Sunday, January 2, 2022

Been There Voices: Susan Larson - A Red Letter Year

Looking back on a fantastic 2021! Despite the pandemic I was able to get the Pfizer vaccine here (in Mexico) so I feel protected and no one close to me was sick. It was a year of milestones in so many ways and I am so grateful to have lived to see the realization of many personal dreams and hopes for others come to fruition.

June was a Red Letter Day for my son, Brett, who received his Masters in IT from University of Denver. Because I taught overseas and our end of school year was mid June, I was never able attend  and of his graduations, so this was more than special, it was a first! I was also so very proud of his research paper which focussed on improving minority ratio in IT. It was a stellar paper as noted by his professor and everyone who read it. 

After the ceremony we drove to a luxurious condo in Aspen and we were agog at the airport as we were driving into the town. I have never seen so many private luxury airplanes in my life and can only imagine what it must look like during ski season. Unfortunately the ski lift wasn’t open but we toured a ghost town, incredible to imagine life back in the day, and then we went on a hike up a mountain. I stayed down at a lake with more trails than I could walk while Brett and Jira tackled the more strenuous hike up to another lake. 

The sky was blinding blue and crystal clear water. Aspen and the mountain trails are pristine, beautiful and clean which was a sharp contrast to the dust and poverty of Mexico. Of course, Aspen is an anomaly to most of the world but it was nice to bask in such privilege for a few days.

In July, my sister, Donna, and I made an epic trip to Seward, Alaska, complete with all kinds of screw ups, which is part of the adventure when we travel. The day I arrived we took a helicopter ride to one of the countless glaciers which was breathtaking in so many ways. I have always been afraid of helicopters and at every turn and bank, my stomach dropped. After landing the helicopter at the foot of a massive glacier, we got out and walked around it. There were numerous cracks in the melting ice and from time to time, there would be a huge noise and I was ready to leave before something broke off and slid over us! 

We hiked a beautiful trail that sadly had markers back to the late 1800’s of the depletion of the glacial area. But the deep green forests and quiet peace of Seward was something my soul had been craving. They also had a very sophisticated aquarium with all sorts of aquatic life that was truly mesmerizing. I want to go back and just sit in the forest.

My son, Chris, has always been known as the “finder” of lost things and he can locate most anything that is on the internet. We lost a brother to suicide in 1977 and he had a son, Jim. We kept up with him over the years through his mother but lost touch over twenty years ago when she died. 

Over the long years, we would talk about him and try to find him via social media, addresses, etc. When I retired, I was determined to find Jim and started with his mother’s family who came from a small town in Nebraska. After finding Jim’s aunt, I messaged her but no reply and I was on the verge of hiring a private detective. One day Chris and I were talking about this and he said “let me see what I can find.” Lo and behold about and hour later Chris messaged me “ I found Jim, called him, and told him you had been looking for him for over twenty years!” Naturally, Jim was floored and was inundated with calls and emails from my sister, Donna, brother Johnny, and me. It was a momentous gift from Chris to my family and to Jim and his family. This was a Red Letter Day for all of us!

When I retired to Ajijic, I found numerous volunteer activities, both formal and informal. Two I became closely involved in seemed completely hopeless. Joel is a forty year old man who lost his legs as a toddler to spider bites. I met him first through our dogs; he has two dogs that would get behind him and push him up hills with their heads. As fate would have it, he lives right behind me so I saw him all of the time. When his mother was dying of lung cancer, I came to know the family. One of the Facebook groups I am in has a Meal Train for locals and expats, so I put out a plea and the community brought food for over a week. 

The only avenue for money for Joel was dealing drugs and he was an addict. Over the past three years several of my friends helped him buy a new wheelchair, they don’t last long on our cobblestones, and through COVID lockdowns, we brought food to the family. One lady introduced Joel to AA and to my amazement, he has been clean over a year and now has a job at Walmart as a checker! He is over the moon, has a girlfriend and I see him wheeling home with a Walmart bag of groceries! Now he can be a real man and help provide for his family. There are no words for how happy I am to have witnessed this dramatic change in his life!

The other miracle I participated in was little Jose who was born with a spinal problem and couldn’t walk. A Facebook group called for volunteers to make his house habitable, so we raised money, furniture and even a new bathroom as there was none. This was in June, 2019, so although the house was re-done, Jose was still dragging his legs on the filthy floor and his “family” were drug dealers and a prostitute.

His mother was dead, a victim of drug violence and his supposed father was in prison. Over the past three years, guardianship was obtained for his great grandmother and Shriners did the surgery to help him walk. Social media is a great asset when bringing people together for a cause and little Jose was never forgotten at his birthday and Christmas. A Canadian lady took his story to heart and paid for intensive physical therapy and local leaders became personally involved. Behind the scenes, efforts were made to move him to a Christian boys’ home here but his family resisted because they benefited from the attention, goods and services provided by this community, both locals and gringos. 

About three months ago, his great grandmother died suddenly, leaving Jose alone in the den of inequity. Finally, his “family” agreed to move him to the boys’ home but not before trying to “sell” him to those trying to help. He is now in school and in a safe, wholesome environment and he is so happy. Another Red Letter Day I am so happy to have witnessed.

Wrapping up an already incredible year, my friends and I made a trip to Puerto Vallarta for the Thanksgiving Holiday. It was my bright idea to ride a banana boat and three others decided to give it a go. All was going well, lots of shrieks and laughter, when suddenly I found myself tossed into the water! I had pulled all of the muscles in my left calf and somehow hoisted myself into the boat with the help of the scrawny, but strong young Mexican man. A few weeks later, I noticed that my vision was blurred when using the computer so a visit to the eye doctor was in order. He told me that I had a torn macula and will need surgery in January. 

I made my yearly doctor’s visit and he had already heard about the banana boat escapade but didn’t know it was me. He roared with laughter and told me to “keep it up!” Reflecting later, his practice is primarily geriatrics and sees his patients to the end of the road, listening to a lot of regrets and sadness. He will hear none from me.

My 2021 ended with a wonderful visit to my son, Brett, and his wife Jira in Ohio. It was a very special time and I feel so lucky to be able to share it with them.
Along the way, there were countless moments of extreme satisfaction. I am very content.

So 2021 was a Red Letter year for me, my family and those around me. Now what can I do in 2022?

*** Susan Larson, Ajijic, Jalisco, MX, explorer of the edges

Click here for more about Susan and other Been There Voices  


Been There Voices is about us, our lives, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, our lessons and our gradual, hard-won wisdom. We have survived and thrived throughout whatever has come our way.

The reasons are arbitrary and not intended to dismiss half of our population, however, this project focuses on the stories of women, and begins with fourteen women, well-polished grains of sand on the beach of life, tumbled by the waves of time until their light shines through, offering their stories, joys and sorrows, to the ocean of wisdom.


  1. Susan ... I can hardly wait to see what you get up to in 2022 ... may it all be joyful ... and SAFE!

  2. Susan, thank you for sharing stories of your purpose-filled red letter life! May 2022 be another legacy-building year...

  3. Thank you Becky, I continue to be greatful to be alive and do wht I can for those around me. My this new year be filled with wonderful surprises and love! Susan Larson