Hope Chest and Dinnerware Are Among Treasures

A reader recalls all the keepsakes stored in her mother’s cedar chest and how her mother-in-law’s fine china dinnerware is used only for special occasions.
Heart of the Home
January/February 2014
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Hope chests were quite popular back in the day as a place to store keepsakes.
Photo By iStockphoto.com/PattieS

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My parents married in 1949, and around that time, my mom received a lovely wooden chest. Back in its day, it was called a “hope chest,” just waiting to be filled with soft household necessities or a fancy dress or lingerie. Sometimes these were humorously dubbed “hopeless chests” if no male suitor was to be found.

In the 1960s, my mom’s wooden cedar chest was chock full of soft, handmade family treasures. The hinges had broken long before and had never been repaired. Every time I lifted the heavy, long wooden lid, the familiar scent of cedar rose like gentle incense. My dad occasionally sanded the inside of the chest, which refreshed the cedar smell.

This chest in particular held carefully folded crocheted aprons and meticulously embroidered white table runners that had been made by female relatives from both sides of our family. Since both my maternal and paternal grandmothers had passed away long before I was born, I felt their handiwork was a special connection to them. Tiny outfits from a layette and soft animal-printed baby blankets were tucked into corners.

Little bitty “onesies” and knitted infant hats were also found there, along with satin bonnets and soft infant-sized shoes. Favorite outfits, such as little boys’ flannel shirts and corduroy pants were also kept and cherished. My paternal stepgrandma enjoyed making quilts from old clothing, so they, too, found a home in the chest during the summer months. I remember studying all the designs and patterns on each square of the heavy quilts when we put them back on our beds in the late fall. It seemed no two were alike! They each seemed to whisper their own story.

The chest is a little more worn now and is no longer full of those soft treasures from yesteryear. My siblings and I divided all those special keepsakes after our parents passed away. For whatever reason, the chest now holds various craft materials. Maybe it seems odd to no longer keep baby clothes and crocheted and embroidered handiwork inside the chest, and maybe one of these days I should rearrange and tuck my own children’s baby outfits inside the chest, but for now, its purpose is useful and handy. Just seeing it is a sentimental reminder of our years growing up, especially when I get a whiff of the fragrance of cedar while lifting the lid.

Another treasured gift is a china dinnerware set in damask rose from my husband’s mother. Don’t you love the ring of china when it’s gently tapped? It speaks of class and makes one feel a little fancy! Since we normally eat off melamine dinnerware or microwavable plates, this beautiful set is put aside for holidays and special occasion dinners.

The china set is beautiful – a single pink rose set in the center of each dinner and dessert plate, with a circle of light blue-gray on the outside, rimmed in silver. Each tiny, fragile teacup also has a rose and is silver rimmed. There are also some matching serving bowls and a covered sugar-creamer. And roses are my favorite flower!

The delicate tea cups set on the small saucers add a touch of class and are very unlike our casual home and everyday coffee mugs. My “nothing fancy” apple dessert or chocolate cake is a little more special when served on the small rose-centered plates. The set is carefully put away in a china hutch after each occasion. And, so far so good – not a broken plate or cup to be found!

Belle Plaine, Minnesota

Read more heirloom stories in Keepsakes Passed Down Through Generations.

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