Eight years ago, I became the proud recipient of one of my father’s most valued treasures, an ivory statue of the Virgin Mary, adorned with precious gems of rubies, diamonds, and sapphires. The history behind this statue is amazing and has been authenticated by the Smithsonian. My father was an honest, hard working family man who, when not suspended high above rivers and gorges welding bridges across the United States, spent his time collecting what the average person would classify as junk.
His routine was almost ritualistic, returning home on a Friday, greeting my mother with a kiss without breaking his stride and making his way to “the vault,” as he called it. I can still hear the faint clicks of the numbered dial as it as it turned with precision, first left, then right and a final slow turn left. My eyes widened as my father wrenched his hand against the long brass handle of the safe, reminiscent of my brothers Friday night arm wrestling events, the winner picking the one of four channels to watch. As the crack in the safe’s door expanded, the light exposed the many treasures held captive inside.
Among the jars of coins, quartz, old pens, watches, and rings sat the statue. Although I only caught a glimpse of it from time to time, I can remember being drawn to it, recalling almost every detail about it. I never thought to ask my father of its origin, or even imagined that one day I would be chosen from my six brothers and sisters to be its caretaker. Reaching the peak of our curiosity, our minds turned to other distractions as life continued its routine, taking us from childhood to our teenage years and beyond, as it does for us all.
It was not until my adult years that I learned of how the statue of “Our lady of Loreto, The Black Madonna,” came to rest with my family. It all started 40 years ago in upstate New York. The following are the turn of events as told by my father, upon receiving the statue. My father and his cousin were on a logging excursion deep in the forest, in the Adirondack Mountains. They made their way in by logging trucks and equipment until the trees grew so dense they had to continue on foot to the designated cutting area.
After many hours of cutting timber, as my father glanced up to see the progress of his cousin, the sun positioned itself in such a way that he noticed a glimmer of light in the distance. Trying to ignore it, his curious nature got the better of him as he set out to investigate. Up from the ground a spring-loaded clasp, stood erect and motionless like the Tin Man after a good rain. The nickel plating made it worthy of taking its place among the many trinkets in the “vault. Bending his six-foot frame to retrieve his prize, he noticed a badly worn leather handle attached to a leather box, which he immediately identified as a suitcase. With the meticulous movements of an archaeologist, he removed several layers of leaves and dirt to expose the case. Now freed from the captive earth, he lifted the case like an angler displaying his catch. Then calling to his cousin, he jokingly yelled, “I found a million dollars,” while simultaneously throwing the case in his cousin’s direction. Upon impact, the weathered leather binding burst apart to reveal a solitary jacket.
Not just any jacket, this jacket most assuredly once covered the shoulders of a lawyer or banker, or with a little more imagination, a secret agent. It was an ankle length trench coat displaying the tag of its maker, London Fog. My father grabbed the jacket by its collar and shook it violently, like a dog with a play toy. To his amazement, the statue of Our Blessed Lady unraveled and took precedence over the entire day. So many questions flooded his mind. How did a suitcase with this statue get twenty miles in the middle of nowhere? Did it drop from a plane?
Was it buried to be kept safe from thieves? The scenarios were endless. My father gently wrapped the trench coat around it and headed straight for home. Once there he discarded the jacket and introduced the statue to its new home in the “vault. ” My father always dreamed of finding buried treasure, little did he know the treasure he possessed, spiritually and monetarily. It was not until his visit to the Smithsonian Institute that he realized the worth of his find. A barrage of curators and questions (which seemed more like allegations) was thrust upon him.
After three hours of careful inspection of the icon, authenticity of the gemstones and ivory image were confirmed. My father was informed that only two places in the world ever produced Ivory religious icons, Portugal and Spain. Additionally, the original statue went missing after a fire in the church of Our Lady of Loreto in Italy. This statue was valued modestly at several hundred thousand dollars. A forceful request was made by representatives of the Smithsonian Institute to house the statue there for further inquiry.
Fearing the statue would be taken from him and feeling as though he was the culprit in its disappearance, he quickly exited the building and sought the advice of his parish priest. He was advised to lock it up in a safe place. Almost half a century had gone by before it was passed on to me. This statue, much coveted by my brothers and sisters was a cause of disagreement for many years. My father explained why I was chosen to receive the statue. “It was quite simple really,” he said. “You were the only one who kept the faith and I know you will treat it with the respect it deserves!