This Side of the Pond

Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman


December 30, 2021

Even in a year as strange as this has been, it’s never all doom and gloom. As we prepare to embrace whatever surprises 2022 is destined to bring, I took a look back at the last twelve months to find the bright spots.

Even among the stories that flew under the radar, there was far more good news in 2021 than you might have thought, starting with the stray dog in North Carolina that kept sneaking into Dollar General to steal the same stuffed purple unicorn. The little sneak robbed the store five times before animal control decided to not just take him in and find him a forever home, but also to buy him the toy he’d fallen in love with.

Texans had a strange start to the year when they received an AMBER alert in January for…Chucky, the doll from the “Child’s Play” movies. The alert even included a description of Chucky and his kitchen knife, and citizens were most relieved to find out it was sent out mistakenly during an IT test.

Also in Texas, a plumber accidentally solved the 2014 theft of $600,000 from Lakewood Church when he was called in to fix a loose toilet. About 500 envelopes full of money fell out of the wall as he worked.

Good news from both ends of the age scale this year as a Kansas resident, Frances Kompus, was able to celebrate her 100th birthday in style with her two older sisters, aged 104 and 102. Over in Louisiana, a 105-year-old woman set a world record in her age division in the 100-meter dash; Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins finished in just over one minute at the Louisiana Senior Games.

Meanwhile, Caleb Anderson started his first semester at the Georgia Institute of Technology at the age of 13. Real-life superhero Bridger Walker saved his little sister from a dog attack at the even more tender age of six, and was invited to spend the day on the set of the new Spider-Man movie and fill in for Zendaya in a practice stunt.

During the Tokyo Olympics, Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Barshim of Qatar tied for the gold medal in the men’s high jump. Rather than take part in a jump-off to decide the winner, the pair asked if they could share the win instead – the first time since 1912 that a gold medal had been shared in athletics.

Perhaps my favorite ongoing story is that of Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton, two strangers who met when the former sent a text about her Thanksgiving plans to the wrong number. Hinton assured her she was not his gran, but asked if he could still get a plate.

Dench said that of course he could, and this year Hinton celebrated Thanksgiving with her for the sixth year in a row – this year, with the addition of his lovely girlfriend.

Another amazing dog, because I can’t resist: a neighborhood stray saved a Virginia family from a house fire earlier this month by barking at her bedroom window. When the firefighters posted a picture on social media in his honor, Butter’s original owners spotted it and the canine hero was rewarded for his service by being reunited with his people.

A retired Navy meteorologist was pleased when his wallet was returned to him in February with its contents intact and untouched. That’s great in itself, but this story wouldn’t have made the list except that he lost it in Antarctica and it had been there since 1978.

More seriously, huge wins for the medical community this year when it was announced that we may soon have vaccines against HIV and malaria. Two vaccines for the former are heading into clinical trials, using the tech that was developed for shots protecting against COVID-19, while the World Health Organization green-lit the latter in October and estimated it would save the lives of tens of thousands of African children each year.

As a space buff, I can’t complete this column without including some of the coolest news from space this year. Plenty has been happening, but the list is topped by the achievements of NASA’s Perseverance Rover, which used an experimental instrument to convert some of the carbon dioxide-heavy atmosphere on Mars into oxygen for the very first time.

A California couple eloped in March to get married on the banks of Lake Tahoe, but the groom dropped the bride’s diamond ring through a crack in the dock while they were exchanging vows. Fortunately, a local scuba diver saved the day by scouring the bottom of the lake until he found it.

On a similar note, a Scottish woman who lost her wedding ring 50 years ago while collecting potatoes from her vegetable patch got an unexpected surprise when her neighbor heard the story and made it his mission to find it. Over three days with his metal detector, he dug 90 holes and collected countless pieces of scrap metal before finally retrieving the ring.

All of which just goes to show that even the most taxing of times has its positive moments. The human spirit shone through in so many ways in 2021, so here’s to the next one ahead of us, and my wish for 2022 is good news aplenty for you and yours, the whole year through.


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