A Chest Full of Dreams

elizname2smallHow many of you had a hope chest when you were growing up?  I had one, and so did most of my girlfriends.  We filled them with embroidered pillowcases, tablecloths and dish towels (I still remember doing one set of 7 with little cross-stitched cats and the days of the week).  My mother and grandmother added wash cloths with crocheted edges, doilies, aprons, and eventually a couple of quilts.  In my early teens, my hope chest was a space in a drawer.  In high school, my parents bought me a beautiful cedar lined chest—a traditional high graduation present for girls in my day.  hopechest-amish

The hope chest is traditional in many parts of the world.  It dates back to the middle ages when brides took a dowry with them to their new families.  The dowry could include linens, china, silverware, glassware, kitchen items, even furniture.  As the tradition evolved, mothers taught their daughters how to knit, embroider, sew, and crochet in preparation for marriage. Young women, dreaming of their wedding day, started accumulating a collection of items, including hand-embroidered linens, towels, aprons, quilts, and other handicrafts, and storing them in a chest, which became a symbol of hope for the future. 

hopechest-adEarly hope chests were handmade and often lined with cedar. Many fathers built their daughter’s hope chests and decorated them with artwork, carved mottoes, and other decorations.  During World War I, the Lane Company (no relation to me) won a large government contract to build pine ammunition boxes for the military. The plant modernized its assembly processes, and when the war was over, they converted to the production of cedar chests. At the same time, they began an advertising campaign to promote the new Lane Hope Chest.  When I was in high school, every senior girl was presented with a miniature cedar chest.  Mine is long gone but a long-time male friend with the unisex name of Clair still prizes the one they sent him by mistake. 

I still have the hope chest my parents gave me.  I use it as an extra seat here in my office.  It’s covered with a sheepskin rug to hide the top that was ruined when a toddler poured a bottle of perfume on it.  The sides are dinged and scratched from multiple moves but it’s still a treasure.  In addition to my good wool sweaters it holds old photos of my family, little things people have made me, and the letters my father wrote to “Eebee” when he was in the Navy in WWII.  My chest of dreams has become a chest of memories.  Maybe that’s as it should be. 

Did you make hope chest items when you were young?  Do you have a hope chest?  Do your daughters? 

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I'm an internationally published romance author, coming up on 40 novels and novellas. Most of my stories have been Westerns for Harlequin Historicals, but I set stories in other times and places as well. I'll also be writing contemporary stories for Harlequin Desire, with the first release in January 2013. You can learn more on my web site.

52 thoughts on “A Chest Full of Dreams”

  1. I still have my “Lane” hope chest!!!! Only I got my hope chest as an anniversary gift for working at a company for 10 years. What do I have in my hope chest — purses and a couple of shawls!!!!

  2. Elizabeth I love the cedar chest that on this page and the verse. I think they are all beautiful and I would love to have one I have never had one, bought our oldest daughter one and it is still at our house because it has cloths for her new baby in there so I at least get to look at it for a little while at least. My husband has one his mother gave him and we have it down stairs but it is not in good shape it has all the papers from the girls school when they were little. Some day I will need to go through it and finish their scrap books. And as I think about the two that are in the house they are very different.
    I could use one for my bedroom so I could put some treasures in that my grandma and other family members have given us.

  3. I’m right there with you! My dad does woodworking so he built chests for my sister and me when we were in high school. It has an engraved plaque inside the lid that says he made it for me and the date. Nowadays I use it to store Christmas linens and some of those decorative candles and things that don’t need to go in the attic.

    I also have one of the minature Lane chests — the local furniture store/bridal gift registry in town gave them to the senior girls each year. It’s on my dresser and keeps special cards and notes safe.

    The heroine in my novel is 18. I’ll bet she has a hope chest too and just hasn’t told me yet. 🙂

  4. My hope chest still lives in my parent’s home. I’m hoping to have it back someday. I didn’t ever make things to go into it, but if we found things, they would go in. Or special things like the quilt my great-aunt made me went in for me to have someday.

    My mom has outfits my sister and I wore stored in her hope chest. Recently she found a little red coat I wore and it was my daughter’s size. How fun to dress her in my clothes!

  5. I still have my much battered miniature chest, but never had a large version. It would be nice to have one now, since I have some old quilts and linens from my grandmother.

    I do have a small chest (and some other furniture) made by my great grandfather. Definitely treasures in my house.

  6. Good morning, early birds! I’m still yawning on mountain time. FYI, that beautiful chest in the photo isn’t mine. It was made by an Amish craftsman and I found it on line. But isn’t it gorgeous?
    Interesting how you received your chest, Danielle. And they’re good for storing all kinds of things. Thanks for posting.

  7. Brenda, it sounds like you have two real “treasure chests”. Congratulations on the little one (still expected, yes?). I remember keeping my son’s christening outfit in my chest and giving it to him for his own little boy. Yes, you deserve a beautiful chest of your own.

  8. Oh, Leigh, how wonderful to have a chest made and engraved by your father. That will be a treasure in your family forever. My grandfather was a carpenter but he mostly built houses. A table he made for his own family is in my dining room. So simple and beautiful.
    And I’m amazed at how many people still have those little Lane chests. They must have cost the company a fortune, but what great advertising!

  9. Elizabeth,
    I enjoyed your post. I can remember when my mom bought me my hope chest. I was probably around 16 or 17. That would have been in the mid 1980s, so we didn’t store trousseau items in it, but I immediately started using it as a place to keep my treasured keepsakes. My first Bible, some collectible coins, a journal from my trip to Africa, special clothing items from my father who passed away the previous year. I still have it in my bedroom, and it is still a treasure chest. I now have my wedding dress in there, old family photos, and toys from a childhood long past.

    My daughter is 10, and thanks to your post, I’m now thinking about the day I can give her a hope chest. Whether she stores dreams for her future in it or memories from the past, I pray it will be a chest of treasures for her, just as mine has been for me.

  10. Oooooh, Elizabeth! Hope Chests! Oh, that brings back memories. sigh . . .

    I YEARNED for a Lane hope chest back in high school. I wanted one more than ANYTHING. My mother had one, and now I’m wondering if she still has it. (She kept our baptismal gowns, her wedding momentoes, etc, in there.) I always knew I was going to get married, and I started collecting kitchen things early. Alas, I never got one. They were just too expensive. So I used a drawer, too.

    I did get a cedar-lined miniature one that I had for years. When I suggested to my oldest daughter before she got married to start her hope chest, she rolled her eyes. No one had them anymore.

    Thanks for bringing us back in time, Elizabeth!

  11. I received one of the minature hope chests when in 1961 when I graduated and often wonder whatever happened to it.

    One of my most treasured items is my Grandmother’s cedar chest that my Uncle Milton made for her when he was in high school. It was probably around 1928. It always sat at the foot of her bed and now sits at the foot of mine. It is now a memory chest.

  12. Robyn, I bet your daughter looks darling in that little red coat. Maybe it can be saved for her daughter as well. What fun. And good wishes on eventually having the chest at your house.

  13. Can’t believe how many people have those little chests, Lizzie! Wish I knew where mine was.
    And having things made by your great-grandfather–what treasures to pass down through your family.
    They must beautiful in their unique way. Love antiques, especially if they’re family.

  14. My daughter didn’t and doesn’t have a hope chest either, Pam. It just wasn’t what girls did in her time, although I did pass on some family treasures to her when she married and started her own home.
    How sad that you never got your own when you wanted one so much.

  15. I didn’t have a hope chest. Just had a box that I put some things in as I got them. My hubby is making my daughters each a hope chest but at the rate he is going they’ll be married before he get them done. They are both teenagers and one is pushing 20s. :0)))))

  16. I had never heard of, nor have I ever seen the miniature chests you’ve mentioned. My mom had one like the one in the ad, and she kept our old baby things in there, along with packets of cards and things. She gave the chest to my brother. I got a huge ruby ring that belonged to my grandmother, so I call it even.

  17. I have a hope chest, Lane, too. My husband bought it for me for one of our early anniversaries.

    I give that man a hard time, but he’s got a really sweet side.

    My mom had one and I loved going through it. I didn’t do it much. Strange things in there, her wedding dress for one. Loved the cedar smell.

    Mine is full of quilts from my mother-in-law. She’s given an old, old quilt from her mother and grandmother, some of them pre-1900, to each of my girls and they’re stored there. Except I gave my oldest daughter hers already. And maybe I’ve given some others out.

    Now I’m wondering. I haven’t had that thing open in ages. What if it’s sitting there empty?
    I could fill it with STUFF. I’ve always got more STUFF.

  18. Wonderful that your husband is making chests for your daughters, Abi, even if he’s slow. What a nice thing to do. Sounds like he’s got a little time. My own daughter waited till 32 to get married.

  19. You’re a baby compared to me, Cheryl. My guess is that by the time you finished high school the Lane company had stopped giving out the little chests. They were nice–a little smaller than a shoe box. And that ruby ring sounds like a gorgeous keepsake.

  20. Your man sounds like a winner to me, Mary. You know, the sad thing about antique quilts is that they’re so wonderful, and about all you can do with them is put them away. If you use them as their maker intended, they’ll wear out and be gone. Sigh.

  21. I still have the mini cedar chest that I got at graduation. It’s still in wonderful shape, even though it’s now an antique.:)

    I used to collect things for my hope chest when I was a teenager, but those things are long gone. Haven’t thought about that in a long while. Thanks for the memory.

  22. Elizabeth the grand baby is here her name is Isabel and she is 4 months old now. I told my daughter she needs to quit storing all those cloths in the chest she will NEVER wear she has out grown most of her cloths already before she even got to wear them. I guess we kept the chest here in case she moved back home less to move back. LOL Don’t think that will be happening I hear wedding bells.
    I still wished I had one for me to put all my treasures in.

  23. Hi Elizabeth, I, too have a Lane Hope Chest. It was given to me on my HS graduation in 1952. It has been moved and dinged a lot, but it is still beautiful. A while back I went through it for the first time in years and found my baby clothes and dolls in the bottom. My mother’s flapper wedding dress with silver brocade shoes (with a button closure. I have the button hook). All sorts of hand made 1800 doll clothes. I had truly forgotton all the goodies in there. I had piled baby quilts (outgrown) and all sorts of other hand made items on top. It was exciting to find all the forgotten things. In the bottom there is a drawer where I have put magazines and newspapers about major events, i.e., Kennedy assignation, etc. I am running out of room, there.

  24. Elizabeth, this sure brings back a lot of memories. I never got a big cedar chest although I wanted one more than anything. They were just too expensive. Instead, my parents gave me an old trunk that I used to store my hopes and dreams in. That old trunk saw a lot of moves until it finally fell apart. Oh, and I got one of those smaller cedar chests when I graduated from high school. They were neat. Hmmmm, I wonder what happened to mine? I no longer have it. Maybe my baby sister stole it. LOL She ended up with a lot of my stuff when I wasn’t looking.

    Thanks for bringing back so many memories!

  25. I’m sure you have other equally beautiful traditions, Charlene.
    And except for a few small table cloths, everything I made is gone, too, Vickie. Can’t believe how much time and love I lavished on embroidered dish towels and pillowcases. Now I just buy them plain and cheap.

  26. Congratulations on the little one, Brenda. Isabel is a beautiful name. And they do grow out of their clothes fast at that age!

    Mary J., that’s amazing, the things in your chest. Would love to see that flapper wedding dress, the shoes and dolls and other things. They’d probably be worth a lot on Antiques Road Show. 🙂

  27. I love old trunks, Linda. My chest is contemporary in style, I’d have preferred something more traditional, but it’s nice. My mother had a beautiful old cedar chest that was her mother’s. My sister got that one when we cleaned out our parents’ house.
    Those little chests do tend to vanish, don’t they. I have no idea where mine went.

  28. I always loved the idea of a HOPE CHEST, but I do not have one. The closest thing I have is my old beat up wooden Toy Chest! My Mother has one she had refurbished… it was my great grandmother’s. She has it guarded well! 😀

  29. My apologies, everyone, while I disappear for a few hours. My daughter and her husband are flying in from California and I’m off to pick them up at the airport, take them to lunch at their favorite Mexican restaurant and just revel in having them here. Will get back to your comments later.
    Elizabeth

  30. Hi Elizabeth, I never had a hope chest and neither did my friends, so we didn’t collect stuff. Your post is so lovely and gives such a spirit of love between mothers and daughters…very nice! I really enjoyed reading about all the things you and others collected inside.

  31. I forgot about my little Lane chest that I received in high school. I don’t remember what happened to it. I never had a hope chest but now I have my grandmothers. I know it is over 100 years old. It is on legs and has a beautiful rose on the front. My husband had to refinish it for me and now it is in my livingroom. I have had more compliments on it. My sister in law is very into antiques and always had her eye on it.

  32. Oh, yes, my hope chest now resides in our bedroom. I haven’t checked lately to see just what remains in it. I also remember my sister phoning me and asking me to come help her put her hope chest up into her attic. That turned out to be an impossible job for even the two of us. I don’t know what she had in her hope chest, but it was heavy as everything. We tried and tried, but had to give up getting that hope chest up the rickety ladder to her attic.

  33. Love the picture of the hope chest how beautiful.

    I have a cedar chest for blanket but never had one for a hope Chest.

  34. Oh that a beautiful chest, Elizabeth. I did not have a physicla hope chest…or as my mom called it, “hopeless chest”..but my folks and gramma did get me the typical things that go in one during my high school and college years: dish towels, embroidered pillowcases, a full set of bone china, silverware, crystal, even a silver tea service which was a hot item at the time. In fact, I was so well-prepared I didn’t even register at a department store!

    Thanks for the hobble down Memory Lane, Elizabeth Lane!

    oxoxox

  35. I have missed you gals!

    Been busy, busy, busy working on a proposal for the Love Finds You line (Summerside Press)

    All these sweet posts….mmmm…. 🙂

    Yes, I still have my hope chest made out of cedar and stained blonde (the color my bedroom furniture was growing up) The bottom is discolored and the hinges are worn but the memories are not.

    Great post!
    PamT

  36. Getting back late here, to read your comments. Cheryl C., Kate, Judy, Gladys, Shery, Tanya, Pamela and Quilt Lady, thanks for joining us with your wonderful hope chest stories (and non hope chest stories).
    Elizabeth

  37. I’m Hispanic and I cannot remember that much
    emphasis was placed on hope chests in our family.
    I knew about them, school friends had them, but I
    never had one. Mother had an old cedar chest, but
    it was one she acquired during her lifetime, not a
    hope chest.

    Pat Cochran

  38. Actually my Ex-Husband made my Cedar chest for me. Sounds strange I know, but he did it for me for Christmas one year while we were married. It is HUGE and smells so wonderful! He also put pictures of our little girl under the lid in a little window and a place on the front for my name. I now have 3 children and a nephew and my mother is unwell, so I am really putting my cedar chest to good use!!!!!!!

  39. Hmm. I didn’t know you were Hispanic, Pat. But I know hope chests aren’t traditional in every family. I imagine you had some other great traditions.

    Love your story, Amy. The chest sounds fantastic. (And I don’t recall my ex ever doing anything that nice for me!)
    🙂

  40. I had a Hope Chest,an so I started my daughter with one,but she wasnt as interested as I was with mine at that age,I still have mine too,thanks for the memory

  41. You’re very welcome, Vickie. Thanks for joining us on P & P. I think about my daughter and how different her life is from my very traditional beginning. She didn’t have a hope chest either. But times change.

  42. My fiance’ purchased one for me before we got married. A few years ago, I started my own business, http://www.HandcraftedHopeChests.com, because they are such great pieces of furniture. Plus, they’re versatile enough to be used in living rooms as well as bedrooms. I think they are functional and beautiful, which is perfect for any gal!

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