Hope chests date somewhere back to the 15th Century or so. A hope chest (or dowry chest, or glory box) didn't have a particular look or style. It was just something that girls used to compile their trousseau in anticipation of marriage. I think the idea may have been to already have "stuff" before you went into a union with your betrothed.
There was a great old John Wayne movie, "The Quiet Man," where Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O'Hara) pitched a hissyfit because she declared "a girl ought to have her things about her."
Although most hope chests sort of disappeared around the late '50s, I had one. Seems like I had some linens, and some hand-tatted doilies in it. That's kinda funny because I don't know 20 people now that would know what a doily was if I were to drape it over their head.
I can't even say that I ever made any real use of my hope chest. I actually need to go see how much, if anything, I still have left in it. Because I'm a pack rat, I'm sure there is stuff still in there and I have probably heaped other stuff on top. I have a niece, Shelby, to whom I could forward this treasure - I'm sure she'd think I'd lost my mind.
First of all, we, as a society, no longer have the automatic expectation that a single female must get married to be a complete person. My dad saw this coming. He told me to go to college and get a degree because my MRS might not be the only initials I would ever need. Between 1950 and 2005, the U.S. Census reports on females 15 and over shows that the population of unmarried women will soon surpass the number of married women. This indicates a rejection of the Divine Institution of Marriage by the population. It also means the ultimate demise of the hope chest as it has been known.
So what needs to go into the new hope chest? First of all, let's start with a better name. Let's say, "Success Assortment," or "Personal Prep Pack." It's a lot less frilly, in keeping with the realities of what girls ought to be using for planning.
What to have as a Generation Y dowry? Number One: Be debt free. Understand how a checking account works and that you are liable for how it is used. Have $5,000 in the bank. Have access to used furniture - just enough to meet your needs. Have a vehicle. Know how to operate the washing machine and the dish washer. Learn how to prioritize and know that cable TV and an iPod are secondary to utilities and food. Know how to clean - the first or second time you get food poisoning, this gets to be a lot more important.
As for those basics like linens, china, and doilies? Be smart - Generation Y has something even better than the retail catalog. They've got eBay, Craig'sList, and web sites for free stuff. It is like the song says, "the future's so bright, they've got to wear shades."
They just need to know the difference between shades and rose-colored glasses.
Denese Rodgers is executive director of Connecting Henry, a social-services, networking, community organization in Henry County.