Boy Nurses Old Grandma, Inherits Portrait of Washington after She Dies and Finds Key Inside — Story of the Day

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By Manuela Cardiga
Feb 19, 2022
01:30 A.M.

A young boy nurses his ailing grandmother and when she passes away she leaves him a portrait of America's first president, George Washington.


Christopher Marten and his parents were shocked when the doctor phoned with the news that his dad's beloved mother, Fiona Marten was very ill, and asking to see her family.

The Martens drove down to Virginia to see Fiona, who was in the hospital. According to the doctors, Fiona's condition had degenerated and there was little they could now do for her. But Fiona had one request: she wanted to die at home.

Fiona was lying in her hospital bed looking very tiny and frail and Christopher was shocked. His grandmother had always been a dynamo -- feisty, funny, and energetic. Now she was so diminished...

Christopher took his grandmother's tiny hand in his and kissed it tenderly. She opened her eyes and smiled at him, and in an instant she was her old self, sparkling with mischief.


"Chris!" she said in a weakened voice. "And Steven!" Fiona extended her other hand to Christopher's dad. "It's so good of you to come, and Bryona too!"

"Mom," Steven said. "Why didn't you tell us you were ill? We wanted to be with you."

Fiona sighed. "This is the kind of war we have to fight alone, and now they tell me I've lost the final skirmish. That is why I've asked the doctors to call you."

"But mom," Steven protested. "I've been calling you twice a week for the last six months and you've never told me you were so ill!"

Steven Marten received a call from the hospital telling him his mother was very ill. | Source: Unsplash


"Please, Steven," Fiona said. "Please don't be angry with me. I need you."

"Oh mom," Steven whispered. "I'm here for you, you know that." 

"I want you to take me home, Steven, please," Fiona asked. "I want to die in my own bed, in the house where I was so happy."

"Ok, mom," Steven said quietly. "Of course, I will." 

That was when Christopher's mom stepped forward. "You can't, Steven," Bryony cried. "You've just been asked to put together the biggest project on the East Coast! You'll be throwing away your career!"


"I didn't know," Fiona said. "It's alright Steven, I'll go to a palliative care facility."

Chris' once feisty grandmother was bedridden and fragile. | Source: Unsplash

"No!" Christopher said. "I'll stay with you gran, I'm 18, I can take care of you."


Bryony looked irritated. "But Chris, you have been saving for two years to go on a surfing vacation to Hawaii with your friends!"

"This is more important, mom," Chris said. "I can go to Hawaii next year."

The most important things in life are our family, not power and glory.

Bryony was angry but she made an effort to sound conciliatory. "Why don't we three discuss this later at the hotel," she suggested.

"There's nothing to discuss, mom," Chris said firmly. "You and dad fly back to Boston. I'll stay with my grandmother."


"You know nothing about caring for a terminally ill person..." Bryony protested.

Fiona didn't want to die in the hospital. | Source: Unsplash

Fiona's doctor intervened. "You don't have to worry about that Mrs. Marten," he said. "We will send a nurse to the senior Mrs. Marten's house every day to administer care and medication."


Chris knelt by his grandmother's bed and put his arms around her. "You're going home, gran!" he smiled through his tears.

The next day, the Martens sent in a cleaning service to get the house in order, and two days later, an ambulance brought Fiona home. They settled her in what had been her husband's study, in a big hospital bed.

Chris chose the guest bedroom right next door so he'd be close to her day and night. The first day Fiona was too excited to sleep and was up until 2 am, talking to Chris feverishly.

The next morning she only woke when Gail Vernon, the nurse who would be caring for her arrived. Chris led Gail in and showed her where the study was. He opened the drapes and light fell on a big portrait hung over his late grandfather's desk.


Fiona woke up and blinked bleary eyes. "Oh, what a face to wake up to every morning!" she complained. "George Washington with his wooden teeth!"

Chris gave up his vacation in Hawaii to stay with his grandmother | Source: Unsplash


Chris grinned. "I don't mind having him in my pocket!" he joked. 

Fiona smiled suddenly. "Indeed! Old George might be worth a lot to you someday!" she said cryptically, then Gail bustled in and shooed Chris away.

Over the next three months, Chris and Fiona lived in gentle harmony -- the young man at the beginning of his life, the old woman at the end of hers, united by love in the silent wait for death.

Fiona would often ask Chris to take her outside to the garden where she'd lie on a day bed in the sun dozing. As time went on, Fiona sometimes forgot things and even called Chris Steven.


Gail was there every day to make sure there was no pain for Fiona, and Chris cherished her increasingly rare lucid moments. One afternoon she gripped his hand hard.

"Chris," she whispered. "Don't take me inside, let's sleep out in the garden, watch the fireflies dance!"

Chris often took his grandmother outside to the garden. | Source: Unsplash


"Outside? As sick as you are? I don't think..." Chris started to protest, then he saw his grandmother's hopeful face. "Ok, he said, I'll go get us some warm blankets and hot chocolate and a picnic!"

After the sunset, the fireflies arrived, turning the garden into a magical place. Fiona softly told Chris all the stories she'd told him long ago when he was small and she'd seemed like a powerful giant to him.

The stories were the same, but the hand that held his was fragile. "Once there was a firefly who flew too high..." Fiona said, then her voice trailed off. Chris grinned in the dark. She'd fallen asleep!

He bent down to tuck the soft blanket around Fiona, and realized that she wasn't asleep, she was gone, her last breath spent on a fairy tale."Oh gran," Christopher whispered, pressing his lips to her petal-soft cheek. "I'm going to miss you so much!"


He sat there in the garden holding her hand, watching the last of the fireflies dance, then he went in and called his dad and the hospital. 

The next few days were a blur. The funeral arrangements, his parents arriving, the memorial service, then Fiona's lawyer, reading out the will.

Fiona had left everything to his dad with one exception. The lawyer read out the disposition written in Fiona's own words: "To my grandson Christopher I leave the portrait of George Washington that hangs in the study, and whatever goes along with it."

The fireflies transformed the garden into a magical place. | Source: Unsplash


"What does it mean, whatever goes along with it?" asked Bryony. "That's very odd! And that portrait is very ugly!"

"I like it," Chris told his mother and walked to the studio and around the desk to get the portrait off the wall. It really was rather ugly, Chris had to admit, but it was his.

Then Chris noticed that there was a rip in the thick paper backing the frame, and under his fingers, he felt an odd shape. Chris lifted the paper and saw a small ornate key taped to the back.

"I know what this opens!" he said excitedly to his dad, and he ran upstairs to get a small carved wooden box that sat on his grandmother's dressing table. "Gran always said this was her greatest treasures."


Chris put the little key in the lock and opened it. Inside was a thick sheaf of very old letters tied with a pink ribbon and under that a big envelope with his name on it. 

Chris opened the letter with trembling hands and read it out loud: "My dear Chris, These letters are very precious. They were written by my great-great-grandfather to his young wife during the War of Independence.

Chris organized his grandmother's funeral | Source: Unsplash


"He was an aide in the staff of General George Washington and shared some of the conversations he had with our first president-to-be on those long sleepless nights when our future hung in the balance.

"I hope you will find the letters as inspirational as I have, and may they help you forge your path in life. Love you always, Fiona."

"George Washington?" asked Steven aghast. "She never told me about this!"

"Those letters will be worth a fortune to collectors!" cried Bryony.

Chris reverently opened the first letter and quickly read it. "What does it say?" asked Steven excitedly. "Come on Chris, read it aloud!"


Chris licked his lips and read: "My dearest Elizabeth, I am writing this to you tonight on the eve of a battle that will decide our lives, and our rights to live it as we wish free from tyranny.

Fiona had left Chris the portrait of George Washington in her will. | Source: Unsplash


"I'd like to tell you that my mind is full of high ideals, my Elizabeth, but all I can think about is you, and our little David and how much I wish I was with you both far from the horrors of war.

"No matter how noble the cause, I am weary of war. I was writing down some reports on armament when the General came in and saw me still at my desk. He told me he too cannot sleep before a battle.

"I told him that I was afraid, afraid of not being up to the task, of failing. And he laughed! The great George Washington laughed and said: 'Marten, I have made more mistakes and lost more battles than I care to count.

I am always afraid, but I always learn from my mistakes. Do you know what keeps me fighting every day?' I respectfully told him I imagined it was the ideals of the revolution, but he shook his head.


'No, Marten, I want to go home to my wife, and I want you all to do the same. I can't imagine myself happier than being a farmer back in Virginia again...' Then he smiled and bid me good night and walked away.

"So you see, my love, I'm not so wrong to sit here in the dark and dream of you instead of glory facing the canon fire, a greater man than I longs for home as much as I."

Chris found an old key behind the portrait. | Source: Unsplash


Chris cleared his throat. "There's more. He talks about how Washington told him about how he was hot-tempered as a young man, and learned to control his emotions, never let anger or desire steer his actions... I think Marten hero-worshipped the General!"

"The man did become President!" Steven said.

"I think it was more than that, dad," Steven said. "I think it was about Washington's temperance, his serenity. I wish I had that..."

"I think maybe those letters might help you," Steven said. "Maybe that is why gran left them to you, not me."

"Well I think we should contact an antiquarian and find out how much those letters are worth!" said Bryony. "If they sell at an auction for enough, you could be set up for life!"


Chris refused to sell the precious old letters. | Source: Unsplash

But Chris was shaking his head. "No, never!" he cried. "These letters are not for sale and never will be while I live! I hope one day to hand them down to my grandson or granddaughter the way gran handed them down to me.


"These really are a treasure, a legacy which should stay in our family!"

What can we learn from this story?

  • The most important things in life are our family, not power and glory. Chris' ancestor recorded the words of the General and his confession that all he wanted was to go home and be a peaceful farmer.
  • Give your loved ones joy in this life, for once they depart it's too late. Chris was determined to make his grandmother's last days as happy as possible, and he did.

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