Goodbye 2020

I think we can all agree that 2020 hasn’t exactly been the best year ever. Everyone has their list of things gone wrong this year. My list includes many things, but I only have space to list a few. Most recently I went through a health scare which required several tests and trips to several specialists. It caused me much stress for almost two months due to not being able to get in with the specialists I needed and having to wait so long for answers; not to mention the hefty medical bills it racked up right here at Christmas time.

Last month, our chocolate lab was tragically killed. She was 5 years old and my son’s best friend. To say it has been devastating for us is an understatement. I know that only people with a dog who is a member of their family will understand this. It has been a struggle explaining to an 11-year-old when he questions why God had to let his dog die. It has been heartbreaking for me and my husband to have to watch our son’s heart be shattered by her death. It has been over a month now and it doesn’t seem to be getting much easier yet. We talk about her and cry most nights. We miss her so.

And let’s not forget COVID. It has brought many changes. My son chose the traditional learning path at school, but shut downs throughout the year have meant some remote learning for him as well. I’d be lying if I said I was fond of working all day and then having to go home, cook supper, and help my child with all of his work for all of his school subjects for the day.

But, there is a flip side to all of these things. My health scare turned out not to be the scary diagnosis that was originally thought. As hard as it was to go through, God meant for good to come of it. It has brought me closer to Him. It taught me to have the right perspective on what is important in life. It taught me how much I need my friends and my church family who prayed for me daily. Having a group of prayer warriors who carry you through when your own strength seems like it just isn’t enough is a powerful thing to experience.

Losing our dog has been hard, but her death has also put perspective on what truly matters in life. God reminded me of how appreciative I need to be for one dear friend that He put in my life, who was the one who found her on the side of the road and had to make the call to let me know. She and her husband have shown me great kindness more than once throughout this year. Her death also brought me a wonderful act of kindness from an unexpected person, and it brought to light how important it is to do nice things for others when we can. We are all here for a short time and we never know when God will say our time is up. But while we are here, we are called to love.

And as for the school shut downs due to COVID, it has meant more time that I have been able to spend with my son. He has also been able to spend more time with my parents since he stays with them on the days that I work, which has been a blessing to them since he is their world. It has been time together that we otherwise would not have had.

So goodbye 2020. I can’t say that I will miss you. And honestly I am not very convinced that 2021 will be much better. But I do know that as 2021 starts, my priorities are in order. May God bless us all.

-Jenna Wood

The good, the bad, the ugly… but hope

2020 has definitely been one hell of a wild roller coaster ride. I’ve always thought of myself as a “glass half full” kind of gal, but 2020 put the whole “there’s always a silver lining” to the test. There have been days so dark and bleak and void of hope; yet, other days are full of laughter, joy, and promise.

The Good

Despite the darkness that has enveloped this crazy world, 2020 has shown me that light will always drive out the darkness. That light has shone through the loving care given to patients by health care providers and first responders. They continue to risk their own lives every time they go to work. They’ve seen so much death and devastation and they are exhausted – physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are the real super heroes.

There was light last spring and summer as school officials tried so hard to give their seniors some kind of send off. Oh, how the light has shown through the teachers of both our great school systems. Teachers dug deep and their creative juices flowed as they made the most of being thrown into completely uncharted territory with absolutely no guidance from state leaders last spring. I am thankful for the many amazing administrators who have provided guidance without stifling the creativity that makes learning so much fun.

And I don’t care how the governor or the health department or anyone else classifies workers, occupations, or people, every single living, breathing human is essential. Everyone contributes something to society. Light has shone through so many of those deemed “nonessential.” Despite their doors being shut for months and losing who knows how much money, those “nonessentials” still supported their schools and contributed to causes near and dear to their hearts.

Small businesses across Blount County continue to give despite all that’s been taken from them this year. These small businesses are the backbone of our community. They are friends and neighbors. They are absolutely the most essential piece of our local economy so don’t forget to be a light for them.

Light has shone through so many individuals throughout this grueling year. Oneonta librarian Ricky Statham brought smiles to young and old through his Facebook Live story time. Young Ian Evans did the same when he started his own cooking show, “Mixing With Ian.” His creative cuisines, along with his bright smile, quickly became a hit and provided his Facebook and Instagram followers a much needed break.

When other ugly realities were thrust upon this nation, the light of 23-year-old Desiree Heflin led the way. In June, she said she was tired of “dealing with systemic racial injustice that is deeply rooted in our country.” Her plan was simple enough. It was to be a peaceful protest, a Constitutional right afforded to those living in the U.S. It was to be a time for people from all walks of life from all across Blount County to come together and exclaim with one collective voice that black lives matter.

Of course, it turned out to be not so simple. Oneonta Police Chief Charles Clifton and Oneonta city officials gave her the green light; however, the racial injustice that she and countless others were so tired of dealing with reared its ugly head. She was threatened more than once. Her family was threatened. Lies were spreading like wildfire on social media.

Grown men were harassing, belittling, threatening, and bullying this 23-year-old who grew up in Oneonta, graduated from Oneonta, and wanted her daughter to grow up in an Oneonta where her life mattered.

I cannot begin to imagine the fear she felt in those days leading up to the protest and march, the fear she felt as she spoke so confidently, boldly, and passionately to a crowd of around 300 at The Little Brick Church while there were men with rifles on rooftops. And I cannot begin to imagine how she felt hearing all the vile and evil words being shouted as she led those 300 from the church to the Depot.

She could have backed down. She could have canceled the whole thing. But she didn’t. She’s courageous, strong, brave, bold, and on June 5 she did what she set out to do… lead a peaceful protest in Oneonta.

“Why can’t the value of who we are as individuals be enough,” she asked that day. “All lives won’t matter until black lives do.” Heflin challenged everyone to “continue to work to be better individuals, to check our own hearts, to teach our children to love others and admire differences and diversity, to continue to address our problems and find solutions, to love even in disagreement, and to speak out against all injustice.”

Desiree you are such a light. You had the courage to stand when no one else would. Thank you.

The Bad

Well that can be summed up in one word – COVID-19. So many lives have been lost. So many hearts have been broken. I can name so many of them. All of them have left behind families who didn’t really get to say goodbye…

COVID sucks.

I miss Wednesday nights at Lester. I miss my Sunday school class. I miss my friends. I miss hugs, especially my Neno’s.

I still get a little angry that my son’s last tennis season was taken away. It doesn’t help that AHSAA created “safety” protocols for basketball and wrestling to make them “safer,” but no one worked real hard last spring to find a way to save tennis, track, golf, soccer, baseball, or softball.

I try not to be bitter, but obviously I’m not there yet. And don’t get me wrong. I am happy these kids are getting their seasons and I pray that they get to keep playing. No one deserves to have something like that snatched away.

Some days I’m actually a little angry, well a lot angry. We continue to lose so many people to this virus and I keep searching for an answer to the question, “Why do people care so little about others that they refuse to wear a mask?”

Maybe if we had all done what the medical experts, the doctors, and the nurses asked of us in March there would have been no need for a shutdown, no need for a mask mandate, no need for schools to open and close every other day. Maybe if everyone would just do what’s right and exhibit some compassion for our fellow humans, we can began to heal.

And if you don’t care to wear the mask, please don’t be mean to those of us who do. We hear the snide comments and see the finger pointing. Bullying won’t make us take it off.

The Ugly

There’s still that whole COVID-19 thing. But systemic racism is still uglier. In June, Blount County took a few steps forward. By the end of August, it was apparent Blount County wasn’t moving anywhere fast. District 3 Blount County Commissioner Dean Calvert was recorded having a conversation with his friend, who just happens to be a Warrior police officer. The friend is also the one who recorded the conversation with his dash cam. Not long into the video, Calvert uses a racial slur to describe an African American contractor. And if that’s not bad enough, he also proceeds to criticize the homes he builds.

The recording really goes down hill after that. The language is not exactly what you expect to hear from someone who preaches every now and then. There were calls for him to resign from the Commission. There was a rally on the courthouse steps with passionate speeches from Diane Lee, Rachel Simmons, Mark Moon, Jason Paul, and several others. Each one denounced the systemic racism that continues to plague Blount County and each one called for unity.

After a couple of attempts to apologize, Calvert avoided the final budget meetings as well as October’s work session and business meeting. He was present at the commission’s organizational meeting on Nov. 11 and participated via Zoom during the December meeting.

The situation could have been even uglier had the Birmingham Water Works Board not reinstated the agreement with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office to utilize BCSO deputies for security at Inland Lake.

And while many believe Calvert should have done the same thing for Blount County as he did the Alabama Association of County Commissioners and resign, there are others that see nothing wrong with the racial slur, the misogynistic and sexist comments about women, or the profanity. Others give him a pass because it was casual conversation with a friend and he would never publicly talk like that.

But, the n-word is not something I have ever thrown into any kind of conversation. There are other words and other topics that I’m pretty sure I’ve never uttered either. My private conversations and my public conversations don’t really differ that much. Do yours?

I am nowhere near perfect. The public me is just as imperfect as the private me. And I don’t pretend to be one way when the public is watching and someone else entirely when I’m chatting with friends. But if I did, I can assure you that the real me would be the one chatting with friends. That’s the Aimee that should be used to judge my character, not the one the rest of the world sees.

But Hope

I could go on for days. There’s been a lot of bad and ugly in 2020. But as I sit here and reflect, I choose to focus on the good because there was also so much good. There are so many memories and moments with my boys that I got because COVID forced us all to slow down. I longed for normal when it felt like normal mattered. All that really matters, though, are the moments that we have with those who fill our hearts with joy.

“Celebrate your big and little wins. Grow every day. Enjoy the first sip of your morning coffee, and the second and third and fourth. Find something to smile about… Give hugs often, compliment others whenever you can. Get inspired. Nourish yourself. Go outside. Take chances. Life is just too short and fragile to not live a life of chasing joy.” -Nikki Banas

-Aimee Wilson

As 2020 draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on what has happened during this long, arduous year.

The year began as most do; families joined around their tables to celebrate the New Year with a spread of peas, greens, and pork — all Southern traditions to bring in a new year full of good luck and prosperity — followed by an afternoon of watching football and visiting. 2020 seemed promising and exciting.

Across the globe a new virus had been discovered with early reports alleging it originated from a market in Wuhan, China. It seemed so distant and isolated. There was no serious cause for concern here in our county. Life continued as usual, students returned to school, parents to work, and our lives got busy again.

Life is funny. At times it seems to pass so slowly; then again, it is flying past us and we seem to lose track of time lost. The lull between the new year and early March was filled with typical events: basketball season nearing its end while spring sports began and upcoming graduations and proms were being planned.

But on March 13 the local school systems made the difficult decision to break early for Spring break to prevent the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak.

On March 25, the virus that once seemed so distant made its way to Blount County. We had our first positive COVID-19 case. Initially there was skepticism and a lot of information that seemed to change.

New is sometimes frightening. We humans tend to be creatures of habit; we like things that are familiar and comfortable. We were suddenly being plunged into a new way of life, a new way of teaching, a new way of working. Blount County adapted well in the beginning. Soon, however, proms were being canceled, graduations postponed, weddings reverted to Zoom; families of long-term care patients were not allowed to see one another; those hospitalized were left to recover alone. We were losing things, things we never imagined could be taken from us.

Then in May, we lost someone; Blount County experienced its first COVID-19 death.

I must admit when it all began, I wore my mask, used sanitizer, and kept a safe distance from others, but I truly felt that we would overcome this virus quickly. Hundreds of thousands of people were dying in Europe. New York was being ravaged by the virus while refrigerated morgues held bodies awaiting autopsies. I felt that as Blount Countians we would see this and recognize the need to protect one another.

I was wrong.

For months, I witnessed conspiracies being shared on social media. I saw many who were not wearing masks and I heard of families hosting large gatherings. It was disheartening. It is difficult to lose your sense of normal, the everyday activities and the traditions we hold dear.

But we lost much more than just that in 2020. We lost some wonderful souls. Death is a tragic and unfortunate part of life; we know that our loved ones are ours but for a moment in time. However, WE must do better, Blount County.

As I write this there are more than 50 families with an empty seat at their dining room table all because of a virus, and all because we did not do our part to protect one another. Those we have lost to COVID-19 were pillars in our communities. Their leaving forms a void that we cannot fill. This holiday season there will be absence and heartache felt by many, there will be tears shed, and I fear, despite all that we have lost, the numbers will continue to rise.

We have become selfish, so much so that we have sacrificed the safety of our own loved ones and community members.

COVID-19 has cost us so much in 2020. We have missed graduations, milestone birthday parties, holiday gatherings, sporting events, weddings, teachers have missed time with their students, students have missed valuable time in class instruction… I could continue.

But most importantly, what I hope we focus on is WHO COVID-19 has taken from us – those Blount Countians who have gone too soon. May we honor their memories by loving others as we love ourselves and by exhibiting loving care and reverence for life.

Going into 2021, I encourage you to search within your heart to find the compassion and empathy that may have been lacking in 2020. Every day we are presented with an opportunity to do something good, to impact another life. I do not charge you to be perfect, because no one is. Blount County, I charge you to be better, each day a little more. We may not be where we want to be, but we can work to be better than the day before.

-Rachel Simmons

The year of 2020 will go down in history like no other. I could write a book on the harsh realities of the topic, but no one really wants to hash and rehash 2020 and COVID-19.

So, I will leave you with this. It just seems more appropriate to leave 2020 with something lighthearted and fun.

I am 55 years old and I have so many unanswered questions! I still haven’t found out who let the dogs out, where the beef is, or how to get to Sesame Street.

Why doesn’t Dora just use Google Maps? Why do all the colors of Froot Loops taste exactly the same and how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Why are eggs packaged in a flimsy paper carton, but batteries are secured in plastic that’s tough as nails?

Why is abbreviated such a long word? Why is there a D in ‘fridge’ but not in refrigerator? Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor yet dishwashing liquid is made with real lemons?

Why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections? Why do you have to “put your two cents in” but it’s only a “penny for your thoughts? Where’s the extra penny?

Why do “The Alphabet Song” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” have the same tune? Why did you just sing both songs? Just what is Victoria’s secret?

Why does your nose run and your feet smell? Why do you park on a driveway and drive on a parkway? Why is a boxing ring square?

If you enjoy wasting time, is that time really wasted?

And do you really think I am this witty? I actually got this from a Facebook friend who stole it from her brother’s girlfriend’s uncle’s cousin’s baby-momma’s doctor who lived next door to an old classmate’s mailman.

Here’s to 2021 and may you find answers to all of your questions.

-Cheryl Helton

My knee jerk reaction to the end of 2020 is good riddance to this dumpster fire of a year. But when I actually reflect on it, I may have to rethink.

I am an introvert, but I manage it well and just roll with it, whatever is happening. Waaaay back in March when it was suggested that we quarantine and everything was canceled or postponed, I was in absolute heaven. No dealing with people! No awkward conversations in Walmart!

In spite of some weirdness and sad situations (not having our annual Easter family reunion, online church, graduation in July on the baseball field, the deaths of two extended family members due to cancer), 2020 has been a decent year for me. I know that’s not what I’m supposed to say, but I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em.

I have thoroughly enjoyed spending more time at home. I turned the big 5-0. I’ve read more books. I’ve lost count of how many hats I’ve crocheted (not to mention two afghans). I’ve visited my parents just about every weekend. My house isn’t clean, but you can’t win ‘em all.

So, goodbye 2020 and welcome 2021. I don’t anticipate the new year to be much different from the old one, at least for a while, but “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)

-Melanie Skillman