DEER LODGE PARK, Calif. — A winter chill snapped the mountain air on the final day of 1999. Fog settled in early and the winter's first snowflakes fluttered down on Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains. The Altmeyer family, which lives in nearby Deer Lodge Park, lighted oak in the fireplace and settled in to a quiet New Year's Eve.
In keeping with the lives they lead, the Altmeyers chose quiet seclusion, far from cities and celebrations, to bring in the new year.
Jeff, 40, and Cheri, 35, have lived in these mountains almost all their lives. For New Year's Eve they never considered being anywhere but home with their three children: Heidi, 11; Cynthia, 8; and Brian, 9 months.
Oh, and Jacques, their burro.
And Buddy, the dog.
Penelope, the goat.
Quacker, the duck.
Bunson and Snowball, the rabbits. And the rest of their considerable menagerie.
Jeff watched football throughout the day, five games by midafternoon. The girls made bread, some of the dough finding its way onto Cynthia's nose. Another small bit ended up in her mouth but was promptly spit out the kitchen window. "The gross part," noted her mother, "is that now the goat's going to eat it."
Jeff and Cheri love their lives here. As children, they romped and explored with abandon. "The forest," Cheri said, "was my best friend."
Sometimes the stay-at-home mom thinks she was born too late, that her spirit is more in tune with the century's beginning than with its end--with simpler times since lost to computers, freeways and overwhelming haste.
Jeff expresses his feelings more succinctly. "I hate the city," he said.
As they ponder the new millennium, they hope for a safe world for their children. The couple have seen the world change during their short lives and they hope some remnants of the small-town life they love will survive the next century.
"When I was a kid, you knew just about everybody," Cheri said. "You could stand out on the highway and get a ride to the village or you could go to the ice rink and know there was somebody there to give you a ride. It's not that way anymore."
Jeff, who owns a paving and construction business with his brother, does snow removal in the winter to make ends meet. He said he hopes his children will not have to work as hard as he does to earn a living.
A hundred years from now, said Heidi the 11-year-old, the older people probably will wear solar suits to protect them from harmful rays entering through holes in the ozone.
The good news is that the race problem will be solved, predicted Cynthia, her younger sister. Everyone, she said, will be the same color: "Pink with blue polka-dots."
Both Heidi and Cynthia vowed to be awake at midnight, but by 8 p.m., they were curled up in blankets in front of the television, Oklahoma versus Ole Miss.
"This doesn't count as sleep," Cynthia noted. "We have the alarm set for 10."
This is the life Cheri and Jeff envisioned when they were married 12 years ago. They wanted children, a rural lifestyle, critters.
It started with children. Then came Buddy, the golden Labrador. Then the chickens. There now are 40 hens, which, on a good day, will lay a dozen eggs with rich orange yolks. There are four roosters, two of them twins. A favorite, Pee Wee, passed on to Rooster Heaven earlier this week, one of a number of recent casualties.
A couple of weeks ago two goldfish turned belly up when they were inadvertently and tragically placed in warm water while Cheri and Cynthia were cleaning Franklin the turtle's tank, where the fish also lived.
Then there was Pilgrim, the turkey, who was served on Thanksgiving and, as it turned out, said daughter Cynthia, made a better meal than pet. And the pigs, Bacon and Sausage, now are stored in the freezer, although ham was served for the Altmeyers' Christmas meal.
The Altmeyers are known throughout these parts for their prize-winning pumpkins. During the past 10 years or so, they had never failed to place first, second or third in the local competition. Until this year. With baby Brian's birth, there wasn't time to focus on pumpkins. "This year," says Jeff, downheartedly, "we failed."
The winner, of all people, was Ron, their next-door neighbor, who turned in a monster weighing more than 100 pounds. Ron recently tossed a few old pumpkins over the fence for the Altmeyers' animals to munch.
Cynthia, no fool, rushed over and dug out the precious seeds, which she hopes will return the Altmeyers to pumpkin glory in the new millennium.