A hope chest, dowry or cedar chest was once a popular way of collecting clothing or household items by an unmarried young woman in anticipation of married life. A coming of age custom until approximately the 1950's, these special storage chests, once called marriage chests, held kitchen and bed linens, quilts and occasionally silver and dishware. Some hope chests were built by a "soon to be bride's" father. In later years these were handed down as family heirlooms.
As I read a story of one young woman's experience in storing away some cherished possessions for her upcoming union, I was struck by the words describing her experience. "I began to fill the hope chest with the old and new items, hoping to use them in a home of my very own--with a family of my very own. Everything had special meaning whether saved, purchased or inherited."
Some of the items one might find in a young girl's hope chest were Grandmother's dishes, homemade quilts, even flatware purchased from the back of a pancake box. Some of these valuables may have crossed the sea in the 1800's and were filled with sentimental value. Whether a traveling wooden trunk, blanket chest, or dowry chest--the contents lay in wait to be used by a hopeful bride.
As I spoke with a friend recently, I shared my heart's tendency toward sentimentality. Although I was born in the 1950's and certainly knew of the tradition of keeping a "hope chest," I was not the recipient of such a treasure. However, I have been blessed with many beautiful and memorable items that belonged to my grandparents.
I have been the recipient of both tangible and intangible gifts of the heart which leave a lingering presence of those who have gone before me. Some of these gifts held little meaning until I began to rear my own children and took on an even stronger attachment as my grandchildren began to descend as gifts from heaven.
As I grow older and more thoughtful about this life, I have also grown in appreciation for the gifts of not only tangbile representations of loved ones who have passed on into eternity but the hope filled memories of stories, pictures and gentle reminders of their love, once as close as a breath.
Recently, I found myself pondering the fact that I have become "the grandmother" in my family. My grandchildren have never called me grandmother or grandma,having decided on a name birthed out of my grandson's attempts at "Grammy." Those of us who are grandparents know we are ready to accept whatever name our grandchildren decide for us, we are so ready to be recognized in our new role as a grandparent. "Neenie" became my chosen name when my first grandchild came along and I have had the honor and privilege of wearing that name for almost eight years.
The great blessing and pleasure of affecting the lives of our children's children and perhaps even great-grandchildren comes with great responsibility. I like to think of it as a "hope chest."
Parents are busy about the business of being parents. Grandparents seem to have a more relaxed lifestyle and a tendency to recognize the declining number of years left to make a difference in the lives of those they love. HOPE...what a gift we can give these beautiful, bouncing, bright-eyed creations of God. And hope comes in all sorts of packages, the same as hope chests come in all shapes and sizes.
What child, even an adult, doesn't crave a listening ear, a story of how we made it through some difficult trial, a gift of time and attention,our prayers, laughter,tears or perhaps a homemade gift of a quilt that wraps one of our little ones in all of the above.
At my grandson's last Grandparent's Day, he handed me a card,made in his classroom, especially for me. It said, "My Neenie has millions of things in her garage." My first thought was, "His teacher will think I'm a hoarder." I have actually been called that a time or two. Very sentimental in nature, I have kept many mementos of my own children's lives along with many boxes of games, books and materials from my teaching career. For about eight years now, my grandchildren have benefitted from my propensity to save things that have touched my heart.
When I accompany my grandchildren to the garage, I don't have a "hope chest" opening up to valuable silver or gold candelabras... only some dress up clothes and a few clown wigs, some books I read their parents and even a few things that look like they may have been ordered from the back of a pancake box.
My heart's desire is that my grandchildren will inherit a treasure chest of memories and live hope-filled lives because they know they are loved. My own memories of "grandmother" are not ones of great material wealth or possessions but hugs and kisses mixed with loving words of affirmation.
Each time my grandchildren come for a visit or I travel to spend time with my new grandson who lives in another city, I open the lid of our hope chest and deposit something of myself into each of their hearts. A song...a touch...an encouraging word...some grains of sand slipping through the hour glass...where they will be laid up for the next generation to bring hope once again.