Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Hope Chest

When I was in college, one Christmas my parents presented both my sister-in-law and I with identical handmade cedar-lined hope chests.

Mom had asked a man in our church parish, known for his woodworking, to make them. I knew she was excited about them - it was the sort of thing she had always wanted.

I was still in college and so we agreed that my parents would keep my hope chest in my bedroom at home until I had enough space to have it in my own home.

Since then, I have moved several times. Always to a small apartment, with a small bedroom and no space for the chest that measures about 50 inches long.
My mom has been disappointed, as she really wanted me to have it.
She also senses that the style of the chest just really isn't my style. I don't really want it. I sort of had it in my mind that I would just hand it down to my oldest niece... so that she and her sister will have matching chests (the younger sister would get their mother's).

I also thought that when I had a house one day, it would go in the guest room to store my memories and treasures.

But I still don't have that house.

The point of a hope chest in my mother's day, was for a young woman to store the little lovelies she had collected to set up house with her intended. A place to keep the needlepoint she'd learned to stitch, the quilt she made with fabric scraps... maybe some flatware and silver ware. Then later to store her wedding gown so she could hand it down to her daughter.

It wasn't meant for a 40 year old woman to stuff full of things in case she one day finally gets married. In our day and age, that would be considered pathetic.

And over the 20 years from when a young lady is issued her hope chest, to when she realizes she'll never need it - her taste would change anyway! Those items were intended to be home starters... to be implemented within 5 years, assuming she didn't become an old maid.

This week, I've been thinking about my hope chest. How it ought to go straight to my niece now, because she is in that stage of life, starting out on her own.
Thinking about how it may never end up in my own home.

Then it occurred to me - that the man who made it - worked for hours planing and sanding wood, joining corners and screwing in hinges - who is long since deceased.... quite likely prayed over that project. He knew my parents. He watched me grow, Sunday after Sunday in Mass. Perhaps he prayed for a happy life, blessings of children and family - for warm blankets and abundant food for my family.

Like my parents, it never occurred to him that I would spend my life alone.

Still, I shall imagine him praying over the construction of that chest and know that no prayer - even those unanswered- is ever wasted.


Heidi said...

This hits a little close to home--my mother spent a summer refinishing her mother's cedar chest. Grandma had died that year and it was decided that her chest (bought for her when she was 18 and waiting for my grandpa to get home from the war so they could get married) should go to my mom. While Mom was refinishing it in the carport the next year, she would think about her mother and I'm sure she prayed. And she knew that she should give her mother's cedar chest to me.

I'm still single 16 years later, and my grandma's cedar chest has tablecloths and a bedspread from China in it, among other things, and I'm no closer to getting married than I was when I was 19. If I don't have any children, that cedar chest will likely go to my oldest niece. In the meantime, I look at it and think about my grandma and my mother and remember all the prayers said on my behalf and it gives me hope. It's still my hope chest. :)

~ifer said...

For some reason, this post reminds me of a passage I read in a book many years ago. The book was called "Keeping a Princess Heart in a Not-So-Fairytale World"... I don't remember the exact language of the passage, but it basically said that single Christian women need to stop storing the nice china in their hope chests with the dream that one day they will have a family and a situation that is special enough to warrant its use. To break out the good stuff, and use it on yourself, that you are special enough for fine china, that you deserve the good sheets... anyhow... not sure why, but like I said, this post reminded me of that...

Genevra said...

Hmm, what hit me about this post was how your mom was so excited about the hope chest, because it was something that was important to her. I'm so guilty of that when giving gifts. :)

Jennifer M. said...

My mom gave me a hope chest once that my grandpa had made but also due to my living in small spaces, I couldn't ever take it home. Eventually it went to live w/ my much younger cousin when she graduated high school. I think my mom always hoped I would use it for storing my getting-married things. And really, I love the idea of such a treasure chest. But yeah... when you live as a single woman for decades on end, that's not such a practical thing to do. It's meant much more for a young girl living at home w/ her parents anticipating a marriage w/in a few years, filling it with things that she will use to start her adult life. I've already started my adult life... without a bridal shower to help, thank you very much. A hope chest at this point is kind of a mute point.

Anonymous said...

That was one thing I never had growing up or even given to me, was a hope chest, I always wanted one but, When you mentioned Unanswered prayers it reminds me of Garth Brooks song Unanswered Prayers is some of god's greatest gifts. It's hard to believe sometimes but, keep the hope chest for now, it's going to happen, keep the faith.