Yesterday, Janet and I had a pretty rare date. With her working 31 hours a week and going to school full time, we don't get the chance to do many cute things together. Then again, that's not really anything new. During our entire relationship, we've always worked opposite schedules. Every fun date feels like special, stolen time together.
Yesterday, Driftless Market held a party celebrating the founding owners and welcoming in the new.
Janet surprised me earlier in the week by saying she'd go with me to the party. She had a rare gap in her work schedule, thanks to a shift swap on Valentine's Day.
The party was much more party than I was expecting, although I shouldn't have been surprised at the mass of people out to share their love. I'd daydreamed of time to wander the halls, and the luxury of getting to know the new owners. When Janet and I arrived, it was a mad crush of humans. We're both introverts, talented at being awkward and uncomfortable in crowds.
But it was so, so good to see so many familiar faces. Next month marks exactly one and a half years since I left Driftless Market to start at Clare Bank. It was absolutely one of the most emotionally difficult, gut-wrenching experiences of my life. There's always a lot of story to big life decisions. The easiest thing to say? As the owners thought about and prioritized their own future, I gave myself the chance to do the same.
Clare Bank has been incredible. I don't regret my move into white-collar life for a second. But leaving behind Driftless Market meant leaving behind the every-day community that I was a part of. And I've missed that terribly.
On Saturday, I got to introduce Janet to a number of people that I've known since I started at Driftless Market in 2013. Because of our opposite schedules, Janet has never been able to attend events or meet nearly any of the people that made up my every-day life for so long. Yesterday was a pretty momentous occasion.
It also marked Five Years and One Week of being officially together for me and Janet :) I remember our first date. I was so incredibly nervous, and decided to stop in at Driftless on my way because I was a little too early. My friend Zack Steffel was at the back register, maybe closing it down for the night, and I gushed my nervousness to him. He set my heart at ease in his usual calm way, and I went on to have the very last first date of my life.
Driftless Market has been an integral part of a lot of my biggest moments. It's where I learned how to conduct interviews, reference checks, and regularly-timed employee reviews. I learned about profit margins and vendor-relationships. I learned to better organize people, and coax the best from them. I created a whole world of bad food puns, and spent downstocking time dreaming up details of my very first novel. There were treasured heart-to-hearts with Jayne in her office, and co-creating ideas and displays with Heidi. I made life-lasting friendships, and relied on the owners wisdom for ordinary life decisions.
And then there was that one ordinary Fall day. I was in the green shelf aisle, right in front of the handmade soaps and chapsticks, when my parents came in to hand me a check for $180 -- the price of my wedding dress. My mom was crying. It was the single moment that everything turned around with them, and finally -- after ten+ long years -- they were absolutely okay with the fact that I was gay.
Bill and Chef Nick made my wedding cakes, chocolate basil and absolutely divine. Just because they loved me. Sometimes I wish that I could go back and recapture all the little things. Driftless Market saw me through massage school and becoming a Licensed Massage Therapist. And they welcomed me into full time hours when shoulder injury and the desire for something else created a new chapter of life.
By the time I left, I had been there for half the time that Driftless Market had been Driftless Market. 5/10. I remember the very first time I walked through the front door, visiting home from college and pleasantly surprised at the addition to my hometown. Robin was arranging bananas on the front display. "Wow, this is like the food co-op back in Lincoln!" I said, thinking fondly of Open Harvest. Robin looked at me, pausing. "This isn't a co-op," she said simply.
And it wasn't. It was something a whole lot bigger.
It's been five years of me and Janet being "Hannah & Janet", and seven years since I first became a Driftless Market employee. And there were so much memory and emotions all jumbled together yesterday on a simple Saturday.
I nearly bawled when Janye & Robin's ukelele group serenaded the founding owners. And when Heidi hugged me and said, "You're such a big part of the Driftless Market story."
And when Janet and I left, got in the car, and drove out to the rest of our Valentine's Day date, I did cry. And I cried some more later, as Janet napped before work and I cozily watched TV with Chester (who is also turning Five this spring, by the way).
All of the memories were swirling, waiting to be properly processed -- maybe really for the first time. I grieved the world I'd left behind, and celebrated in the life Janet and I are creating. I cried for the simple fact that starting a new chapter is always the hardest part of writing any story.
Here's to the continuing power of community, new life adventures, and little things like a Valentine's Weekend date ♡