It was Christmas of 2002 and we knew that Dad had been hard at work in the garage. We’d been forbidden from entering for weeks and just the anticipation alone was enough to make us squirm. My sisters received a beautiful, all wood, handmade doll house. I saw that my present was boxy and very large beneath the wrapping paper. When you’re twelve, the bigger the present, the more the joy (you assume). I was vibrating to open mine. The moment finally came to rip back the paper, and with incredible excitement I tore it away to reveal…. a box. Dad explained that it was a hope chest, which he was planning to finish up in the coming weeks. It would serve as a keepsake for my important things in the years to come. I smiled and thanked him, but inside I was a little bummed if I’m honest. What was I supposed to do with a wood box? I think I understood that what I had been given was special, obviously, but the excitement level definitely didn’t compare to say, a new bike. I was twelve- what can I say?
Once in high school, the chest began to fill with my keepsakes and memories. Little reminders of my life to that point were haphazardly thrown into the wooden box: old school IDs and yearbooks, a small ceramic container I’d painted with my dad, some jewelry I made, the first Bible I’d ever been given. At some point when I was 16 or 17, I decided plain wood wasn’t cool. I think I remember vaguely having a plan to modge-podge photos all over the chest (thank Jesus I didn’t go through with that), but I started by painting it black. Then, I painted it purple. Of course I did none of this “correctly.” I painted right over the previous layer of paint, smothering the beautiful gold hardware and hinges in tacky craft paint like a child. Thinking back, I wonder if my dad’s feelings were hurt, or if maybe he was just straight up mad at me for being so careless with the beautiful gift he’d given me. If it bothered him, I never knew it. Sharing those kinds of feelings with your rebellious, angry teenage daughter would be the very definition of “casting pearls before swine,” so I’m sure he kept it to himself.
Years have gone by and my chest has been hauled around from place to place, always protecting my little treasures and the memorabilia that made up my life, and always reminding me of a more irresponsible time of life. I kept saying I would sand it down and re-stain it, make it beautiful again, but I never got around to it. Last year when we were planning to move to Africa, I finally sat down in front of it and sorted through all of my trinkets. I’m sad to say I got rid of a lot of it, knowing that I didn’t need a physical item to keep my memories intact, but I think a lot of it probably would have been fun for Bethany to look through one day. C’est la vie.
I put this project on my list because as I’ve become a full-fledged adult, and especially now that I am a parent, I knew it was time to take responsibility for my actions and honour my dad’s gift to me. He worked hard to build me something special and it wasn’t being used or even displayed in my home. What a shame. The process was actually kind of therapeutic for me – I worked hard at it and I did all the steps right, trying to make sure the final product was beautiful and would last a long time. As a teenager, I treated my family just terribly. I did not cherish my time with them, and I didn’t value the beauty of having parents who cared as much about me as mine did. I carelessly painted over those relationships, and in adulthood, I’ve had to spend a lot of time gently stripping back harsh words, trying to care for the people underneath, trying to restore those relationships back to beauty. It felt good to complete this project, almost symbolically, as a form of amends. It almost feels like I’ve put this chapter to bed, once and for all.
This chest doesn’t look like it did before, and it isn’t like new. It will never look that way again. It’s been through a lot over the years, hiding underneath layers of paint and bad choices. But now, it is lovely again – the exposed wood is freshly stained and the unique, one of a kind grain is showing through beautifully. It bears the scars of my life choices, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Inside, I store my daughter’s favourite toys and my blankets, most of which have significance and meaning to me. One was made by my grandmother, another is real Irish wool from our trip to Ireland last year, yet another was a gift from my mom. I hope this chest will be passed down to my children and their children one day and cherished for years to come.