Whenever Mother wasn’t looking, I sneaked into my parent’s bedroom, sat down on the bench in front of Mother’s mirrored dressing table, and quietly riffled through her dressing table drawers fascinated with all her ladylike things: her pink Spoolies, her cherry red lipstick, her powdered compact, her scented sachets, and her "hankies."
Her hankie drawer was always the first drawer I opened, fascinated with the different shapes, sizes, and colors. One by one, I picked up each hankie and unfolded it, breathing in the soft lavender scent of Mother’s perfume.
Some of her hankies were large squares—homemade creations made from scraps of material from her many sewing projects. These hankies served a number of practical purposes: wiping away childhood tears, blowing noses, dabbing the sweat off her brow, or mopping up small spills.
Other hankies were small and fancy—embroidered with flowers—others had lacey edges. Some had special designs created for holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s Day. They were beautiful, fashionable store-bought creations that Mother placed inside her purse for "going out."
As common as handkerchiefs were during the 50s and 60s, somewhere along the way, facial tissues became increasingly popular and made carrying a hankie in one’s purse no longer stylish or even necessary. In fact, by the end of the 1960s handkerchiefs were hard to find. Despite their scarcity, Mother always had a handkerchief in her purse and occasionally tied one to the strap of her purse.
Decades have passed since my childhood, and I’ve long forgotten the simple pleasure of exploring Mother’s hankie drawer. One day, while rummaging through her closet, I found a box tucked neatly in one corner. Curious, I pulled it down from the shelf and opened it, discovering some of Mother’s fancy handkerchiefs. I brought each one to my face, bringing the memory of her closer to me, amazed that even after years of being stored inside that box, the handkerchiefs still smelt like Mother and her lavender soap.
I unfolded the white, lacey one, remembering that she insisted I carry it in my bridal bouquet as something old. After my wedding, I took that handkerchief and made it a decorative item on top of my mother-in-law’s vintage secretarial desk—the one she gave me decades ago. Two of the handkerchiefs were her Christmas hankies—ones she always used during the holidays. When the holidays roll around, I now do as she did. I retrieve her Christmas handkerchiefs from my dresser and carry them in my purse. I never actually use them, mind you, but having them with me invokes memories of my childhood and all things that were Mother.
When I’m missing her, there’s something quite comforting about opening my dresser drawer and seeing her favorite embroidered hankie. I unfold it and, as a nod to her, gently tie it around the strap of my purse, remembering when I walked hand-in-hand beside her hoping I’d one day be as competent, beautiful, and fashionable as she was.