Mary Ellen Bolton believes her daughter-in-law, Linda J. Bolton, dons a halo everywhere she goes.

As for her status as one of this year’s Christmas Angel Project winners, Linda is modest, saying she learned to be kind from one of the best: her mother-in-law.

The Christmas spirit-style finger-pointing likely takes place all year long.

Linda happily helps care for Mary Ellen, who is coping with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. And Mary Ellen willingly accepts the assistance because she was on the giving end for years and years.

“I learned how to give by watching her,” Linda said. “She’s the person who’s always taking care of everyone else.”

So, why did Mary Ellen nominate Linda for the annual Commercial-News honor?

“Because I couldn’t live without her. She is my everything,” Mary Ellen said from the comfortable kitchen of her home on Roselawn Street.

Linda lives on the same block of Roselawn, so that comfortable kitchen is like home to both of them.

Mary Ellen doesn’t bake cookies there like she used to, though. Her condition is taking away her ability to deal with numbers, so measurements and such confuse her.

That’s ironic for two reasons: Mary Ellen worked in accounting at Prudential for about 40 years.

And she’s one of the original “cookie ladies,” who continue to delight visitors and residents at Vermilion Manor Nursing Home with their baked goodies. She volunteered at the local facility for more than 20 years while she helped care for her own aging mother there.

“Now, I can’t even tell time sometimes,” said Mary Ellen, bravely masking any frustration her condition causes.

“She worries all the time,” Linda said, shooting Mary Ellen a comforting smile. “She does get depressed because she’s not able to get out like she used to.”

Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about five years ago, Mary Ellen needs help keeping track of appointments and dealing with personal and business correspondence, especially those related to medical care and health insurance.

“She has everything covered,” Mary Ellen said of her daughter-in-law.

The physical proximity helps.

When Linda isn’t working with her young charges at North Ridge Middle School down the street, she’s available for Mary Ellen’s every need.

“We lived there first. They asked if they could move close by,” Linda said. “They thought they might move a couple years ago. Now, that would have been sad.

“This is the way it’s supposed to be.”

Good relationships must run in the family.

Mary Ellen and her husband Stanley, who goes by Bud, will celebrate their 60th anniversary in February.

He’s happy to help, too.

“He surprised me,” Mary Ellen said with a broad smile, lauding her husband’s willingness to take over cooking duties. “He doesn’t mind taking me anywhere I want to go.”

Perhaps all true angels are humble.

“I’m kind of embarrassed, actually. I don’t go above and beyond. I’ve never considered myself an angel,” Linda said.

After all, she cares for Mary Ellen as if she was her own mother.

“She’s my second mom. She always has been,” Linda said.

The feeling, of course, is mutual.

“She’s like a daughter. We’re both fortunate,” Mary Ellen said.

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