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People's Choice: Frances Burch, 71

"Strong women stay young."

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When asked where she'd like to stand, she replies half-sternly and half-joking, "I'm flexible. But you've got to make me beautiful."

In an essay Burch wrote recently, called "Mirror, Mirror," she reflects on the desire to look like America's "gaunt and glorious youth." One day, she writes, "I stood in front of the mirror and pulled up my falling face to see how I would look. It wasn't a glorious sight. There was someone I didn't recognize staring back out of the mirror — wrinkleless but foreign. ... It was shock enough to keep me away from the surgeon's knife."

Unlike many who seek to hide them, Burch prizes her years. And her history. Her house is filled with photographs of ancestors both somber-faced and smiling. Burch's father was a dentist in Bowling Green, her mother his assistant. In a corner of her living room rests the old wooden cabinet where her father laid his forceps and mirrors. Decades later, one compartment still emanates a strong, sweet smell of chloroform and antiseptic.

She's been married 47 years — to the same man, she points out proudly. "That's a long time, isn't it?" They met at a wedding when her best friend married his best friend.

She has three children, two of them newly engaged. Four grandchildren smile from photographs on the shelves in her neat West End home, and the upcoming weddings will bring four more into the family. Burch has been a fourth-grade teacher, a sales representative and an assistant in her husband's pediatric practice.

She calls herself an "everyday woman," but one who has never lost a keen interest in learning. Burch is a member of a reading club that tackles not estrogen-heavy bestsellers, but exigent tomes like Carl Jung's theological discourse "Answer to Job." "We read on and on and never get done," Burch says with a sigh. She also attends a contemporary Sunday school class at Trinity Methodist Church where, she says, "we are all rebels."

For a year and a half now, she's taken strength-training classes at Courtside West. Now, "every morning I stand in front of the mirror in the nude," she writes in her essay. "I search for muscle definition and remind myself that strong women stay young."

She writes essays, stories and memoirs, several of which have been published in small literary journals. She paints bright, swirling watercolor landscapes she calls simply "weird." A few months ago, the New York Times published a letter Burch wrote. First, an editor called her to review it and make a few changes. "Then I edited his editing, which took— a lot of balls, I guess."

Burch is not afraid to say what she thinks. Can you tell?

"I've just come to the conclusion that all of life is very interesting," she says matter-of-factly. Burch says this in the middle of a painful task — emptying the house in which her mother lived for 65 years. After she was widowed, her mother lived alone for years but recently had to move to an assisted-living facility. The change was "a real traumatic thing, not gentle at all," Burch says. But, she adds, "it's been a very interesting process. Otherwise, I would've gone bananas."

In seven decades, Burch explains, she has learned that it is impossible to predict the results of any decisions made in life. "You can't go down the road and say 'Suppose …' You know. All that worrying — I try not to do that." It is better to reflect upon one's travails and triumphs, she says, than rail against reality.

Why should she be on the cover? "I'm a wise old crone," she says. When people roll their eyes at that, she says to them, "Tell me if you think you're wiser now than you were 10 years before." S

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