The Death of a Hope Chest. Even After I Put a Lot of “Hope” Into Mine.
I first learned about a hope chest when I was sixteen years old. I’d already left home, and was living in a crummy little blue trailer not far from my parents’ farm in Winter Haven, Florida. At that point, the most important thing to me was that I could eat as many Little Debbie Swiss Rolls as I damned well pleased. Relieved of parental disapproval (especially my father’s) I could now eat Swiss Rolls all day long (I just mispelled that as “Swill Rolls,” which is a very apt slip of the digits. They are most definitely swill masquerading as food).
Can’t recall how I learned about them. The hope chest is traditionally a large cedar chest which is supposed to hold those things that a young unmarried girl stows away for her future marriage. Linens, china, That Special Dress, whatever the family and the firstborn girl deemed appropriate.
Once married, the chest would be transported to the new home and then used as a part of household furniture. Usually for storage, as many were cedar, and the fragrant wood protected precious pieces from moth damage. I can recall at the time, the giggly girls in my high school were breathlessly discussing theirs.
At the time, barely sixteen, living on my own and putting myself through my last years of high school, the idea was as distant as Borneo.
Interestingly, I’ve been to Borneo. That’s nowhere near as distant as a hope chest is to me today.
When I left the Army in 1978, I invested in my “hope chest”all right. I got silicone implants. I genuinely hoped that would make a difference in my prospects. Perhaps my father would finally stop harassing me about my off-kilter body with the pear-shaped hips. My mother would stop commenting on my lop-sided breasts. Perhaps bigger tits might balance things out.
That investment in my future marriageability and familial acceptance didn’t do a goddamned thing except condemn me to seventeen more surgeries because of endless complications. And, the unfortunate side effect, men who could neither keep their hands nor eyes off. They had hope too, but sadly misplaced. Or, the online classic,
HOLY SHIT ARE THOSE REAL?
I’m not without humor. Having been through hell with my boobs, I can say this much. They don’t migrate south. In fact, not only do they not gravitate south with gravity, when it’s cold enough, the goddamned things don’t move at all.
I suppose there’s something to be said for being a right perky corpse but for my part, it would be nice not have a couple of ice-cold Weapons of Destruction aimed at someone’s eyeballs. At least when they’re this indestructible, a man can’t, as Robin Williams was fond of saying, can’t “mash the two together to make one good one.” But I digress.
The hope chest thing came up in a rather intriguing way because of a comment that my fellow Medium peep Terri Ducay made on a recent article.
She noted that, as I had written, she had also bought oodles of dishes and other household goods for a life that she never lived. I’ve got enough towels for a family of eight, enough dishes- really nice ones- for family members and guests I have never entertained, pots and pans in a household that can barely wield a microwave oven. I could go on.
You get the drift.
Terri, about whom I did a story on Sixty and Me, a website for women of a Certain Age, is living quite the life. As a result of some key changes she made in her world, she works with elephant sanctuaries and animal rights organizations, and is currently getting ready to leave for Kenya.
My life is very similar. People often envy us without understanding the sacrifices we have had to make and the immense amount of work that went into creating the lives we both have.
She and I both had hope at one point. Why else invest so much dime and time into creating a welcoming house in hopes of company? Even the UPS guy won’t step inside long enough to have a cuppa.
I think it’s fair to assume that neither one of us signed up to be single in our Sixties. But here we are. It would be fair to say that there are a great many situations in life most of us didn’t necessarily sign up for. I’d also say that in many ways, we are a lot better off than what might possibly have imagined, say, in my crummy blue trailer in Central Florida in 1968, as I shoved Swiss Rolls down my gullet. I couldn’t possibly have imagined where I might end up.
When I moved into this relatively (for me) large home in Western Denver back in 2006, I had all those empty kitchen cupboards. All those empty kitchen island cupboards. Nature abhors a vacuum. So I promptly vacuumed up oodles of dishes, bought a lovely dining room set with six chairs, gobs of place mats and napkin holders.
You’d think I was the editor of Good Housekeeping.
My basement and garage filled up with box after box of seasonal decorations. I could spend fully two full days decorating my house for Christmas. Easter, Valentine’s Day. Kiss a Ginger Day. Winnie the Pooh Day (no really, you think I jest ) Nobody ever saw those decorations but me. It was a lot of work for nobody to enjoy. I frankly don’t care much about holidays. Kiss a Ginger worked for a while, as the last BF happened to be one. He turned out to be a toad, but I am ahead of myself.
My linen closets are still jammed with sheets for guests who never stayed with me. Extra pillows and down comforters and supplies from the someones who never showed up.
My entire house was a hope chest.
Interestingly, there was so much shit in my house there was hardly room for a person. It reminds me of shopping at TJ Maxx in early December- the Home Goods stores are so crammed with crap there’s absolutely no room for people, much less a slew of people with carts.
There’s a message in that.
Terri and I — along with a great many other women like us- are both far past the point where stuffing a hope chest with That Special Dress makes a whole lotta sense. However, I will admit to having at least three (!) different wedding dresses. A girlfriend of mine used to hang one on the back of her front door, thinking that doing so would increase her chances of snagging a marriageable man.
The Universe never got the message, apparently.
I will admit, however, that one of my three dresses is a gorgeous antique. I bought it at a Goodwill store in Spokane because it is in every way a collector’s piece. The waist is so small that I’d have to have two ribs surgically removed, and my arms are far too muscular to slip through the sleeves. Still, it’s a pretty piece of work. I like it in the same way that I have mannequins all over the house dressed in magnificent indigenous clothing. One is a wedding coat from Japan, which dominates the front room. It’s just art.
The dress didn’t work any more than filling my cupboards with gorgeous dishes made a damned bit of difference. It was just that more stuff to pack, move, clean, and for the most part, ignore.
When the erstwhile BF stayed at my house last year, he used paper plates and bowls. What was up with that?
Here’s what: I do the same thing. I eat off the most chipped, least expensive dishes. Why? What the hell am I saving up for? At sixty-fucking-six years old?
Why am I using the worst dishes in the house? Why am I treating myself like Cinderella-in-the-Basement, not allowed to eat at the Nice Table with the Best Dishes? Not allowed to use the best napkins and the best silverware. Who on earth am I waiting for to give me permission to use lovely things every day, every meal? How old do I have to be before I bring out my mother’s best china and chow down?
My god, we’re fascinating.
I know the reasons behind all this. For me, it’s all steeped in family and early training. However, at what point during a life do we allow for hope to pass into history?
Say hell with it, who cares if I chip the damned china?
Nobody in the upcoming generations that I have met could care less about my mother’s set of 1930s china. I’m likely the last person would enjoy using it for any reason.
The problem with hope, and a hope chest per se, no matter how big the damned thing is, is that eventually it can become as much of an anchor to living a full life as trying to swim the English Channel with a grand piano chained to one leg. Storing our best goodies out of a hope that “My Wesley will come for me.”
I’ve been afraid to use my best stuff for fear of breaking it. Staining it. Really?
What’s up with that?
Chipped china speaks to a million meals eaten. The same way my beloved, 33-year-old teddy bear Gerry looks like he’s been loved to DEATH. Gerry is my first and last bear. I bought him during a particularly rough time while living in Melbourne, Australia in 1986. He is among my most prized possessions. Gerry sleeps next to the Super Boobs every single night that I’m in my own bed. He developed a perma-smile after three days of being seriously squished.
He’s beloved because he’s old and has had to be re-stuffed twice.
Look, so have I, but that’s another article.
Gerry Bear has life because he’s been loved, used, abused and cuddled ad infinitum for half my entire life. That’s what these things are for.
What a shame we can’t treat old folks with the same love and affection we do our torn and ancient teddy bears.
Including, frankly, ourselves. Again, that’s another topic.
“Build it and they will come” worked for Field of Dreams and for Coors Field. Didn’t work for me. I can have the best profile on Fitness Singles and that doesn’t mean squat.
As I get ready to sell and move, which I am doing in baby steps, I am sorting those items bought for hope and those that I will use. The lovely Lenox Christmas set that never saw the light. The extra towels and second set of silverware and all those kitchen appliances that have done nothing but lie to me about a future that isn’t coming. The lies I told myself, and what it cost me.
Hope is dangerous in this way. There’s an implied promise that if I just do this, then that will happen. Maybe, maybe not. Steeped in Disney lore(I’m one of the original Disney World cast members), there has always been the implicit promise of a prince. As a friend said to me ten years ago, “Someone is going to pick up your dance card.”
No. “Someone” didn’t. The glorious adventures I’ve had in my life, I’ve had to create. Terri Ducay is creating. So are umpteen other extraordinary women who finally got the message that waiting isn’t an option. Hoping is waste of time.
Not a single goddamned thing is going to happen in my life- nor has it ever- if I stand along the wall with my dance card held out in endless hope.
As for princes?
Look, I can’t speak for anyone else, but the idea of slipping a soft down comforter on top of my hope chest in the middle of the woods to snooze until some handsome SOB decides to test the goods (and given my goods, he’d likely test those before I got kissed) isn’t very attractive.
Truth, at my age, I’d have to get up and pee so often that it would likely kill the mood.
Besides, by the time some prince finished texting his buddies, watching the NFL season and playing video games, I’ll likely be carpeted with leaves, and his hunting dog will pee on the pile. Just my luck.
Or, I get Shrek instead of Cary Elwes.
I’m ditching my five bedroom “hope chest” next year for parts unknown. Every day I separate out what I bought for useless hope, and what I choose to keep. I’m keeping the best stuff for me. Chips be damned. The future hope chest will have to hold my dirty boots. Let Prince Charming lift the lid on THAT one.
With my luck he’ll turn back into a frog.