The Chest

The Chest

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

The Chest

A son is a son till he takes him a wife, a daughter is a daughter all of her life.
~Irish Saying

It has darkened with age, but the memory of receiving it has remained fresh in my mind—like it happened yesterday. I write of the hope chest that my mom bought me when I was still in college.

We took our annual summer trek to a beautiful little suburb far outside of Chicago that year. The small quaint town sat on a river, banked by lush trees. It had an inviting magical quality about it.

This was always a trip I looked forward to because it was just my mom and me. We would spend the day there, away from all of the testosterone within the walls of our home. I was her only daughter.

My mom and I went in and out of the stores, looking at clothes and trinkets, enjoying the warm sunny day. Typically, she bought me a piece of clothing. I always appreciated it, especially because I had been raised to understand the value of money.

On this trip, we ventured into a furniture store. Every piece in it was handcrafted. The pieces were lovely. I remember the thick smell of the rubbed tung oil, and the warmth of the late morning sun as it filtered into the store. Fresh shavings littered the old planked floor. I had little interest in the furniture, but followed my mom around as she took it all in. She slowed her pace and stopped in front of a simple rectangular chest. Made from rough hewn pine, it had plain solid footings and handles. It was utilitarian, but somehow attractive for its lack of decoration.

“Isn’t that pretty? What do you think, honey? Do you like that?”

“It’s nice, Mom,” I replied, not sure why she was asking. “What is it?”

“Why, it’s a hope chest.” I could tell she was excited—and wistful.

“What’s that?”

“Well, you store the things you collect before you get married, like linens and other items.”

I was stumped because I had just started dating my current boyfriend in the fall. Here it was June and she had marriage on her mind. I really liked him, but love? I wasn’t so sure. Marriage? No way.

She smiled. “I want to get it for you, honey!”

I looked at her with complete surprise and I said, “Mom, I’m not sure it will fit in the car.”

“Sure it will,” she said, with a reassuring smile.

And I nodded, accepting her gift, “Thanks, Mom.”

She paid for it and we loaded it into the car. It just fit.

Through the years, the chest accompanied me as I went on to graduate school and then moved from state to state as I was relocated by employers. It was my first piece of furniture. It served as storage for many things—books, clothes, and odds and ends. It doubled as an end table, a coffee table, and a footstool. Careful not to stain it or mar it in any manner, I oiled and dusted it, watching it slowly mellow from the color of honey into a deep rich burnished yellow-cherry.

Eventually, I used it as my mother had planned, as a hope chest when preparing to marry the boyfriend I’d been dating when my mom bought it for me. She had somehow known he was “the one” before I did. Later, it was used to store our children’s baby items as we waited for their arrivals.

The chest now sits in my bedroom, next to my reading chair—a reminder of the hopes and dreams my mom had for me. It holds treasures, items that represent memories of life and love of family. And the love of a mother for her daughter.

~Judy M. Miller

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