Dainty, feminine handkerchiefs are a thing of the past, except perhaps for collectors. Count me in that number. I love them. I have a lovely red lacquered box where they are all carefully layered, waiting for the next use.
Old ones are such fragile bits of art. Handmade with lace. Or hand painted with intricate designs. Embroidered with flowers. Linen ones from Ireland. Silk from China. And plain soft cotton.
Dropping a hankie was a tool of flirtation, where one hoped the right man would catch it and return it. Wedding handkerchiefs may have been for collecting the happy tears of the bride. Black handkerchiefs were for mourning.
I have a lovely soft black lawn hankie with red roses petit-pointed in the corner; it was my grandmother Sylvia’s, and she carried it at the funeral of my grandfather Dow in 1934 in Eldorado, Kansas. It laid on the piano bench beside me as I played at my own father’s funeral. I carry it with me when I play for the funerals of all family sages, out of reverence for my beloved granny and the grandfather I never knew.
Some of my favorite are state hankies, like this one from Arizona (which is not yet in my collection!). I have Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma — states where my ancestors pioneered. It’s nice to tuck the Texas one, resplendent with bluebonnets, into my pocket as I start my way there for a visit. Likewise with Oklahoma and New Mexico.
Long ago, my father took me to Earl Abel’s restaurant in San Antonio. I was fascinated with the ‘corsages’ that all waitresses wore. They were colorfully patterned starched hankies folded into intricate flower shapes — pinned to the shoulder of their crispy white uniforms.
Once my aunt, the lovely Marguerite Montier Matthews, told me about care of handkerchiefs in the old days. On Saturdays, her grandmother would have the girls hand wash all of the hankies and smooth them (still damp) against the glass window panes to dry. That way, they dried perfectly smoothly and required no ironing. I was delighted to come home and try this! Alas, it brought to my attention the necessity of washing one’s windows regularly.
Drying tears. Catching sniffles. Flirting. Embellishing. Ah, the life of a hankie.