Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Small Piece of Linen

She pulled the handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped a tear from her eye, a ritual I had seen each time I came to visit.

Handkerchief: a small piece of linen, silk, or other fabric, usually square, and used especially for wiping one's nose, eyes, face, etc., or for decorative purposes.

Mother was always sure that we had a clean handkerchief for Sunday School. In the corner of the hankie, she tied coins for me to put into the Sunday School offering plate. Sometimes Dad tied a big, fat knot in the corner of his handkerchief making a finger puppet to entertain me during church services. Mom tied a knot in two corners of the hankie making a silly hat or a cradle for a small plastic doll she carried in her purse. Hankies were created to keep little girls occupied.

Mom often crocheted colorful edging on the handkerchiefs. Those were hankies carried on special occasions. Daily hankies consisted of floral prints, children and animals playing, cowboys with lassos. Each were washed and ironed then stacked in the drawer waiting for the next adventure.

Dad always carried a hankie. The farmers were hot and sweaty. Dust was everywhere. He never left the house without one. I remember ironing them when I was small. I took pride in pulling them so they were squared once more. Iron. Fold. Iron. Fold. Iron. Fold. Iron. Fold. Each fold was press evenly, even those with tattered edges and those thin from years of use.

We grew up carrying handkerchiefs. I remember when Mom gave my daughter a few. Stacey wasn't sure what to do with them. Never did she carry one. I noticed more and more that tissues had taken the place of the hankies. Men no longer carried a handkerchief. I guess that handing a woman a big white handkerchief when she wept was out of style. We no longer feel faint needing a kerchief to fan the brow. Maybe our noses don't run as much. Hm.

When I was about eight, I was sent a handkerchief from our friends in The Netherlands. The red edged, white cloth was embroidered with Dutch children in the corner. The handkerchief lies in a box of treasures along with a pin that was received at the same time. I never used the hankie. Even now I look at it once in awhile remembering the Dutch baby who stayed with our family. It was a prized gift from a foreign land for a little farm girl.

Every time I go to visit my sister in Indiana, we go to Shipshewana, a nearby Amish town. A favorite place is Yoder Shopping Center. One side of the store is full of clothing, sewing needs, linens. The other side of the store is home and hardware. While wandering the aisles, I came across boxes of handkerchiefs. They were the same as those I saw in the 5 and 10 when I was a child. I yearned once more to have one with pennies tied in the corner or one made into a cradle by my mother's hands.

Perhaps when I go back this summer, I will buy one for each of my granddaughters. I will wash it and iron it then tell them about the farm girl on Neff Road sitting in church with her parents and the handkerchief. I know the girls won't use them, but I think I will put them aside with another handkerchief that was never used. 

When I visit Margaret, she will pull the hankie from her sleeve and once more wipe a tear from her eye. I will be home again. 

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