It’s all very fine and large putting away the big stuff into the new dressing room, but I’m down to the last bits now. Where to put the contents of the old dressing table hanky drawer? Of course, before I did anything else, I had to freshen them all up and this morning, I’ve been ironing them. they tell quite a story.
Several of these hankies go back to my childhood, when girls always carried such things, either tucked up their sleeve, their knicker leg or in the case of one girl I remember from Junior School (Lynn Moody?) safety pinned inside her skirt. I remember getting boxes of three initialled hankies from Aunts and Uncles at Christmas and never ever remember having to buy them for myself (or have them bought for me). These old squares of soft, soft cotton have seen the inside of one or two pockets and most of them have raggy corners (did I chew them?) but can I throw them away? What do you think?
Some of the finer ones come from years later, but still, I think, received as gifts, probably from the same Aunties who hadn’t embraced the paper tissue habit, which I had by then.
There are one or two larger squares, undoubtedly from Daddy. I can be sure that this blue square was never used by him, however, because he was most particular about only ever using plain white hankies and wouldn’t even consider one with a border. As a small girl, I was often given the job of ironing his hankies – my first introduction to this life skill – and I was given strict instructions by “quality control”, Mummy, that they had to be folded straight and ironed right into the corner because he wouldn’t be pleased with anything less. Of course, this makes me smile now and I wonder if I remember wrongly, because my parents were the sweetest and most forgiving of all – I really can’t imagine how either of them could possibly have been so pernickety, but that’s how seriously I recall taking the task. How old would I have been? Well, the memory is accompanied by the picture in my mind of the kitchen of our first house, which means I was less then ten years old. Do children of that age take their first steps using an iron now? Did Edward? I really can’t remember! But I suspect there was a Brownie badge to be gained from that kind of thing, for certain.
One hanky in particular can be identified immediately and I can name the girl who gave it to me and the circumstances in which it was given. I was a young teacher in a girls school and received this as a small gift from her skiing holiday. It reminded me that during my days at primary school, each Christmas, Mummy would place a hanky in the card I gave to my teacher. In a Hull, inner city school in those days children didn’t give presents to their teachers at all and this was an unusual thing to do. But for sure, each year, she would buy either a plain white gentleman’s handkerchief or a small lace-edged square and place it inside my Christmas card; a simple and low-key expression of gratitude.
Clearing her house a couple of years ago, I kept but a few of her things, but certainly bundled the hankies into a bag and brought them home. The fine white cotton ones with lace edges get fairly regular use, because I like to put one in my bag when going somewhere special. But like Daddy, she wouldn’t use coloured squares and those others, bearing the names of high-quality Swiss brands such as Lehner, simply reside in the pile unused.
I’ve read of several textile artists who have been inspired to create art from these small cotton squares and the vast range of emotions in which they have played a part. Who would have thought that the simple task of ironing a few hankies would have set me off on a journey of memories like this one?