It’s been a tough year (did you check out the Bum Steer Awards?), which is why it’s never been more important to highlight the Best Things in Texas. Featuring special shout-outs to Matthew McConaughey, Houston officials Lina Hidalgo and Chris Hollins, and H-E-B’s Charles Butt.

The ancient Romans had a phrase for years like this: annus horribilis, which really requires no translation. If you need a reminder of why 2020 qualified as one, check out our annual Bum Steer Awards roundup. But if you’re looking for a reminder of what makes Texas great even during the worst of times, you’ve come to the right place. Dancing families, cute animals, the Best Samaritans, devoted public officials? We had them all. Maybe not enough for 2020 to qualify as an annus mirabilis, but just enough, if you squint, to make it look like an annus tolerabilis.

UT–Permian Basin football player John O’Kelley recovered a fumble by A&M-Kingsville’s quarterback, ran 65 yards toward the end zone, and then, mid-stride on the twenty-yard line, handed the ball over to his teammate Chris Hoad, who scored the touchdown on his last day as a college football player.

After a dog fled a car accident, more than a dozen Good Samaritans got out of their vehicles and ran along Houston’s Beltway 8 to catch the animal and return him to his owners.

Journalist Jessica Husemann, after deciding to return to her home state from New York City, summed up the feelings of millions of misunderstood Texans when she told her tens of thousands of Twitter followers, “When I say on this site that I’m moving to Texas it’s frequently met with contempt. If you think a state that could contain 40 Connecticuts, is among the most racially and culturally diverse in the nation, and is geographically wildly diverse is all one thing, then you’re stupid.”

a clouded leopard cub at the Houston Zoo
Houston Zoo

One of the Houston Zoo’s pair of clouded leopards, which are endangered in their native Asia, gave birth to two cubs that only mildly resembled a cross between a ferret and the extraterrestrial creatures from a Ridley Scott movie.

James Beard Award–winning Houston chef Chris Shepherd turned his nonprofit Southern Smoke organization into a national leader in pandemic relief, raising more than $4 million—and counting—for hard-strapped restaurant industry workers across the country.

The Dixie Chicks cast off the antebellum connotations of their name and, newly christened the Chicks, released their first studio album in fourteen years, the acclaimed Gaslighter.

Author John R. Erickson of Perryton published The Case of the Red Rubber Ball, the seventy-fifth installment in his popular Hank the Cowdog series.

Teacher of the Year Eric Hale
Jeff Dietz/Dallas ISD


Eric Hale, who was raised amid abuse and poverty, became the first Black man to be named the Texas Teacher of the Year, for his work at Dallas’s David G. Burnet Elementary School, where 98 percent of the students live below the poverty line.

After the Fredericksburg High School class of 2020 realized that the pandemic had put the kibosh on its senior trip to Six Flags Fiesta Texas, the seniors donated to a local food bank the $10,850 that they had spent four years raising.

Dia Lathora, a twenty-year-old Dallas gamer, was playing Fortnite remotely with seventeen-year-old Aidan Jackson, who lives in Widnes, England, when Jackson suffered an epileptic seizure. Lathora quickly got in touch with British police and an ambulance was dispatched to Jackson’s home, where he received the necessary medical treatment. His parents, who were at home, were unaware that anything was wrong with their son until the medics arrived.

On March 30, Houston-raised hitmaker Lizzo bought lunch for pandemic-burdened hospital workers around the country. “I love you guys. Thank you so much for being the heroes in this story,” the singer said.

A drive-by pandemic birthday party
Courtesy of Amber Lee

Fort Worth mom Amber Lee, worried that her son Cannon’s seventh birthday would be ruined by pandemic restrictions, went on her neighborhood’s Facebook page and asked if members would stand on their front porches to wish him a happy birthday while she and Cannon drove by. She expected five or ten responses. In fact, more than sixty neighbors participated, including some who dressed up, hung decorations, or offered gifts by way of a six-foot-long stick.

In the one-good-turn-deserves-another department, Whataburger employees in New Braunfels delivered free meals to H-E-B employees who were working hard to keep shelves filled as customers stocked up on supplies in the early days of the pandemic.

Houston furniture merchant Jim McIngvale, a.k.a. Mattress Mack, who gained national fame when he turned two of his stores into shelters after Hurricane Harvey, stepped up once again during the pandemic by opening WorkTexas at Gallery Furniture, a resource center that offers Fort Bend residents job coaching and mental health support.

Because the pandemic all but halted business at Elias Aviles’s taco truck in Humble—one day, he sold only $6 worth of food—his daughter Giselle took to Twitter on a Saturday afternoon to ask for help. When Taqueria El Torito opened the following Monday, a line of customers—some of whom had arrived two hours earlier—were waiting at the truck, which eventually sold out of everything.

Chuck Yielding danced for his son when he couldn't join him in the hospital
Courtesy of Cook Children’s Health Care System

When pandemic protocols kept Chuck Yielding from being with his fourteen-year-old son Aiden, who was receiving chemotherapy for his leukemia, Chuck did the next best thing: he stood in the parking lot outside of Aiden’s window at Fort Worth’s Cook Children’s Medical Center and performed a series of dance routines to keep his son’s spirits up.

Likely because there are so few students at the UT-Austin campus, a group of foxes showed up in the stands of the university’s baseball stadium and wandered around for a while.

San Antonio’s Lifehouse Church and the nonprofit organization RIP Medical Debt purchased and canceled $3.1 million worth of unpaid medical debt owed by 1,423 of the city’s residents.

Beyoncé’s 2009 single “Halo,” one of the biggest hits of the twenty-first century, finally reached one billion YouTube views more than a decade after its release.

The family of 83-year-old Herminia Valdez, who hadn’t had any visitors in weeks due to pandemic restrictions, organized a parade of friends and relatives to drive by her San Antonio home and wave to her.

A man used mustard on a corn dog to propose to his fiancée
Courtesy of Kendra Laymon/Fletcher’s Original Corny Dogs

Fletcher’s Original Corny Dogs, the Dallas company that makes the popular State Fair of Texas corny dog, helped out a man who wanted to propose to his girlfriend on New Year’s Day at the Winter Classic hockey game. (Apparently a mustard fan, she said yes.)

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, during overtime in a January Wild Card game against the Buffalo Bills, miraculously slipped out of a two-man blitz and completed a 12-yard pass to Taiwan Jones, who ran 34 yards, setting up the game-winning field goal.

The season three finale of Bosque County native Taylor Sheridan’s ranching drama Yellowstone, which airs on the Paramount Network, was the most-watched cable show of the year (not counting news and sports).

A Dallas family's viral dance video
Courtesy of the Hoffman Family

A Dallas family staged a goofy and joyous dance routine in their kitchen to the tune of Jess Glynne’s “Hold My Hand” that has drawn millions of viewers.

The Doobie Brothers’ lawyer sent a cease and desist order to actor Bill Murray’s Austin-based golf apparel company, William Murray Golf, asking it to stop using the group’s music in its advertising without the appropriate compensation. In conclusion, the letter stated, “We’d almost be OK with it if the shirts weren’t so damn ugly.”

A pair of black bear cubs, which are making a comeback in Texas, were caught on video wrestling on the Chisos Mountain Lodge’s patio, in Big Bend National Park.

Kids Mullet Champion Jaxson Crossland
Courtesy of Zoie Crossland

Jaxson Crossland, age eight, of Celeste, won the national 2020 Kids Mullet Championship, a tribute to his impressively curly mane.

Graham Weston, cofounder of the cloud computing company Rackspace, collaborated with several San Antonio organizations to provide free, rapid COVID-19 testing to hundreds of thousands of city residents, including many students in Title I schools, who often lack access to laptops or broadband and therefore urgently need to attend brick-and-mortar school.

Quilty, a cat housed at Houston’s Friends for Life animal shelter, gained Instagram fame by using his paws to repeatedly break his fellow felines out of their cages.

The six-part docuseries Cheer, which followed a Corsicana cheer team’s preparations for the National Cheerleading Championship competition, debuted on Netflix in January and became a pop-culture sensation.

Megan Thee Stallion
Rich Fury/Billboard via Getty

Teamwork made Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s dream work: In April her profile soared when she collaborated with fellow Houstonian Beyoncé on an attention-getting remix of Megan’s song “Savage.” Then, in August, she partnered with New York rapper Cardi B on the much-discussed hit single “WAP,” the lyrics to which will not appear in these pages.

Texans pulled up and opened the trunks of their hearts to Harris County Public Library employee John Schaffer, a.k.a. Curbside Larry, who recorded a video in the style of a low-budget used-car commercial reminding viewers that they could pick up library books and DVDs curbside during the pandemic.

Despite the attempts of too many prominent Texans to spread misinformation about the coronavirus (see “The COVID Nineteen”), Texas health experts such as Rebecca Fischer of Texas A&M, Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine, and Lauren Ancel Meyers of UT-Austin strove to give Texans—and the rest of the world—accurate guidance on the pandemic.

A still image from "Miss Juneteenth"
Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment

Fort Worth–born director Channing Godfrey Peoples’s film Miss Juneteenth, which is set in her hometown, was released to critical acclaim on June 19, the 155th anniversary of the announcement ending slavery in Texas.

Amarillo-born Trevor Brazile increased his record number of Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world championship titles to 26.

Longtime Dallas journalist Doug J. Swanson’s book Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers brought new details of the storied law enforcement agency’s past to light and prompted the removal of a Ranger statue at Dallas Love Field airport.

As part of his pandemic disaster declaration, Governor Greg Abbott temporarily suspended laws that forbid restaurants and bars from selling premixed drinks to go. The resulting upsurge in curbside cocktails gave a much-needed boost to the Texas food and beverage industry—and made many frozen margarita fans very, very happy.

Despite—or was it because of?—public officials’ attempts to discourage participation in this year’s elections, a record number of Texans showed up at the polls: 66 percent of all registered voters, the highest share of the electorate since 1992.

This article originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Best Things in Texas.” Subscribe today.