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Remembering LUCY


Lucy (‘Ucy!’) Carlisle Crenshaw Imano: 1943 - 1994


Loyal friend to people and animals; creative writer, poet and shy musician with a genius level IQ; courageous advocate for the outcasts of the world, animals and human, especially for the mentally ill; and brave soldier in the battle against her own disease of schizophrenia, Lucy Imano spent her fifty-one years living in two different worlds at one time: The world that consumed her every waking moment with its insistent, unreal demands for attention and that was finally diagnosed when she was well into her twenties as schizophrenia; the other world that was, of course, what “normals” define as the world of reality.  For Lucy, figuring out which was which at any given moment was an enormous ordeal, and she took on the challenge, daily, with every breath she took.


Lucy was born on May 4, 1943, in Evansville, Indiana.  When she was three, her mother, Ruth, separated from their father and took the three kids (Joe, Anne, and Lucy) home to Virginia, where they ended up in a private boarding school in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  In those days, families would not, could not acknowledge the fact that their children had mental problems and, although she spent a great deal of time in the school’s infirmary while she dealt with the monsters in her mind, even the school officials would not accept that Lucy’s behavior was anything more serious than very bad conduct. 


When she was a teenager, Lucy left Virginia and traveled to Portland to be with her father, the Rev. Canon Claire T. Crenshaw, who worked with the Episcopal Church at Diocesan headquarters.  Lucy graduated from St. Helen’s Hall (now OES) in 1961.  Students and teachers there appreciated her intelligence and creative spirit.  She served as her class secretary until the end of her life in 1994. 


Her illness was always present, but Lucy acquired her own strategies for controlling the voices and living her life despite them.  She returned to the east coast, where she attended George Washington University, got her AA degree, and worked for IBM in Washington, D.C., until 1968, when she moved with friends to San Francisco, California.  In 1969, Lucy’s beloved niece, Nico, who lived with her mother, Anne, a student at Portland State University, was in a serious accident, and Lucy rushed to Portland to help.  The trio created a tightly knit family and ended up living on the Portland State University campus, where the kid grew up and the two sisters graduated with degrees in education.  (It was decided, during her rather alarming first days of elementary classroom experience, that Lucy was not cut out for teaching, but her little family was proud of her for reaching for this goal.)


Nico Lafreniere (now Cordova) remembers her Aunty ‘Ucy!’ as one remembers a parent.  Nico knew she could always go to her aunt and come away with a new perspective that would serve as solid advice that didn’t just pacify for the moment but enlightened for life.  Lucy loved totally and without expectation.  She walked her talk; she always stood firm morally and ethically.  She was exceptionally intelligent and sharp with words; she could spit out what seemed to be a hundred words in the time it took many to say four or five.  But Lucy was a listener, too.  She would rock softly in her rocking chair, twirling a hank of hair, eyes set on the speaker in what looked like a trance, and she never missed one word.


Lucy had studied classical guitar in Washington, D.C. with a student of Segovia.  Her only audience consisted of the several cats that offered the unconditional love and support Lucy gave to and received from them and, occasionally, her sister, Anne.  Although Lucy never played in public (other than a short stint playing folk music with Anne in D.C. coffee houses when she was in her twenties), her guitar lessons for her niece certainly were an important influence in Nico’s becoming a working musician as an adult. 


In the seventies, Lucy’s illness began to transform; her strategies for dealing with the voices stopped working. It became more and more difficult to continue working in Eugene at the University of Oregon with Dr. Herb Cawthorne and then at OHSU where she labored for Dr. Henderson, both of whom were wonderful and understanding bosses. Self-medicating on drugs and alcohol threw Lucy into a tailspin; she did several stints at Dammasch State Hospital and at OHSU's Ward 5A.  She ended up living on Social Security while the world of psychiatry tried to find the magic potion that would bring her back to some semblance of normality. 


Lucy never quit trying; she struggled to keep any little job, no matter how far beneath her abilities it might be.  She even tried marriage, to Louis Imano, for a short time.  (Anne used to tease that he was the perfect mate for her sister: a Japanese man from Peru who only spoke Spanish.) The headphones Lucy wore like a favorite hat as she rocked and rocked, tying knots in her curly hair, provided music she believed might trick the voices into following a direction she could control.  Lucy was unable to work the last several years of her life, not because of the illness but, ironically, because of her wellness!  The drug that was most successful in controlling her illness cost more than Lucy could earn at any job, and she had to have it to work.  But she couldn’t use the benefits allowed by Social Security to pay for the drug if she had a job.  It was a perfect Catch 22.


Lucy did find ways to give back to the world, as she was able.  She lived with many other people in her situation in a building in downtown Portland.  When her sister Anne visited, almost always there would be an obviously sick, lost human being who would approach Lucy for help or information.  If she didn’t know the answer (for example, where one might acquire another blanket when it was clear that the old one had been stolen by some low-life who had shared a piece of concrete under the bridge the night before), she’d promise to find out and get back to him.  Her coffee pot was always full, waiting for a friend, and everyone, especially anyone in need, was a friend in Lucy’s eyes.  Lucy was rarity as a heroine to those who don’t entice many heroes into their complicated lives.


Lucy’s signature icon was a Salem cigarette attached to an aqua-filter.  She was a chain-smoker for more than thirty-five of her years.  The lung cancer that finally claimed her life (and, ultimately, the lives of all of her immediate family except Anne) offered a last challenge: Stay on the medication needed to keep the voices at bay and accept the pain that would surely appear, or take the pain meds offered and be crazy.  Lucy chose sanity.  She died in October 1994, at home, with her sister, Anne Morin, cheering her on.  Almost a hundred friends celebrated Lucy’s life with family at a memorial pipe ceremony offered by a visiting Lakota medicine man.  Our heroine, ‘Ucy!,’ had found peace.


Lucy was survived by her daughter, Sheila; mother, Ruth; sister, Anne; niece, Nico Wind; and numerous friends.


My sister's daughter, whom I had never met, contacted me via Facebook, and I am beyond ecstatic! She lives in Virginia, where we're from, and her name is Sheila. So happy. I only wish my dearest sister of all were alive to enjoy technilogical miracle.

And. . . after Nico and I went to the celebration of the completion of Portland's Walk of the Heroines at Portland State University, where our Lucy's name is engraved on one of the stones of the wall, I got to share this site with my beloved sister's daughter when she flew out here to see us. Very cool indeed. And so, although she is gone from this world, our Lucy lives in our memories. I can't adequately express how joyful an experience it was to take her daughter there.


Raves and Howls Publishing
Portland, Oregon
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