One Heartwarming Reason Every Girl Should Have a “Hope Chest” Before Marriage

Piece by piece, I built up for a life filled with hope and love, as I kept alive the hope chest tradition.

Country Magazine treasure chest nostalgiaCourtesy Pattie Steib/
Lynda collected many precious items for her hope chest.

For years it was customary for girls to take part in the hope chest tradition, gathering household items in anticipation of marriage. In 1963, when I was 15, I began a hope chest of my own. My older sister, Donna, who was married, gave me a beautiful half-size cedar chest that her old boyfriend had made in woodworking shop.

Our widowed mother worked as a dispatcher for the police department, but her income was modest. To earn spending money, I worked summers, after school and on Saturdays as a baby sitter or in my uncle A.O. Johnston’s dry cleaning store.

At 50 cents an hour, I earned $3 to $6 a week. Each Saturday, my younger sister, Tina, and I would walk to the Ben Franklin five-and-dime and I’d buy something for my hope chest.

Every time I went to the store I would look longingly at a cute orange juice set that had a pitcher and four glasses decorated with colorful orange slices. But it was $4.99, more than I could afford.

So instead I’d get a plastic measuring cup set for 79 cents or salt and pepper shakers for 49 cents.

Every now and then I would take the items out of the chest and place them on my bed, looking over my treasures and then carefully putting them back.

For my 16th birthday, the last gift I opened was the orange juice set! I was ecstatic. Later, I learned that Tina had told Mom about it.

As the years went by, I added to my treasures. The spring I was 18, the Sureway grocery store offered blue willow dish sets for 99 cents with a $10 purchase. I bought six place settings, and Mom got me the companion pieces—a coffeepot, gravy boat, creamer and sugar bowl—for  Christmas.

After the dish offer, the Sureway had the same deal on silverware sets. Once again, I gathered six. The hope chest was so full I had to start storing things in my closet!

After graduation I took a job as a typist. Several of my girlfriends got married, and I began to call my hope chest my hopeless chest.

But in February 1968 I met Haryl Vandiver at a friend’s house. We began dating and became engaged in June. I turned 20 in September, and we were married in the Baptist church in October. My hope chest hadn’t been hopeless after all!

Through the years the chest has held baby clothes, then school papers and crafts made by little hands, along with dried flowers thrust at me with peanut-butter-and-jelly-covered fingers.

On Oct. 26, 2013, Haryl and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. I made him a big breakfast, including fresh orange juice served in one of the glasses I had admired in the Ben Franklin store.

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Originally Published in Country