Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hope is the thing with feathers

As a young woman came of age, the hope chest (also known as "glory box" or a "wedding chest") was given to provide a storage place for the items she would need in married life. These items could include linens, blankets, a special occasion dress, tablecloths and napkins, sometimes silverware and dishes, etc. Once she was married and had children of her own, many times she would pass on the hope chest to her eldest daughter.

When I graduated from high school, my grandmother gave me a beautiful cedar hope chest.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this massive chest.

Over the years, it became a catch-all for all kinds of random things—keepsakes from my childhood, pictures, phone cords, letters, cards, socks missing a mate, books I never finished reading, disposable cameras, prom dresses, candle holders missing their candles…

Each time I moved, the chest moved with me, usually placed at the foot of my bed, where it often became covered with clothes or blankets. It also made for a nice place to sit as I put my shoes on.

It’s one of those places I’ve often meant to organize but have avoided.

Last week I read Throw Out Fifty Things, and two lines stood out to me and compelled me to finally tackle the hope chest:

You can’t move forward into the future when you’re constantly sucked back into your past.


If it—the thing, the belief or conviction, the memory, the job, even the person- weighs you down, clogs you up, or just plain makes you feel bad about yourself, throw it out, give it away, sell it, let it go, move on.”

As I opened the sweet smelling chest, I was sucked back into the past.

Childhood collections of unicorns and china dolls—

School papers and graduation memorabilia—

Clothes—pieces from important periods of my life like the denim skirt I wore on my first day of kindergarten, the robe my grandma made me when I was probably seven or eight, two of my poofy, sequined prom dresses.

A clarinet, a children’s sewing machine, my wedding veil…

A picture that hung on my wall as a little girl…

I organized the keepsakes into like piles and carefully repacked each in sturdy containers. I added notes that explained the significance of the items.

Then there was a pile I had avoided: some cards, photos, journals…

I skimmed the cards. I flipped through the photos. I read a couple of pages of the journals.

And just like that, I tossed it all into the trash pile with the TV antenna box that hasn’t been hooked to a TV in at least ten years.

I threw it all away for two reasons.

One, I realized that, taken out of context, the stories told in those journals or in those picture albums might one day unintentionally hurt my children or paint a picture of my past that isn’t necessarily true or helpful.

Two, I realized this hope chest belongs to me, and I don’t have room for regret, shame, or embarrassment. I know you're probably wondering what kind of sordid life did I live if I want to destroy all the details. Probably not one much different than many people in college and in their 20s. I struggled with low self-esteem, loneliness, poor decisions, bad relationships, disappointments, and starting over. Growing up is not always a pretty process.

I’m not saying I won’t share the not- so- idyllic details of my youth with Emily and Drew; what I am saying is I want to tell the real story, the story that can only be complete when filtered through the sieve of time and reflection, not told by the one-sided subjectiveness of a journal or the cold objectiveness of an old photograph..

Marty isn’t sure I’ve made the right decision. He wonders if the stories would have more power if they were told through the actual words I recorded as I faced situations that Emily and Drew might one day face.

What do you think? Have you saved or tossed any “revealing” pieces of your past?


Tasha said...

TOSSED!!!! There are some things that should ONLY be in our heads!!! Anything on paper from the past should be put through the shredder or burned!!!
My mom once said, I never lied to you, but did not tell you things you did not need to know....unless you ask.
My past is not pretty! I don't need my boys to read details and draw conclusions! You did the right thing.....I think!

Olusola said...

I agree with tossing all the pre-mommy items. I went home to Nigeria 3 years ago and made a big bonfire with all my old cards, letters, diaries and clothes.
I agree with Marty that some of those things should be read first hand, but those should be the notes you wrote when you were in a good place IMHO

Shannon said...

Wow, I love this post. I also now have my plan for nap time this afternoon- tackle my own hope chest and stacks of letter, pictures and memories that are otherwise known as my high school and college years.

I like the idea that we can control what we keep and how we remember our past. Sure, all parts of it shape who we are but there is no reason to retain every part of it as we grow and mature.

Thanks for mentioning "Throw Out Fifty Things" I just requested it from the library and hope to read it soon.

jen@ living a full life said...

I was never a journal keeper when I was younger but I have to say as needed I found it useful to share my mistakes with my older kids/ adult kids as needed. My kids responded to the fact seeing me as more human not trying to be perfect or expecting them to be!

I did keep a journal later a few years ago when I went thru my grief after the kids. But to be honest I did it on my laptop-and didn't ever share it with anyone other than my therapist- pretty necessary for the process.

I is very difficult having your deepest thoughts and feelings read by anyone.

I think its a good idea you got rid of yours, no reason for anyone to read them good or bad.

RoryBore said...

I also have a cedar hope chest that was given to me. It stored all manner of things growing up, just like yours. And one day it will go to my eldest daughter, or my youngest if she doesn't want it.

But yes, I most definitely did toss some stuff over the years. Do I really need that essay from Grade 10 that got and A+? Or, could I just scan it onto a disc instead? Any dolls, blankets, etc. have already been given to my daughters.
I have kept my travel diaries - because they are often hilarious; that might be due to the strong rum in Caribbean countries LOL. But personal diaries have often been discarded once the event has past and more mature eyes/heart have dealt with the situation. As you say, it can be taken out of context. Men it white coats might appear. It served its' purpose in helping me deal at the time.....but this too has now passed.
I do not however, EVER, Ever get rid of my poetry. That is how I have always dealt...and it can be so cryptic sometimes that only I would ever know if it is a true event for me, for someone else, or just poetic inspiration. My children might read it someday -- mostly I hope they read my blog - and I will always be available for questions. But you know, I think a woman is entitled to keep some things stored in her heart; just enough secrets that when you reach a ripe old age, you can have a knowing smile that keeps em guessing.

KERRY said...

Good for you!!!! I love how you were able to do this. Yes I have kept a journal but I threw out letters and things that could be misconstrewed! And it feels so good to do so, like cleansing :)
You certainly don't need to be bogged down with 'stuff', especially things that don't hold the same meaning now. That was then, this is now.
Maybe fill it with love notes from your husband. Or better still, fill it with every letter, card, drawing, finger painting, and special little hand picked gifts from your kids as they grow up!
It's definitley a 'glory box' then xo

Marcia (123 blog) said...

Beautiful post!

I have a small memory box with birthday cards and such, and a box of letters from D. We used to write to each other snail mail because we started "going out" in the good old days of 1992 (yes!) and there were no cell phones or email back then!

Still, I often think very morbid thoughts like, "if I die and people have to go through my things, what will they think?" It gives me the heebie jeebies, to be honest.

Thanks for making me think, and I do think I need to schedule some time to go through those things and at the very least add a "burn this box without looking" tag to it...

strongblonde said...

1) what girl our age didn't have a unicorn collection? :)

2) i did the same thing when my kids were about 6 months old. we had rented a large dumpster that sat in our driveway for a week and i took the opportunity to purge all of the things that i didn't really feel like reliving.

we'll always have memories, right?

Always Heather said...

I wish I had a hope chest.. I do have a cedar chest in which I store blankets.. hmmm.. I have "hope" rubber maid bins.. don't throw that stuff out... one day your daughter will love it.

MandyE (Twin Trials and Triumphs) said...

I'm proud of you for tossing it! I have been thinking a lot about "stuff" lately, and I agree how it can really weigh us down. It can be hard to let go of sometimes, but I know it ultimately feels so good.

And no offense to Marty, but I completely agree with your thinking, that you'll be able to share with Emily and Drew the gift of perspective, without them having to taste your actual tears.

Awesome post!!! (You're seriously on a roll!)

Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell said...

I threw some things out because I felt guilty. They were about previous boyfriends, and when I got married I thought I needed to dump them. However, years later I regretted that. It was all a piece of me and I had no reason to feel guilty about it. I wish I had kept everything.

Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell said...

To clarify, it was photos and mementos...not journals. It was silly to throw away photos!

Tami said...

I have a cedar chest too. I got rid of my stuff a LONG time ago. I kept a few things like my baby blanket and my baby book. Things from my teenage years are G-O-N-E! Not a pretty picture for my boys to see. I too struggled with low self-esteem, loneliness, poor decisions and bad relationships. But because of these horrible things I know I am parenting them in a much better way than I was raised.
You did the right thing!

Kim said...

I have a stash of "stuff". But my stuff (at least for now) is for me. I am holding onto it for me to read through, reminisce about. I do think you have a good point of not wanting things to be misunderstood or misinterpreted in the future though. Tough call, brave move my friend! I think what is important is that it makes YOU feel good, first and foremost. Hope you are doing well!!!
My Twintastic Life

Beth said...

I am absolutely, positively, certainly, definitely, 100% Team Pitch It!!!
I did a similar purge years ago. I still have a few cute pictures of me with ex-boyfriends and some old (at the time- romantic, now- hilarious) love letters, but not much.
For a while I had a box in my closet. I told me sister that when I die, her first job is to find that box and destroy it. One day I realized, if I really don't ever want those things to see the light of day again, why hold onto them until I'm dead? I pitched them years ago and have never regretted it.
The important lessons and memories are in your mind and heart. Old pieces of paper can be tossed.

Helene said...

I'm such a sentimental ratpack when it comes to stuff like that. I have all my old journals and pics from back in the day. Not sure if I'll toss them or keep them. To be honest, I haven't read the journals in years so I'd probably decide after reading them again.

Holly Ann said...

I've tossed a lot! I am of the same mindset as you on this issue. I believe my children can learn the most from my past experiences when combined with the wisdom of my later years. I hope this has brought you peace in some ways!

Jennifer said...

A little bit of both. Most of the "bad" stuff I've tossed. I don't regret any of it because it made me who I am today, but I feel that telling the story from that standpoint is better than seeing a picture of something and wondering what's up. I'd rather tell the story myself.

Your story reminds me of my own wedding chest. I finally went through it a few months ago and tossed duplicate stuff. I mean I was saving monogrammed paper napkins and match boxes! I organized the chest and it looks much more appealing, I even go in it to get things every once in a while, like our cake cutting set.

Johanna said...

I loved looking at all of your collections! What a 'treasure chest' your hope chest is! I am a keeper, but sometimes I wish I could be better about tossing things.

Emily and Drew are going to have a great time digging through your old memories when they get older!!! I think it is totally fine that they get to hear the stories from you (and only the ones you want to share). There are some things that kids don't need to know about their parents' lives.

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