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NPR staff remembers the voices they can't stop thinking about

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For many of us, the past year has been filled with the kind of news we would rather forget, which is why we asked the staff of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED to suggest the moments that we'll choose to remember from 2021, the voices on our program this year that our staff can't stop thinking about. So let's hear from some of the folks who made the show this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "DRIZZLE")

LAUREN HODGES, BYLINE: I'm Lauren Hodges. And at the end of the year, I'm still thinking about a trip to Shreveport, La., not far from the border with Texas. A new, highly restrictive abortion law in that state is essentially forcing a lot of women to travel long distances in search of care. I was with Sarah McCammon and Jonaki Mehta, and we went to a medical clinic that offers abortion services. Right away, we noticed the license plates in the parking lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Just looking around the parking lot, it's full of Texas license plates. Looking here - Texas, Texas, Texas again, Texas, Texas. Here's one from Louisiana. Here's another from Louisiana, another Texas.

HODGES: I spoke to a young woman who just wanted to be called M. She'd come all the way from Corpus Christi.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

M: I drove six hours and 58 minutes. So I got here at 8:55 this morning. So my boyfriend's in the car, asleep.

MCCAMMON: Was it hard coming up with the money to come all the way out here? That's such a long trip.

M: Yeah. Well, I'm a college student, so I had to work doubles throughout the weekend 'cause that's the only time I can work.

HODGES: She had just found out she was pregnant, but it was already too late to get a legal abortion in Texas. And looking at the license plates, there were clearly a lot of women and families in a similar situation. And those are just the ones who could afford to make that trip at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "DRIZZLE")

JONAKI MEHTA, BYLINE: Hey. This Jonaki Mehta. I was on that Louisiana trip with Sarah and Lauren when we also reported on the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. We went to the bayou communities just outside the federal levee system that protects New Orleans. That's where we met fisherman Benny Alexie.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BENNY ALEXIE: What made New Orleans is the seafood that's cooked in it, which comes from the bayou people down south.

MEHTA: When Ida hit, Benny hunkered down in his neighbor's house. Through the window, he watched the home he'd lived in his whole life just drift away. After that, Benny's wife, Tammy, was convinced it was time to leave the area. But the Alexie family's been fishing there for generations, and they can't bring themselves to move just yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TAMMY ALEXIE: Actually, if y'all can peek out right there, you see him, the way he's out there fishing - my son, he's fishing. That's his joy, and that's why we're going to stay. And I'ma (ph) stay - may evacuate for anything that comes, though, because I'm scared. But we're going to stay.

JASON FULLER, BYLINE: Hey, everyone. My name is Jason Fuller. One story that stood out to me involved me driving down to Chesapeake, Va., for a friendly yet competitive game of spades, to see how this card game keeps seniors cognitively sharp. That's where I witnessed 94-year-old Molly Robinson Garris astutely beating her daughter and granddaughter in spades.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MOLLY ROBINSON GARRIS: I got a sorry hand this time, a sorry hand - got nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thank your granddaughter over there.

ROBINSON GARRIS: (Laughter).

FULLER: Granny's either playing possum or really knows how to make the most out of a lousy hand. You be the judge.

ROBINSON GARRIS: See, when you come out, you supposed to come out big. It's coming out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: There you go. There you go. That's what I'm...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON GARRIS: If you ain't coming out big, stay at home.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: That's right.

FULLER: From the sound of Granny's emphatic slam, a queen of spades just crashed the party.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Laughter) Change it up. You doing good over there. Change some stuff up.

MIA VENKAT, BYLINE: My name is Mia Venkat, and I'm a producer on the program. This year, we've been taking time to remember some of the 800,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19. In doing that, I got the chance to talk to Deb Kalish, who wanted to remember her partner, Paul Kleinheider. We ended up talking for over an hour about what Paul was like and what he loved. A moment that stuck with me was at the end of our conversation, when she was talking about where she found support.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DEB KALISH: I joined a grief group when Paul passed. And it was helpful. I think there was strength in numbers, as odd as that may sound. It helped just to be able to talk about the things you were feeling and know that someone else could understand. And I think the most important thing I got out of it was when some - when the leader, the leader of the group, said, you know, you did the best you could at the time. And that's an important thing for people to remember.

VENKAT: I thought it was beautiful that she found comfort in others. And it was an important reminder of how everyone is just trying their best to make it through right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "DRIZZLE")

MALLORY YU, BYLINE: Hi. My name is Mallory Yu. This has been a busy and loud year. So one piece that sticks out to me is a quieter one, with LGBT veterans reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of the repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. I'd grown up hearing that phrase, don't ask, don't tell, but talking with former Navy officer Lindsay Church about its impact on their romantic relationships really brought home the damage that that policy had.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LINDSAY CHURCH: I literally broke up with somebody because she sent me two dozen roses while I was in the hospital and I was too scared that I would get caught. So her not understanding how much fear I lived in felt like a denial of what I was going through. And so I just ended it because it was easier than navigating the uncertainty of whether or not I was going to get caught. Nobody was ever penalized for asking. A lot of people were penalized for telling.

YU: The segment included other voices describing the ways that they compartmentalized their friendships and their identities. And Church reached out later writing, (reading) I've heard a lot of stories about Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but that captured so much of the experience and pain we endured to live through what we did. Which is really why I do what I do - to let people share their pain and tell their stories.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "DRIZZLE")

KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: Hi. I'm Kat Lonsdorf. Lately, it's been easy to get depressed with all the omicron variant news. But thinking about one story has helped me put it in perspective. Back in March, I did a piece on a neighborhood bar in Mexico called Maverick. Like other bars around the world, it was closed during the pandemic. And the staff there wanted their customers to remember what a busy bar felt like. So they made a kind of create-your-own-soundscape online. They took sounds like people talking...

(SOUNDBITE OF CROSSTALK)

LONSDORF: ...Bartenders working...

(SOUNDBITE OF DRINKS BEING MIXED)

LONSDORF: ...Street ambience...

(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLE HONKING)

LONSDORF: ...And then they let the user put it all together.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAR AMBIENCE)

LONSDORF: At the time, like many of us, I hadn't been in a busy, people-filled space in over a year. And the first time I listened to that on my big producer headphones...

(SOUNDBITE OF BAR AMBIENCE)

LONSDORF: ...I actually started crying. It hit me really hard, the sound of life. And while this winter is bringing pauses to gatherings again, I was able to be in some actual lively spaces this year - a big thank you to the vaccines. And every time, I thought about that bar and that website. And I just felt really grateful to be able to hear life out in the wild again.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSE GONZALEZ'S "INSTRUMENTAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.