Legacy of a Hope Chest
There is a deep curiosity in the heart of almost every female regarding the hope chest. In fact, any chest will suffice! The overwhelming urge to open the lid of a trunk or chest we come across and peer into the inner depths is something that is almost instinctive in every female heart. There is a tiny spark of hope as we peek inside, of finding unique treasures hidden within the depths. Perhaps it is a childish hope, but it is alive in all of us none-the-less.
What causes this spark of interest? What draws the female heart to a chest, especially a hope chest? Even those who have never had a hope chest of their own are irresistibly drawn towards them… Why?
The reason is simple. We long for a legacy—even if the legacy is not linked directly to us. Our joyful reward for peeking into a chest would be to find a little piece of history hiding there, of special items that someone left behind from a by-gone era. A legacy is timeless. It reflects the heart of the person who left it, and brings joy and inspiration to those lucky enough to find it.
But what exactly is a legacy? How can we create one for our children and future grandchildren to enjoy? How do we pass on a legacy? How does the hope chest fit in with leaving a legacy for our children?
A legacy is, by definition, something that is left to you from an ancestor. But in a deeper sense, a legacy is something special or unique, usually given from the heart, from one person to another. A legacy can be anything that is given from one person to another. Family heirlooms are often looked upon as a legacy handed down from one generation to another. Specific skills such as woodworking and sewing, family recipes, even family names can be considered a legacy. A special love or enjoyment for something can also be handed from one person to another and claim the name legacy. Consider gardening, sewing, cooking, canning, painting, drawing, and many other pastimes (or skills and work) that people enjoy.
Many of those skills and pastimes were instilled into the heart through an ancestor who introduced someone to the joys found in each one. These are invisible legacies, but they are legacies all the same!
Creating a legacy for your children and loved ones is far simpler than anyone realizes. What is near and dear to your heart easily becomes a legacy you can hand down—and you often do this without conscious effort. From my own experience, my parents had a deep abiding love for hymns which they unknowingly passed onto each of their children. This was an unconscious effort on their part, but something I will be eternally grateful for. From birth until age five years or so, my parents would rock us to sleep every single night singing the old familiar hymns to us. My earliest memories are of my parents holding and rocking my brother and me, their voices raised together in song as they poured out their love to a Heavenly Father I could hardly begin to comprehend at such a tender age. Today, both my parents have gone to be with the Lord, yet when I need comfort it is to the old hymns that I so often turn. When I hear those old familiar words and the melody pours over me, I feel as safe and deeply loved as I did years ago when I was very young and lay in my parent’s arms…this is a living legacy that continues to bring pleasure to me every day.
I have passed this legacy on to my own children too. Even the littlest ones, by eighteen months of age, can recognize the tune of a hymn and hum along. When I see their little faces open in joy and recognition, and I hear their little voices mumble the words they know, I can feel my parents smiling down on us. It is an invisible legacy that is priceless, and one that is being passed on to the next generation in our home with very little effort on our part…
My mother passed on many legacies for me without even trying! She placed the first needle in my hand, helped me through my first messy stitches, and encouraged me to go on even when I was so frustrated I cried. I now have her love for sewing, her patience, perseverance and her enjoyment of teaching others. I do not believe she would have considered this a legacy. She was simply teaching her daughter to sew. But in so doing, she passed her love and interest in sewing on to a daughter who has since passed it onto her children as well. Three generations who have enjoyed the same skill…this is a legacy.
I have a deep appreciation of wood and woodworking which comes from my father. He was a wonderful carpenter who enjoyed running his hands over a wooden surface just to feel the wood slide beneath his fingertips. He could make anything with wood and there are many wonderful stories about the impossible tasks he was able to do that my children still enjoy hearing over and over. But more than enjoying wood and woodworking, my father instilled in me the desire and enjoyment of hard work and keeping my hands busy. He was happy when he was busy; and even happier still when he was working with wood. Through many countless hours spent in his workshop I came to understand the deep inner reward that only comes through hard work, effort, dedication, perseverance and patience. It was through my father’s daily example that I have these characteristics today. These are an invisible legacy I have from my father, and something he had no idea he was giving to me. .
A legacy does not need to be physical or visible in order to be appreciated and valued, some of the most precious and priceless family legacies are the internal ones we will carry with us through life. Whether the legacy is a character quality, skill or a deep enjoyment of something; a legacy is given to you by someone else and it becomes a part of your heart.
Passing on a skill can be more time consuming but often more meaningful than passing on a physical item. Teaching basic skills to a child is very much like teaching them to read. Time needs to be devoted and sacrificed at the very beginning and a great deal of patience is needed. Prepare mentally for this. There is confusion and irritation when things don’t go smoothly, but this allows us to teach the virtues of patience and perseverance in everyday life and daily trials. Teaching young hands a new skill can take up several minutes or a whole part of our day. A child can not embroider without first learning to thread a needle and knot her thread. Once those two skills are learned, you will never have the chance to teach them to your child again. Instead, you will be teaching her the next step and the next step and the next step until one day your teaching is done! Time with your children is precious; once your day is done you will never have it back again. Make the most of your time together; the memories alone will become a legacy and the skills your child learns will be her heritage.
What skills or hobbies do you enjoy that you can pass on to your children? Have you considered what you and your children enjoy doing together as a legacy you are giving to them? You might surprise yourself if you sit down and think about this for several minutes.
When we see the long term goal instead of the struggles we are enduring now, it often gives us more inspiration and more patience to take time out of our day to spend on our children. Time with mother and a mother’s time with her children are priceless. Memories are being made and times shared together will last a lifetime. Skills passed from a parent to a child are precious; a legacy is being formed and given that can endure for generations…all it takes is a sacrifice of your time and attention. A few moments here and there can add up to a wealth of skills, knowledge, memories and love.
Physical items usually have deep heart-roots attached. Just a glimpse of a special item can bring tears, fond memories, or a smile as the history of the item is brought to mind. People from our past are suddenly brought to the present for a few precious moments as articles, items, letters, photos, clothing, linens, china, jewelry, memorabilia and more remind us of people we have loved and places we have been. Our childhood comes to us fresh and new as we hold items saved from long ago to share with children and grandchildren. Sharing the stories behind each treasured item with our children allows us the opportunity to pass on family history and memories; and allows the items to become meaningful for a new generation of children. If we don’t take the time to share the stories with our children, within one generation the family history is lost. I have experienced this firsthand with my mother’s death.
If at all possible, I would encourage families to work together on a family history scrapbook and not only tell the stories but write them down or tape them as the stories are being told. This can become a family tradition at holiday times when extended families come together, or even monthly if your family wishes. Take the time now, while loved ones are alive and well and can relate many wonderful stories. Once the older generation is gone, the stories are gone with them unless we take the time to preserve them for future generations to enjoy.
When items saved for a hope chest have a history attached to them, it is prudent to write the history on an index card or in a special journal and keep it with the item. This way the information is readily available and is never forgotten. Antique stores are filled with family heirlooms that have lost their history and are discarded because there are no heartstrings attached. If you picture your hope chest fifty years from now with a grandchild going through the treasures stored inside, think how much more meaningful it would be for them to have information about each item and why it was important to you. It would make a world of difference to them.
The best way to store special physical items would be in a hope chest. And this is where the unique beauty of the hope chest comes into play. A young girl can learn new skills and place items she has made into the chest as a reward for her hard work and effort. Along with linens, recipes, baby items and more she will also instinctively set aside her childhood treasures as she outgrows them. Her favorite stuffed animal or doll, letters from childhood friends, photos she takes from her first camera, scrapbooks and memorabilia will make their way inside. The chest becomes a combination of items that will be used and needed in her future home, mixed with bits and pieces of her childhood.
As the young girl grows, matures and becomes a young lady, items that have been given to her from friends and loved ones find their way inside because she is learning to place value in memories instead of thinking only of materialistic items and monetary wealth. An afghan from grandmother, grandfather’s old glasses, Aunt Matilda’s favorite after-Sunday tea cake recipe, a lock of mother’s hair, father’s old Bible…these or similar items become her treasures because just one look brings the giver to mind. As she looks toward her future, she leaves behind her past. The hope chest earns merit now as it allows the young lady to take both the past and future with her when she leaves home to start a new life.
As a new wife, the chest is nearly empty as she sets up her household. What she has put years into preparing is now all around her bringing her comfort and joy in her new surroundings. Is the hope chest to be forgotten now or used only as a blanket chest or coffee table? No! As she begins a new era in her life, the hope chest plays a very important roll. Instead of holding her future, the hope chest now holds her past. Items find their way inside which hold very special memories for her of a life shared with her husband, the homes she has lived in, her babies and children through the years. Her growth from bride, to mother, to grandmother are all documented through the items she has saved over the years and stored safely inside the chest for future generations to enjoy. The legacy of the hope chest is complete… Each item holds a special place in the heart, brings specific memories to mind, and sends a message to the future about the owner of the chest and what was important to them… Is it any wonder that the female spirit can not pass by a chest without lifting the lid to catch a hopeful glimpse of someone’s heart hiding inside?
Every hope chest is special and unique – as is the owner of the chest. No two chests will ever be alike or store the same exact items. A hope chest is much more than gathering materialistic items into one place for a future wedding, which is the common thought for most people. It has the dual purpose of preparing for marriage and a future life not only with needed material items and the articles a young lady creates herself, but the hope chest is also the bridge from one generation to another. It provides a link to the past, present and future all within its depths. As each new generation leaves their childhood home to begin a new home, a part of their past goes with them packed safely inside the hope chest.
A hope chest is not solely a girl’s domain either; a boy has many treasures he would enjoy sharing with his own children one day. Although he may or may not show an interest when young, as a grown man and father he will delight in the items his mother set aside in a special place for him. A new bride would be thrilled with the gift of a chest full of her husband’s childhood treasures; all neatly packed away by his parents for the day he married.
Mothers and grandmothers can also begin to create special items to place into the chest to bless her son and his future family with too. A quilt made from his boyhood shirts, baby afghans for future grandchildren, a recipe box filled with your son’s favorite dishes and family recipes…these are only a few ideas you can bless your future daughter-in-law and son with. What a blessing it would be for your daughter-in-law to know her new family had planned for her happiness long before she appeared for their son to marry.
If the idea of starting a hope chest and learning new skills seems daunting to you, don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by the unknown. Learning new skills is not only fun and enjoyable, it is entertaining and you are continually rewarded for the effort you have taken to learn them. A few moments here and there or a pre-scheduled time is all you need to teach your daughter something new or to learn along with her. Don’t expect perfection – instead look at progress being made.
If you can not afford a wooden hope chest, do not despair! Many start out with nothing more than a sturdy cardboard box or a Rubbermaid tub. Items can be stored in a drawer or a closet as well. The most important aspect about starting a hope chest is just that – starting one. A beautiful wooden chest is just the icing on the cake and can be given later or as a special gift to your daughter on her wedding day. What has gone into creating the hope chest is the most important aspect to any chest -the skills, knowledge, memories and love that a parent gives to their child. This is the true legacy of the hope chest, and one every parent has the ability to give to their children…
Copyright 2004 by Rebekah Wilson