Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Hope chests

I'm doing research for new series of stories based on a familiar item in my home. I'm not sure how familiar this item is in the present, but growing up it was a link to my past and a hope for my future.

This piece of furniture, is wonderfully handcrafted. As a child, I would take my blankets and books and crawl up to read or to gaze into the yard. The wooden box was created to hold such items as clothing, linens, blankets, and other items created for married life. Some called this wooden chest, dowry chests, cedar chest for the wood that lined the inside, trousseau chests, glory boxes, or, as in my case - the hope chest.

The crafting of these boxes are really quite old. Ancient Egyptians used such boxes to hold jewels or scrolls of value. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Europeans carved such boxes as a show of wealth. But, as families began to journey to the new world, these chest contained all the important items for their survival.

In my part of the south, you received your hope chest at the coming of age, usually sixteen. From there until the age of twenty-one, you would sit at your mother's knee and learn skills such as embroidery, quilting, crochet, or knit and carefully stow your items inside in preparation for your next stage of life as a married woman.

I had always grown up with my grandmother's cedar chest in my bedroom. At the age of sixteen, it was given to me entrust to keep the legacy from the past and to create new hope for my future. My grandmother was given her chest before 1900 by her father and mother. She brought it to Norfolk in 1922 when my grandfather moved the family here to gain employment in the shipyards.

It was always wonderful to open and gaze upon the legacy pieces inside. My grandmother's china doll she'd had since childhood. Complete with the original clothing, corn husk hair, and bonnet. One foot has a flat toe where she drug it across the floor. Beneath that, was her father's Confederate uniform carefully folded. It lay in state until 1970 when we opened it and found it finally was reduced to tatters. A satin blanket covered all the items. It was the blanket that my grandmother had across her bed until her death two months before my birth. My mother placed my baby sweaters and one white blanket with embroidered pink flowers that she used for me, that I used for my daughter, that I passed to my granddaughter. I placed my wedding veil inside on top of my box of horse ribbons and trophies won when I showed professionally.

The giving of the hope chests waned in the 1960's due to the feminist movements. I admit, I did not give my daughter one at sixteen, but when I die, she will receive the chest and the items inside. I hope that my granddaughter will open and explore with wonder the treasures that lie inside.

Be looking for the Hope Chest Series in 2019. It will be a collection of sweet romances that follow the generations of one family highlighting their hopes, dreams, and disappointments.

Until next time, happy reading,

Nan O'Berry

2 comments:

Something Whimsical GB said...

WOW and even I had a Hope Chest as my Grandmother who was born in mid 1800s raised me and started it up for me. Looooon time ago and do folk still do Hope Chests, mine was cedar and smelled so good.

Zina Abbott said...

I have my mother's hope chest and value it greatly. I no longer "hope," but I do store valuable items in it. Unfortunately, my sister had the chest for years, and part of that time her husband put it outside in a storage shed where it was subject to the damp weather of the Pacific coast. The finish on top needs to be redone.

Thank you for your post and the reminder of how important it was in times past for young women to prepare their household before they married.