Opinion: The power of a hope chest

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Cameron Gorman

If you feel a pang of yearning when you see an abandoned mitten lying in the snow, someone’s commemorative wedding shirt in a thrift store, or the tags on your garage sale suitcase still bearing an old-sounding name, you might be accused of being overly-sentimental. Maybe you’re one of those people. If you’re not, you probably know someone who is. We have a hard time letting things go.

If you’re not, try to picture this: the pen you hold when you write in your journal, transcribing your fleeting ideas into potentially permanent records, might be the only thing that’s seen all your secrets — that knows the true weight of your thoughts. Maybe your stuffed animal, as a child, soaked up your tears. Maybe he is the only one left, including you, who really remembers why they were shed. It’s easy to ascribe emotions to things, especially when you’re the kind of person who might confide in them. Those things become part of your narrative. Maybe that’s why so many closets get cluttered up with things we can’t part with, or we drive around cars well past their prime. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. And so maybe, we worry, that part of our memory and experience goes too.

I wish I could offer you a solution to this problem — wish I could recommend that you read that Marie Kondo book that’s still on the front display table in the Strand and probably will be until we’re in our fifties. But I can’t. I’ve never read it. My closets aren’t disastrous, but one of them has a chest in the bottom, amid the shoes and books and magazines. My mom gave it to me — always used to call it the hope chest, though I doubt she wanted me to collect dowry items. I always knew that, traditionally, the term meant a box for collecting things that would prepare you for married life. For me, though, it was collecting things for the future, things that reminded me of where I’d come from. If you were to open it up, it’d all seem meaningless — pieces of fabric, snippets of paper, fragments of letters. Broken ornaments and little bags with rocks in them. To you, meaningless. To me, parts of a life.

And I’ll admit, I’m nostalgic, too. I like to spend a night out of the year, when the air feels right, flipping through old journals and notebooks. Seeing what I was thinking on a night like that, re-calibrating my watercolor, faded memories with the true events of the past — or at least as true as I could be with myself then. I’ve never feared that I’d become a hoarder, but I do know one thing: I’ll forever be collecting little mementos. It’s hard for me to throw them out. Maybe that’s because they serve as little snapshots of my life, like a dusty polaroid camera. Maybe they’re doing my memory’s work for me. Maybe they mean more to me than I even know.

So maybe we should try something totally new: I’d love, if you’re taking the time to read this, for you to send me a picture of a thing you really love. My email’s right there, below this column. Maybe if I get enough of them, we can do something novel. So here’s a few ground rules: It has to be a thing, so nothing living or biotic. Send me a picture, and a few lines about why it means so much to you. Let’s try something: Let’s make a hope chest together.

Cameron Gorman is an opinion columnist. Reach her at [email protected]