Many people thought my Aunt Agnes was a professional malcontent. I thought she was an adventurer.

When I was growing up, I watched her reinvent herself every few years. She was trained as a teacher, but I don’t remember her working at that. Nevertheless, she always seemed to be instructing me and my siblings about right and wrong.

Besides being the  family morality enforcer, she spent several years running a college bookstore where she became friends with both students and professors. She also took advantage of the academic surroundings and studied Spanish and other subjects that caught her fancy.

After she left the bookstore, she worked in financial services for a few years, but she was restless. The only solution was to do something really exotic—and she did.

Ag surprised us all by going off to work in a mission hospital in Nigeria for the next four years. She was now in her mid-fifties.

Because she had never learned to drive a car, she decided it was time to add that skill and learned on the dirt roads of her adopted home. When she returned to the US, she promptly bought her first car and added frequent road trips to her adventures.

Since she’d always thought she wanted to write, she signed up for a correspondence course and began turning out essays. That led to her becoming a regular columnist for our local paper. She also gave slide show lectures about her stay in Africa to churches in the area.

She obviously thrived on new challenges and I’m forever grateful for having her as a role model.

Ag collected friends like other people collect porcelain. She was a voracious letter writer and kept in touch with people who had been her friends throughout her life, some since childhood.

When she wasn’t writing letters, her hands were busy crocheting or knitting. I was spellbound by the speed with which she worked her crochet hook and carried on a conversation at the same time.

She never stopped reinventing herself and got married for the first time at the age of 63. She threw herself into her new role as a wife, stepmother and grandmother with the same gusto we’d seen her display in all her projects.

Even now, I have no idea how much I absorbed from having this model of reinvention in my family. I do realize that living this way, of moving on when one life choice no longer thrills, takes imagination and courage.

When I think of Ag’s life, I remember the quote from James Dickey: “There are so many selves in everybody that to explore and exploit just one is wrong, dead wrong, for the creative process.”

What a lovely legacy she left.

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