I am talking about those cloth wonders that everyone had, if you are old enough to remember life before the disposable tissue (Kleenex) replaced it.
Hankies were made for both men and women and could be found at the local five and dime and the finest department stores.
Men had two options dress hankies and work hankies. Work hankies were red or blue cotton bandanas. The were likely selected to not show all the dirt and grime of the many physical jobs held by of men at that time. On the other hand men who worked at what we now call white-collar jobs, bankers, store managers and our own Dads when they got spiffed up in their best clothes would all use white hankies. Maybe those nice white hankies might be monogrammed, special ones that they received as a gift. Though who was likely to get their hankies mixed up and need to know which was theirs by the monogram?
Women on the other hand had an amazing collection of ever-changing hankies to choose from. Hankies came in all sorts of colors. Some had lace and others had embroidery. Some were printed with all different sorts of flowers, and others a heart or Christmas tree to remind you of the season. Really special ones were not square at all, but had edges that were scalloped, or followed the edges of flowers that were stamped on the cotton material. I never remember seeing my mother use her hankie for herself. On the other hand I remember more than once my mother pulling one out of her purse and wetting it with her tongue to clean my face. I also remember her pulling it out and holding it over my younger brother’s nose telling him to blow, and then of course putting it back in here pocketbook, the right color for the season (that is another story for another day.)
If you are old enough to remember hankies then you also have a memory of your mother asking you if you had clean hankies before you headed for church or to visit special friends houses. One of my grandmothers had a drawer full of hankies and I can remember going through that drawer on Sunday morning to pick the perfect hankie to use that day.
Many a young girl, me being one of them, learned to iron on hankies. My grandmother wrote about learning to iron hankies with the old flat irons you heated on the stove, so this ritual has been one of many generations. I started first with the colored work hankies, so you could not tell if I scorched fabric, and a less than perfect iron work hankie was not an issue. Ironing all those little scalloped and lace edges on the fanciest of hankies took skill. It was something you worked up to.
Hankies were also gifts. I have a dear friend and she and her sister were given hankies by their mother every year on Valentine’s day. My friend, Pat, still has many of those yet though she is in her 70’s, and cherishes the memories that her collection tells. Though her mother is no longer alive to give her hankies she finds herself drawn to hankies when in stories with vintage linens, to look and see what hankies they might have. When I was young I can remember once going to our local Ben Franklin and picking out a box of two hankies for my first grade teacher. It was a difficult decision and they had perfect, not just any hankie would do, as your teacher wasn’t just anyone, she was a special lady. At that time a hankie was a suitable and thoughtful gift.
Hankies another thing that in less than a generation no one will know that they were once more thank a disposable piece of everyday life.