R.I.P., Carol

Carol Nickels

Carol Nickels

I’m pretty faithful about publishing a post each Tuesday. Since this is Wednesday, I’m officially late, but I have an excuse. I was attending a funeral yesterday. I wrote most of the post last Wednesday, sitting in a hospital room in Austin, Texas as my younger sister, Carol Nickels, took her last, labored breaths. She died around 3:30 a.m. the next morning, Thursday, September 1, at the age of sixty.

For 43 years, cigarettes stealthily worked their insidiousness on her body, leaving her first with COPD and, then lung cancer. The diagnosis came on Fathers’ Day, June 19—inoperable lung cancer, already metastasized into the liver, life expectancy of 12-18 months with chemo. Seventy-four days later, she was gone.

This isn’t a post on the evils of smoking, although if that’s the take-away you’d like, by all means go with it. Instead, this is a tribute to an awesome sister who for me personified the phrase unconditional love. From the start, Carol was fiercely independent. Partly because she never married or had kids, she lived her adult life determined not to depend on others or make anybody go out of their way for her.

Sharing a bedroom while we were growing up meant we had plenty of silly arguments and that we each knew we couldn’t escape the other’s presence. The result of so much physical closeness was a life-long bond so deep it’s hard to explain. During the decades of our adult lives when long distance calls were expensive, we probably could have taken what we spent on them and each bought a new car.

With Carol and our brother, Eddie

With Carol and our brother, Eddie

In recent years, I’ve talked about craft beer and homebrewing with just about anybody who will listen—and Carol always was my best listener, even when she wasn’t particularly interested in the subject (baseball from ages 10 to 13 and beer from 59 to the present). Carol loved food and ate with gusto, but alcohol never held much attraction. In her twenties, she did drink an occasional beer, usually a Shiner, when she went out with friends. All that time over the last few years as I rambled on about beer and she half-listened, she was learning. Way more than I knew.

When an old friend emailed Carol after finding out about her cancer, instead of a pity-party reply, Carol focused on a line in the friend’s email about her enjoyment of craft beer.Here’s the funny, final gift my sister gave me.

“N–, you would love to spend time with Leslie. I never drink beer but I know the significance of the ABV of a beer, the differences between a Belgian beer and an IPA. I know why it’s better to drink from a clear glass and why the color of the beer matters. I know about flower or fruit infused beer – produced in the beautiful Austin hill country (Jester King! You should go!) I know a flight is the best way to sample multiple beers in one setting. OK, I don’t really know (as in, could educate you about) all this, but I’ve overheard enough to be familiar with the words. I know what a carboy looks like. And a growler. I’ve even been to a brewery that caters to beer geeks in the evening. You sit around multiple, huge beer kegs and…. drink beer. And cuss and discuss beer. And plan your next batch of beer. I don’t really get it, but like the adherents of any other hobby, they’re fun to watch. And 90% men.”

Rest in peace, little sister.

With Carol at Adelbert's Brewery in Austin




  1. I love your description about Carol playing possum with your craft beer adventures.

    Fly safely home. Love you.

    • Leslie Patino says:

      Thank you, Bonita. Our trip back to California went smoothly and it felt really good to sleep in my own bed last night.

  2. This is a beautiful tribute, Leslie. I am so sorry for your loss. Carol sounds like she was a wonderful sister, and she always will be.

  3. I’m so sad for you, Leslie.

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