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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hope Chests

My friend Michal wrote me, bemoaning the passing of this custom.
From about 15 on you collected things that you would need when you set up housekeeping.  Nice table cloths, place mats you embroidered yourself or pillow cases.   You picked out your China, stem ware and silver pattern so you could set a beautiful table on special occasions.   I have all of those things.  Place settings for 12 and Fostoria stemware and my "good" stainless silverware (as opposed to my Mother who had sterling silver silverware—well she did get it from her mother/my Grandmother). The tradition lives on with my niece who presents a full table at Christmas.  But so few of the so called millennial generation do. 
I’d read about the custom, maybe in Little Women or Jane Eyre or some such. I thought it was something women did back when there were dowries and women, on marriage, became their new husband's responsibility or, horrifically, their property. You know, the days of coverture.

 But no, I was wrong.

From Chronically Vintage:
As recently as a few decades ago (and especially prior to the twentieth century) it was exceeding common - virtually de rigueur, actually - for all young, unmarried women to put together a trousseau of household items that would serve her well later on in her married life (or, much less commonly, if a woman set up a house on her own, away from the family home).

In use for centuries, the hope chest (also known as a dowry box, or in the UK and Australia, a glory box) was a means by which women could help contribute to the home they'd one day share with their husband.
This was def not a thing, a custom, in our home. Clearly I was raised on an alien planet or, at least, BY aliens...or something.

I recall the topic coming up while I was visiting my Aunt Mary Ann, a very proper person, in Manhattan. We were shopping and lunching near the Met one day when she asked me if I’d begun mine yet. First I had to ask her to remind me what this Hope Chest thingy was. She was excited about helping me start mine.

I didn’t want to tell her that I couldn’t see myself marrying and being all Suzy Homemaker-ish. Children? NOPE, they were DEF not in my pic. I’d envisioned living in Berlin squats, painting and dancing until dawn to raggedy ass punk bands along with great big clots of my artsy chums. Husband? Ah, no—I felt slightly allergic to the concept.

I was afraid, possibly, that she wouldn’t approve. At 21, I wasn’t hiding who I was or concealing the person I felt myself becoming. No, I just wasn’t ready to wave my freak flag. Not yet anyway.

Besides, wandering around the Upper East Side, looking at China together was fun.

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