In search of story


Connections: May 13.18

It’s that time again: time to get on my apostrophe soap box. It’s “Mother’s Day” all over the place, but I insist on “Mothers’ Day.” Not only is it a day to celebrate all mothers, but it’s also a day that’s been so homogenized and hysterialized that Mom is what Hallmark has made her. Mothers’ Day hysteria hits hard. Now — heaven help us — there are even pop-up ads to remind us we need to do more.

Back in the day, it was simpler: you snuck someplace and made a heart-rending card out of construction paper and erasures. And you went hanky-shopping with your dad. “Hanky” is short for “handkerchief,” a decorative, often beautiful, piece of cloth we used to blow our noses in. Or for our mothers to spit on and wipe some goo off our chins. Or (we were Catholic) to plop on your head if you were a hatless woman (gasp) entering a church. Hankies were nothing if not versatile.

One year my brother gave Mom the Hope Diamond of hankies, lacy, white, with a very elaborate embroidered “M” on it, much to her bewilderment (her name was Evelyn). What’s the M for? she asked naively. “M for Mom!” he replied, with some exasperation — why did she need to ask?

After Mom died, I threw out many things, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw out her hankies, which now live in a drawer upstairs. Including the one with the flowing regal “M.”

Whatever your memories for the day, dear reader, I hope there is a mom or a grandma in your heart, on the phone, or maybe across the table. Maybe even an old hanky in your pocket.








Soap opera

I did it again: I washed a kleenex.

My to-do list for today, the one-week mark before Christmas Eve, stretches from here to Jupiter. Do I really have time to stand there picking kleenex molecules off socks?

Oh, and did I mention the load was darks? I probably didn’t have to because if you, dear reader, have ever done the same thing, you know that Murphy’s statistics favor the darks.

As I stood there pincing tissue seaweed with thumb and forefinger and muttering to myself, my thoughts zoomed back to my mother. But of course: who else to blame for this mess? In our house, nobody moved without a hanky. Hanky. That’s the nickname for handkerchief, an ancient concept involving nose and lace. I grew up with hankies. I carried them daily, matched them to my clothes, dampened and ironed them. I proudly presented them for Mothers’ Day.

I needed them. In our area, gurgling sinuses were universal, so hankies were essential. Of course there were hanky substitutes, such as sleeves, but they were roundly denounced by my mother.

Every morning, after we charged through our one-bathroom four-person prep, Mom would yell as we went out the door “Books? Money? Hanky? Lunch?” Check, check, check, and check, Mom! Eventually it became Booksmoneyhankylunch! and it was our rallying cry for many years after. The hanky, standard of propriety and order: don’t leave home without it.

Ladies’ hankies were pretty. Most were flowered, some embroidered, monogrammed, laced or tatted. Men’s hankies were mostly plain white, though some might have color or pattern. But then everything morphed into the disposable, bland tissue. Hygiene trumped fashion. Thus do I come to wash kleenex.

Hanky wardrobe circa 1960

Hanky wardrobe circa 1960