How 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.
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.
Early 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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