Life Lessons From Aunt Irene
Written by Pam Myers
Some tried-and-true life lessons from my 104-year-old Aunt Irene may serve as a springboard to help us create successful life habits!
We all have family members that we adore, don’t we? One in my family would be my Aunt Irene. She lives in a nursing home near Lancaster, Pennsylvania (about 600 miles from me) and has just reached the age of 104! I’d like to give you a bit of her background, as well as some of the life lessons she has taught me through the letters and phone conversations we have shared over the years.
Events that shaped Aunt Irene
Aunt Irene is my mom’s oldest sister. There were eight children in their family. Aunt Irene (the next to the oldest) and my Uncle Larry (the youngest) are the only ones left of that generation. She was born in 1918 to Jozef and Emelia, who had recently emigrated from what is today the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
During Irene’s formative years, she and her mother and older brother Joseph traveled back to their homeland for a few years as Jozef got settled in America. While there, Emelia gave birth to Anna. Relatives watched Anna while Emelia worked in the potato fields. Joseph and Irene were too young to help, so they simply sat on a wagon and entertained themselves while their mother worked.
Upon their return to the United States, they entered the country at Ellis Island. Because there had been sickness on the boat they traveled on, all of them were stripped of their clothing and hosed down with a “cleansing agent.” They had no choice but to wait until their clothes were washed and returned to them before they could continue their journey!
The family settled in a small steel town in western Pennsylvania where Jozef worked in the steel mill. Both Joseph and Irene began school upon their return and were quick to learn English and excel in school.
During this time, their new home country had just suffered through World War I and was entering the Great Depression. As more children came along, Irene was given the responsibility to tend the garden (an important source of food back in those days) and the chickens. She took jobs ironing for people and cleaning their homes—all the while caring for younger siblings and going to school.
When she graduated from high school, she took a maid/nanny position for a wealthy family in a nearby city. She worked from sunup to sundown, cooking, cleaning and caring for children. The bright spot in her day was that once all of her responsibilities were finished, she could walk a few blocks to the local library. Aunt Irene has always been an avid reader, and the library was a place of learning and exploration!
It was there that she met her future husband, Kal, who shared her love of learning. On weekends, she would ride the bus home to visit her family and give her earnings to her parents.
Irene and my Uncle Kal were married in 1941 and created a beautiful family with three children. They both enjoyed successful careers as well, but Aunt Irene waited until her children were grown to begin her career. She worked decades helping the physically and mentally challenged until she retired at age 75.
Fast-forward a few more decades and now I can begin to understand how her life experiences have shaped her into the extraordinary woman that she is. In sharing these stories with me, as well as sharing her purpose in life, she taught me a lot. I’d like to pass along a few of the valuable life lessons that she has taught me.
Timeless life lessons from Aunt Irene
One would think that by the time you reach the age of 104, it would be time to sit back, relax and do nothing. Irene worked hard for three-quarters of a century! She deserves to relax.
But this is not how Aunt Irene operates. In her view, each day is an opportunity to learn something new, interact with the people she lives with and communicate with family. As of today, her great-grandchildren have graduated from college and have families of their own!
Here are a few life lessons I have learned from Aunt Irene:
- Do something productive every day. In her old age, Aunt Irene learned how to crochet. She has crocheted hundreds of blankets for underprivileged schoolchildren, as well as made hundreds of scarves for families of veterans. She loves doing this, and crocheting helps keep her arthritic fingers a little more limber! She tells me, “My days are never wasted.”
- Socialize with other people. Aunt Irene has taken it upon herself to “check up on” all the residents that live on her floor in her nursing home to make sure they are all right. She walks the halls using her walker and goes from room to room encouraging and greeting each person by name.
- Exercise each day. Socializing with the residents in her home has a twofold purpose. Aunt Irene not only encourages them, but also gets exercise herself. When the weather is favorable, she goes outside to get sunshine and fresh air.
- Read. Aunt Irene prefers nonfiction because, as she puts it, “I want to learn something.” Her nursing home has a small library where books are rotated in from other libraries. She makes it a point to read every day to keep her mind sharp.
- Eat healthy. Aunt Irene has eaten healthy her whole life—even before this became popular! She eats only what is necessary for proper nutrition and has maintained her lifelong weight of 115 pounds.
- Serve other people. From day one, Aunt Irene had a heart to serve her family: parents, siblings, husband and children. And now she serves the people she lives with.
- Try to do good. In a letter Aunt Irene wrote, “Every day I try to do the right thing.” Her life is focused outward—on others—and not inward. In her own way, she does small acts of kindness to improve the lives of others.
Create your own life lessons and share with others
I think you can see from the above list that it seems not a day is wasted in Aunt Irene’s life. Her life lessons are down-to-earth and very practical.
Your stage in life and the health you maintain will determine which of Aunt Irene’s life lessons you may want to try to implement in your life. Some of these activities you may have already been doing for years. If so, good for you!
In a nutshell, Aunt Irene has been blessed because she has taken an outward approach to life. She has focused on the needs of others and has tried to assist in whatever way she could. She implemented basic laws of good health so that she would have the physical ability, stamina and mental aptitude to serve others.
May these life lessons from my Aunt Irene serve as a springboard to help you create your own successful life habits that you can share with others!