Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Hankies, Handbags and Memories

Ironing hankies for the booth this afternoon gave me some quiet thinking time. Ironing really is a zen thing, isn't it, especially when it's something simple like handkerchiefs.

The hankies reminded me of my mother, who always carried them tucked up her sleeve, in her apron pocket or in her purse. Hers were usually scented with Yardley's Lavender, and yes, she always ironed them, at least the ones I remember. As children, hankies were one thing we could afford to buy her for her birthday or Christmas so she was always well supplied. And when our granny taught us to sew during one of her extended visits from England, she started us out with hankies. I admit my first effort was nothing that would win a prize, but I was so proud of it. Eventually we graduated to making dolls clothes and later to using the machine to make skirts and dresses.

But I preferred to buy hankies for my mother rather than give her the clumsy ones I made. The five-and-dime store had such pretty ones, and they were only 19 cents. Printed with wildly colorful bouquets of flowers, they held me mesmerized just looking at them. Then there were the gorgeous flocked floral ones made of see-through nylon that were totally useless but so very elegant. Those were 39 and 49 cents. And the top of the line, the boxes sets of four, folded into fans inside of gold gilt boxes, some with embroidered flowers, others with monograms. Elegance times three, and only $1.19. But for a child of the 50's, that much money in our possession was as rare as having ice cream in winter.

Remembering Mom's hankies in her handbag got me to thinking about how different her purse was from mine. I wrote the other day about the odd collection of things in my handbag when I cleaned it out--everything from a pocketknife to pegboard hooks. Mom's was nothing like mine.

Peeking inside her purse was one of my childhood guilty pleasures. It seemed so grown-up and ladylike, two things I surely was not. Besides a pretty floral (and scented) hankie, there would be a round gold compact with a mirror inside, and a puff for applying the powder. The compact had a lacy etched design and closed with a most satisfying snap. In the same compartment of Mom's purse would be her lipstick, bright red hidden inside a smooth gold tube. So sensual!

Her glasses, a lady Buxton leather wallet (I never dared to touch that), a little vial of some Avon fragrance, tissues, a pen, and a comb inside a little case of its own, and that was it. None of the mishmash of screws, pencils, markers, measuring tape and other junk that occupy my bag. Even the purse itself looked lady-like, a good leather exterior with a gold clasp, and a handle that was NOT a shoulder strap. This bag closed with a lovely, solid snap.

Mom and me, 1988. She was so thrilled with the way I looked that day of my son's wedding. 
I wonder sometimes what my mother must have made of her rough-and-tumble oldest daughter. I wonder what she thought of my skinned knees and elbows, my harem-scarem rollerskating, my headless dolls and broken tea sets, and my choice to be called "Uncle John" in many of games with my siblings. I was a far cry from my English mother's idea of what a young lady should be. I know that my decision to move with my first husband to the "wilds of West Virginia," as she called it, made her very unhappy.

But today she would have been proud of me, as I carefully starched and ironed the handkerchiefs, aprons and other linens for my booths. She would have liked how neatly I folded them and hung them on a little rack for display. She would even have liked a lot of those hankies. As I grow older, I find myself surprised by the ways in which I am like her--my love of flowers and tea and of lace and soft pretty things, my pleasure in babies and china tea cups. So maybe the wild girl grew up to be more like the lady m mother so wanted me to be. I wish she was here to enjoy it; I am sure she would have heaved a sigh of relief that all her teaching was not in vain.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Joy@aVintageGreen said...

Lovely memories.

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for this sensory trip to the past.

jcm said...

She was always proud of you!

Mac n' Janet said...

What a wonderful post! Isn't it amazing how much we do become like our mothers as we grow older. She sounds a lovely lady.
I loved vintage handkerchiefs I used them as table toppers.

Nance said...

Nicely remembered and related. Thanks Sue. I was a mussed,topsy turvie tomboy but inherited some of my mother's more refined traits too.

hart said...

Nice to be reminded of. I have a lot of handkerchiefs from my grandmother and great aunt, whose handbags were full of half-sticks of gum--because a "lady never chews more than a half-stick of gum and never on the street." These days when I tell a story with on in it I have to tell the kids what it is.

Anonymous said...

I love those handkerchiefs. I have and still use some of them myself. I loved the way your post started. Most people think I am crazy but I love to iron. It is a Zen thing. I can feel a sense of accomplishment as I iron out the wrinkles. It is like I am solving the worlds problems with each completed and freshly ironed piece. It is comforting to find someone who understands.
I had also forgotten about the half sticks of gum. So true!!

Susan Anderson said...

My mom had the handkerchiefs, too, but my grandma was the one who used to crochet them or do needlework on them. They were lovely, and I still have one she made me.

I loved your memories about your mom...mine had a purse like that as well, and I remember the smell of it...a mix of powder and her perfume and peppermint gum.

Mom is 90 years old and failing fast. We are sad to think of losing her soon, but we have some wonderful memories that will comfort us.

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