When writers pen a morality tale, they usually leave the moral for the last paragraph. But I've decided to give you the moral of this story right up front. This is it:

If you treat people well and nobody seems to notice, don't stop. Because somebody is probably paying quiet attention.Nora Hancock was a writer. Few people knew that about her. I know because she showed me some things she'd written in the months before she died. Like a lot of western writers, she made good use of the mountains - sometimes putting them to work as scenery or as symbols.

But it wasn't the way Nora handled the mountains in her writing that inspired me.

It was the way she handled the mountain she was forced to scale in her final years.

When her health declined, Nora made a decision. She didn't want to burden her relatives, so she used her life's savings to pay for care at the Pioneer Memorial Nursing Home in Brigham City, wagering she'd be gone before her life savings ran out.

Nora won the bet hands down.

She was a careful person who never did anything recklessly.

On the other hand, our friendship did begin by accident. I "bumped into" Nora one afternoon in the hall. Back then, I was going by the nursing home about once a week out of a sense of duty to another ailing soul there, and my short chat with Nora cheered me up.

I began to use her as an antidote for the blues I'd feel after making my weekly visit.

Just before leaving each week, I'd drop by Nora's room to banter for a moment. She'd always brighten my day and help me feel less glum about nursing home life. She'd make me laugh, or give me an insight to chew over during the following days.

In short, she did all the things for me that I wanted to do for my other friend there, but seldom could. She made me feel alive.

For one thing, Nora and her roommate played off each other like Lucy and Ethel. And they had dozens of adventures to share.

Once Nora mentioned there had been a "getting to know you" social the night before. For an "ice breaker," the emcee asked all the farmer's wives in the audience to raise their hands. Several hands went up; but not Nora's.

"Nora," he said. "I know you. You were a farmer's wife."

"You may know me, but you didn't know my husband," she said. "If you had, you'd know I wasn't a farmer's wife. I was the farmer!"

Still, the truth is I didn't visit Nora because she was a barrel of laughs. What I liked was her dry-eyed vision of life. She never wore a store-bought face or a borrowed attitude. She could be sentimental without being weepy and be optimistic without sounding like she was trying to convince herself - or me.

When she voiced concerns or complaints, they were real ones.

She shared her pleasant memories with charm and seasoned her unpleasant memories with humor.

In other words, as Nora Hancock climbed the face of her final mountain, she prepared and paced herself well. She paused often to view the path she'd followed, but even then kept the sky in the corner of her eye.

No sherpa has scaled Everest with more dignity and skill.

No climber on McKinley has shown more courage.

And she did it without any thought she'd be remembered for it - or judged by it.

Nora never dreamed she was leaving a legacy. But she was.

She was leaving it with me.

And her legacy is this: We can't choose the mountains we're asked to climb, we can only choose our routes.

Nora Hancock chose well.

And with that comment, I realize I've done it again. I gave you a moral at the beginning of this piece, but I apparently saved the real lesson for the final few paragraphs.

I saved it because - until this moment - I had no idea where I was going or where I'd finally end up.

Nora Hancock - planner and master mountain climber - would get quite a kick out of that.