2021 better than 2020, more or less - Albuquerque Journal

2021 better than 2020, more or less

Looking back through a year’s worth of UpFront columns, it’s clear that I had such faith that 2021 would be better than 2020.

In some ways, it has been. But, in other ways, not so much.

This year often brought more salt than salve for our psychic wounds, my rosy expectations dashed by the pandemic that would not end, the political partisanship that would not yield, inflation, insurrection, deadly storms, deadly shootings.

Perhaps I expected too much.

In my March 3 column, for example, I described the morning I received my first COVID-19 vaccine as “hopeful, joyful, unbound.” We had made it, I believed then, to the “light at the end of this dark pandemic winter, the promise of normal times finally within our grasp.”

Spring was coming, I wrote.

A lot of you felt that way, too, and in a follow-up column published March 9, some of you likened getting your vaccine to winning the lottery. One reader wrote that she felt like hiring a brass band to march with her to the shot clinic, that blessed jab being the key to finally getting to see friends and family again.

But a reader named Anne scoffed at our joy. She warned that the vaccine wouldn’t magically return life back to normal.

She was right.

Nevertheless, my May 24 column reflected my continued optimism: “The pandemic, for me, is coming to an end, not with a bang, not with a whimper, not with fireworks or champagne or parties where no one is socially distanced, but with a particular song from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ ”

The song was “Optimistic Voices” about being out of the woods, out of the dark, out of the night. Seven months later, though, and we’re still in the dark.

I was wrong.

Rudy Lucero, center, married Deborah Ortiz, left, on Feb. 7. Unfortunately, he came down with COVID and had to be hospitalized at Lovelace Medial Center. He’s been in the hospital or a rehab center since January 2021 and in June was finally discharged from the hospital and got to go home with his wife. Several dozen friends and family were present to greet him. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
Bride and groom Rudy and Deborah Lucero have been together for 15 years. They got married Feb. 7 in a Zoom wedding because Rudy is hospitalized with COVID-19. (Courtesy of Deborah Lucero)

And then there’s Deborah and Rudy Lucero, who both contracted COVID-19 on New Year’s Day – Rudy so severely that he had to be hospitalized, hovering near death for six months.

The two have been together for 15 years and were engaged, but the pandemic canceled their wedding plans twice in 2020. They finally married Feb. 7, with Deborah and well-wishers gathered in the parking lot outside Rudy’s hospital room at Lovelace Medical Center.

My first column on the couple was published on Feb. 21, a day Rudy almost died. My second was on July 5, nearly two weeks after Rudy was well enough, if just barely, to go home with his bride.

Since then, Rudy landed back in the hospital in October with pneumonia and heart complications. His lungs are so scarred from COVID-19 that they function only at about 29%.

“He’s fighting just to breathe,” Deborah said.

They had to sell Rudy’s plumbing business, and Deborah had to quit her cosmetology job to be his round-the-clock caretaker. They are battling Blue Cross Blue Shield over its refusal to approve covering a lung transplant, something they had hoped wouldn’t be necessary, but is now critical.

They are also troubled by friends and family who have not taken their cautionary tale to heart and are still refusing to get vaccinated. So far, eight of their loved ones have died from COVID-19.

“It makes no sense,” Deborah said.

A lot didn’t in 2021.

But a lot did. And though we are still in those woods, I have found much to rejoice in and write about in this column, because no matter how dark it has gotten, there are always the bright lights of good people with good hearts. They remind us that it is not always about what was lost in 2021, but what was found.

One of the recent displays in Laura Ferrell’s front yard in Summit Park includes a black rooster, right, which was a gift from an Albuquerque couple who were moved by a column reporting that Ferrell’s large Mr. Rooster was stolen. (Courtesy of Laura Ferrell)

Laura Ferrell found joy in her whimsical front yard displays of her magical menagerie of folk art animals. Her Summit Park neighbors delighted in the clever displays, especially during the pandemic lockdown, and they became particularly fond of Mr. Rooster, a large black-and-red wooden import from Bali that Ferrell dressed up and posed as everything from a pirate to Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

“The kids seemed to enjoy that,” she said in my July 19 column. “Then, I found out it was not just the kids.”

That month, Mr. Rooster and several other animals were stolen. Neighbors were distraught. Ferrell remained philosophical, hoping the thief found joy in Mr. Rooster.

After the column was published, reader Lizette Martinez contacted me and offered to give Ferrell her smaller, but similar, wooden rooster.

Ferrell gratefully accepted. An anonymous donor also gifted her with a wooden frog. Others donated money to help replace Mr. Rooster, which she still hopes to do.

Ferrell said she still keeps chalk outside for people to leave messages on the sidewalk by her yard. They are often messages, she said, of hope and love.

Donna Lee Vigil Martinez
Glen Malin

Larry Malin and his brothers found Donna Lee Vigil, who was 3 when she survived a near-drowning in the Santa Fe River on May 5, 1958, because of the heroism of their father, Glen Malin, a 44-year-old World War II Navy veteran.

Larry told the story in my April 15 column in the hopes of finding the girl and learning whether the life their father had save turned out well.

It had.

She is Donna Lee Martinez of Albuquerque now, happily married for 45 years, proud mother of four and grandmother of 10.

She never learned to swim, and she never forgot the man she knew only as “the sailor” who saved her that day.

“I tell everybody that he’s my hero, that angels sent him to me that day.”

Larry told me this week he still hopes to meet Martinez, perhaps in May, the 64th anniversary of that fateful day in Santa Fe.

Five cyclists found an old, blind dog, thirsty and weak, and likely close to death, during a bike ride in the East Mountains in September.

The cyclists used a rain jacket as a stretcher and carried her to safety, and then to the Bernalillo County Animal Care and Resource Center, where she was named Ada.

Shelter employee Adrianne Lommasson found Ed Goodman, who runs Tootsie’s Vision rescue for blind dogs. He in turn found Melissa and Ryan Benefield, an Edgewood couple willing to foster Ada until a forever home could be found.

Ada, an elderly, blind dog, was rescued by cyclists in October and has since found her forever home in Edgewood. “She was simply meant to be,” her human Ryan Benefield says. (Courtesy of Ryan Benefield)

Since the column was published on Oct. 21, the Benefields have found they couldn’t live without Ada. They happily became failed fosters and Ada found her forever home.

“I simply can’t express how grateful I am for Ed and the wonderful people who rescued this amazing girl,” Ryan wrote in a Facebook post this month. “She was simply meant to be.”

Others found their voices and the power of community this year. Neighbors in the Rincon Loop area of the East Mountains spoke out successfully in February against a bus depot that Albuquerque Public Schools had planned to plop atop their aquifer. Neighbors in the Brentwood Gardens apartments saved their individual gardens in May after speaking out about management orders to get rid of the tenants’ little patches of paradise.

“It was so uplifting to be heard and respected,” one of the tenants later told me.

For me, it has been uplifting to share these stories. And so, once again, my optimism is renewed. I continue to hope that 2022 will be better and a little closer to normal. Yes, maybe I expect too much. But spring is coming. And not a moment too soon.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, jkrueger@abqjournal.com


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