The following is a true story:
One of my favorite dollar store buys is a ladies’ handkerchief set. Two for a dollar. Pretty white handkerchiefs embroidered with blue or pink flowers. I like to give them as impromptu, or supplementary, gifts. I always marvel at the price.
I have handed them to female friends at a funeral, as they groped in a purse for a tissue, and received looks of gratitude.
Recently, I purchased handkerchiefs, and the cashier looked closely and then asked, “What are they?” When I looked surprised, she hesitantly added, “For the tablecloth?”
“They’re handkerchiefs,” I told her. “Do you know what a handkerchief is?”
After a negative head shake, I asked, “How old are you?”
The answer: “18.”
When I explained that the handkerchief was a forerunner to Kleenex, she wanted to know what a person did if she needed to blow her nose more than once. “Turn it over and use the other side,” I said.
To which she said, matter-of-factly, “Now I know why they have Kleenex.”
Later, in telling a friend about this experience, she remembered looking for a handkerchief for a bride-elect. “I asked someone where to buy one, and she told me to go to an antique shop,” she said, laughing.
Now, when I enclose a handkerchief in a letter or card to a friend of my vintage, I always pen a note, “For someone who grew up in the handkerchief era.”
Men still use handkerchiefs, but the majority of women have gone the way of the tissue, often carrying little packages in their purses. By the same token, many other familiar items in my growing-up years have vanished.
I remember as a young stay-at-home mom that red lipstick was not stylish and became nigh to impossible to find. I finally got down to one tube of red lipstick that I used all the way to the nub, and then got a Q-tip to fish out the rest. All around me, women were wearing pale pink or faded rose. Since I have an olive complexion, I know that the bright colors are the most flattering to my coloring and that the light hues make me look sallow and washed-out. Thank goodness, red lipstick (and every other color in the rainbow) returned. I sometimes say, tongue-in-cheek, “The older I get, the brighter I get.”
We people of “the handkerchief era,” born in the Great Depression, who remember WWII and Korea, have seen a multitude of commodities and trends come and go. Some of us lament the absence of motion pictures with strong plots and characters that convey deep emotions and eternal values. We miss the publications that were focused on helping others through crusades in print. We miss simplicity in lifestyle and leisure time.
We thrill to the magnificence of progresses that contribute to our freedoms of choice, but we still yearn for some bygone niceties.
Now and then I regard my decorative, feminine handkerchiefs and remember the beautiful “ladies” in my life, childhood on, who modeled decorum in dress and demeanor, courtesy and kindness, who introduced me to the little things that make life special for others. Each gave me an idea for a ritual that became ingrained in my own joyful routine.
These were women who were true to their own beliefs and unafraid to stand up for what they considered the right thing to do. From childhood on, I was fortunate to be befriended by great women.
Although many of them are deceased, I retain the treasury of their teachings. Memories assail us full speed ahead, the older we get. This is a good thing. So are ladies handkerchiefs!
Human Condition is a column for Advocate readers about poignant or funny stories, approximately 600 words in length. Send submissions to: Human Condition, Sunday Advocate Magazine, 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810. Manuscripts will not be returned but are kept on file for one year to allow early submission of seasonal stories (Christmas, Halloween tales, etc.). There is no payment for Human Condition.