One of the most precious things my grandmother Mary Browne Kearney left behind was a special box, one she kept her entire adult life. I remember seeing it from time to time when Kearney lived with us. Typically she would have the box open on her bed, either adding items or reviewing its existing contents.
It was a sad looking thing - an old, dented safety deposit box of military khaki green. A collection of dings and dents accumulated over the years had taken on a rusty hue, and the long-broken safety catch was bound with a bit of old newspaper twine. In our Irish-American household, objects took on fanciful names. For instance, a cereal bowl used to cover a salad plate bearing after-school cookies or sandwiches became "the Fairy Mound" or "Mystery Mound." In keeping with traidition, Kearney had named the motely box "the Bank of Ireland."
When I began to work on tracing our family's history two years ago, my mother and and one of my sisters scoured the house from attic to basement for Kearney's most important papers. All to no avail. The search went on for nearly a month. Then --- serendipity. In the middle of one night, my mother sat up - rod straight - in her bed. "I know," she said, "I know where I haven't looked yet. It has to be there."
In her bedroom closet, one shelf is so high that one has to have a ladder - literally - to see was is on the shelf. And, as in many closets, pushing things to the back to make room for new is all too common. Thankfully, she decided to wait until morning to ask one of my brothers to examine the shelf. No 80+ year-old woman needs to be teetering up a ladder in the middle of the night.
So - half way grumbling - my brother Michael climbed up and leaned his head into the closet at a precarious angle to examine the dusty shelf, now crammed with long-forgotten items. "Is this what you're looking for, mom?" he asked as he pulled out a filthy, dented box. "Ah, that's it," she exclaimed, raising her arms to take it. There it was: the Bank of Ireland, missing for over twnety years. One would have thought it the Grail. And in a way it was.
After brushing away a thick accumulation of lint and dust, my mother untied the twine knot and pulled the lid of the box back. Inside - like so many peices of gold - lay old baptismal records, marriage certificates, Irish birth certificates, immigration papers, death certificates and cemetery papers.
In a voice that defies description, my mother blurted out this news of the discovery during a long-distance phone call. Both of us laughed, then cried, but knew that this wealth of information would stand me well as I began my journey of discovery. We knew we were rich beyond measure. After all --- we had the Bank of Ireland.