No one would argue that 2021 didn’t have its share of bad news, but buried between the gloomy, pandemic-related headlines, there was plenty of good news, too.
Those stories might not have been the loudest, but they are the ones that made us smile — and sometimes even shed a tear. They are the stories of Mainers acting with joy and integrity to do good things, sometimes surprising their communities and even themselves along the way.
Take Ruby Day, a Belfast teen who grew up mired in generational poverty, housing insecurity and other adversity. She didn’t think she’d ever even go to college. But when she graduated from Belfast Area High School last spring, she had her pick of nine colleges, including such top-tier schools as Mount Holyoke College and Smith College. Day was ready to use her intelligence, talent and drive to forge forward for a better future.
“You’ve got to really just do things in life,” she said.
Then there were the Curbside Queens, Portland-based drag performers who have spent the pandemic bringing their show straight to people’s doors in their shocking pink bus named Peg. The performers, Cherry Lemonade and Gigi Gabor, were on pace to perform more than 60 shows this year, doing their vaudeville-inspired act in driveways, lawns and parking lots. By the end of one show, spectators were on their feet, clapping, hooting and hollering for more.
“The name of the game is make it work, make it happen,” Gabor said.
Readers marveled at the energy and gumption of Ben Jacobson, who was for a time the only person cooking and serving two meals a day, five days a week for the more than 500 students at Orono Middle and High School. Jacobson, the food service director for Regional School Unit 26, was supposed to supervise. But when he found himself without a kitchen crew, he got to work to make sure the students had plenty of good food to eat — and he did it all with a smile under his mask.
“We’re trying to put out as good food as we can and feed the kids,” he said.
A great blue heron named Harper became an unlikely online celebrity this year, and Mainers were here for it. She is among the birds whose movements are being tracked via GPS technology by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, with nearly 11,000 people following a Facebook page that details their journeys. They especially love to cheer on Harper, who makes epic flights from Maine to the Caribbean, sometimes reaching speeds of nearly 70 miles per hour.
“Everytime I post about Harper it blows up the Internet and my phone,” said Danielle D’Auria, a biologist with the wildlife department’s bird group. “I get notifications all night.”
Then there was a thrilling sea story about a father and son from Portland who hit a bad storm as they chugged across the Gulf of Maine with a down-on-its-luck fishing boat they were bringing home from Nova Scotia. The 42-year-old boat, with the unlovely name Chainsaw, gave them plenty of anxious moments as rough weather raged around them. But they made it safely home, where they planned to overhaul the boat they renamed something that felt more hopeful: Second Chance.
“It wanted a second chance at life — it knew we were its second chance,” fisherman Knoep Nieuwkerk said.
Bangor residents were thrilled at the unveiling earlier this month at a new piece of public art with a message that resonates right now more than ever. The permanent light-up electrical installation, “Hopeful,” hadn’t even been fully installed before a woman passing by came up to the crew in tears to thank them. “I really needed this,” she told them.
“That’s what we want,” said Jesse Moriarty of the United Way of Eastern Maine, which brought the sign to Bangor. “We want those moments, when people can see this, and think to themselves, ‘It’s going to be OK. I can get through this. We can get through this.’”
Animal lovers rejoiced in March when a retired sled dog who escaped her transport at Bangor International Airport was safely captured after almost a month on the run. Beaver, a former member of an Iditerod kennel in Alaska, came to Maine to be adopted by a new family here. But that happy ending was thrown into jeopardy when she fled the airport. City officials and residents put out food for her, and also posted sightings of the elusive dog on a “Find Beaver” Facebook page. Finally, after 23 days, she was captured.
“The entire town of Bangor just came together on this,” said Denise Lawson, who runs a sled dog adoption service. “So many different people did so much and we are so very thankful.”
And who can forget the tale of a truck driver who had the hard job of transporting an oversized magnetic resonance imaging building to Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor in the height of summer tourist traffic? Superload driver Mike Saxton ran into plenty of challenges, such as getting hung up on the Penobscot Narrows Bridge in Prospect and suffering a flat tire near the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor. But Mainers who were stuck behind him didn’t honk and complain. They brought him donuts and cheered him on.
“We’re used to being the ones that make people late to work, that cause the frustration,” said Zak Fleming, the Fleet Manager at Trans-United in Burns Harbor, Indiana. “I’ve never, ever remembered a time that we’ve been cheered on like this.”