Luciano: Knitting lady awaits a lonely Christmas Day

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PEORIA — Carol Bryant plans to spend Christmas alone.

She doesn’t like it that way. But her relatives are either dead or distant. So, the 72-year-old likely will spend the day like usual, watching reruns of cop shows.

“I get tired of looking at the walls and watching TV and getting bored,” she says.

To make the day maybe a little brighter, she wrote to the Journal Star Christmas Fund. In its 106th year, the fund has a goal of raising $155,000 to provide 5,085 food baskets and 1,700 toy-filled stockings to families in Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford and Fulton counties.

Carol hopes to get one of those baskets. Meanwhile, she is glad to at least have cable TV as companion, at least for now. She might not have even that much longer.

But that’s no tragedy. Carol knows real tragedy.

When she was 14, her mother got sick of her heavy-handed father. So, her mom took the kids, left their Peoria residence and moved to Harrison Homes. One day, they had an unexpected visit.

“My dad showed up with his 32 (caliber pistol),” Carol says matter-of-factly. “He was going to kill us all.”

Her mom did some fast talking to stall for time. He ended up pulling the trigger, but just once — on himself.

“My brother had to clean up the mess, I think,” Carol says.

She left school after ninth grade, got married, had four kids, got divorced and scratched out a living. She did factory work for a long spell. But multiple operations (to her eyes and hands), along with knee troubles, landed her on Social Security disability eight years ago.

For 12 years, she has lived at Heartland Apartments, on the Near South Side. She doesn’t have much discretionary income. In her sparse living room, she has a small old sofa, plus a folding chair.

“Sorry I don’t have any furniture,” she tells a recent visitor.

But guests are rare. Two sisters live down south; her other seven siblings are dead. Her children don’t live close by.

Sometimes, she’ll walk outside. But that’s hard in the winter. Her coat is old and shabby, with holes patched by thick tape.

“It’s not warm,” she says.

So, she stays in with her cop shows. But she might have to cancel the cable service. She doesn’t have many extra pennies. That’s why she asked for a Journal Star Christmas basket. Meanwhile, she already has given up her cellphone. The cable might have to go as well.

But she did recently pick up another hobby. Another woman at the complex showed her how to crochet. Carol started working on a blanket.

“At first, I wasn’t in the mood,” she says. “Then I started doing it while watching TV, and the blanket got bigger and bigger, and heavier and heavier.”

For the past three months, Carol has been making blankets. She sends them off to nursing homes.

“I love doing it,” she says, her face breaking into a rare grin. “It’s just, I run out of yarn.”

A skein of yarn costs $3 or more. That gets pricey. But recently, a social worker dropped off some free yarn. So, for at least a little while, Carol had something else to do besides stare at reruns.

“Those elderly people like to pull them up to their faces,” Carol says, allowing another smile. “You know, when the elderly ladies get old, they get cold.”

Donations can be made by check or money order and mailed to Christmas Fund, P.O. Box 1549, Peoria, IL 61655 or online at www.christmasfunddonation.com.

PHIL LUCIANO can be reached at pluciano@pjstar.com, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.

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