The Hope Chest
In 1972 it became obvious to Dad that my boyfriend Ed was not going to just go away. Not that he wanted him to. He liked Ed from the moment he met him.
"So, what kind of a hope chest would you like, Mame?"
"I guess I never really thought about it, Dad?"
The thought of marrying Ed was a pleasant thought, but the realization that I would be leaving my father was a tough one for me.
"Well, why don't we do some thinking. You know I have some walnut on the way from Dad." My grandfather’s farmland in Missouri was edged by massive aging walnut trees, and from time to time he would have the wood shipped to New Jersey.
There was never any doubt but that my hope chest would be made of walnut.
"You know Dad, my favorite piece of all the furniture you've ever built is that walnut corner cupboard."
"…it's a beauty!"
"Maybe you could build the chest using those lines." I suggested.
Of course I thought he'd do some thinking and within a week or so come up with some ideas.
"Let's do it!"
With that he unrolled a large piece of drafting paper and within minutes he had the basic design on paper.
"I love those Queen Anne panels!" I said.
With that, he drew four of them across the front of the chest.
"This baby will be able to sit in the middle of a room if you like—panels on all sides—that makes twelve of them!"
I quickly realized the extensive hand carving involved. "That's a lot of work Dad!"
"That's OK Mame—you're worth it," he whispered
In the past when Dad planned to build a piece of furniture, it was during a prosperous time. He had a special place in mind for the piece and he was exuberant. But this project would be very different. It had been many years since his last piece, and it was during a time of transition for his business. I almost felt it to be a means of distracting himself from a difficult time of life. In fact I recall the entire span of time it took to build the piece as a struggle for Dad. It was as if he was cautiously breaking ground once again to get back into the field he loved so much. The finished piece was every bit as beautiful as his other furniture.
As was his custom, he built a secret compartment into the chest that could never be detected—that is if he hadn't disclosed it to everyone who ever saw it. Everyone was always asked first to see if he could find it. No one ever could. Then he would remove two delicate pieces of molding from one side of the chest, which were secured by a dowel. Then a narrow secret compartment that ran the full width of the chest would slide down. It is just big enough to stash some valuables, expensive jewelry, or maybe some gold pieces. I have to tell you though, now that I've revealed this very secret compartment—the most valuable part of the chest is to this day the chest itself. I could never put a price on it. In fact, I've at times wondered how in the world I'd ever get it out the door if there were ever a fire!
In Dad's words—"This baby's big!"