When I was a girl, I remember seeing Grandma with an apron in the kitchen and a small hankie in the pocket of that apron. In the hankie was a small round box of snuff. Close by was her coffee can (we won’t talk about that). She had a quilting frame hanging from the ceiling and a sewing basket was always nearby. She sat in “her chair”, sometimes with her feet propped up, always with a hankie in her pocket or sitting in her lap.
It was white, most of the time. Sometimes it had lace, or ruffles, sometimes it was thin and transparent. Sometimes it appeared to be more of a face cloth. But, ALWAYS a hankie on her person.
On the other side of town, Great Granny (other side of the family) rocked in her chair on the braided rug. She died when I was about 9, so my memories of her are not as complete. She cooked, sewed (in fact she smocked our dresses), and could tell good stories when she wanted us to take a rest on her big bed with the chenille bedspread and tufted pillows. She always wore an apron (hankie inside the pocket).
Mom gave me Great Granny’s apron when I started my Hope Chest, at 16. It was the first item to go in! It hangs proudly in my laundry room on a faux clothesline. The pocket has clothes pins in it, a safety pin through it and a hankie peeking out, of course.
Her hankies were printed, I know because I gave her some for Christmas. It was a box of three! I wanted to buy them because I saw her using Grandpa’s handkerchief once and it seemed so big in her tiny hands. I was so proud to give her that gift. Mom let me deliver the Avon brochures to earn the $.75 it cost to purchase that box with the cellophane lid.
Her daughter in law, my Granny, used elegant hankies. Her’s were more costly, I supposed, and fancy, as she was the first woman in our family to become a business woman. She was very fashionable, could design clothing and then sew them for the public. She mixed face powder downtown in her regular job and later took up bowling tournaments to win a little on the side. She finally landed in Real Estate, joining the Million Dollar Circle when I was 14. She pinned her hankie to her dress with a sweet brooch in the 30’s, kept one in her bowling bag at all times and I found one folded neatly inside her Bible when I was a child sitting in church. She used her beautiful hankie to wipe my mouth clean of the Ruby Shock red lipstick from mom’s Avon box when she came for a visit. And in her 90’s, she kept one in her hand or pocket to wipe her eyes as age related Macular Degeneration slowly and viciously stole the vision from her soft blue eyes.
My mother used hankies many times through the years. She tied my lunch money in them (until it became fashionable to use socks) and pinned it to my dress. She embroidered initials and sweet little flowers on the corners of some for gifts to give. She made dolls from them and we used them once for Halloween ghosts. She pinned one across the v-neck of my sweater for modesty when I was 12. And once, she lost a lot of weight during an illness and her wedding ring fell off. I watched as she tied her treasured black-hills gold band to a hankie and then tied it to her bra inside her work uniform.
When I was 18, mom really didn’t want me to marry. But sadly, she participated with a smile and a hankie. Her mother, my Grandma, had given her a beautiful blue hankie with small pink flowers on the corner and a white edge. Grandma didn’t get dressed up to go anywhere anymore and this was a fancy, sheer hankie – made for a special occasion. Mom tied it to my bouquet so I would have all the generations of love with me. I kept it in my wedding journal with the pictures neatly pressed with the dried boutonniere worn by my dad. Later, I tied that same hankie to my daughters bouquet in order to send generations of love down the aisle with her. I made a baby cap with some purchased hankies for my granddaughter and my friends daughter and made hankies for work peers as gifts, back when I could sew. For a long time, I kept a hankie in my Bible, like Granny. It came in handy with small children, emotional moments and emergency spills.
My friend, Rita, slipped a hankie in a card when my mother died. I was surprised to find it there and appreciated it at that moment. I used it for months as her absence became more and more real. What a lovely gesture of thoughtfulness. That one measure of kindness has added comfort to my life so many times. The same hankie comforted me as I bid farewell to my sister and a few good friends since then. I used it when I was nervous, when I was sad, and when I was afraid. It’s like the tears in that hankie brought strength when I needed it most.
Yesterday, while cleaning a buffet drawer, I came across a stack of hankies. The fabrics are all different, some are printed and not, lacy and plain. They are everyday hankies that were owned by some great women. I started collecting them as the powerful and loving women in my life left the earth. Today, I washed them fresh and pressed them (yes, with an iron) and made them ready to give someone else comfort. I hope the new owners will feel comforted by the generations of love carried within the tear-filled and lipstick- stained threads of the women who came before me- full of love, faith and determination. My heritage.
I think it’s time these treasured hankies get back to work, don’t you agree?