Opening the lid on my mother’s hope chest, I always breathed deeply
of the cedar smell and would close my eyes to really take the breath
in, feeling the memories coming. I used to love to make my parents’
bed and dust in their bedroom. I would go to the foot of the bed and
take the crocheted coverlet off the chest. I would kneel upon my knees,
stretching my arms wide to be ready to support the lid once I opened
it. There are new hope chests that have the protective hinge that won’t
shut a child’s fingers in them. This was an older, almost antique looking
chest, its sides shiny and showing the grain of the wood. The top had a
swirling pattern carved into it. It may have been engraved by an artisan
or may have been produced by a factory. I loved the way it smelled then.
Also, I loved the way the ten different items that I am focusing on, in my
thoughts, meant something. These demonstrated love and sentimental
value in their being kept in this special location, so close to where my
parents slept and held each other through good times and bad.
Beginning from the delicate top layer to the bottom “foundation” layer,
each piece piled upon the next, neatly stacked with white tissue paper
between the layers this contained a lifetime of memories.
1. Pearl seeded cap to hold the veil upon my mother’s head. She sewed
each pearl on the cap and made her veil and dress. She used a pattern
that had Elizabethan cap sleeves, with the point at the wrist and its
length ending at her ankles.
2. Irish lace tablecloth, cream colored. She toured Europe after she
graduated from college, buying exquisite purchases that lasted. She
kept carefully until a fancy dinner would be served. She used her own
money for this trip and her parents gave her a small amount of spending
3. White Christening gown. Tiny flowers with x’s and o’s, lovingly
stitched into the puckers along the neckline. This was worn by my
brothers and I when we were baptized as babies.
4. Hand sewn aprons. The multicolored aprons have primary colors in
them, red, yellow, green and blue. Each one of them has a pocket (or 2)
and my daughters now each have one to use or preserve, as they wish.
5. Lacy crocheted doilies. My grandmother was very good at making
these, along with hand painting cards for Gibson card company.
6. Large English tapestry. There is a shield with a crest on it, from years
gone by. It is burgundy, deep blue and has some golden threads woven
7. Bright silk sari. Turquoise, tangerine and gold threads are woven into
this silken sari, worn as a dress by my ex-husband’s friend, Kim’s wife,
Sunny. (I wrote about her in a post and brought this home from college
in the 70’s to add to the layers.) It has an intricately designed pattern on
the edges of it.
8. Cross-stitched Alphabet Sampler. This reminds me of those old primers,
but this once had been framed but my mother took it out, saying it was
starting to get ‘sun-damaged’ and was yellowing. She gently washed it in
cold water, re-stretched it out and then ironed it on the unpatterned side.
9. Handkerchiefs. These were from my grandmothers’ (both sides of family)
purses. When I would hold them to my nose, even though they were kept
in the hope chest with cedar wood interior, they held the perfumed scents
of those dear ones. Each had a fine edge rolled up and most had a floral
design, my favorite being, while young, the violets. Now, I have to admit
I think the embroidered roses make me smile since my mother loves them.
10. And, under them all… A West Virginian homemade patchwork quilt.
My parents first trip together was to Tennessee to see a classmate of my
father’s who graduated in engineering at U. of C. While traveling the
back roads down, they got turned around and while “lost” they found
a small local store hidden in the hills of West Virginia. There was more
of a story about the way the people stared at my parents and how they
chuckled when they heard how far off the beaten path they had gone.
The elaborately chosen patchwork quilt had the wedding rings pattern
carefully sewn into it. The forever entwined, never ending rings would
embody a marriage of almost 44 years.
The quilt became an emblem of their love, never to be unstitched as love
would have it. It held the everlasting meaning or impression upon this
young girl when I would take each layer out of the hope chest, to examine
and sometimes to be found by my mother. She would tell me the meaning
of each layer, reminding me of the time when we were small and how in
the middle of the night we would wake up because of a nightmare.
Mom told me that in our first house together in Sandusky, Ohio, they
had used this as their blanket. She would lift a corner of her sheet with
the blanket on top, allowing us to climb in with Dad and her. We would
eventually calm down, be led back to bed (or carried.)
Tracing my fingers along the stitches in time, I held my breath in awe.
Even while young, I knew there was mysticism and magic in love.
What memories can be found within your family steamer trunk, hope
chest, or Army trunk? If you don’t have those, is there a special drawer
that holds your “valuables that hold memories?”