For Rainier resident Veronica Brauer, 2020 honestly wasn’t that bad of a year — in fact, she said, it was possibly the best year of her life.
While the year brought its challenges, it also brought resounding successes: she became a licensed real estate broker, sold her first house and grew closer to the community she’s called home for roughly 20 years.
“It’s brought me so many awesome things,” Brauer, 50, said.
But she knows that wasn’t the case for many of her neighbors.
Overwhelmed by the ongoing health and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, news of invasive Asian giant hornets found in Washington state, an outstandingly damaging fire season, and the unfettered tick-tock of inflamed political discourse clogging news and social media outlet, it’s likely an understatement to say the roaring 20s started off with more of a dud than the flourishing hope the new decade let on.
But despite all the darkness, Brauer said, there’s still light to appreciate and hope for a better year to revel in.
That’s why a small number of Rainier residents gathered after the New Years Eve twilight to host a “lantern walk of hope,” the path of which ran along the Yelm-Tenino Trail, from the Chevron gas station to Wilkowski Park.
Drinks, snacks and merrymaking were had at Wilkowski Park that night. Some attendees also carried signs listing their hopes for 2021, and at the park burned in a fire a list of 2020 happenings they wished to leave in the past.
This is the first event of its kind in Rainier, said George Johnson, founding member of We Love Rainier, Washington, and a city council member.
Roughly 50 community members showed up to the event, many with their own lanterns in hand, and began the quarter-mile march shortly after 5:30 p.m.
Caroline Stage, 37, her husband James Stage, 38, as well as sons Luke, 5, and Caleb Stage, 4, all of Rainier, were among attendees awaiting the start of the march. The family of four found out about it through the We Love Rainier, Washington, Facebook page, Caroline Stage said.
Each family member held a lamp Mason jar colored with Elmer’s glue and food coloring they’d made a few days prior.
Caroline Stage said the year had been overall pretty good for her family. Employment has been steady; Caroline Stage said she works for the school district as a special education teacher, and her husband works in construction.
“It’s been getting better … We’ve been pretty lucky,” Caroline Stage said.
Their family is hoping that the new year brings with it a sense of normalcy — and many of those in attendance shared the same sentiment.
“Getting more things to open up and being able to take the kids out to do more stuff” is the goal, she said.
Dawn Kenney, of Rainier, agreed. There haven’t really been any highlights for her in the last year though, she said.
“Hopefully getting back to semi normal than what is going on now,” she said when asked what she’s looking forward to.
And, so far, she hasn’t really been able to gauge what the new year will look like.
“I’m afraid that things (won’t get better). That’ they’ll stay the same,” she added.
In the background, attendees gathered around a stove fire and talked of the new year as fireworks went off in the distance. Nearby, people took photos and selfies with one another next to a couple pine trees draped in lights.
“I’m just so glad that people came out and celebrated the new year with their families, because the kids usually aren’t part of New Years Eve celebrations, but this year they are,” Johnson said.
From behind a table topped with boxes of cookies and snacks, Brauer celebrated with the attendees while keeping the snack table in order.
“To be able to do something that the community forgets about what’s going on, it just lifts the moment,” she said. “To take them away from the news and just have a moment like this is just magical.”
In addition to becoming a real estate broker this year, Brauer also took up making face masks in March when COVID-19 first hit. She’s not a seamstress, she tells the Nisqually Valley News, but she’s been enjoying the community connection she’s made by distributing them to people.
“It was a little spark in their lives,” she said, describing people’s reaction to her giving them a free mask.
Making masks was actually what brought her closer to Johnson and the other We Love Rainier community leaders who call the Rainier Senior Center their home. After she donated a box of masks to the center, she began coming back weekly for lunch.
The lantern walk, she said, couldn’t have happened without their support.
Despite the personal successes Brauer had in 2020, there’s still one thing she along with many Americans have missed out on: seeing her family.
Every spring, she said, she would fly back to Sonora, Mexico, to see her familia. That didn’t happen this year due to COVID restrictions, she said, but she was able to video chat with them around Christmas time.
“I miss my family a lot, I do, we’re very close. I love my family and I hope I can go there next year,” she said as attendees talked and hollered nearby. “We hope for the best year, next year. We’re hoping in 2021 (we) will be better, healthier.”