In the late 1920s or early '30s, my Grandma Edith saved up for a hope chest. The beautiful smelling Lane chest came to me when she died in 1994. I put things in it and covered the top in candles from Hot Topic. Then it stayed at my dad's house while I went off to college, lived in Santa Cruz with Brian, and then moved to the east coast for graduate school. Last summer when we moved back to California, I finally got the chest into my own home. Adriana likes to climb on top of it and worry me. Sometimes she hits at it with a toy, and I worry about her damaging my gorgeous chest, but then I think that if the thing survived my dad and his two brothers, it can probably handle a little bit of abuse from Adriana.
The one thing I didn't do when we moved it into our apartment was open it. But we are slowly starting to clear out our office to turn it into Adriana's room, and there were a few things I thought it would be nice to add to the chest, so last week I dug out the key while Adriana napped. Inside I found:
- yearbooks, starting with the fourth grade (1987-88 school year) all the way up through high school, with the exception of the sixth grade for some reason;
- copies of my senior portraits, which feature braces on my teeth;
- a photo album from my childhood;
- my sash with patches from Bluebirds and my beaded vest from whatever came after Bluebirds;
- a scrapbook, with certificates from Camp Fire (candy sales!) and elementary school (perfect attendance! honor roll!), and a blue ribbon for my first poem--as well as the original copy of the poem;
- a book about NASA;
- an illustrated book of poems about dragons;
- the poster advertising a reading in Oakland by Maya Angelou that my dad took me to;
- a plastic recorder;
- my old Gloworm--the batteries were dead, but at least they didn't leak;
- a sky blue crocheted (or knitted?) baby blanket and bonnet;
- the cap and gown from my high school graduation, along with the tassel and diploma;
- a certificate stating that I had been admitted to UCSC.
I returned everything to the chest except for the books, the Gloworm, and the recorder. Before I closed up the chest, I added a few more things:
- my neatly framed degree from UCSC;
- my degree from Georgetown, still in the envelope;
- tassels from my UCSC and Georgetown graduations, plus the master's hood from Georgetown;
- my baby book, which my dad finally gave to me last fall after I pestered him to look at it every time I was at his house;
- Adriana's baby book, along with several outfits I am saving (her coming home outfit, the fuzzy pink sleeper we liked to put her in, her first Christmas dress);
- the copy of the Washington Post from the day Adriana was born (although it has since occurred to me that I ought to have saved the paper from the day after her birth, since that would tell her what happened on the day she was actually born);
- my wedding album and videos from the wedding that I have never watched.
I am looking at the chest now, and thinking about the different things my grandmother and I chose to put in the chest. I never got to ask her what she had in it, but it was her hope chest, so I assume it was full of things she was saving for when she was married and left home. Tablecloths? Bed linens? China? Did she sew things and put them away for her future life as a married woman? I wonder what she kept in the chest after she was married, after she had children, after those children were grown and gone. Perhaps it simply served as storage, a place to keep extra blankets.
Here I am, a couple of generations removed from the tradition of hope chests. Instead of saving items for the future, I am filling it up with little bits of my past. Instead of things that will be put into every day use, I carefully place items that I will rarely use, things I will take out, turn over in my hands, and put away again. I still call it a "hope chest" out of habit, but it's not clear from what's in it exactly what I'm hoping for.