Thursday, 13 September 2012

Hope Chests

Source for this image here.

Do you know what a "hope chest" is?  For many of us, the words maybe make us think more of a wooden box, perhaps carved or painted with traditional folk art images, or possibly even of a "bottom drawer" in a girl's bedroom, which would be used, as a "hope chest" would be, to contain items that the girl would use, once newly-wed, in her first home.  Things like kitchenware, bedding, recipes, maybe even baby garments, to prepare and equip her for her new role as a wife and mother.  Often these would be home-made, or handed on to the girl from her mother or other female relatives.  It was a way of storing up items for the future, planning ahead, much as a modern girl nowadays might have a savings account.  The box that you can see in the picture above is closer in fact to the sort that girls from our own culture would have expected to be given, on their wedding day.  In the Italy where these boxes originated, they were called a "cassone", or "grand chest", and in our own mother tongue, a "romadi moksto" - literally, a "bridal box".  In our culture, the box itself was traditionally seen as a symbol of the husband's ability and intention to support his wife, and the more elaborate and ornate it was, the better it would reflect this.  The husband would be expected to demonstrate that he could support his chosen bride, and the box would be a gift from him (or more likely, his family) to her, rather than something she was responsible for.  However, the contents of the box were not thought to be as important as the box itself, which was often very valuable, and because of this, over time, it has become more common for the bride to be to collect the contents of her box, often beginning very early in age - sometimes from the time of her baptism, when gifts suitable for her "romadi moksto" are still given, and usually put away until the girl comes of age.  This is partly what explains the huge collections of dinnerware that we often have!  My favourite dinner service was actually given to us, as wedding gifts.  We still have most of it, but as it is now discontinued and therefore irreplaceable, we only use it on very special occasions.

As mama to one beautiful girl, it has been a pleasure for me throughout her childhood, to think of small things to put away - not in a bridal box, but in the modern equivalent - a "bottom drawer" - for when it is her turn to become a bride.  What is different for us, that I did not experience myself, growing up, is that Little Bear has really enjoyed sharing in collecting for her "bottom drawer".  Together over recent years we have crocheted blankets, knitted baby garments, sewn tablecloths and serviettes, and purchased some sweet items of china and such like, from thrift stores or in sales, whenever we have seen something that she has thought would be pretty and useful.  It's a lovely, personal way to ensure that some of our family traditions - traditions that are particular to our culture, too, will continue for the next generation.   Together we are putting together a cook book that has all the traditional family recipes in it that I have had passed on to me, from my mam, and which I very much hope Little Bear will pass down to her daughters too - God willing.  It's been such a lovely mother-and-daughter thing to do together!  I will be sharing some of those recipes here on the blog - one of them quite soon, in October, when pheasant season begins again - yum, I hear our menfolk saying!

But not only have we girls shared in this precious experience and made so many sweet plans together.  Papa Bear has also been helping Cubby to prepare for his future married life as well!  It's a little different for young men.  In our culture men are expected even today to be providers, and to prepare themselves for a life of work by learning a trade early, when they are perhaps 12 or 14.  Of course, they won't be working full time at this age!  But from his early teens Cubby has been helping his dad at work whenever he has been able, learning all the "tricks of the trade", and all this long summer break from college, he has been working with Papa Bear most days (he also has a Saturday job too, so he works just as many hours in employment as he does in studying).   This is his way of investing in his own "bottom drawer"!  He's learning a valuable trade - as well as getting an excellent education - which will mean, we hope, that he has a solid foundation of work experience to draw on, when the time comes for him to start providing for a wife and family.  We have left it open to him whether he decides to join his dad in the family business or if he would prefer to work elsewhere once his studies are finished.  There are benefits to starting up independently and we feel that allowing him to study at college has opened up opportunities to him that he would not have had, if he had simply finished homeschool to start working full time with Papa Bear.

Little Bear too will be going back to college with her brother in a week or so, having also spent much of the long summer break working in her own job.  The salary she gets paid for this work she has invested in a savings account - yet another contribution to her "bottom drawer" which she hopes will mean that from the start, she and her future husband will be able to live independently and debt-free.  As I have mentioned before, we feel it is important for our daughter to be well educated - so that she can educate her own children successfully.  And we also feel it's important for her to experience working outside the home, even though our plan for her - and indeed her own ambition - is that like her mama, she will be a homemaker and not work outside the home, once she marries.  Working outside the home now however, helps her to understand the challenges and issues that her husband will face, and also helps her to interact with the public, appreciate the demands of working for someone else and not simply pleasing herself, and also become responsible and co-operative.  It's all part of a broader education for both our children, which is investing in making them successfully able to marry, care for a home and for their spouse, and raise a family.  

Nowadays we may not all have "hope chests" waiting for our daughters when they marry - but we can still help them to prepare for married life - and help our sons, too.  Marriage is not just a relationship.  It is a contract - a covenant made before God.  And we owe it to the next generation, to help them to prepare for it adequately and wisely.

"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest". (Proverbs 6: 6-8).

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