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Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009 05:21 am

Pickle juice

Goodbye to Carol Manley, writer and friend

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Carol Manley, 1954-2009
PHOTO BY Ginny lee

It should be easy to write about Carol Manley, there’s so much material; instead it’s incredibly difficult. Were she at my shoulder (as she is?) she’d be saying, “You guys are Carol’d out, let it go!” except her remark would be witty and make me laugh.

Carol’s sudden death last week, at 55, has left us all in shock. IT readers know her by her book reports full of insight and family stories, her Christmas stories that made us cry, her own poems in “People’s Poetry” (Lincoln Library Poet of the Year is among her many awards); her poems often in my poetry spot, under “friendquote” — Xavier, 4, going for popcorn with his grandma, and, “Leon and I got married on my lunch hour yesterday. Seems to be working so far.” Some of my work we wrote together; the rest she always critiqued, as she did for everyone in our writing group — with humor, thoughtfulness, expertise and kindness. She was as loving and generous as anyone we’ve ever known.

Carol came up the hard way — raising two beautiful children, Sarah and Jonah, through grinding poverty, in the ghettos of Chicago. By sheer grit, then with the help of a Catholic charity she managed a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at North Park College, cum laude, and moved here to a state job and a better life for her family. She found her way to Sangamon State, where in my class, “Writing a Woman’s Life,” she composed her welfare stories which every lawmaker — and everyone — should read. She earned a master’s degree in English, with Razak Dahmane as advisor and mentor. She wrote many other stories, poems and essays, won numerous first prizes in prestigious contests, and recently had a prizewinning book, Church Booty, published by a university press and reviewed in IT by Rodd Whelpley.

Carol’s daughter Sarah has written, in part, “We feel solace that she lived a full life. She was in the process of creating new goals since she’d achieved all the goals she’d set. She wanted to publish a book, and she did. . . . She wanted to own a home and she did, two years ago. She wanted to get married, and she and Leon were married last year. She was a wonderful woman and touched many lives. . . . She will live on in the hearts of everyone fortunate enough to have known her.” A friend, Lola, has e-mailed, “In her fifth-floor tenement days, she could not have dreamed of such a send-off as her life celebration today, or that so many would mourn so deeply.”

One of Carol’s unpublished stories none of us has forgotten. A grandmother is tending a feverish grandchild whose teen mother has been gone over a week. As the child worsens, Ella realizes she must get him to the emergency room, but has no money for a bus token, let alone a taxi. She bundles the child and sets off through the frigid night, away from the filth, broken glass, vacant buildings, to the cleaner, quieter hospital surroundings three miles way. Once there, waiting, she’s aware of the sign stating they could not reject anyone for lack of insurance, but could transfer a patient to another hospital. She is fearful. She’d barely made it here. And then a woman bursts from a curtained room, screaming, “Give me my baby!” while a social worker soothes, “We have to verify that you can take care of her.” Ella panics. Caseworkers look for bedrooms and beds, radiators that work and refrigerators with food in them. Ella ducks away, and holding the child, finds the warmth and anonymity of the cafeteria. She sees at the condiments table a worker fill a paper cup with ketchup. She edges near, takes a pickle, gives it to the baby. He sucks it, the first thing he’s shown an interest in, in days. She gives him a little drink of pickle juice, and after a bit, he seems to revive, the fever to lessen. She stuffs a few more pickles in her pocket, gathers the child in her arms and says, “Come along, honey, we’re going home. We’ve been to the emergency room.”

Beloved Carol, none of us had enough pickle juice for you.

Professor Jackie Jackson was Carol’s writing teacher at SSU/UIS, and her close friend for almost 20 years.

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