By Corinne H. Smith
As long as I can remember, my father has used white square cotton handkerchiefs. He always has one tucked into the right rear pocket of his pants. He takes it out regularly throughout the day to blow his nose – or rather, to give a good honk into it. I think he hits a low D or E, every time.
When I was growing up, and I “helped” my mother do the laundry, I first handled my father’s handkerchiefs myself. Each one is a simple 16-inch square that we ironed and folded into a tidy four-inch pile. That’s how it would go into his pocket each morning.
The trouble is that once he uses one, it’s not the same. He unfolds it, blows, and then balls up the material and jams it back into his pocket. Since this happens multiple times during the day, it’s inevitable that the whole handkerchief doesn’t make it back into the tight slot. Part of it is usually hanging out of his pocket. Like the ear of a bunny. Or a goat.
Of course, we enabled this practice when we always put a fresh pack of white handkerchiefs under the Christmas tree for him each December. And now that I think of it, why on earth did we waste time and steam and effort to iron these things, back in the day? I guess it was just because it was the ‘60s and ‘70s, and that’s what was expected of us womenfolk. To present a perfectly flat and straight handkerchief to be placed in a man’s pocket, ready for the first blow. Yikes.
Mom used to get angry and somewhat embarrassed whenever Daddy would get up to play a piccolo solo at a band concert. There he would be, standing at the edge of the stage and facing the audience, with part of his white handkerchief waving from the back pocket of his black dress pants. My mother would shake her head and groan. I guess she thought my father’s slightly disheveled appearance would cast a bad light on her as well. I’m not sure it did. I don’t know how many other people even looked back there when he walked forward. When he turned around and returned to the flute section, well yes, it may have been obvious then. Like a flag at half mast.
|Daddy & Edna enjoying the annual church picnic, Summer 2012. Note the handkerchief sticking out of his pocket. My mother would have been appalled that someone took this photo. And that I'm posting it online, for all the world to see. Sorry, Mom!|
Now that my father and I are living together again, I’ve gotten used to seeing the white cotton squares in the laundry basket. I wash them and fold them, but I sure don’t iron them. What would be the point? They’re going to get messy as soon as he uses them anyway. And I’ve also learned that he uses more than one during the course of the day, even though he goes through boxes of Kleenex rather quickly, too. He has a whole stack of handkerchiefs in one dresser drawer. At last count, there were about two dozen in there. The tally sometimes diminishes after the laundry cycle, though. If one doesn’t come entirely clean from a standard washing, then it goes into the trash instead of into his room. Maybe someday soon we’ll actually have to buy more.
I finally asked him why he uses these white cotton squares. “I have always carried a handkerchief in my back pocket,” he said. He doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t have one. He doesn’t remember the day that he first got one. “Doesn’t a man always have a handkerchief in his back pocket?” he replied, then answered his own question. “I thought they did.” Yes, Daddy. Evidently, they still do.