George Washington’s Boots

Adele Paulson’s family thought that her funeral would be the hardest day they would have to face, but it turned out to be a good day…as good as a funeral can allow it to be anyway.  Friends from every stage of her life came to honor her and share stories about the eighty-five-year old woman.  It was definitely a colorful life, joyful too, and proven by the laughter people shared as each story was told.  Instead of mourning her death, they celebrated her life.

The hardest day didn’t come until her four children had to divide her possessions.  Deciding what to keep, what to give away, and then handing the keys of her condominium over to the lawyer was such an act of finality.  It didn’t seem right that all that remained of Adele was a few token mementos.

The four siblings decided that the fairest thing of all would be to go through each piece individually and if more than one person wanted a specific item, then they would draw for it.  If your name was drawn – great.  If it wasn’t – that’s just the way it went.

Things went well for the first few hours.  Donna got her mother’s wedding ring but lost out on the end tables she always loved.  Tim was elated to get the diamond earrings his father had given Adele for their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  Mark was the only one who wanted her copper cookware set.  And Alice took her mother’s Blue Mountain pottery collection.

Then it came time for their mother’s most valuable possession: a pair of George Washington’s boots.  They didn’t actually belong to the first President of the United States of America, but they were worn by him the day he made his famous trip across the Delaware.

According to family legend, Adele’s four-times great grandfather was one of the soldiers tasked with helping Washington take on the British over Christmas of 1776.   The waters were rough and cold, as was to be expected that time of year, and the General’s boots were soaked through.  Somehow, Adele’s ancestor managed to keep his feet dry, and out of admiration for Washington offered to exchange his dry boots for the General’s wet ones so he wouldn’t catch a cold.  The gracious offer was accepted, Washington was spared a respiratory infection, and all was well.  That is, except for Adele’s four-times great grandfather.  He ended up catching a cold, which turned into pneumonia and then later died, but not before having his boots returned by Washington.  They’ve been handed down from generation to generation ever since.

The only thing missing from the story, however, was any actual proof.  There was no heartfelt letter of condolence to Adele’s family for their loss from Washington, no Thank You note, not even a basket of cherries for his widow.  All they had were the boots and the story.  Was it true?  If so, the boots could be worth something.  If  not, then they were nothing more than something that sat on a shelf and needed to be dusted from time to time.

Donna was married to a Brit so she didn’t feel it would be right to have them in her house.  Tim began having doubts about the story in his teens so he passed on them.  That just left Mark and Alice, and both wanted the boots. Mark, so he could try and pawn them off and pay down his debt.  Alice, for sentimental reasons.  Those boots were the only thing her family really had to be proud of and the object her mother valued most of all.  She would cherish them just as much as her mother had, and wouldn’t dare entertain the thought of selling them.  Into the hat their names went, and it was up to Tim to make the draw.

“Alice,” he said after unfolding the name written on the scrap of paper.  “You get them Alice.”

Alice breathed a sigh of relief.  Mark kept his mouth shut, but everyone could tell by the expression on his face that he wasn’t happy.  No one could tell by Tim’s face, though, that he hadn’t actually drawn Alice’s name.  Mark was the real winner, but Tim knew what would happen to those boots if he handed them over to his troubled little brother.

Alice’s victory was a lie, and perhaps the story of the boots was too.  No one would ever know.

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