Yes friends, in 1998 I was finally persuaded to take the plunge into the World Wide Web. My ignorance of computers knew no bounds, and I could tell some funny stories of stupid mistakes I made.
But today I'm thinking about my first chat room experience.
I had seen articles in the newspaper about the dangers of the Internet in general and chat rooms in particular. Nobody was going to catch me in one of those sleazy cyber-dives.
But I was surfing around some Christian website and noticed there were AOL chat rooms that could be accessed from the main page somehow. One of them was for Christian Seniors. Maybe at that time it was called Fifty-plus, I'm not sure; there were so many changes over the years, before AOL finally removed it.
Back then, that chat room was a wonderful thing: I'd sit at my keyboard laughing out loud at some of the humor that flew across my monitor. I won't bother to share any tales because you just had to be there. Things like that aren't really so funny in the retelling.
Some of the folks in Texas decided there should be a get-together in Dallas where we could meet face to face. My husband wasn't about to allow me to go meet a bunch of Internet strangers alone. I told him I could ride with a lady from Arkansas, but he decided he'd take me himself, to protect me from stalkers and Internet serial killers. After all, I'd never actually met these people. They could be anybody!
Imagine his surprise to find out all those folks were just fine; today he would trust that lady from Arkansas with our bank account if he had to... all $25 of it.
The chat room later deteriorated into chaos, arguing, and jealousy, and was finally closed. Many of the friendships that were formed there, however, still remain.
I've attended at least three of the Dallas reunions, as well as others in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
I believe this picture from Dallas was taken in 2001. None of us had digital cameras then.
Frankye, an outgoing lady who lives in Dallas, has always been the host of that reunion. She makes countless trips to the airport to pick up guests, opens her home to folks who are too broke (ahem) to pay for a hotel room, and coordinates activities, mealtimes, and whatever else is needed to keep a group of twenty or more people happy.
Now keep in mind that this thing started back around 1998 or 1999, and it was a senior chat group; so even then most of us weren't spring chickens.
Sad to say, none of us has gotten any younger. Many of that old chat group have died.
Frankye has announced that the reunion this year will be the final one. Air fare from Kansas City to Dallas is very reasonable. Although I originally had no plans or desire to attend this get-together, now that I know it will be the last time I see most of these folks in person, I believe I'll go. It seems an appropriate way to celebrate ten years on the Internet.
That's Frankye in the above picture, and I'll quickly tell a story about Joe, the man beside her (he's attended every single reunion). When Cliff and I met him at the first Dallas event, he asked where we lived. "Missouri," I told him. "I'm sure you've never heard of the town."
But when I named my town, he knew it well. His late wife had a sister who had lived there most of her life, he said. Imagine our surprise when, upon comparing notes, we realized that his sister-in-law had been a close neighbor of mine for years. She had lived right on my dead-end road, and I'd attended church with her. I knew and loved her.
This Internet is sometimes a small world indeed.