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OUT ON A LIMB, WITH ENERGY AND A NEW IDENTITY

At 73, Frances Weaver, author, lecturer and "Today" show seniors editor, claims she's not as old as she used to be.

What exactly does she mean, I ask during a phone interview from her Pueblo, Colo., condo.

In her 50s and early 60s, she felt "really old," she explained. "But I found out I was just tired. I kept up doing things that were no longer needed. I learned that I didn't need to be chairman of every committee. The whole town could get along without me."

When she was 55, Mrs. Weaver's surgeon husband died suddenly. Alone, she had to face the fact that she was an alcoholic.

"I did the best I could, as quickly as I could, to change that," said Mrs. Weaver.

At 58, she decided to forge out on her own for the first time in her life. She enrolled at Adirondack Community College in Glens Falls, to take writing and other courses. She lived in a motel at Lake George.

"If I had stayed home, I'd do what all the other girls did," said Mrs. Weaver. "They played bridge, they went out for supper, and they talked about the same things they'd talked about the week before.

"It was a big change," she said, "but I figured it was my turn. I knew women who had done some unusual things that I really admired, and that's what I wanted to do. And I wanted to be some place where I could have a clean slate and didn't have to be identified as somebody's wife or somebody's fund-raiser."

Her interest in writing had started years earlier when she sold an article relating the adventures of her kite-flying group -- the Beulah Valley Association for Tethered Flight -- to a magazine. Since then she has written several books, including "I'm Not as Old as I Used to Be" and "The Girls With the Grandmother Faces."

Now, besides her condo, Frances Weaver maintains an office/apartment in Saratoga Springs "behind one of those big houses near the racetrack."

But she's often on cruises for Crystal Cruise Lines or traveling to speaking engagements. On Wednesday she spoke at the Buffalo Marriott, a guest of Asbury Pointe, a retirement community planned in Getzville for active seniors.

Why don't we see more people following her lead?

"I think a lot of older people have images of themselves that were formed during their so-called productive years, maybe even from childhood," she said. "They think of themselves only in one way, maybe somebody's wife, somebody's mother.

"I have women come up to me and say they lost their husband 27 years ago," she said. "They didn't lose him. What's happened is that they've never found themselves.

"They don't realize that we can stretch and grow and learn and become more productive."

As for the kites -- which set off a life for her -- they now decorate the walls of her "pristine little garage." When the day feels right, she'll take one out for a flight.

"Some days I don't feel like all of this has been real," she said. "If nothing else, I've proven to myself that there was something worthwhile in me."

The smiling faces and the knowing nods of women in the audience seemed to agree that indeed, there was something of great value in this woman who had struck out on her own and, on the journey, found herself.