A generation or more ago, “Grab some tissues” replaced the gentle reminder “Don’t forget your hanky.” Handkerchiefs were perfect for wiping away a tear or soaking up the sniffles. A tad of good old-fashioned comfort was lost with their demise but we have our memories.   

Those Were the Days of Handkerchiefs

Dolores Vacek recalls an elderly, happily married woman she once knew who admitted to dropping her handkerchief on purpose. Standing in line at the picture show, she wanted to catch the attention of a young man behind her. The ploy worked! He picked up her handkerchief, returned it and the rest, as they say, is history.

Gloria Heinrich recalls 25¢ could buy a lot when she was a youngster. Her family lived in the country and on Friday nights, went to the local Prairie Valley, Texas, Sons of Hermann Hall.

“We didn’t have much money, but Mama always tied a couple of quarters in a corner of her handkerchief. That way, we didn’t have to bother Daddy for money to buy candy or a soda while he was playing skat,” Gloria says.

Sue Gunn adds, “Oh, I remember the child-sized little square handkerchiefs so well! My mother made sure I had at least seven, a fresh one for each day of the week. I remember little dogs on one, hearts and various flowers and edging on others. All were white except for one in pink and one in blue; they were for Sundays. 

“I think I carried a handkerchief at least through elementary school and probably in junior high. Tissues were considered wasteful,” Sue adds. 

Darla Dippel Brandt recalls a very special handkerchief, a keepsake that still makes her smile.

“When I was going through some things my mother saved in her cedar chest, I found a handkerchief I had received as a birthday gift in first grade. It was still folded in a perfect square, and I immediately recognized the little gray bear with the pointed nose. I never used that handkerchief but played with it and carried it in my purse now and then.I don’t remember who gave it to me. I wish I did.”

Lots of Handkerchief Memories

“I remember going to church carrying my little purse. I always checked that I had a handkerchief in it, but never remember using it,” says Janice McCurdie.

Janice’s sister-in-law, Sue McCurdie, still has her grandmother’s handkerchiefs, a treasure trove of 16, some of which are very fragile. One was sent to her grandmother from Malta, where her father was serving in World War II.

“My mother always had one in her handbag,” Carolyn Neely recalls. “I remember shopping for them and helping her choose a few new ones, which were then carefully placed in a thin box lined with tissue paper just large enough for them. When I cleared out my mother’s belongings, I divided her hankies and sent a few to each granddaughter and kept a few for myself.”

Handkerchiefs bring back sweet memories of her late husband for Brenda Miles.

“In my bridal bouquet, I carried a handkerchief trimmed in tatting that had belonged to Freemon’s grandmother. I still have it.”

Brenda also remembers that when she was very young, her mother would give her money for the store or picture show tied in the corner of a handkerchief rather than putting it in a billfold or purse.

Melinda Barneycastle says although she doesn’t have a specific handkerchief memory, she’s certain her grandmother, who lived through the Great Depression, always carried one.

“She would have considered paper tissues wasteful!”

“When I was growing up, we had side pockets on our big skirts and dresses that had room for a hanky, but we didn’t carry them daily,” adds Stacy Ryza.

A Man’s Handkerchief

For decades, handkerchiefs added a smart, fashionable touch to a man’s breast coat pocket.  

Surprise! Sometimes, jaunty folded handkerchiefs were not handkerchiefs at all. Small, carefully folded pieces of cloth were now and again stitched to pieces of light cardboard and distributed to promote a business like the sample above from The Adco Press. The telephone number for the Houston business at 2405 Hopkins at Fairview was JA6-1434, dating this fake handkerchief to 1960 or earlier.

Although the practice is not as common as it once was, some gentlemen still carry a white handkerchief. Those traditionalists can find an ample new supply on Amazon.com.

Around the farm, my dad always carried a navy blue dotted handkerchief in the back pocket of his jeans but traded it for a starched white hanky when he wore a suit.

These Hankies Won’t Do

Comfort is a prerequisite and the very best kerchiefs are very soft cotton. The older they are and the more times they had been laundered and ironed, the better. The handkerchiefs above still have their labels because the lace around their edges is scratchy and the cotton very stiff. They are for decoration only.

Antique Store Hanky Finds

If you are not lucky enough to have a handkerchief that belonged to a friend or family member, don’t fret. Check antique stores and you’ll find one that’s bound to suit you. Perhaps you’d like to own one for old times’ sake or a special touch of TLC?

My Favorite Handkerchief

My favorite handkerchief is one my mother carried in her purse whenever she left the farm, which wasn’t often. Softened from many trips through the wringer washing machine and days flapping on the clothesline in the sun, it has gentle scalloped edges and is embroidered with roses and tiny daisies. No wonder Mom chose it; she loved flowers.

“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” – Lady Bird Johnson.

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Can I interest you in a little more nostalgia?

Elaine Thomas
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