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Prime Time: Spring is a time of good cheer even in our later years

The coming of spring is always a joyous time. In our later years when we are no longer able to get into outdoor winter activities, spring opens the doors for us to not just look out at a sunny day but actually go out and feel the caress of a spring breeze.

When the physical effects of aging begin to limit our activities, it is easy to bemoan the losses. I have always hoped that I could follow in the footsteps of my aunt who set an extremely positive example of complete acceptance of aging for the family to follow.

Mary Alice Vance was my father's sister. The first serious disappointment of her life was that the man she loved and had expected to marry died of tuberculosis in those days when the medical world had not yet learned how to deal with that disease. She never complained, but she also remained unmarried saying she never found anyone that filled his place in her heart.

In those days, women had limited choices of careers. It was pretty much teaching or nursing. Revering learning and enjoying kids, she chose teaching. It came naturally to her. When we were growing up, she came from Minnesota to visit us in Illinois every Christmas and Easter vacation time and at least two weeks in the summer. In middle age, my brother still talked about how we looked forward to her visits. Unlike many adult relatives who tended to look on kids as a bit of an annoyance, she played card games with us and was always willing to read me a story.

She lived with and cared for her mother, who was widowed fairly young and lived into her 80s. Aunt Mary had some other single teacher friends who enjoyed travel and always spent a week or two in the summer at a favorite resort on the North Shore of Lake Superior. She charmed our kids and was especially pleased that we named our daughter after her. I always laughed about the fact that she was a little annoyed with me for having a boy first.

As we moved north from Rochester to the Twin Cities and finally to Bemidji, it became more difficult for her to visit us. She had always thought Winona was the center of the world, but when I realized that most of her friends had died or moved to Arizona, I dared to suggest she come up here and live in a retirement home. To my amazement she promptly agreed.

She soon made new friends with staff and patients at the home and among parents of our friends. I was doing some travel in my job, and she enjoyed keeping me company on the trips and bringing along a book to read while I was busy.

Some of her old friends in Winona and many of those at the Beltrami County Home where she lived spent most of their time expressing regrets and bemoaning their limitations, so she was very popular with the staff who found her always mentally active, interested in current events and cheerfully conversational.

She lived to be 92, and I am amazed looking at pictures of us, how much I have grown to look like her. Following in her footsteps, I constantly remind myself that to be 87 years old, in reasonable health for my age with a sizeable extended family and a loving husband still living after 65 years together why would I complain about little things like aching knees, the need to use a walker, macular degeneration in one eye and fingers that make misprints typing on the computer keyboard.

So, be of good cheer old lady, you have much to be thankful for with the coming of spring.