Celebrating the good in 2017

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two days before New Year’s Day and I was out of luck.

More precisely, the stores were out of black-eyed peas, that lowly legume served on Jan. 1 to bring good fortune in the new year. Though it’s more of a Southern tradition, eating them for luck has become popular in homes across the country, including my own.

But store after store was sold out of the fortuitous bean, be they canned, frozen or dried. Even worse, I could also find not a single jar of pickled herring, another odd New Year’s food tradition my Chicago-born father taught me brought prosperity if consumed at the stroke of midnight.

In all the years I have adhered to these traditions, these lucky food items have never been hard to find.

What was going on here? Was it a sign? A foreboding of a very bad year ahead?

Or was it that after enduring a grueling 2017 many more of us than usual were in the market to do whatever it took to bring more luck, more peace, more sanity into our future? If that meant gobbling obscure beans and putrid fish when 2018 came around, so be it.

Still, 2017 was not entirely bad. For me, it was another year of meeting remarkable people and telling their stories, heartbreaking or happy or healing.

For them, for you, I wish us all the best of luck in the new year, black-eyed peas optional.

Herewith, a look back at some of the notable columns of 2017, and a look forward.

Trial, at last

Two years ago this Tuesday the world was robbed of Alex Hernandez, a brilliant young man who at age 26 had accomplished more than many do in a lifetime. Last June, his parents, Maria and Jorge Hernandez, shared their story of love, loss, anguish and frustration with a system that didn’t inform them for two days that their son lay dead in a morgue, confused him with another victim and initially told them that Alex had killed himself.

Eventually, they learned that Alex, a New Mexico Tech senior, had been struck and killed Jan. 9, 2016, in Socorro by an SUV driven by Elijah Otero, a troubled young man who in a surveillance video appeared to deliberately chase after Hernandez, who was on foot.

The Hernandezes’ grief was deepened by repeated delays in Otero’s first-degree murder trial, which was supposed to take place last June, then last October, then last November.

Trial is now set for Feb. 19 before state District Judge Mercedes Murphy. Let’s hope it happens this time.

Dreams come true

In May, we met Kyle Osborne, a young man battling a rare and deadly form of cancer called myxopapillary ependymoma whose lifelong wish was to meet basketball superstar LeBron James.

Back then, it appeared the Volcano Vista High School senior’s life might not last long enough for that to happen.

That’s when Laura Onorato, an acquaintance of Kyle’s mom, got busy, tweeting Kyle’s wish to the universe and chatting up everybody she could think of who might help make that wish a reality.

Weeks later, the universe came through. Kyle, his dad and sister went to Cleveland to meet King James and sit courtside at a Cavaliers game.

Onorato’s stint as fairy godmother earned her one of the Spirit of New Mexico awards, and it was an honor not only to introduce her at the awards luncheon last month but to bring Kyle to the stage as well.

Kyle still has a long struggle ahead of him, but his determination to beat his cancer remains strong. As Onorato has proven, anything is possible.

Road to recovery

We met another brave young man in October who kept smiling through the pain, fear and death of a dream.

JT Gallegos has been catching footballs almost as long as he could walk. He lived and breathed football.

But at age 15, he played his last game. In September, the Rio Rancho High School sophomore was diagnosed with os Odontoideum, a rare condition in which a small finger-like projection, called the odontoid process, from the second cervical vertebra in the neck is missing or malformed. The odontoid process keeps the first vertebra aligned and able to pivot. Typically, the condition is not diagnosed until after the patient is permanently paralyzed or dead.

On Nov. 22, the day before Thanksgiving, JT underwent surgery to have his top two vertebrae fused together to stabilize his spine. Grandmother Liz Martinez told me the surgery went well.

“Best Thanksgiving for all of us,” she said.

She sent me a post-surgical photo of JT. He’s still smiling.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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Kyle Osborne, 19, attends a Spirit of New Mexico awards luncheon in December with Spirit winner Laura Onorato and his father, Aaron Osborne. (Joline Gutierrez Krueger/Albuquerque Journal)

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JT Gallegos, 15, recuperates from a surgery in November to strengthen his spine. (Courtesy of Liz Martinez)

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A trial may finally be held in February for the death of Alex Hernandez, a New Mexico Tech senior killed Jan. 9, 2016, in Socorro.

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