We spend our lives accumulating. This collecting is an essential part of our memory-building process. There are items from school activities and achievements, wedding gifts, housewarmings, and retirement sendoffs. We cherish tokens from loved ones and our travel keepsakes. Then there are photographs. Yes, we love our photos.
As family’s have grown smaller, questions arise about what to do with possessions when relatives are lost. Although we can’t keep everything, we naturally want our loved one’s legacies to be appreciated.
When a friend lost her mother, she was tasked with the difficult responsibility of sorting through a lifetime of memories. She recently surprised me with something truly special–four delicate handkerchiefs that had belonged to her great grandmother, Claire Ray, affectionately known as GiGi.
I’ve collected vintage linen hankies for years and use them regularly. Of course, this means I periodically drag out the iron to press batches of them. The beauty and craftsmanship of these small accessories keeps the effort from becoming a chore. However, I don’t know the history of my collection, bought at tag sales and online, which makes this gift unique.
“Kindness can become its own motive. We are made kind by being kind.” - Eric Hoffer
Ladies (and men) have carried handkerchiefs for centuries. Images of the lacy, linen cloths are seen in renderings and statues from ancient Egypt, Chinese Dynasties, and Roman gladiatorial contests.
In addition to their practical use–more for delicate tear dabbing rather than nose wiping–they’ve long been a source of romantic or flirtatious communication. A young lady would drop their handkerchief near a young man for him to pick up, thus giving them an excuse to talk. During the Medieval period, a knight would carry a lady’s handkerchief as a good luck talisman. They’re also a source of nostalgia and sentimentality. Wedding handkerchiefs–usually heirlooms–are still favored by brides.
Women’s hankies were the designer handbags of their day. Royalty had wardrobes of wildly expensive Venetian lace creations. With their delicate handwork–crochet, tatting, applique, embroidery, and monograms, the pieces of cloth that Louis XVI (no doubt per the influence of his wife, Marie Antoinette) ordered must be square, have become collectible. Like all collectibles, their true value is whatever it’s worth to you.
Regardless of Kimberly-Clark’s push since the ‘30s, to convince the world to use Kleenex, created for removing face cream, as disposable handkerchiefs, I prefer pretty. I always have two fresh hankies in my handbag. A lady never knows when she may encounter a girlfriend in distress.
Entrusting me with these beautiful treasures was a gift itself. My friend’s thoughtful kindness, however, was the ultimate gift.