A friend of mine was struggling with what to give his 17-year-old daughter for a present. She already had acquired the now standard accouterments of a college send-off: personal computer, CD player and a trio of luggage. He desperately wanted to give her a gift she could take with her as she continued her life's journey, yet one that wouldn't soon be made obsolete by new technology or dated by changing fads.
I did indeed have something in mind but hesitated to suggest, even struggled to find a new phrase for what I have always called a hope chest.In classic, antiquated thought, a hope chest is the vessel used by young women to store such things as linens, lingerie and silver in anticipation of a marriage proposal. Today, however, the hope chest goes beyond trousseau, gender restrictions and age limitations. To give the gift of a hope chest, or to purchase one for yourself, is simply to say that you are expectant of a bright future.
Hope chests are personal, private spaces used to store the emblems of who we are and the style we wish to assert. Chests contain memories. They are enlarged, adult versions of the child's cigar box under the bed.
Actually, a hope chest also is a great piece of furniture even as it does, indeed, measure up to the kind of present my friend had in mind for his daughter. Here are some thoughts for anyone considering such a purchase:
- Kinds of chests: There are many wonderful pieces of furniture that could qualify as hope chests. Lots of stores and catalogue companies are selling fabulous boxes with lids, often with locks, that double as ample, functional storage pieces and lovely furniture.
Chests can be new, antique, stressed to look antique, Kilim or cowhide covered, campaign style, with handles or without, in rich hard woods or rough pine. They can be small, large or graduated in sizes that make them ideal for stacking. In antique stores you can find large dough bins, painted metal trunks, shipping crates or old steamer baskets that could serve.
In other words, a hope chest is of no particular design but rather a reflection of individual taste and style.
- The functional hope chest: Chests should contain the most cherished possessions. If a young adult preparing to leave the familial nest rightly assumes his or her room will be converted to a home office, a hope chest can house the sacred belongings that are not tampered with, yet are not appropriate to haul along during a period of life-in-transition.
A special storage area also can bring peace of mind to a family member seeking to bestow a gift of great value, meaning and sentiment.
A grandmother, for example, may be more willing to pass along the precious baby quilt, the cream pitcher brought by her mother from England or the tintype of a relative long gone, if she is assured that a chest awaits the treasure.
A hope chest, whether holding a trove or empty in expectation, also can serve as a table or as a display stand for a lamp or stereo equipment. Or it can function as extra seating in front of a window or at the end of a bed. A chest, above all, is versatile.
My friend went out and bought a wooden, pyramidal "Cairo Chest" from Pottery Barn. Inside he tucked a tree ornament, a post card of the ocean liner his mother had sailed on her trip to America and a note saying, "I hope you know how much I love you. I hope you'll always remember where you've come from and where you're going. I hope your life is all you ever want it to be."