territory. I'd figure that out a few years later. '99 was my first summer there, my first opportunity to go out in delight every spring morning, looking for new buds, new flowers, new scents. I didn't know that region's cycles and patterns yet, so every day brought a little surprise. I'd wander out and spend ten minutes in the yard each morning before I went to work.

Work at that point was Cyberdesic, a small software development shop in Peoria, IL. Daniel and I both worked there, he as a systems administrator, and me as a Java programmer. Business was good and busy, and I was in the process of moving from "just a programmer" to "technical team lead". aabassplayer and sterno were around as well, for a while, before they jetted off to new lives in other cities. Some evenings I ended up back in the office with Daniel, as he got off-hours maintenance calls, or waited on a tape backup restore at 2 am, or fixing whatever broke. I slept on the server room floor a few times in order to be rested enough to drive him home after late night systems work.

Scheduling was stressful; due to pager duty (24/7/365) he was limited in when he could travel, and dinner out was often interrupted by the beeping pager. We couldn't plan ahead for anything, because the pager had its own ideas and always trumped everything else. I learned to live life with no schedule, no plan, no predictability, and no promises. I wished for the day when we'd have a normal life and could make plans and have a schedule. I didn't know that ten years would pass without that day ever coming. I didn't know I would adapt to it successfully even if the people around me never did.

Fall of '99 brought its own unique experiences. I worked in computers and was conscious of how fragile systems could be, in areas such as date-dependent behaviors. I also had some of the simpler migration assignments, writing new software to replace old stuff that couldn't handle four digit dates. Computers run the electrical and phone networks, and manage supply chains for food and medicine, and semi shipping, and more. Many of those were legacy systems, meaning they originated in the 50's, 60's, 70's, long before "modern" computing, and had been maintained or left to age and die, in the years between. Many of those were tight for storage, and quite reasonably chose to use only two digits for dates. I considered it possible that I would have no electricity on January 1, 2000. And Peoria spends its winters buried in snow and ice.

We bought canned and dry goods for about 8 weeks of simple meals, plus flour, sugar, and yeast, for bread after. We bought firewood and stacked it in the yard, to use with the wood stove the house had. We got an oversized water storage bag for the basement and filled it, and had some bottles of water sanitizer treatment on hand. And I bought some cheap sheets to use as room divider / privacy curtains in case we had family coming to live with us for a while. And then we waited.

On January 1, 2000, when I woke up to a perfectly normal day, with power and heat, and open grocery stores, our preparations seemed like overkill. It was very anti-climactic. By January 3, the news stories started to trickle in about real failures in some cities, though companies that provided those services were very tight-lipped about what really happened. Little failures, here and there, no company willing to admit what systems they'd missed during upgrades. I didn't feel quite so sheepish about being prepared. And the extra supplies came in handy a few times during power outages and winter storms. Eventually the leftovers were donated to the free food bank.

'99 was a time of sacrifice and new beginnings. I was just starting to get an inkling of who I would be as an adult, though I still felt like an uncertain teenager inside. I struggled to adapt to new expectations, new roles, a new environment, caring for and training kittens, a new marriage that was still immature and a bit rough. And I adapted, and life moved on.


Jenny Brown

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